Tag Archives: AT&T

Idiotic Injecting

No one that I know enjoys going to the doctor and getting an injection. Whether it’s as simple as a flu shot or something more complex such as a regimen of allergy shots, it’s not a particularly enjoyable experience. 

Today’s topic is an injection of another sort, but the experience isn’t enjoyable either. It turns out that AT&T has jumped on the “no free lunch” bandwagon with respect to offering wireless hotspots to its customers. A Stanford computer scientist and lawyer was travelling and discovered that the AT&T hotspot to which he had connected was serving ads over web pages he was accessing. When he went to Stanford’s home page, for instance (a page that has zero ads on it), he saw a pop-up ad for jewelry and AT&T itself, and the ads persisted for several seconds until he could close them.

He discovered that the ISP was tampering with HTTP traffic – that’s what serves web pages. It is using a service from a third party to inject the ads and to monetize the traffic. AT&T is far from the first “free” service to do this – Comcast and Marriott are just two others. But as the professor wrote:

AT&T has an (understandable) incentive to seek consumer-side income from its free wifi service, but this model of advertising injection is particularly unsavory. Among other drawbacks: It exposes much of the user’s browsing activity to an undisclosed and untrusted business. It clutters the user’s web browsing experience. It tarnishes carefully crafted online brands and content, especially because the ads are not clearly marked as part of the hotspot service. And it introduces security and breakage risks, since website developers generally don’t plan for extra scripts and layout elements.

In other words, while you might have accepted that as your ISP the folks at AT&T will see and record everything that you’re doing, you might be concerned about an outside company doing so.  Moreover, as a publisher, your beautiful content environment is now sullied by ads from which you derive zero revenue.

If you’re on an AT&T hotspot, you’re already an AT&T customer.  I don’t believe you can log on if you’re not and you’re probably paying them handsomely each month (I know I am).  This sort of nickel and diming might help revenues (I wonder how much in the scheme of things) but it doesn’t help with customer satisfaction. That’s a point from which any business can learn.  Idiotic injection from my perspective.  Yours?

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Filed under digital media, Huh?

Misleading Marketing

Sometimes it’s just too easy to point out corporate stupidity and today I’m taking that easy road. You might be aware that the FTC is suing AT&T for allegedly misleading consumers by offering them “unlimited” data plans, and cutting back their data speed when they exceeded a maximum monthly allotment of data usage. AT&T doesn’t deny doing it, which is smart since there is ample evidence to support the accusation. Nope. Instead, they’ve told the FTC that their hands are clean since customers should have known they were going to be throttled if they used too much data.

I’m not all that knowledgable about network congestion management.  I do know that all ISPs (and a wireless carrier is one of those although you might not think of them that way) use “traffic shaping” to manage the load on their system.  Generally that’s something that’s imposed on a short-term basis to manage load.  So while there may be a heavy demand for bandwidth during primetime evening hours, traffic is much lighter in the middle of the night, for example.  Wireless carriers (except for Sprint) all impose limits on the bandwidth a user can have.  In my mind it’s a false scarcity since most people don’t come close to using all the bandwidth in their plans.  Even with the explosion of mobile video usage, no one is claiming that our wireless infrastructure is near its limit.  But let’s put aside the alleged technical issue and focus on the real point.

You can’t sell something as “unlimited” and then place limits on it.  Selling someone an unlimited high-speed data plan which becomes very low-speed after a certain, unstated point is misleading at best and fraudulent at worst.  The  fact that customers continue to renew their contracts isn’t an indicator that they don’t mind being deceived; it’s more of an indication about how little choice we all have.

This quote, taken from a MediaPost article on the subject is what I find particularly galling:

AT&T adds that consumers with unlimited data plans signed up for those contracts even though they “had reason to anticipate the possibility” that they would be throttled.

I don’t know how someone at AT&T wrote that with a straight face.  Really?  When you said “unlimited” a customer with zero technical training about network management should have anticipated that once they crossed some boundary known only to you they would suffer a service degradation?

Any of us in business need to run our businesses in accordance with the business model we develop to maintain profitability. If AT&T’s engineers tell them that throttling is necessary, so be it.  The point is that we need to let our customers know what they’re buying – honestly, transparently, and actively.  Lying isn’t a marketing plan – it’s just stupid.  Right?

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A Tale Of Two CSR’s

It was the best of experiences, it was the worst of experiences to paraphrase the famous beginning of ” Tale Of Two Cities.”

Customer services

(Photo credit: gordon2208)

The next, little remembered part Dickens’ actual text is “it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…” With a nod towards that, let me relate two experiences of the last 24 hours and you get a couple of good examples of customer support done at either end of the spectrum.

First, Cablevision. My wife was having issues with the cable TV yesterday. The issue was it wasn’t working. Someone in the house has run her through the troubleshooting protocols any number of times (ahem) so by the time she called customer service she knew that the problem was on the cable end and not something in the house.  The rep informed her there was no trouble in the area nor was anyone working on the lines nearby so she’d have to send out a technician.  She set an appointment for 24 hours later and basically washed her hands of the problem.  My wife then headed out to do errands.  Lo and behold, not one but three Cablevision trucks were on the road working on the lines.  The crew informed her they were doing maintenance and apologized for the brief outage.  By the time she got home, the service was fine and she cancelled the appointment (without speaking to a human, by the way).

Second, AT&T.  Our internet service kept failing yesterday afternoon.  The modem showed the DSL connection was fine but there was no internet.  The rep pinged the modem and said there was definitely an issue but wasn’t seeing any issues except in a town 5 miles away.  She asked me to hold while she escalated the issue to the tech support supervisors.  3 minutes later, she came on the line to explain what was being done and asked me to hang on.  She came back every couple of minutes to update me.  Finally, she said that there did seem to be an outage in the area, gave me a support ticket number and told me when the problem would be solved.   There was a lot more detail about what tests we ran but the important point was that she actively looked for information and kept me informed about what she was doing to solve the problem.  The service is fine today.

Contrast the two.  One rep seemed to want to do nothing but get my wife off the phone as quickly as possible.  She gave little information and what she did give was just dead wrong.  The other one was proactive, communicative, and apologetic.  Why isn’t Cablevision my internet provider too?  Duh.

Customers expect reps to treat them as the VIP’s they are.  While there aren’t a lot of choices about TV or internet providers in any area, there are a few.  I know I can get higher-speed internet from Cablevision.  Think I’m going to make that move?  Would you?  Part of being a good marketer is remembering that any touchpoint the business has with consumers is part of marketing.  It all needs to be executed at the same high level.  If you’re ignoring the customer service reps in your marketing thinking you’re missing the boat, as these examples make clear.  You agree?

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Filed under Consulting, Huh?

Reach Out And Touch Someone

In the late 1970’s the folks at the Bell System, which was part (a BIG part) of AT&T, ran commercials with the theme “Reach Out And Touch Someone.”  It urged consumers to be proactive – to pick up the telephone and “just say hi.”  After last week I sort of wish they had followed their own advice and let me explain why.

AT&T Store

 (Photo credit: JeepersMedia)

My family and I have been on AT&T Wireless for decades.  So long that two of our four accounts have unlimited data plans grandfathered in (try to buy one of those any more – you can’t!).  We found, however, that sometimes one or two of us would go over the monthly data cap and have to pay additional charges while the two on the unlimited accounts rarely used much data at all (we’re often connected to WiFi).  Our monthly bill was close to $300 and we’ve been thinking about finding a cheaper, better plan for us all.

The good news is that our bill is now $100 a month less and we’re still with AT&T.  They have a shared data plan that will work for us all and even though two of us lost our unlimited data it won’t be an issue given our usage history.  The bad news is that AT&T came very close to losing us as customers.  Why?

Because we had to figure this out for ourselves.  Do I think it’s reasonable for a huge company to look at its customers and figure out that someone could be paying them $1,200 a year less?  Actually, I do.  That’s what the digital and data revolution of the last decade has been about to a large extent.  Using what you know about your customers to anticipate their needs and provide better service.  I will say that once we went to the AT&T store to confirm what we were able to discern on our own about adjusting our plan they could not have been more helpful and we left quite happy.

No one can take customers for granted.  While AT&T knows an awful lot more about how my family uses data and wireless services than most businesses know about their customers, it’s incumbent on all of us to take whatever it is we do know and try to put it to use in a proactive manner.  That’s what I urge my clients to do.  And now I’m urging you as well.  You in?

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The Bluetooth Runaround

Today we have yet another tale of consumer woe and multiple corporate failures.  This one is a doozy, since it affects a couple of popular products and is generating a lot of chatter on the interwebs.  In fact, one popular site has over a hundred comments on this topic and that’s just a subset of the problem.

Android invasion, Sydney, Australia

(Photo credit: Pranav Bhatt)

As our featured players we have a very popular phone, a couple of very popular families of cars, every cell phone carrier (notice I didn’t use the term “popular” with them) and a LOT of consumers.  Let me explain.

A coupe of months ago I upgraded my phone to the Galaxy SG3.  I love the phone – great display, very fast – no complaints at all.  It came with the Ice Cream Sandwich version of Android and I use AT&T as my carrier.  When I got the phone I linked it to my car – a Nissan Altima Hybrid – using Bluetooth and was happily using the car’s built-in hand’s free system to chat and drive safely.

A month ago I became even happier when AT&T pushed an upgrade to Android, installing the Jelly Bean version.  The phone seemed even faster, I got Google Now, and  I was happy to be running a more current version.  Until I received a phone call in the car.  It sounded like an alien calling and I had to pull over to pick up the phone and talk.  I rebooted the phone, it connected to the car, but the sound was bad.  Unusable, actually.  I tried pairing it again to the car, hard resets of the phone and a few other tricks but the audio is completely garbled.

A search on the topic showed me that we have a multiple part blame game going on.  It is an issue affecting not just Nissans but VW/Audi, Inifinitis and a few other models.  Just this phone, every carrier, and only when the phone is upgraded to Jelly Bean.  The carriers say it’s Samsung’s fault.  Samsung says the auto guys need to upgrade the Bluetooth software in their cars.  They all blame Android for not making the Bluetooth version in Jelly Bean backward compatible.

Here is what none of them are doing:  taking responsibility for fixing it.  What they’re not seeing is that it’s costing them money as well as massive amounts of goodwill.  At a minimum  it’s hundreds of calls to customer service, each of which costs money   In the case of the carriers, many people are demanding new phones (which have the older version of Android) to replace the upgraded one.  That’s expensive.  Does any business have too many customers?  There are a lot of cars/phones/carriers from which one can choose, and while very few people are going to make an immediate change to their car or carrier, people don’t forget how they were supported when the time for that evaluation comes.

I’m not sure how I’m going to deal with this.  Maybe I’ll just try to use the phone’s speaker if I get a call while driving.  Maybe I’ll go get a new S3 and not upgrade it until I see this is fixed or they push another version of Android (the rumors are 4.2.2. fixes it).  I’m really interested to see if any party to this mess steps up and does something other than point fingers.  Why am I not surprised?  Isn’t that sad?

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Take My Money…PLEASE!

Another week, another horror tale from the world of stupid online corporate tricks.


(Photo credit: wuji9981)

Today we bring you the sad and somewhat horrifying story of the phone company that won’t take your money.  Trust me – I wish I could report that it was out of some philanthropic urge it had to give us all a break.  Not so.  Instead, it’s (yet another) example of how letting programmers, lawyers, and designers do things without input from the real world can spell disaster.

Here at Ritter Media World Headquarters we have a land line as our primary business phone.  It’s from AT&T (yep, them again) and on the bill is also my internet service.  Generally I send them an electronic check once a month but that takes a couple of days to get to them from the bank (a great topic for another post – why the hell should they hold the money for two business days?).  As sometimes happens, the bill got buried in a pile of paper and rather than be late I thought I’d go right to the ATT website and pay the bill directly via credit card.

That was what I thought I’d do.  Unfortunately, after spending 20 minutes on the website, I still couldn’t figure out how to link primary account (it’s the only landline account) to my email and I couldn’t pay the bill.  I tried linking it my ATT Wireless accounts – neither of those worked.  I tried the ATT email they assigned me (but never use) – that didn’t work.  I finally gave up and called them – no time on hold, one layer of menus, type in the credit card, done.

Obviously ATT is a lot more experienced with phones than they are with websites.  Paying via the telephone was a snap.  If someone like me – who is on the web almost 12 hours a day and breathes digital – can’t figure out how to use the web service portal, imagine how someone who can barely send a text will feel.  There are a couple of points here.  First, I wonder how many “civilians” ATT put on the site to test navigation and usability?  Did they give them 3 or 4 tasks – like pay your bill! – and observe them?  Second, stories such as this are why there is still a long way to go with a large segment of the population with respect to making them accept technology into their lives.

Have a horror story to share?  We’re listening!

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Filed under digital media, Helpful Hints, Huh?

A Great Service Experience

I’ve spent a fair amount of time in this space complaining about shoddy customer service.

LAS VEGAS - MARCH 24:  Signs at the AT&T booth...

(Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)

I’m continually surprised by how few companies emphasize the human touch in a time when technology is making commerce less human in many ways.  However, in the last couple of days I’ve had a couple of really good customer service experiences and I thought that in the interest of balance I’d spend a post or two writing about them.  I think there are some lessons to be learned from each.

The first good experience came from the folks at AT&T.  I’ve been pretty vocal about them when they pushed the phone insurance scam and I had some issues with them selling me a Blackberry over the last couple of years.  I recently took a business trip to Canada and upon landing in the Great White North I got a text telling me that I was on another network and would be incurring data roaming charges.  I read it quickly and was under the impression that the charge would be about $30 if I used under 15Mb.  Not a problem.

Imagine my surprise when I received my bill and the data roaming charges were close to $300, even though my data usage was under 15Mb.  As it turns out, the text was more about an available international data plan to which I needed to subscribe than what was going on.  My fault, I misunderstood (easy to do when you’re reading a text while rushing off a plane to make a connection).  I immediately called AT&T and after a few minutes on hold I spoke to someone in international data (which is where I was routed for some reason).  Getting to this human was not easy – from a business point of view I know why they bury the “human” option but it’s difficult to defend from a service point of view.  This person transferred me to billing, where I spent a minute explaining the issue.  Without me asking, the rep asked me to hold a minute, came back on and said I’d be credited with the full amount of the data charges and explained the international data plans to me (which I will sign up for).  No hassle, no begging, no treating me like an idiot.  What a breath of fresh air!

I’m hoping that the rep had access to see that I’d been a customer practically since cell phones were invented (like 1993?) and we have multiple phones.  That should have made it an easier refund.  If they didn’t know that, I give them even more credit for treating a customer like we all should: the reason we’re in business and someone who is given every benefit of the doubt even when they might be dead wrong.

It’s a good lesson for all of us who deal with customers (and who doesn’t!).  Despite my occasional issues with them, AT&T will continue to be my service of choice.

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Filed under Helpful Hints