Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Could AT&T Be the BMW of Telecommunications?

Is it possible that at&t is actually the BMW of Wireless Carriers?

Last night I had the great pleasure to have dinner with a good friend of mine who is a respected best selling, published author and professor of market research at the University of California, San Diego. We talked about many things, but became facscinated as I shared with him a frustration I suspect that many share at AT&T. I told him (as an employee) of our puzzlement with the fact that we have consumer surveys such as the recent one from Consumer Reports where our customers rate us lower than our competitors yet independent testing shows our network performs as good as our best competitors regarding dropped call rates and is superior when it comes to data downloads.

I looked at him and said how can that be?

He replied, its quite simple actually and it makes perfect sense. He held up his iPhone and said, "clearly this has changed everything, but not necessarily in the way that you might expect." I asked him what he meant? He replied, "You have demanding customers. They simply expect and demand more than what the other carrier's customers expect and demand." He went on to explain that the kind of person who is attracted to an iPhone is purchasing something quite different than other mobile phones. Different than even users of Blackberrys, 90% of whom only buy them for the phone and email service. An iPhone user has a completely different expectation than users of any other phone with the possible exception of Droid users.

My friend continued, you have "BMW" customers in a moblity world of Nissans, Toyotas and Fords. BMW markets their automobiles as "the Ultimate Driving Machine". A BMW owner expects more, in terms of performance, than any other owner in the industry. You may be surpised to know that owner ratings for the BMW are somewhat middle of the road. Is this because the BMW is an "average" performing vehicle? No, it is because the BMW owner has a much higher benchmarking standard that he/she is grading against than the average car owner.

The Consumer Reports survey relied heavily on iPhone owners. The demographics of this group of customers are younger, significantly more tech savvy, and sophisticated than users of most mobile devices. (It is no wonder that Droid targets these demographics with their advertising. They are looking to blunt the penetration of the iPhone (and AT&T) with this very core group of users).
In addition to being younger, hipper and more tech savvy, they have a much different standards and expectation of network performance than the average mobile device user. It is no surprise that this very demanding, tech savvy group would give us poorer marks than other mobile operators.

"So, what would be the best way for AT&T to communicate?", I asked.  My friend suggested AT&T focus on the user rather than the brand. For example, rather than say the network is the fastest network with a dropped call rate equal to the best in the industry, AT&T should say something like, "Our customers are the most tech savvy, demanding users of mobile devices on the planet and we engineer our network for these customers. Our customers rate us tougher than any other carrier because they buy the most sophisticated devices on the planet and demand a network to match!" If someone brings up surveys such as Consumer Reports, my friend suggested the following response, "It is no wonder that surveys, such as Consumer Reports rate us tough, we have the most tech savvy, demanding customers on the planet and they expect nothing less than the very best in network performance."

An interesting perspective indeed.  While I am well aware that there are pockets of performance where AT&T has some distance to go, this certainly helped me to understand the apparent disconnect between the very good results of the unbiased testing and customer surveys such as Consumer Reports.  I walked away from this discussion with a different perspective and an enhanced respect for the AT&T customer.

Is it possible that instead of #attfail, bloggers should be saying AT&T "the ultimate communication experience"?
What do you think? Could AT&T be the BMW of the mobility world?

PS, I fully expect many to disagree with this whole perspective.  I too have read many posts by people who do not have the service they demand and this post does not focus on customer care challenges, still, I think this way of looking at the Consumer Reports (and other) surveys makes a great deal of sense.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

What would you do if you were AT&T

As an employee of AT&T, I woke up this morning and was deeply disappointed with this report from Consumer Reports.  I felt a little sad and very frustrated.  It puzzles me.  When I see people post comments about how we should spend more on the network instead of advertising, I feel hurt because I know that as a company we invested over $18 Billion this year AND $18 billion last year to improve the network.  I see our internal data and the unbiased, scientific data shows our network performance on par with the best in the industry, both voice and in the case of data, there is nothing faster or more reliable.   With the exception of San Francisco (and to a degree LA and NYC) I am told that our performance has improved a lot.  These areas (San Fran, LA and NYC) should see improvement within the next few months as the equipment needed to complete those areas upgrades have finally come in.  So it is difficult to fully understand the CR results.

It is clear that at&t has not fully met the expectations of our customers but with independent, scientific studies showing parity of performance, I am led to conclude that our customers expect more from the user experience.  As an iPhone user personally, I can say that the way I use my phone now is very different than when I had a Blackberry.  I am on it all day long using it in ways that I NEVER used my Blackberry.  So I am wondering if using the iPhone shifts the demands and expectations of the user.  (BTW, I have been having an excellent experience, very few dropped calls and excellent download performance, with my iPhone both here in San Diego and my home area near Washington DC.)

So readers, I have a challenge for you.  Assume you were me (or at&t) and you accepted as true that the independent studies are accurate, that our network actually performs at least as well as our rivals, what could you tell us that would help to explain the CR results.

PS, insulting us and just repeating "fix the network" is not very helpful.  Again, I ask you to assume that independent studies tell us that our dropped call rate is on par with the best and our data performance is actually faster and more reliable is true.  Then help us to understand why the CR results are what they are.

Thank you in advance.