Why AT&T Isn’t Always the Big Bad Wolf

Big bad wolf's houseIf my friends are correct, I’m pretty fortunate that I don’t live in the U.S., have an iPhone and AT&T as my carrier. When I speak to people like Tim Jahn and Michael Schechter, they mention the crappy coverage and dropped calls they have to suffer on Apple’s baby thanks to the AT&T network, even though the fault may lie as equally with Apple as it does AT&T.

Being in Canada and on a BlackBerry, I guess this is something for me to be grateful for.

Yet it looks like AT&T has been listening to its customers, reading the blogs and social media feeds and actually wants to do something about their reputation. This comes in the shape of a new iPhone app that’s free to download.

Called “Mark the Spot”, the app allows users to report any problems they’re having at that time, from dropped calls to voice and coverage quality. Geo-tagging allows AT&T to pinpoint the exact area at that specific time, and should help them improve both service and coverage.

While it may not result in instantaneous improvements, the very fact that AT&T is actively seeking feedback is encouraging. With social media giving small-to-medium businesses a more level playing field with the big boys, larger companies are finally realizing they can’t ignore their customer bases in the way they used to.

This is evident in the way that Comcast have implemented a customer care team, led to Dell posting sales figures of $6.5 million thanks to Twitter promotions, and Best Buy has its dedicated Twelpforce team on hand to help with any issues.

It’s early days, and it may seem ironic that AT&T is using a mobile app to report issues on a mobile service – I’m guessing the reports will still get through in areas of crappy coverage? Yet it does show that they’re beginning to listen more.

And that’s got to be a good thing, yes?

Creative Commons License photo credit: C.M.

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Blog consulting with Danny Brown

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  1. says

    This is a very interesting app, and I do applaud AT&T for at least making an effort to fix their coverage. The big questions is whether or not it’s too little too late. If the iPhone comes out for Verizon this summer like the “experts” are saying it is, AT&T could see a mass exodus of customers.

    It’s also been interesting to see the company’s commercials, which have attacked each other more and more recently. It’s like they’re trying to do a PC vs. Mac type thing, but for some reason these ads come off as much more annoying than the Mac/PC ads. Maybe because the Mac ads focus on PC issues that everyone *knows* are true. Whereas these talk about the “coverage map,” which, for all we know, is a map that they threw darts at and said it was their coverage.

    Some random thoughts, on the issue, but thanks for bringing AT&T’s latest efforts to our attention.
    .-= Jackie Adkins´s most recent blog post …The Limits of Intellect =-.

    • says

      It is a double-edged sword, Jackie, and like you say, the litmus test will come if/when Verizon get the iPhone.

      In Canada, there are now three carriers that can provide coverage for the iPhone, yet it seems like the one that previously had exclusivity (Rogers) still has the advantage.

      Whether this is down to contract length (and will be the same for AT&T customers) remains to be seen.

      The ads don’t do either company any favours, and maybe AT&T realizes this as well? Time will tell, but if I was Verizon, I’d be watching this move by AT&T closely.

      Cheers for stopping by, always appreciated!

  2. says

    I am going to preface this with the fact that the damage is already done and I am tainted, but there is a part of me that puts this in the “Really?!?” column.

    It seems like a good way to make it seem like you are doing something without actually doing anything at all. Go into any phone carriers store, grab any piece of paper and what do you see… their map. These are organizations that have understood where their service is and how it works from the beginning.

    Does it really take my using an iphone app to tell them what thousands of their customers have already said (i.e. your phone service barely works in mid-town Manhattan) countless times?

    This feels like a marketing ploy to buy time more rather than offer a solution or a plan for dealing with the problem.

    That being said, if they take real action based off of this, no one will be happier than I am to eat my words.
    .-= Michael Schechter´s most recent blog post …Is the Tweet Generation the new Beat Generation? =-.

    • says

      Man you’re a harsh fella, Michael. 😉

      The thing with any service carrier (and I say this coming off several years at British Telecom) is that your coverage is always changing. AT&T probably didn’t expect the iPhone to take off the way it did, and have suffered for it by not having the amount of towers, satellite connections and others needed to make the product work the way it should.

      Peak times and business usage doesn’t help, nor does external forces (you’d be surprised how much car and personal stereos still affect cellular coverage).

      I’m not trying to condone AT&T’s coverage (and I may be singing a different tune if I was one of their unhappy customers), but I do applaud the fact they’re actually doing something about it. Too many don’t.

      And the app gives pinpoint details, by all accounts – something that may not always happen from a phoned-in complaint.

      Time will tell if it’s a success or not.

      • says

        Not harsh, just frustrated.

        This isnt a problem they were unaware of, it is just one that is finally being thrown in their face to an extent that cannot be ignored. When the customer complained, they did nothing… when the competition started poking holes it forced them to act.

        This is my third cycle of iPhone, that is three years my good man and AT&T is not putting the resources into handling their growth.

        This app feels like a stall tactic and a response to the competition and not the customer. Hopefully I will eat these words, but somehow I doubt it.
        .-= Michael Schechter´s most recent blog post …Is the Tweet Generation the new Beat Generation? =-.

      • says

        I agree with you Danny about the unexpected popularity (and subsequent demand on AT&T’s network).

        That’s not the point though.

        The point is that AT&T will gladly spend large sums of money, time, and resources to create unnecessary commercials and litigations against Verzion, for a claim that AT&T itself admitted is actually true (the fact that AT&T’s network is basically horrible in the 3G realm).

        If AT&T truly cared about it’s customers, it would focus on improving it’s horrible network. AT&T wouldn’t need such desperate customer service measures if it simply focused more on creating a stellar product.

        In my opinion.

  3. says

    Danny – interesting post. Like you, I’m not an AT&T customer – I left long ago due to coverage and customer service issues and have been a devoted Verizon customer ever since. In my experience their customer service is flawless. I even got them via live chat to help me with my blackberry in Croatia! So, this might help AT&T, but I agree that that commercials are not good – they rub me the wrong way.

    As for that tempting iPhone, I was trying to patiently wait for Verizon to get it. However, now with Droid and other android models coming I think iPhone might not be my choice after all and I’ve heard others say the same. iPhone might be losing their Verizon market share opportunity quickly. If I was Apple I’d be paying attention to that too.

    • says

      There’s no doubt that the Droid is the phone that has the best chance of breaking Apple’s share. Although, to be fair, both have a long way to go to break Nokia’s share. Should be interesting times ahead, Rebecca :)

  4. says

    “I’m guessing the reports will still get through in areas of crappy coverage?”

    Ironically, no, they don’t. I tried sending a report from a crappy Edge spot yesterday (mere miles from downtown Chicago, the third largest city in the United States of America) and was unable to send the report. Tried sending one earlier today from my home and it failed. The second attempt went through, though.

    I’m frustrated, obviously, and 150% biased against AT&T. Why? Because I’ve been a loyal customer for 2 years now (simply because I wanted an iPhone) and AT&T’s network is just as bad now as it was when the iPhone debuted.

    And they think a simple iPhone “tell us where our service is truly shitty” app is going to solve all that? When the irony of it all is that you can’t send a report when the signal is dropped/lost/non-existent?

    I don’t think so. Verizon made those commercials for a reason. They’re 100% true. AT&T has a lot of work to do and most of it is worrying more about improving their network than making false claims against competitors.

    Sorry. You caught me on a passionate day :)

    • says

      Passion’s a great thing to have, Tim. :)

      A little bit of me wonders if some of it’s to do with the iPhone itself? I know folks over here in Canada that have the same issues with Rogers, the main wireless network over here. Dropped calls, failed connections, etc – maybe it’s a tech issue from Apple’s side as well?

      Not saying that this accounts for all the crap that you guys are going through, mind you – just a thought.

  5. says

    I had Cingular service, then ATT bought them out (or merged, or whatever) and the service coverage changed overnight….FOR THE WORSE.

    That was 2-3 years ago (or whenever, seems like an eternity) and service still sucks.

    I don’t believe a new app on the Iphone will change much. They know their coverage stinks and haven’t done anything about it yet.

    David Tinney
    .-= David Tinney´s most recent blog post …Your Virtual Business Card =-.

    • says

      Should be interesting to see how things change if Apple opens up more wireless carriers in the U.S. to the iPhone. We’ve just allowed Telus and Bell in Canada to get the iPhone – see if it’s better than the “service” from Rogers. :)