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What P&G and AT&T are doing on Facebook

AT&T's Facebook page

AT&T is pretty happy with its 2 million adoring fans...

The Wall Street Journal article on GM pulling its Facebook advertising mentioned that General Motors is third in U.S. advertising spending, behind P&G and AT&T. This prompted me to go take a look at what the other two companies are doing with their Facebook presence.

P&G does not appear to have a corporate Facebook page. That is, if you search “P&G” or “PG” or “Proctor & Gamble” you’ll come up empty except for some odd special-purpose pages. Makes sense because P&G does not generally market itself as a brand but rather as a family of brands, each of which has its own brand manager. And indeed a random search turned up pages for Charmin which offers “SitOrSquat”, an app for finding clean public restrooms, and “Charmin Fan Perks” which are cents-off coupons available in limited quantities at preannounced times (generated repeated visits to the site).

There’s no brand page for Prilosec, another random choice, but there’s one for Pringles. Here you can find the “Tournament of Flavors”, a collection of fan-submitted videos, and “Make Us Laugh”, a joke contest which seems to be in Arabic. In short, P&G’s brand managers seem to have figured out how to use Facebook in a way that is appropriate to the medium and encourages user involvement.

AT&T, U Suck

...but the feeling is not entirely mutual.

ATT, on the other hand, makes GM look like a social media maven. Their page is all over the fact they’ve gotten two million “likes” (Pringles has 19 million) with a big “two million thank yous” graphic at the top and a “two million thanks” link just below this. (The link actually leads to something interesting: on May 22 the ATT “house band” is going to start pumping out “thank you” songs written for people who sign up and submit personal information to be used in writing the lyrics. Sort of like the Old Spice Man.) Yet the rest of the page is full of gripes from customers about AT&T. They should do something to moderate these, or at least respond to them.

The moral of this story? With three so different approaches to Facebook, by America’s three top advertisers, this is still a very young medium. Or as Clint Eastwood might put it, we’re still waiting for the ball to come down after the opening kickoff.

Tethering and visual voicemail: iPhone 3.1 woes and fixes

Like a drug dealer passing out free candy at a schoolyard (my longtime friend Phil Henderson claims this is how they get you hooked), AT&T enabled a prototype of its tethering on the iPhone this past June.  It wasn’t publicly released; you had to go to a special website to install it. But once you did the effect was amazing and liberating: you could now use your iPhone as a modem to connect your computer to the Internet, just by clicking “enable tethering” in your settings and connecting via Bluetooth or a USB cable.

AT&T undoubtedly plans to make this service official, and charge for it at some point. Assuming they don’t get too greedy, tethering trial users will gladly open their wallets. But the trial tethering went away with finality in iPhone 3.1, the latest software release.

If you religiously respond to Apple’s “an update for your iPhone is available” alerts you are already out of luck. Release 3.1 includes a firmware update that now verifies the iPhone each time you connect to the network (like Microsoft’s Genuine Windows “service”) so if you try to reinitiate tethering it will be immediately disabled. Since this is firmware, the “restore from backup” will not fix it.

If you want to try tethering and you haven’t updated, you might try Googling  “enable tethering iPhone 3.0” or some such… just remember you are going to have to pay for it eventually. If you are already on 3.1 you are out of luck.

But if you had previously enabled tethering and now are at 3.1, you are feeling pretty unpopular right now! How do I know? Because you haven’t gotten any new voicemails in days! Well, actually you have but they are hidden. No alerts in the iPhone visual menu when they arrive, and no way to access them and listen to them.

If you have this problem, you might want to Google “restore visual voicemail iPhone 3.1” or some such. For me, what worked was going to Settings>General>Profile, clicking that, then clicking “remove” for the file that is there. (Some have reported the path as Settings>General>Network>Profile; I can’t go back and verify it because once you do this and sync your phone, the “Profile” choice disappears.)

Voila, all your voicemails are back instantly. Including, if you are like me, some action items that are seriously past due. Go ahead and take care of them, you can thank me later.

AT&T: anti-marketing ninjas at work

So I am finally got my iPhone. Per the earlier post, my web order disappeared into automated customer service limbo yet was impossible to cancel until I called a live sales rep. Meanwhile the price dropped $50 so I place the order again and it goes through with me $50 richer and ATT $50 poorer. And with me, a long time AT&T customer who is now a “new” wireless customer, holding a vastly reduced favorable view of the company. How is this good for the shareholders?

For people who have to call customer service on their lunch hour, stories like this are just more yadda-yadda. But for the marketer came up with the promotion that drew me to AT&T at this particular moment, and is getting reviewed for it possibly with their job on the line, it’s not at all trivial. You did your best work, you got the click, and then the order was deep-sixed by a combination of bad IT architecture and moronic overview by whatever human is supposed to spot-check to ensure all is going well.

I will not bore you with the details of yet another poor customer service experience beyond citing a couple of particularly telling details:

* “Unfortunately, either we have not heard from you in several days, or you have chosen to cancel your order. In either case, this e-mail confirms your order cancellation”. That was in an email I got from AT&T during the first attempt to order. But notice we’re talking about two totally different customer relationship scenarios, and they’ve chosen to respond to both of them in the same email.

Why would this happen? Because some human life form has decided it is “too complicated” to have two different stock emails to respond to two different scenarios that create the same result. The computers don’t care! It is people thinking for the computers that is causing the problem here.

* Now I’ve finally got an order placed, and a confirmation email arrives: “Congratulations! You’re now part of the largest wireless community in America—71 million and growing! You will receive your new wireless phone in a few days.” Well that’s interesting news, since the original order confirmation promised two-day guaranteed delivery! There is also a tracking number in the email but when I click on it, it takes me to AT&T’s home page!

So recognizing it as a UPS number I go to their tracking page and do indeed find the package quickly and discover it actually will be delivered on time in spite of AT&T’s hedging.
Why didn’t they actually confirm that they were delivering on schedule in the confirming email? Why didn’t they reference my specific smart decision to buy an iPhone? You guessed it… they send the same confirming email to EVERYONE, regardless of what offer they responded to.

Just imagine the phone calls to customer service this generates. But there is apparently no consequence and no human cost to AT&T because they have no intention of answering those calls. They’ll be led through a phone tree and ultimately disconnected as I was in my first encounter.

I feel like such a whiner in describing all this but I actually do have a point worth making. In this terrible economy, when every company should be scrambling for every last potential order to keep its bottom line healthy and to keep employees employed, AT&T is running its business like there is money, and orders, to burn.

Much of this definitely goes to the laziness of midlevel IT and customer service folks who are scheming ways to go home on time, not to execute their job which should be to make things easier for the customer. But it also goes back to a hubris that has existed from the tim companies like AT&T established their websites… because face it, the web experience with any phone company is terrible.

What they did: get on the web early, because they’re an Important Company that needs a “web presence”, then cobble on an e-commerce function as an afterthought. Now the tail is wagging the dog because their ecommerce engine doesn’t work and the ridiculous official explanations sound like one of those clone commanders in Star Wars. What they should have done: emulate sites like amazon.com. (or, just emulate amazon.com) which realize that no order can be allowed to get away.

Need customer service? Call a salesperson.

So I got a new iPhone for Christmas! Gift from my wife, but it’s hard to handle somebody else’s details so placed the order myself… a refurbished 16 GB from AT&T at a $50 savings, with guaranteed 2 day delivery, what could be better? But when the phone did not arrive today as promised, I realized such smooth service from a wireless company was too good to be true. And took a leap into the AT&T customer service rabbit/rat hole.

I jumped in by clicking through to the “order status” link on my confirming email. The web site said ATT had no record of that order. I called the customer service number on the email (800-331-0500) and after I provided much information to gain access to a rep, got a recording “we are unable to transfer your call.”  Here’s an idea! I have a landline account so I’ll login in that way and see if I can talk to somebody. I get a message “we are unable to accommodate your request at this time.”

So I am stuck, right? No, I have one avenue left which is where I recommend you go whenever you are met with a customer service roadblock: call the SALES department. Unlike customer service or tech support, they will always have plenty of people to answer their phones. And they have the clout to get in through a back door to the customer service department when a lowly customer would be denied.

The sales guy was prompt and helpful. My order did exist but its status was “pending” because of “credit review”… this for a 20 year AT&T customer who never has paid a bill late. He cancelled the order for me and I guess we are both better off. Though in this economy it would certainly seem that AT&T would want a few thousand dollars in guaranteed commitment from me.

Thank you for your business. Now goodbye.

The 5/22 mail brought a letter from AT&T Universal Card. I almost didn’t open it because it was preprinted “OPEN IMMEDIATELY: Important Account Notice” and had a preprinted first class indicia. Obviously, another of the cash advance check mailings I receive 4x a year or so.

But no. The letter inside began: “Citi, the issuer of your AT&T Universal Cash Rewards Card, has decided to discontinue this credit card for business reasons. Therefore, your account will be closed on 6/30/06. This letter outlines important information about he closing of your account.” And so it did… several single spaced paragraphs to inform me what happens to my cardmember benefits (mostly going away) and outstanding balance (it’s still there) before a final “thank you for your business” at the end.

Now let’s see here. I’ve had this card for maybe 20 years. As I recall it was a pioneer—the first high limit, fee free MasterCard. Over the years it changed hands several times and various institutions paid what would add up to several billion dollars for the customer portfolio and brand identification. And now suddenly it’s worth no more than a curt “thank you for your business” ?

Ironically, the very same day brought an email from AT&T Universal Card. They want to let me know that I should refinance my home at a low home equity rate through them because, as a Universal Card customer, “you’ve earned it!”

That quotidian email is an example of why marketers believe business relationships have value—especially when you have the kind of relationship that gives you legal permission to send an email solicitation to your customer list. Yet, I’m assuming this will be the last I hear from my friends at Universal Card. (The deadline for my loan application is 6/30, which makes sense because my card relationship goes kablooie then.)

Citi evidently believes the Universal Card no longer has any business value. I disagree. Anybody want to join me and take up a collection to buy the brand? I’m hoping $1000 will do it.