Don’t Let It Go To Your Head, AT&T

I was recently listening to episode 1025 of Buzz Out Loud, in which they were discussing AT&T’s recent revelation that their current customer churn rate is the lowest in that carrier’s history despite recent loud complaints about the low quality of their service. That discussion pointed out that such disparity between the public conversation about AT&T’s lack of quality (dropped calls, slow network performance, no coverage in areas in major cities, missing key features due to the network) and the metrics that company inevitably uses to decide what its priorities are can only lead them to believe that their current course is a good one.

Personally, I’ve been relatively happy with AT&T. At least I’ve been as happy as one gets with a cell phone carrier, which I’ve determined is like being happy with a parasitic organism in your body: if you have to have one, you want the least malignant one you can get. Their customer service has been fine when I needed to use it and the service generally works when I need it to.

However, 3G service is worse than non-existent in my home. How can it be worse? Well, there’s enough that I get the smallest possible amount of 3G signal in parts of the house, so it causes the phone to toggle from the 3G network to the older one constantly. It’s been this way for over a year. The net effect is that I frequently miss calls if my phone is in 3G mode, and the battery runs down very quickly. Consequently, I leave my shiny new iPhone 3GS with its 3G capabilities turned off unless I’m out-and-about and using the network capabilities a lot.

I should point out that I don’t live in the boonies, either. I’m in San Jose, a respectable technology center, and only a 5-minute drive from an Apple Store or downtown San Jose. Heck, I can easily walk to either. And it’s not isolated to just my place. There are many, many spots where this happens. Nor is it my phone: I’ve had 2 iPhone 3Gs and 1 iPhone 3GS, and it’s the same on all of them. I can also confirm reports that there are places in downtown San Francisco that simply have no reception at all. Completely unacceptable.

Let’s make no mistake: the thing that ensures I stay with AT&T is the iPhone.

My point? If the conclusion AT&T arrives at when studying its great customer retention numbers is that its current level of service is acceptable to its users, it would do well to recognize that there are those of us who love our iPhones, and AT&T is just the baggage that we have to put up with to have one. (Yes, there are ways to get the iPhone on other networks, such as T-Mobile locally, but that’s even worse than AT&T, in my experience.) If we get the chance to move to Verizon, whose network coverage is much, much better than AT&T’s, I think AT&T will be shocked the next time it reviews those same customer retention metrics.

AT&T, this good deal you have with Apple over the iPhone has given you a huge boost in this market. Ignore these metrics that might tell you that you’re doing the right thing in letting network capacity lag the competition. Instead, invest all you can in making your network better than the competition and when your exclusivity over the iPhone ends, we might just stay with you. But continue to allow your network quality to lag behind what the subscribers want and deny them access to the features they should have (MMS, tethering) and I bet you’ll witness an exodus of customers the moment a better alternative presents itself.