Finding the Humor when Dealing with Bad Customer Service

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Some people have a unique ability to find humor in any situation. Author Barbara Silkstone is one of these people. When facing absurd or challenging situations, maybe we should consider following her lead and use humor to express our frustrations more often. (more here)

AT&T and the Dead Parrot School of customer Service

By Guest Blogger: Barbara Silkstone

For those few folks who are not familiar with the "Dead Parrot" I strongly recommend visiting YouTube and viewing this classic comedy routine from Monty Python. It involves the mind boggling run-around John Cleese receives when he tries to return a dead parrot to the pet store that sold it to him. The pet store owner insists the parrot is not dead but merely resting, despite the fact that the parrot is nailed to its perch and is hard as a rock. No matter how much Cleese insists on getting his money back, the clerk evades the fact that the parrot is obviously dead and even suggests swapping the parrot for a slug.

A few weeks ago, as I sat in my car in an almost empty Target parking lot - late at night - trying to get someone from AT&T to help me, I reasoned that AT&T practices the Dead Parrot School of Customer Service. I had endured 18 months of a two year contract for AT&T Mobile phone service during which I had spent a minimum of ten hours of every week on hold with AT&T techs. This night I had been on hold for almost two hours, my cell phone battery was going low, my bladder was full and my nerves were fried.

I was scheduled to have outpatient surgery the next day and the only phone service I had was my AT&T cell phone. I was desperate for someone to get me a connection while I was laid up. I had to drive outside a 5 mile perimeter from my home to pick up a signal. AT&T couldn't get me a connection as I couldn't call them from my home...because I had no NETWORK service. If I couldn't call them from my home, then they couldn't verify that I had no NETWORK service. parrot wasn't dead, just resting.

As I sat in the car debating whether to give up once again or hang on a little longer, the AT&T tech told me he was having trouble reaching a supervisor as their lines kept failing. When the super did get on the phone, he insisted I go to an AT&T store that night (10:00 pm) and get a loaner phone to see if the problem was with my equipment. When I explained I had already run that drill a few times and that no loaner phones worked in my apartment and that it was now after store hours, the supervisor snapped at me: "I'm marking your file Uncooperative!" In other words, I wouldn't accept a slug in place of a parrot

Weeks before this incident, I had played the game with yet another AT&T supervisor. She instructed me to "Go home and we will try and call you at 5:30 tonight. If we can't reach you - we will let you out of your contract as we will admit we can't provide you with service." Dutifully, I sat at home at the appointed hour knowing they couldn't get through. Three days later I received a message from that supervisor saying, "We couldn't reach you so we can't determine if you have a problem. We assume your problem has been resolved."

Why did I not cancel the AT&T service when I first discovered that the phone was useless in my apartment? First, I was foolish enough to think they were actually trying to solve the problem. They had me believing the problem existed in my particular phone or my particular apartment. This is part of the Dead Parrot psychology. The consumer is wrong and the parrot is not dead just resting. Second they threatened me with an early cancellation fee which amounted to pretty much the balance of their contract.

Over the first few weeks of my AT&T cellphone contract, I discovered I could occasionally get a signal if I climbed on the bathtub ledge and held the phone up to the ceiling. As I tottered on the tub ledge I was reminded of the phone service in that quirky old television show - Green Acres. Eddie Albert and Ava Gabor would compliantly climb the telephone pole outside their home to make a simple phone call. There I was making the best out of a sucky deal and climbing around in my bathroom trying to find an occasional signal.

Punch line:

I also had AT&T - DSL and it had been down for almost two weeks. The AT&T Internet repair man finally showed up at my apartment. His service order was "to install more jacks" not fix my service. More jacks? I needed the service to work and not to acquire more outlets. Being a good sport, this repairman tried to fix my Internet. He attempted to call the AT&T service office but could not get a Network connection on his AT&T cell phone. Sheepishly he pulled a competitor's phone from his pocket and reached AT&T.

I thought I was an isolated case until I entered "AT&T complaints" in a search engine. It seems that the AT&Torney Generals in a number of states are dealing with a barrage of consumer complaints about AT&T's Dead Parrot Customer Service. Consumer Beware!

I bit the bullet and paid AT&T their egregious cancellation fees. I actually cried as I received my very first phone call in my apartment on my new, clear as a bell Verizon service!

If  Barbara's short story inspires you to find the humor within your most frustrating situation,  please share your experience with us!  Maybe we'll start awarding a monthly "Dead Parrot Customer Service Award" to those companies who most deserve it.


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I have had similar experiences with ATT with my office service. It is beyond me they can repeatedly try to sell me a service (internet speed) that is not even available in my area.

Humor may help, but it's only used after much sweat and tears is spent.

Hey Babs, I agree wholeheartedly! I know first hand the enormous amount of anxiety and frustration -let alone the stamina it takes to deal with incompetence, negligence and outright uncooperative reps and companies who seem to think our time and aggravations they create in our lives don't matter. I just think that when times are so tough, sometimes it can't hurt to laugh some of it away. Thanks much for taking the time to comment...Denise

You need to be able to laugh at yourself and life - especially in the tense world we live in. I frequently visualize myself as Wylie Coyote. No matter how many times the ACME Corp squashes me I get up again - none the worse for wear. :)

I am the internet manager for several franchise automotive dealers. We use AT&T for our DSL service. The customer service is a joke. I was on live chat and I finally told the agent that if he could hold on for a moment, I was going to go chew on a tire. He was from India and I don't think he caught on to my humor. I gave them all my infomation three times and they told me my info was wrong, only had to have talked to Tia a agent earlier in the day and the info I gave here was the same I was giving this agent. It was the Dead Parrot for sure.
Then I was given a number for repair and I was on hold for 20 minutes. Then I got another tech that asked me the same questions again. I finally got him to dispatch a repairman that was supposed to be here yesterday, only they had a communication problem with dispatch (imagine that) and the line repairman didn't get dispatched yesterday. I finally went through the same routine this morning and after arguing with the agent about where I was, he said I wasn't at the address I was telling him about, he told me that the repairman wouldn't be here until after noon. I had been promised the repairman would be here between 9am and 12 since he missed being here yesterday. Now I'm told, that's now how they dispatched him. I finally got them to escalate our ticket. What a circle jerk. Right now I'm still waiting for the repairman to show.
I have my doubts.
Jim Wade
Internet Director
Lewis Automotive

Sounds so very familiar. Thanks for the smile -and for sharing! I can certainly fee your frustration...

I smiled BIG when I read this. Thank you, I soooo much needed it. I would laugh it away, but ATT and their collection agency are making threats to my credit, and I take that very seriously. I sent back two receivers to their Carrollton, TX location. They received two boxes from me on 5/20, but they claim the boxes only contained 2 smartcards and nothing else. Now, I ask you, what in the world would I do with two receivers? This wouldn't be so bad, but I didn't find out about it until it went to collections and I received notice from collections on 6/23. I've talked with so many people it's insane. I'm basically fighting that invisible person who removed the smartcards from my receivers when they arrived at their warehouse on 5/20. One conversation I had actually involved an agent saying to me, "well you didn't happen to take a picture of what you put in the boxes did you?" Can you believe that? Maybe I should have been a reality TV star, then ATT would have proof I put the receivers in the boxes they took the smartcards out of. Does my life have to be on camera 24 hours a day in order for ATT to believe me? They say it will take 3 to 6 weeks to research, but in less time this charge will appear on my credit report. Sigh. I'm not holding out hope it will get resolved, but I'm glad I'm not alone. I did file complaints with appropriate state and federal agencies. Again, I'm not holding out any sort of hope that mine specifically will be addressed, but I am hoping that there are others out there who have also filed complaints. Most Americans are good, hard working people, and it's just not fair to have someone hold your credit score hostage.

You made me smile! I recently canceled Direct TV and was sent a box to return the remote, power cord and receiver. As I was about to seal the box, I had a gnawing gut feeling would I prove I returned the remote and the power cord with the receiver?? I grabbed my camera and snapped some shots. I felt ridiculously paranoid at the time, but after reading your story, I feel vindicated LOL! Thanks much for sharing -and because you did, your experience will save others from the same fate. RE when dealing with the credit bureaus -and disputing what AT&T reports, make sure you do so via certified mail. The credit bureaus are invisible too!


It would seem possible that regardless of which method, or agency, you used to return the phones, the package weight on your receipt should tell the tale.

Certainly, an instrument and a card would weigh more than a box with just a card. Most likely 3 oz., or more, difference.

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