Everything I read about the AT&T acquisition of T-Mobile discusses market share, spectrum, overlap, consumers and anti-trust. I want to talk about something different: How AT&T can leverage the most important competitive differentiator that they are acquiring.
First, a little background…
I bought an unlocked Google G1 at launch two years ago from T-Mobile to learn the operating system I thought would be the most important for business over time. Satisfied with AT&T, I nonetheless had to leave to get the first true Google phone. Leaving AT&T proved to be difficult and time consuming. Every conversation with AT&T turned into a sales pitch to get me to stay, but provided little help. It took a lot of time in coordination with T-Mobile to move my land line and cell service to T-Mobile. The experience was upsetting.
When I bought my $540 unlocked Nexus One last January, I thought, ”Great! Now I have a superphone and can continuously comparison shop between T-Mobile and AT&T to get the best rates.” Instead, AT&T along with the other carriers, refused to pick up the Nexus One and there went my leverage to lower rates. Much to my surprise, every time I have called T-Mobile to check on lower rates, they seemed to fawn all over themselves to lower my bill. Instead of a sales pitch to spend more, they alerted me to potentially unauthorized charges from a spammer and credited my bill. My lower charges have completely paid for the phone, and I am not locked into any plan. I now have unlimited voice, domestic long-distance, data, and more text messaging than I can possibly use on an Android Gingerbread smartphone, plus a VOIP land line for under $100 a month (including junk fees and taxes). Thank you, T-Mobile (and Google)!
That brings us to the real point of the article. T-Mobile “gets” the Thank You Economy, the new book by Gary Vaynerchuk. The Thank You Economy discusses how social media is transforming the economy in many ways, but especially when it comes to customer service. When I toured the Tampa contact center of T-Mobile last summer, the culture of true customer service was evident everywhere. Well-paid high tenured professionals that were happy and motivated to delight their customers are the norm there. I quickly understood that my positive experience was not unique. It was a logical outcome of proper vision and execution on the part of T-Mobile. They obviously bought into the philosophy that customer service drives sales and maintains customers. Now will AT&T adopt this philosophy?
My recommendations for the new AT&T-Mobile are:
- Give T-Mobile complete control of AT&T Wireless’ customer service.
- Do not lay anyone off that is involved with customer service.
- Announce to the world what you are doing and why.
This is not a knock on AT&T as much as it is a praise of T-Mobile. The AT&T Wireless people I have worked with and have met at the Wireless Technolgy Forum in Atlanta are true professionals that work hard to create the very best company that they can. My wife still uses her AT&T phone and we have had few issues with the network. If she wanted an iPhone, I would get it from AT&T.
But let’s face it. AT&T and T-Mobile both have good phones. One has less coverage and lower prices while one has more coverage at a higher price. They both have 4G capabilities. There are not too many big differences outside of their size. But like it or not, AT&T has at least a customer service perception problem that adopting the T-Mobile philosophy of customer service will solve. And by promoting the merger with the bullet points above, they have another reason to get the merger approved by the regulators. If they do this right, everyone will benefit.