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The Big Deal About Small Outages

Phil Harvey
1/22/2013
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On Tuesday, AT&T Inc. acknowledged that a limited number of customers lost one or more services for a few hours on Monday. Let's take AT&T at its word and say it was just a couple of clusters of a few thousand customers out of the millions it serves. Why make such a big deal of it? We think it's an example of what can happen when the customer experience isn't managed well. A quick poll of my U-verse subscribing neighbors, friends and Twitter followers first alerted me that a few folks in different states were seeing outages of Internet access, pay TV and voice services. But AT&T, via its social media accounts, said nothing for several hours. Why bother everyone with news about a limited outage? I think any company that trots its executives out on a Las Vegas stage to brag unceasingly about its media reviews, developer prowess and 4G network improvements has set a public expectation that it will be more open. So we find it surprising that, instead of giving specifics, AT&T would rather let its (disappointed) customers vent on social networks when it could have told a solid story using its own network data. That seems like the sort of thing most companies would be wise enough to address with enough clarity that it doesn't balloon into a bigger story. Why else should a company as big as AT&T try to set an example in customer experience management? I'll answer that question by posing three more: How should customers reconcile an unexplained, multistate, multiservice outage with the idea of AT&T Digital Life? Would it give anyone pause to turn over more control of their homes -- via home automation and home security services -- to a company that doesn't talk openly about what's going on in its network? At a time when service providers are trying to get a bigger share of consumer spending, is it too much for consumers to expect better communication and a little accountability when things don't go so well? — Phil Harvey, Editor-in-Chief, Light Reading

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joanengebretson
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joanengebretson,
User Rank: Light Beer
1/26/2013 | 11:41:40 PM
re: The Big Deal About Small Outages
PHIL- I think your concerns about trusting alarm communications to something like U-verse are valid. That's why traditionally alarm dealers rely much more on cellular, which often has last mile redundancy that landline broadband lacks and which cannot be immobilized by cutting a wire. To AT&T's credit, they also selected cellular as the main form of communications for their alarm systems. The cable companies are pushing landline broadband for their security systems, but some (possibly all) of them include cellular as a backup.
Josh van Hulst
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Josh van Hulst,
User Rank: Light Beer
1/24/2013 | 1:53:46 PM
re: The Big Deal About Small Outages
I'm totally displeased that since I've ordered U-verse in Dallas, Texas; I have been without any Internet service since my order. They wont send any premise techs to update my Network Interface Box. When I call in for technical support, I get the usual speiel that they are working on it as fast as they can. No estimated time, only that it could be a few hours
brookseven
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brookseven,
User Rank: Light Sabre
1/24/2013 | 1:16:14 AM
re: The Big Deal About Small Outages
When is the last time a SW upgrade caused a big outage....I think I recall a router update (Juniper?) that caused problems in BT but that is about it.
Phil Harvey
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Phil Harvey,
User Rank: Light Sabre
1/23/2013 | 11:54:00 PM
re: The Big Deal About Small Outages
AT&T just sent this updated statement along and I think this is definitely the sort of thing folks were looking for them to say:

"AT&T customers in some of our markets are experiencing issues with U-verse service.-á This issue currently affects less than 1 percent of our U-verse subscribers, but that is too many and we are working hard to fix this. We are making progress in resolving the-á issue which is related to a software upgrade, and are working to determine when service will be completely restored. We apologize for this inconvenience."

Kudos to AT&T for getting the message, giving us a better glimpse of the outage size, and really saying the most important thing there -- even one unhappy customer is far too many.
brookseven
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brookseven,
User Rank: Light Sabre
1/23/2013 | 6:18:05 PM
re: The Big Deal About Small Outages
Yes Dan I agree...now just as a reminder an FCC reportable event starts at an outage of 24 end customers.

seven
year2525
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year2525,
User Rank: Light Beer
1/23/2013 | 5:34:33 PM
re: The Big Deal About Small Outages
-áWell that goes completely to the copper replacement issue doesn't it? If U-Verse/FiOS and 4G replace wireline voice do we need standards around up-time, back-up, etc etc.?
brookseven
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brookseven,
User Rank: Light Sabre
1/23/2013 | 4:22:57 PM
re: The Big Deal About Small Outages
The thing is that nobody wants to make this stuff FCC reportable events. -áI think people are going to have to determine if Internet is a Service that has replaced Voice in terms of importance. -áMy view is that it has and needs to be regulated much more strongly in terms of quality and delivery performance. -áIf AT&T had this kind of wireline voice outage then they would owe millions in fines.

seven
Phil Harvey
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Phil Harvey,
User Rank: Light Sabre
1/23/2013 | 3:45:53 PM
re: The Big Deal About Small Outages
I think you're right. Here's a $200B company that deems most outages too small to discuss in any public forum. Let's say, for argument's sake, that 5,000 to 6,000 people were affected. Is that enough to merit a quick note via Twitter within a few hours?-á

I'm quite serious about reassessing Digital Life based on such events. I am an AT&T customer and, while I can live without TV & Internet service for a day (especially on a holiday), I don't think I want my home security company to be known for 30 minute hold times and pretending nothing's wrong when its customers call.
Ray Le Maistre
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Ray Le Maistre,
User Rank: Light Sabre
1/23/2013 | 2:21:40 PM
re: The Big Deal About Small Outages
It's clear to me that AT&T's customer experience strategy includes a clause that says something like: "If AT&T has service delivery problems/outages, its staff should do their very best to pretend nothing has happened, because once the problem is fixed, most customers will quickly forget it ever happened. AT&T staff should not attract attention to the company's -áshortcomings."-á

That attitude - as displayed on social media during the outage - belongs in a different decade. If AT&T has any smart people, they'll be rethinking this head-in-the-sand approach, because it's one that's likely to make the AT&T brand a toxic brand.

And, for the record, I am not an AT&T customer and I don't live in the U.S., so this is not a personal gripe. I just think it's such a dumb way to deal with paying customers - you know, the people that generate revenues and earnings...
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