You don’t have to look very far, especially in the online space, to find a disgruntled AT&T wireless customer. If you would like to increase your likelihood of finding a seething AT&T wireless customer just ask around in New York and San Francisco for iPhone users. This, in and of itself, is not news. As a result though, AT&T faces reputation issues that are extending beyond the initial complaints about service. As the company struggles to maintain some positive buzz it is running headlong into the ‘perception is reality’ of today’s world.
When there are article headlines on CNNMoney.com like this one, “AT&T: The Most Hated Company in iPhone Land”, it’s hard to not cringe no matter how you feel about the company, its service or anything else. One thing that the article does point out is that AT&T may be a victim of its own iPhone success.
Analysts say AT&T’s problems would have happened on any network that carried Apple’s (AAPL, Fortune 500) iPhone because of the overwhelming amount of data downloaded by iPhone users. Over the past three years, AT&T’s data traffic increased 5,000% because of the iPhone.
“The challenges that AT&T has are being faced by a lot of operators around the world: Very rapidly growing usage coupled with dense populations,” said Daniel Hays, wireless expert and partner at consultancy PRTM. “Would it have been different on Verizon? Probably not.”
Now, of course Verizon would dispute that position and they have been doing so with their “There’s a map for that!” campaign. Verizon’s ‘first to market’ ads had to be responded to, in a sense, by AT&T which put AT&T on the defensive. The results are some pretty weak ads using a B-list celebrity that don’t do much to fight off the perception that AT&T is just a poor service provider.
I was enlightened to some degree by the CNN article despite the headline. It pointed out some of the cold hard realities of being the network for iPhone users. The biggest is that iPhone users have increased the data traffic on the network at the incredibly large percentage noted earlier. AT&T admits that service in two of the most important metros for the wired set, New York City and San Francisco, are below their standards so they at least admit that they have issues.
Regardless of that admission though the following is the reality they face:
It’s not just New York and San Francisco iPhone users who are grumbling. An annual Consumer Reports study recently rated AT&T (T, Fortune 500) the worst in customer satisfaction in 19 cities across the country. (Rival Verizon Wireless rated No. 1 in the study.)
This stuff spreads like wildfire online and becomes bigger and bigger if not handled well. To this point it appears as if AT&T has not been doing such a good job of turning that perception around. A perception that may have some cold hard reality attached to it might come off better if addressed proactively rather than having the current reactive stance (My opinion of course and we would love to hear yours )
So how do you know that the ‘you know what’ has hit the fan with your company’s reputation online and offline? You become the butt of a Saturday Night Live joke.
“It was reported this week that Google would soon launch its own cell phone as a challenge to the iPhone,” said “Saturday Night Live’s” Seth Meyers on Dec. 19. “Also a challenge to the iPhone? Making phone calls.”
So, all of you online reputation management experts out there what do you think AT&T should do? Is there anything it can do? A little end of the year exercise in applying all that theory might do us all some good. Let’s hear it.