Friday, October 15, 2010

AT&T and The Dead Parrot School of Customer Service

For those few folks who are not familiar with the "Dead Parrot" I strongly recommend visiting uTube 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 at 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. In order to get a connection 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 from my home because I had no NET WORK service. If I couldn't call them from my home, then they couldn't verify that I had no NET WORK service. Circular thinking. My parrot wasn't dead. It was just resting.

As I sat in my 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 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 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 therefore assume your problem is resolved."

Why did I not cancel the AT&T service when I first discovered that the phone was useless? 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 the basis for the Dead Parrot psychology. The consumer is always wrong and the parrot is always resting.

I ended my contract with AT&T and went with Verizon. I shed tears of joy at that first clear phone call.
Today on the news it was mentioned that the iPad folks are moving from AT&T to Verizon  due to service problems. :)

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