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Trials & Tribulations of AT&T IPTV Customers

There are reports that AT&T is delivering U-verse door-hangers to homes in two new markets, and the bold promotional copy is still proclaiming that "We've Just Re-Inventing TV" -- as the plan to launch in 15 new markets by the end of 2006 apparently hasn't been retracted by the company's leadership.

However, back in the first market to launch -- San Antonio, Texas -- customers are lamenting about the frustrations that go hand-in-hand with being an early-adopter of a service that utilizes a relatively new technology, combined with a totally new and unproven service delivery platform. At the forum site, there's an updated post entitled "When is Enough, Enough?" which indicates that some of the trailblazer subscribers have finally run out of patience.

The process of pay-TV set-top box trouble resolution clearly hasn't been 're-invented' in the race to prepare the commercial launch of the first high-profile deployment of IPTV in North America. Customers are still being told to fix their service interruptions themselves by removing the power cord, then to reinsert the cord and wait 5-7 minutes for the service to re-boot -- hopefully in a repaired state.

Of course, requests for power off/on resets are not uncommon in the cable or satellite pay-TV industry, but I'm disappointed to learn that for now this will also be state-of-the-art for the telco IPTV deployments. Beyond annoying customers, it also cuts into profit margins. This whole scenario is a huge time-waster for customer service reps who must stay on-hold while the subscriber completes this STB device re-boot.

I understand that the STB is essentially a computer running software that sometimes gets stuck in a loop, and has to be reset. Regardless, the resolution process doesn't portray that there is progress being made in designing better diagnostics for STB devices. Furthermore, what was Microsoft thinking when they used the infamous "blue screen of death" as the apparent STB fault display? This evokes some best-forgotten memories and bad karma by association, for sure.

On a positive note, AT&T and its vendor partners are receiving valuable insights into ordering issues, a buggy user interface, missing DVR features, and service outage reports that are being dutifully detailed by their thoughtful customers. I trust that AT&T is utilizing all this information to codify lessons learned and re-engineer dysfunctional business processes, where possible.

FYI, I recently invested one-year of my consulting career helping Motive, Inc. global broadband service provider customers leverage their collective lessons learned, and associated best practices, within the realm of customer care, tech support and self-service automation. I'm convinced that there are meaningful opportunities for ongoing innovation in this field.

For starters, may I suggest simply turning the 'blue screen' scenario into something less Dilbert-like? Hint: this is another easy 'low hanging fruit' improvement suggestion. Moreover, while reasonable people know there will always be service outages of some sort of another, the way that you resolve these predictable issues essentially defines your brand. Product design, customer care, tech support and the consumer experience -- they're inseparable in the minds of your valued customers.

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