Branding Fiasco — Better Be Who You Say You Are!

Struggling to build a brand your customers will recognize and trust? Then DON’T follow this recent example given by a well-known telecommunications company.

Our experience as customers offers great instruction into the concept of branding. Come with me on a recent “experience” and you’ll see what I mean. Here’s the situation:

I want to order an 800 number. On my AT&T bill is a customer services number. I call it. A voice mail gives four options. None of which I want. Just TRY to get a representative. I am instructed to dial another number. I am given three options. Hit 0 for operator and the disembodied voice says I have called after hours. The hours are 7am – 10pm, Monday-Friday, Eastern Standard Time.

Fine. It is now 4am Monday in California. They should be open. By 4:30am in CA I have called repeatedly and punched in all the prompts until I am ready to punch someone. I am still told by a disembodied voice that the offices are closed. I try another number. This time, I reach a computer voice.

Computer: “I’ll try and help you. Tell me in your own words what you want.”

Me: “Toll free service.”

Computer: “I’m sorry. I did not understand. Let me tell you what services we offer…”

Me: “I want a person”

Computer: “Tell me, in your own words, what you want.”

Me: “Toll free service!”

Computer: “I am sorry. I do not understand what you want.”

Me: (screaming) “I want a person.”

Computer: “I am sorry. I…”


I call 00 in frustration. “Operator!!”

Operator: “How can I help?”

Me: “I have been trying without luck to get someone in customer service. I have been caught in a voice mail hell with an atavistic voice. How do I talk to a person?”

Operator: “I am sorry you are having problems. You can talk to a supervisor.”

Supervisor: “Can I help you?”

Me: (heatedly) “I want to ask about a toll free number. I have dialed three numbers and cannot get in. It says the offices open at 7am and now it’s almost 8am EST!”

Supervisor: “Oh, sometimes they forget to turn off that message so the phones can ring through. We have to call and tell them.”

Me: (incredulously) “You mean the PHONE company has employees who do NOT know their first order of business is to turn on phones to answer customers!”

Supervisor: (calmly) “I am sorry. Let me give you a different number than the one you have been calling. You need to call the office for AT&T 1-800 Easy Reach.

“Easy Reach?!??!?” Who are they trying to kid! I call this “Impossible to Reach.” 

Branding Lesson #1: Your name sets up an expectation. Live up to it or suffer.

There is a promise established in what we advertise and name things. Southwest Airlines had thought to create a baggage claim delivery time slogan. Then they realized that due to the configuration in a few of their terminals, to quote such a time was almost impossible. They dropped the campaign even though it would have been true in MOST of their sites.

Branding Lesson #2: Your business sets up an expectation. If you don’t deliver for yourself, how can you deliver for the customer?

A phone company that doesn’t answer the phones is a scary thought. We’d expect it of any other business, but the phone company!! If you own a paint store and your store is in sorry need of paint, what does that say? If the waiters in a restaurant cannot tell you about food on the menu because they never get to eat it, what does that say? Look at your business with critical eyes. Would you do business with you?

Branding Lesson #3: The past never counts. The present creates the brand.

It is the actual in-the-moment experience that creates a brand in a customer’s eyes. Brand is a living entity that is re-earned, renewed, or revoked with every interaction. Advertising only creates awareness. I am convinced the very best, most unique, most competitive maker of a “brand” is the well-trained, empowered employee who can disregard systems and procedures in order to continue a human interaction. As more organizations substitute technology for people, the company that answers its own phone and get humans connected in short order will win the day.

(c) 2003, McDargh Communications. All rights reserved.

Eileen McDargh is founder of McDargh Communications, a consulting and training company specializing in inner and interpersonal skill development for the purpose of improving the life of a business and the business of life. Visit Eileen at or




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