AT&T Terms & Conditions
Product, Research & UX


T&C Product Ownership, Research & Mobile UX

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The AT&T Terms and Conditions (T&C) process was extremely broken, imposing a barrier to sale causing 11% abandonment on millions of annual orders, and driving 21,000 stressful calls per month to Care. With my vision and leadership, we eliminated almost all issues and calls within the year by creating a new streamlined mobile acceptance process.

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My Contributions

Issue Identification, Data Analysis, Business Case, Legal & Experimental Research, Storyboarding, Mobile-First Wireframing, Architectural Design, Dev Requirements, Use Cases, User Stories, System Testing, Team & Release Manager, Pilot Testing, Large Scale Deployment, Web Trends Monitoring, Iterative Enhancements



What's Interesting?


Early Wireframes Saved the Project

Our project was almost killed in its first month, when an initial IT estimate came in with too much padding. Unless we could reduce costs from $4.2 million to $2.5 million, our business leadership would not provide the funds. To remedy this, I created early conceptual wireframes of key interactions to show just how simple this process could be.

$4.2 million

IT architects estimated $4.2M. AT&T leadership would only fund $2.5M.

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I created 6 Key Wireframes to Clarify IT Scope



$2.4 million

My mobile & desktop mockups gave IT confidence to cut costs by $1.7M.

I met with my trusted IT architect and business partners, and walked through each screen, discussing best and worst case scenarios, creating safe boundaries for their estimates. With the increased confidence these visuals and narratives provided, our estimate was reduced to $2.4 million. Our project ultimately launched within budget, on time, and paid for itself within only a few months.





Ordering Phones from AT&T Call Centers

Call AT&T, Rep Places Order

Millions of new phones are ordered each year through AT&T call centers. Call a sales line or a customer service center, and a Rep will place the order on your behalf.

The Rep will then ask you to look for an email with a link to accept Terms & Conditions (T&C). This is very important or your phones won't ship!

Accept T&C Online

On receipt of the email, you click the link and are taken to a screen where you are asked for a phone number and other criteria to verify and look up your order.

Once verified, you are presented with all the agreements which need your electronic signature. After accepting, you are given confirmation and you're good to go!

Order is Delivered - Yay!

Ultimately in a perfect world, the T&C step went famously. Your acceptance is received, your order is unlocked, your card is charged and the order ships to you.

You receive and activate your phone and all is well. Yay! But at the start of this project, there were so many issues that customers were very often stressed and unhappy.


What was Broken?

Email – Wait 4 hours, then receive a confusing message

The email notification had the link to the T&C acceptance site and was critical. The Care Rep would submit an order and have to tell their customer "It's really important, but I don't know when you'll get the email." Complex back end systems had to be modified to make this real-time.

Lookup & Verify – Complex, and no multi-lines orders

When the customer received their email and clicked the link, they were met with a broken order lookup. Input fields were complex and security pass-phrases were maddening. Multi-line orders almost never succeeded, because every line needed its own lookup or nothing shipped.

Mobile – Not supported, despite 40% mobile users

When the defective site was built, no consideration was given to use on smart phones. With much scrolling and zooming, the site was barely usable, yet already nearly 40% of users were attempting via mobile. Our new site needed to consider mobile first!


Business Case

Total Saved: $10 million per year

There were a number of factors driving the urgency of this project. My team had the responsibility of fixing a very important, very broken process which was costing AT&T millions per year. We identified and prioritized this issues using a mix of data sources, from order completion and fallout metrics to call center reporting. 


Abandoned Orders
$2 million saved

For 11% of orders placed over the phone, our customers failed to accept terms, and their orders never shipped. AT&T lost contracts, fees, and long term revenue from many of these customers.

Calls to Care
$3 million saved

Every month, Customer Care was receiving over 21,000 calls from customers struggling with the T&C process. Customers were often escalated and upset, and Reps had difficulty assisting with this issue.

Lost Fees
$5 million saved

For over 10,000 customers per month, Care Reps were using workarounds that caused us to lose fees and subsidies for the phones purchased. The customer was saved, but AT&T had to buy their business.


Payback in 3 months! ($2.4M IT Cost)

As noted above, we went through a lot to keep our scope within our leadership's funding capacity, finalizing our estimate at $2.4 million. Of noteworthy interest, this business case had such high returns, it was very resilient to cost variances. If we had even quadrupled our costs we still would have had a 1 year payoff. Fortunately, we did not have any cost overruns, and delivered on time and in budget.


What Else Was At Stake?

Not included in the financial business case, but of significance, a streamlined Terms & Conditions process would enable new business growth opportunities and would protect against equipment fraud.


Business Growth

The industry had shifted away from subsidized handsets toward easy 0% financing terms. An order could not ship without first accepting these terms, and the finance industry had special terms.

Phone Losses

With the high cost of modern smart phones, AT&T could not ship equipment without first obtaining electronic acceptance of T&C. We had to make this work seamlessly!



Customer Feedback 

At the onset of this project, we reviewed verbatim statements from post-call customer surveys, as well as tickets filed by call center representatives. There were a mix of direct complaints, where customers struggled with the broken T&C site, plus indirect complaints where customers simply didn't understand why their order never shipped.

Site Analytics

Triggered by all these customer complaints, we launched a deep dive to identify root cause. The site analytics were not readily available, as our ordering process spanned numerous front end, back end, and middleware solutions, all of which could contribute to fallout. With careful reporting and analysis we identified an end to end trail of issues.


Benchmark: Apple iTunes

Apple iTunes provided an internationally proven example of a simple mobile T&C acceptance experience. Presenting an initial page listing multiple agreements, a user could easily click each for full details. This interface offered full and intuitive disclosure, yet also honored the user who wanted to quickly click through and accept all.

Benchmark: Google Analytics

Our legal team asked us to consider Google Analytics as a positive example of a long scroll T&C acceptance. When we tested it, we found it was OK on a desktop computer, but almost unusable on mobile. It required complex zooming to escape the "sand trap" of the contract and get to the acceptance button below.



Who were Our Stakeholders?

This project was particularly challenging in that there was a strong push in different directions by our legal and marketing teams, plus our customers had conflicting interests. We needed to synthesize a solution that was easy to use, allowed streamlined sales, and satisfied judge, jury, and customer.


Industry wide, legal teams were fighting court battles on whether customers had been sufficiently informed. We needed a solution that would stand up in court.  


Marketing needed our solution to remove barriers to sale. Too conservative and we would have a cumbersome process that could kill sales.


Our customers expected an easy ordering experience in any channel, plus of course wanted to be sufficiently informed when they accepted agreements.


1st Iteration – Simple vs Complex 

In my first iteration, I provided a range of ideas to help IT visualize possible implementation strategies, and to help contain cost estimates. At this early phase, there were still many variables, as our approach was under legal and security team review, and our simplification requests were not yet approved. These wireframes were used not only for IT, but in influential presentations, so I chose to make them fairly high fidelity, as I would be presenting to leadership and legal teams, and needed a somewhat emotional hook from these visuals.

Lookup & Verify

The simplest lookup allowed any wireless number from a multiline order, plus a  zip code for verification.

Lookup & Verify

If security teams would not relax current site complexities, we would require SSN and a cryptic passphrase.

T&C Acceptance

We hoped that we might be permitted a single checkbox to accept T&C, with a link to view more if the customer desired.

T&C Acceptance

Legal teams were fond of long scroll embedded windows, but these had proven too difficult for mobile users.

2nd Iteration - Adding Secondary Flows

After securing funding and finalizing scope with my first iteration, a UX team was assigned to my project and we partnered to further develop our concepts. We took a step back to rough functional wireframes as we explored not only core screens but secondary flows. These, coupled with requirements documents and user stories were sufficient to code, test and successfully launch our site.

Lookup & Verify

We confirmed we would not need SSN, but left the cryptic passphrase (captcha) to display only if multiple failed attempts on the site.

Multiple Orders

Alternate flows such as this multiple orders case required wireframes and user stories. A customer might have several pending orders.

Accept T&C

Our team received legal approval to simplify to a single checkbox per agreement. This mockup shows a complex order with installment plans.

Pop-up Screens

Our UX team detailed pop-ups as well as error scenarios. The following show overlay screens when you click for contract details or cancel the order.


Successful Launch

Architectural Design (Shared Services)

I collaborated closely with IT Architects to resolve backend issues and enable real time processing.

Agile & Waterfall Dev Requirements

Spanning multiple teams, this project had to balance deliverables for multiple methodologies.

Use Cases & User Stories

I worked closely with business and system analysts on these, and served as the primary signoff stakeholder.


Three of my six direct reports and I partnered with IT test teams, defining and executing test scenarios.


Release Management

My team indirectly managed numerous teams to ensure scrum masters and dev leads stayed on track.


We built our solution to gradually scale, allowing select products and markets to onboard to the tool.

Large Scale Deployment

After all issues were resolved we could work with production support to scale to 100% capacity.

Web Trends Monitoring

Our design had thoughtfully included new metrics which could be monitored and alarmed via web trends.


Subsequent Research

Experimental Research

Prior to launch, our legal teams had argued for the use of long scroll windows, thinking that exposing a sentence or two of a 15,000 word agreement would lead to increased readership. To put this question to rest, I partnered with UW classmates to test two variations of T&C scroll windows, and found that regardless of the clarity of text revealed, readership was extremely low. 

A/B Decoy Test

We created a decoy task, in which users thought they were testing a new Spotify interface, but were really testing A and B versions of T&C.

A: Legalese

In this version, we presented complex legal verbiage as the initial displayed text in the agreement. Most people accepted without review.

B: Plain Language

In an alternate version, we led with a very clearly stated summary with outrageous terms. People still ignored and accepted without review.

Low Readership

After studying analytics and survey data, our primary observation was that users largely ignored T&C contents regardless of clarity.

With this test we were able to provide some evidence that the legal team's long scroll windows were not necessarily a solid solution, and would not increase T&C readership. In a long-scroll window, regardless of whether the exposed sentences showed contractual legalese or clearly stated binding terms, users largely ignored and just proceeded to accept Terms. 


Long Term View

A Shared Service For All Channels

With the wide success of our project in the Call Center Channels, we created a vision document and requirements to make a shared service that would centralize the T&C process and allow portability of orders across all channels. This would empower flexible ordering, enabling a customer to order and accept T&C in one channel, then have the option to easily change their order in another channel. 

Call Center Channels

Web Channels

Retail Channels




Flexible Roles:

My role included everything from product owner and business stakeholder to corporate evangelist, business case analyst, researcher, UX designer, team manager, and release manager. I wore many hats and managed direct reports as well as dozens of indirect relationships I had no authority over, only personal influence.

Files and Deliverables:


Copyright © Paul Townsend