T-Mobile tackles lousy customer service with 'Team of Experts'

It's promising that you'll talk to the same people whenever you need help.

It's no secret that a lot of carrier tech support is lousy. It's not just that you have to wade through menus -- it's that you're often pushed between support agents who only have the foggiest idea of your service history and are encouraged to get you off the phone quickly. T-Mobile thinks it can do better. It's launching a "Team of Experts" initiative that's meant to get you in touch with people who can actually deal with your problems instead of passing the buck.

You now have a "dedicated" group of support reps (really, people focused on your region) who you'll reach every time you call or message for help. You won't have to deal with a menu system if you don't want to, and if you do need a specialist, they're sitting right next to the person you're talking to. T-Mobile also promises to avoid putting you through unnecessary phone wait times by offering more callbacks (including right from the moment you call), 24/7 support and "asynchronous" messaging help that doesn't require you to stick around while an agent tackles your problem.

And crucially, the emphasis is on solving the problem on first contact, not on shrinking average call times. As a support rep in a former life, that's particularly significant to me -- it's not uncommon to see reps find any excuse to end a call (say, waiting for a reboot), even if there's a very good chance customers will need to call back. Ideally, this helps both sides. You spend less time on the phone, and T-Mobile reduces the number of overall calls.

Team of Experts is going live today. To mark the occasion, the carrier is providing one year of free Pandora Plus streaming and a "multi-year" deal with Live Nation that gives you access to discounted tickets and access to last-minute reserve seats in otherwise sold-out venue sections.

There's a strong incentive for T-Mobile to do this, and it's not strictly for altruistic reasons. Now that many major American carriers offer some form of unlimited data and otherwise offer comparable features, T-Mobile needs a way to stand out. Customer service is an obvious sticking point that could reel people in and prevent customers from jumping ship. Moreover, it's no secret that T-Mobile wants to court regulators as it pushes for its Sprint merger. Team of Experts could theoretically convince officials that a merger would improve competition by forcing AT&T and Verizon to step up their game.