Corporate Communications: More "Bad News"

For about the past 21 hours, my Blackberry and AT&T’s wireless network have not been communicating well with one another.  My Blackberry can’t send or receive email or access the Internet.  That’s a problem.  Then again, so is the way the company is communicating with its customers.

I don’t want to make you suffer through the customer service frustration that ate up a chunk of my day.  But I will summarize and say that a tech support rep was so convinced there was not a network issue in my area, as I suggested, that she talked me into the fact that I need a new phone.  When arriving at the store to make that purchase, I was greeted by a frustrated manager and sales person who have seen a steady stream of customers all day long complaining of similar issues because – surprise! – there’s a network issue in the area.

As I first suggested in December, why can’t AT&T take the lead, as the top player in its industry, and start communicating with its customers instead of only to its “key audiences” like executives, investors and others who do not necessarily pay monthly fees each month)?   The answer lies mostly in corporate culture. It’s certainly not unique to AT&T.  Most big corporations have communications departments set up to provide “good news” to their executives and investors and keep “bad news” from reaching their customers.  

They are afraid of losing money, but think about how much money went out the window today.  A tech support rep spent 15 minutes on the phone with me troubleshooting a problem she couldn’t actually fix (she wanted me to erase everything on the phone and start over – good thing my instincts prevailed).  And in the store, the sales staff was dealing with multiple customers frustrated with common issues instead of selling product.  

If they operated a Web site on which, if you are having problems that come with a network issue, customers could see if their area was listed, saving calls and easing minds.  Same with Twitter feeds that list trouble spots.  If the outage is widespread, they could work via traditional media to manage the message as well as expectations.  Technology sometimes fails.  We understand that.  It’s nothing to be ashamed of.  Just communicate it, then fix it and we’ll get on with our lives.

Instead, I’m stuck with a Blackberry that won’t do what it’s supposed to and I have no idea when that will change.  Talk about “bad news.”