When Will It End?
On September 25, 2009 AT&T launched Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS) on the iPhone–something that the iPhone had been technically capable to do for months but was not supported by the AT&T network. The capability, available on other phones on the market for years, lead bloggers and users to exclaim, “Welcome, AT&T iPhone, to 2003“. While iPhone users in other countries around the world–users not forced to subscribe to the AT&T network–were happily sending pictures and video to their friends, the resentment of U.S. users toward AT&T was becoming palpable.
In fact, the outrage became so intense that AT&T issued a YouTube video featuring an unknown, jittery spokesman explaining why AT&T had failed so hardcore. The lasting impression, however, was a chiding from AT&T for iPhone users’ usage of the network. Over 172,000 people have seen the video and instead of appeasing it’s indentured users, many openly criticized the company. For now, AT&T has nothing to worry about because it has an exclusivity agreement with Apple which prohibits iPhone users from (legally) using any other service provider other than AT&T. But the exclusivity agreement won’t last forever.
According to a recent study by CFI Group, 92% of iPhone users believe they have the best phone around, leading the pack in satisfaction when compared to its competition. But while users like myself love the phone, we can’t STAND AT&T. Given the chance, half of all iPhone users would switch to another provider. Not surprisingly, AT&T received only a 69% satisfaction rating, the lowest among service providers. Experiencing the poor service for the first time are the 40% of all iPhone users who switched from another service provider to AT&T in order to use the iPhone, myself included.
So while we iPhone users continue to get frustrated with dropped calls in urban metropolitan areas, AT&T will spend $18 billion this year on top of the $20.1 billion it spent last year to upgrade its network–which is ironically called by AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel: “A strong, high-quality mobile broadband network. It is the nation’s fastest 3G network, now in 350 major metropolitan areas.” AT&T does itself a great disservice by rejecting the comments and complains of its’ customers who must cope with dropped calls, a hard-to-access network, high plan fees and extra SMS costs.
And while users continue to shout their complaints into deaf ears, AT&T’s Siegel says that “The surest indication of customer satisfaction is churn. And ours is at record-low levels. Our own internal data suggests that our iPhone customers are very satisfied with AT&T.” Churn rate is that rate at which users switch service providers and AT&T’s is the lowest in the industry–1.09% as of July. But will that number stay so low once the exclusivity agreement ends? My bet is no.
It boggles my mind that AT&T has made no effort to establish itself as a brand that cares. Where is the customer appreciation? I was even threatened by an AT&T collection agency operator who said that I have to pay $40 for some unknown charge or it would go on my credit report. When asked what the charge was, she couldn’t explain other than that it was a “service fee”. I’d have to formally write my dispute in a letter and it would be reviewed. Don’t bother to call or visit an AT&T store, she said, because they would refer me back to the collection agency. Best to just pay the fee and move on–”You don’t want that on your credit file, just for a $40 fee,” she said. What did I do? Luckily, I kept the card of the guy who helped me at the AT&T store when I bought my iPhone. I gave him a ring and told him the situation and he was able to fix the “AT&T oversight” for me in five minutes. I called the collection agency the next day and they said it had been resolved. Now what was that for? To ensure that I would hate AT&T forever? Mission accomplished.
Long story short, when the exclusivity agreement ends and I am released from my shackles to use my iPhone through any service, I don’t plan on using AT&T for anything ever again. But how long will I have to wait?