How Not To Deliver Customer Service

veer-phone-operatorI can tell you that AT&T has well trained customer service representatives. What they don’t have are people who can think outside of the box.

What To Do When Standard Operating Procedures Don’t Work

Most of us have been trained to empathize with an angry customer. We have been told that it is important to show we care by repeating or paraphrasing the concerns of our customers. This is supposed to make our customers feel heard and help diffuse their upset.  I am here to say that when these techniques are used and ring hollow, they become annoying. I really don’t care if you know what I feel if you can’t help me. I bet most of you would say the same.

The AT&T Way

  • Verbally show empathy for the problems of your customer
  • Say you will do whatever is necessary to resolve the problem
  • Assure the caller that you understand their pain
  • Lie about your efforts to resolve the problem, but do so with a pleasant tone to your voice

At least this is what I encountered when dealing with AT&T.

My Story

On February 28, 2013, in anticipation of our move to new offices, my husband placed an order to have our phone service transferred from Sonic to AT&T, only because we could not get Sonic service at the new location. We were told the phone lines and phone numbers would be transferred and activated at our new offices on March 11. But, for the past month, my husband and I have spent countless hours being lied to by AT&T, and are still without phone service. We have already been billed, but, our phones don’t work.

The installer arrived on the appointed day. He spent the better part of the day setting up wireless Internet service, making sure our computers, printers and other network devices were connected and operational. Then, at the end of the day, the installer surprised us by saying our two phone numbers would not be available for another week! Seems that the request for the numbers was never issued to our previous carrier.

So, we waited another week, believing that all would be well on the new activation day, March 19. The appointed day arrived, and, no phone service! Not only that, if anyone called our work phones, they would either get a fast busy or a recording telling the caller to try again later. Because we believed their would be no interruption in service, we didn’t tell our clients to call our mobile phones. We are sure we have missed calls and business as a result of this snafu.

After several more calls to AT&T seeking to resolve this problem, we were told the phone service would not be activated for another week! March 27


Since the previous activation dates were false, when I contacted technical support, again, rather than patiently waiting for the promise of service, I suggested that we have conference call between AT&T, Sonic and me.

Who is on first?

Lots of finger pointing and being told each party had already done what they were supposed to do, but no phone service for us. AT&T told us that because the phone numbers were no longer active, they couldn’t do anything until Sonic released the phone numbers, which was already to have been done. Because of AT&T’s delay in making the request, Sonic told us the numbers reverted to their parent company, XO.

Feels like we are caught in an endless loop of stupid, like the old Kingston Trio lyric, “trapped forever ‘neath the streets of Boston, riding on the MTA.”

I asked AT&T to call XO. We asked the rep from Sonic for the phone number of someone at XO who could help us. According to the csr at AT&T, only an email request would do. I insisted that following procedures was not restoring our phone service. Of course, AT&T was unable to connect with XO. I took action. I did a google search and found a phone number for XO tech support. I made a call – but this was not the right department. So, I called XO headquarters and pleaded for help. All the while, the AT&T customer service person was on hold. Within five minutes of my call to XO, a helpful person from XO called me and I put XO in touch with the CSR from AT&T.

The helpful Ester of XO called me the next day to give me an update. Not a peep from AT&T. I called them and got the same script I have been hearing all month. I finally said a I didn’t care if they were sorry, I just wanted the phones to work.

What I’ve learned about customer service from this situation

  • AT&T spends a lot of money on false advertising
  • They outsource their customer service to polite, but unimaginative and ineffective people
  • AT&T employees say the words they think customers want to hear, but they don’t know how to take
  • any action that doesn’t follow their script, even though problems don’t get resolved
  • They are always sorry for the inconvenience
  • They always know how distressed you are
  • They promise they will help you
  • They promise they will call you back (that never happens), and of course, the biggest lie,
  • That they will deliver superior service
  • And have a nice day!

What I really, really what, and I bet you do too

  • To be heard
  • To take effective action to solve the problem
  • Find a different way to deal with the problem when SOP fails

Being effective beats being empathetic in my book

We are waiting to see if our phone numbers are activated on March 27th. I am doubtful that will happen.Stay tuned.

If you have had a similar experience, please share it.

About Judy Baker

Judy Baker helps authors sell more books. She trains speakers to cultivate clients and grow their profits. Ms. Baker is a branding expert who builds brands, creates compelling conversations and memorable visuals. She transforms your passion into profits, one-step-at-a-time.