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?
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?
It was the best of experiences, it was the worst of experiences to paraphrase the famous beginning of ” Tale Of Two Cities.”
(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?
Filed under Consulting, Huh?