Disclaimer: I am an AT&T customer with a data plan. I'll do my best not to let this "conflict of interest" interfere with my opinions expressed below.
You have to hand it to AT&T; they've got chutzpah! That, by the way, is not a formal psychiatric term. I could have said that AT&T is delusional, grandiose, or narcissistic, but everyone understands chutzpah.
In any event, a few days ago, The Boy Genius Report reported an internal email (later confirmed in an article by Information Week) indicating that AT&T will require data plans for all smartphone purchases beginning in September. This new development seems to be just another nail in the coffin of the already-tarnished reputations of mobile-technology carriers in the U.S. Recent stories have highlighted criticism of the industry for high pricing, excessive profits, exclusivity, poor coverage, and reduced capital investment. The federal government is concerned enough to begin investigations by Congress and the FCC. My fellow Computerworld writer Mike Elgan went off on the wireless industry a few weeks ago with his well-informed rant on the "10 things I hate about you."
But I digress. This post is about AT&T's internal email of this change, which is as fine a piece of malarkey as I have seen in a while, filled with illogic, circular reasoning, and just plain dishonesty. So let's parse their memo:
•· "We want our customers to have the best possible experience with their Smartphones." Shouldn't it be up to us as to how we want to use and get the best possible experience from our smartphones? How do they know what's best for us?
•· "A predictable bill is a key factor in customer satisfaction..." I'm thinking that an accurate bill is a key factor in my satisfaction. Bills would be predictable if customers understand precisely what they are paying for and how much they are paying. Having contracts written in simple English (or other language) wouldbe helpful (one report indicated that health-insurance contracts are written at a graduate-school level when most Americans read at an eight-grade level. Similarly, I found AT&T's contract largely incomprehensible...and I have a graduate degree).
•· "...Smartphone customers will need to subscribe to a data plan, as the vast majority of customers already do." If the vast majority of customers already have data plans, why the need to force the remaining people into something that they obviously don't want or need (unless we don't know what we need, but Big Brother AT&T does).
•· "Data plans let customers fully utilize their device..." Maybe some people don't want to fully utilize their devices. Perhaps they are happy just the way they use their smartphones. Smartphones are plenty smart without a data plan; data plans don't define what makes a smartphone smart. Instead, it is the plethora of tools (e.g., calendar, contacts, music, calculator, the list goes on) available on these phones that make them smart.
•· "...without the worry of bill shock." It's been my experience that bill shock only occurs when I'm charged for services that I didn't ask for or use. Why would AT&T even allow a data connection to be established if someone hasn't paid for its use? It seems to me that AT&T must have the technology to just turn data off at their end so unauthorized use can't occur. Or, for those clueless about data, AT&T sales reps could educate customers about the costs of use without a data plan at the point of purchase and then either shut off the data connection on the individual handsets before customers leave the store or, for mail-order purchases, instruct customers how to do so themselves. Unless, of course, not doing so allows AT&T to increase their revenues, honesty and respect for customers be damned.
•· "A Sales Coaching Session will be available..." Given this plan, those poor sales folks are gonna need a whole lot of coaching to force this medicine down the throats of otherwise willing customers.
I think there should be law that requires companies to be honest about their intentions, in AT&T's case, they made the change to increase their revenues (I should acknowledge that AT&T isn't the first to do this. Verizon started this practice last November). In lieu of that unlikely piece of legislation, I would file this memo under Do They Really Expect Us to Believe This? Better yet, crumple it up and throw it out!
Jim Taylor, Ph.D., Psychology, is a corporate consultant, speaker, and author. He hosts a personal blog at drjimtaylor.com.
This story, "Why AT&T Is Delusional, Grandiose, and Narcissistic" was originally published by Computerworld.