Posted December 30, 2009 10:04 am by with 5 comments

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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 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.

  • Nick Bostic

    From a reputation management perspective, you’re dead on.

    However, I am so sick and tired of hearing about how bad AT&T is. I have a personal iPhone 3GS, a work Verizon BlackBerry and a work Sprint 3G/4G modem. When I travel to San Fran & NYC, all three are pretty bad. When I’m at home in Oregon, AT&T is the clear leader. Not to mention the fact that I can take my GSM phone to virtually any country in the world, EDGE is still faster than EVDO and my battery life on GSM is 2x what a comparable CDMA phone would be…

    I used to work at AT&T Wireless (pre-Cingular) when one of those Consumer Reports came out saying AT&T was the worst (this has been their mantra for years). They said IF you HAD to choose AT&T, go with X, Y or Z phone. The thing was, all of the phones Consumer Reports suggested hadn’t been sold for well over a year and were complete POS’s even when we sold them. So to me, Consumer Reports needs to do some reputation management.

    I’ve also been a PC guy most of my life and have noticed that Apple users are a bit more needy. There’s nothing wrong with that, but why is the Genius Bar always booked? Apple users seem less likely to try to figure out solutions on their own, so when their beloved iPhone drops a call, they seem to forget that this is WIRELESS and that they are still carrying a computer far more powerful than anything they dreamt of 10 years ago IN THEIR POCKET.

  • Mister Z

    I’m in Sacramento and I have AT&T with a Blackberry Bold and while surprisingly my Data Plan works fine, my call connectivity is really horrible. I could be standing (or sitting) in one spot and have all bars, but then randomly get a “call failed” in the middle of a conversation. I drop calls all the time. I want Cingular back.

  • nice post, It is a bookmark worth^^

  • I’m not so sure what everyone’s problem is with AT&T. I’ve had them for a long time, and I’ve been thrilled. Anytime I’ve contacted them, everything is taken care of quickly. When they switched to Cingular for a bit, the advertisement said they had the least dropped calls. I’ve never had a dropped call except when I’ve been in the middle of nowhere and only had one bar or something like that (the one exception was some sort of hardware/firmware problem, and when I called AT&T, they did something and then had me powercycle my phone three times, and the problem went away…)

    When I’ve helped people with Verizon issues, and ended up at the Verizon store, it always takes at least 30 minutes just to talk to someone (seems like their strategy is to have you walk around and buy other stuff while you wait).
    .-= Jon Daley´s last blog ..AT&T Coverage and Service? =-.

  • As more and more people begin to rely on their smartphones, every wireless company will need to work to improve call quality and download speeds. Today’s consumers expect their technology to work flawlessly, every time.

    I think each company has its own unique set of problems to fix, perhaps it’s just that AT&T customers are the most vocal.