Archive for February 6th, 2012|Daily archive page


In Bureaucracy, Self-Help on February 6, 2012 at 10:30 pm

Do you want to remove a service or dispute a charge on your AT&T bill?

Then good luck, because AT&T doesn’t want to hear from you.

And to make sure they don’t, they’ve designed their phone system to keep you from reaching anyone who can resolve your problem.

This company, in short, is a disgrace to both communications and customer service.

Most customers try–repeatedly–to get help through the local office of AT&T.  And the first thing they get?  A recorded message touting how wonderful the company is.

Then they’re forced to answer a seemingly endless series of recorded questions. Even repeatedly saying “agent” doesn’t bring on a live person.

If someone finally answers, s/he will require you to provide information that you’ve already given to the recorded questioner. In short  You’ve just wasted time with their automated system; now you can waste more time with their employee.

What if the customer service can’t help you?  S/he might say you’ve reached the wrong department–when it was AT&T’s own  automated phone system that routed you there.

Or s/he might say, “I’m not authorized to do that.” Then you’ll be transfered to–another endless battery of shoe-tree questions.

Even calling AT&T’s corporate offices in Dallas, Texas, doesn’t guarantee you’ll get the help you need.

I recently faced this problem when I tried to get AT&T to keep its promise to give me a $30 credit on my phone bill.

I repeatedly called AT&T’s Dallas corporate headquarters, but reached a customer service rep only once.  And she quickly said she could not resolve my problem.

Even AT&T’s own records about my problem proved inaccurate.  Last November, I had canceled the company’s Internet service.  But the rep believed that this had been an accident, and she offered to set it up again.

When I said I needed an adjustment to my phone bill, she said she couldn’t help me.  What she could do was–transfer me to yet another shoe-tree.

The rest of my calls to this company’s headquarters went unanswered, as I was blocked by one shoe-tree after another.

So what’s the solution?

First, if you can’t get satisfaction from your local AT&T office, call the president–of AT&T–at: 1-800-283-6407.

Second, if you can’t reach anyone there, call your local Public Utilities Commission (PUC), which regulates the  operations of major utilities within your state.

It doesn’t matter that the company is based outside your state. It must legally comply with state laws regulating phone companies.  If it doesn’t, it can be barred from operating there–and forfeiting all those juicy revenues.

Some states care more about protecting their consumers than others.  California, for example, has a reasonably aggressive PUC.  When it places a call to AT&T, somebody there will pay attention.

That’s what happened when I called the PUC.

Only then did someone at AT&T deign to answer the phone.  And only then did a rep from the President’s office call me to ensure I got the $30 credit promised me.

Third, if you can’t reach the PUC, call the office of your state senator or assemblyman. 

The PUC is a bureaucracy.  And, like any bureaucracy, it doesn’t always work smoothly.  It uses a shoe-tree phone system that is as effective as AT&T’s at preventing people from reaching the help they need.

Senators and assemblymen are politicians who know how vitally important it is to make constituents happy.  And nothing makes a constituent happy like having a problem resolved.

Happy constituents remember such politicians on election day.  So the assemblyman or senator will have staffers who know how to reach the PUC–and other state agencies.

Fourth, when you reach the PUC, explain why you need to contact AT&T.  And if you haven’t been able to contact them, explain that, too.

AT&T often blames its own phone system for this disconnect!  But the company designed this systemNobody forced it on themAT&T can change that system anytime it chooses.

In fact, the system has actually been designed to keep customers from reaching AT&T officials with complaints!

So if you want to disconnect your phone, cable TV or internet service–but you can’t reach anyone–you’re still stuck with that service.   And they can keep billing you for it.  

Or if there’s an error on your phone bill–but you can’t find anyone to resolve it–the error stays on your bill and you face a threat of “pay up–or else.”

Fifth, post the problems you’ve had with utilities like AT&T at consumer-protection and/or -complaint websites, such as Yelp! or Pissed Consumer.

Even giant corporations fear bad publicity.  And the Internet gives enraged consumers a powerful weapon for exacting their revenge.

If you doubt it, ask the Susan G Komen for the Cure Foundation.

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