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Mea Culpa, AT&T

Disclaimer: I am a long-time AT&T customer with both voice and data family plans.

As a previous blog post demonstrates (here), I don’t let my relationship with AT&T interfere with my giving them direct, brutally honest, and sometimes snarky feedback. They have a long and illustrious history of deceptive advertising, bad customer service, poor reception, slow speeds, and billing errors. And they’ve gotten hammered recently on several fronts. First, Verizon’s "There’s a map for that" television ads excoriate AT&T’s 3G coverage. AT&T, in turn, tried to sue Verizon for those ads, but then dismissed the suit (and, even worse, created a really stupid television ad in response.

Next, Consumer Reports released its review of the major cellular phone companies and, what a surprise, AT&T finished last in every category. Finally, rumors have it that Apple is going to discontinue their exclusive (read monopoly) "cash cow" relationship with AT&T in 2010. Now, I don’t feel a lot of sympathy for AT&T because they have brought a lot of this flack on themselves. So AT&T has been going through a rough patch and is desperate for a morsel of good news.

I’m pleased to say that a bit of PR nourishment has arrived. First, a small morsel from me personally. I am tough on companies with whom I do business. I expect a lot from them when I pay them my hard-earned money for their products and services. And, despite all the bad press AT&T has been getting related to its customer service, I have to admit that they treat me pretty well. Where I live north of San Francisco, the coverage is really quite good; nary a dropped call. When I want a new phone, I just work my way up the customer-service food chain until I find someone with the willingness and authority to make me happy (which usually involves a discount on a phone far below what is advertised and a voice plan that is available, but not advertised). So, AT&T, enjoy that little appetizer.

Now let’s get to the main course. After that scathing Consumer Reports evaluation, the New York Times reported several other independent – and apparently more representative – tests demonstrating that AT&T was actually far superior to Verizon and the other major carriers. And this despite the 4,000 percent increase in data use caused by the proliferation of iPhones that caught AT&T by surprise.

Let AT&T have some dessert now. One thing that really turns me off to companies is when they don’t "cowboy up" to their problems, in other words, take responsibility when they mess up. AT&T is finally doing just that with its new Mark the Spot iPhone app that allows users to notify AT&T of dead zones they encounter (because the iPhone is part of the problem, it should also be part of the solution). Of course, AT&T isn’t offering this app to phones using other operating systems. Aside from hopefully solving some reception problems, this move is great for PR because people like "stand up" companies.

How about an aperitif, AT&T. In another stand-up move, AT&T took the heat for its reception and data-transmission problems for what really is an iPhone design flaw. Of course, being critical of Apple wouldn’t be a wise business move if AT&T has any hopes of maintaining its exclusive relationship with them, so AT&T doesn’t get the finest vintage after-dinner drink for this seemingly noble act of seppuki.

So, AT&T mea culpa. You are finally showing some…coconuts. And that’s a big step in the right direction. Now if you can just offer more reasonably priced voice and data family plans I would be a very happy guy.