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Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word

November 6, 2009  

"AT&T customers have been complaining for months about dropped calls, spotty service, delayed text and voice messages and slow download speeds for the iPhone," says Jackie Huba in a post at the Church of the Customer Blog.

In response, AT&T produced a three-minute YouTube video in which it appears that a spokesperson called "Seth the Blogger Guy" will address concerns from a large number of unhappy customers.

"Look, we see the discussions on the Web," he says, "on blogs, on Twitter, on Facebook. So we thought it would be a good idea to take what's being said head-on." So far, so good, but Seth quickly loses his focus by:

  • Describing the huge demands placed on networks by smartphone usage
  • Congratulating AT&T for its role in expanding the smartphone market
  • Detailing the extraordinary efforts to facilitate a smooth rollout for the iPhone's MMS feature—which had yet to be released when the video was made, and about which no customers had complained.

Nearly two minutes into the presentation, Seth finally gets to the point. "So what are we doing about it?" he says. "Well, put simply, we're working around the clock to enhance and expand out network to meet these challenges."

He concludes by telling viewers what AT&T plans to do and how much it plans to spend, but fails to offer concrete timelines, or much else that would matter to a customer frustrated by terrible service.

More importantly, though, your Marketing Inspiration is to consider what Seth left out: "[He never] says what customers really want to hear," notes Huba. "'We're sorry.'"

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  • by Ken Kadet Fri Nov 6, 2009 via web

    We seem to be constantly demanding apologies from our leaders in politics and business. I agree there's power in admitting failure and saying "I'm sorry".

    At the same time, I don't know that AT&T wants to "apologize". Look, they underestimated demand. They're working on fixing it. From what I'm reading, most of the country isn't experiencing these problems.

    But Apple and AT&T should think hard about the lessons here... First, Apple never should have signed an exclusive contract with one carrier. It's bad for their customers not to have choices in this regard. Not only that, but the popularity of the iPhone places undue stress on the systems of one provider's network.

    Apple should take far more of the blame here for failing their customers. Instead, they hang AT&T out to dry. And now, competitors are coming out with their own touch screen phones...which won't be as cool, but I bet they sell a lot of them...

    But, of course, Apple never apologizes.

  • by Doug Pruden of Customer Experience Partners Fri Nov 6, 2009 via web

    Interesting topic. I would also have recommended beginning with an apology, but I know that there are others who argue eloquently that it would be a sign of corporate weakness in dealing with such a capacity issue.

    Other questions about how this was addressed come to mind. 1) If itís been a problem for weeks, why did it take AT&T so long to make their public response? 2) Did they communicate with their current customers before this public video? 3) Is anyone sure that a Youtube video is the right approach? (This isnít the latest music video, police chase, or celebrity outburst Ė how many customers or prospects actually are viewing the video?) 4) Did creating a high quality video add to the time required to respond? 5) Could AT&T turned to customer advocates and tried to develop a more customer supported response?

    I just don't know enough of the details to properly critique the effort. I do know that viral video is a popular choice, but not always the right answer.

  • by peter Sat Nov 7, 2009 via web

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