This morning, thousands of people in Florida and Georgia awoke to “SOS Only” service on their AT&T cell phones. While only a minor annoyance for some, for others (like me) who use the phones to run their businesses and/or have gotten rid of their land lines, this constitutes a major problem.
I called AT&T and sat on hold for fifteen minutes. A customer service representative told me they were aware of the outage and it would be fixed within 24 hours. 24 hours?! That is a long time to be without cell service. I asked if this service interruption would be eflected in my bill. I was put on hold again, and then was told I would be given a 48-hour credit ($4.79). That’s good, but doesn’t really address the larger business problem I’m encountering by being without cell service!
I began searching Twitter to see whether others were having this problem. Many were. Soon local station Central Florida News 13 was talking about it on Twitter, getting lots of responses and starting a hashtag for the event: #attfail. The Orlando Sentinel picked up on the story too, and began live blogging the updates they received from AT&T’s spokeswoman.
Facebook isn’t searchable in the same way, but news about it has definitely been going around my newsfeed.
AT&T was nowhere to be found. As far as I can tell there was no acknowledgement of the problem on their website (although the system was so clogged I couldn’t log in to my account online), and no use was made of their Twitter account to respond to the growing number of people making this problem very public.
Etan Horowitz, an Orlando Sentinel technology journalist, wrote a blog that the outage had been confirmed by AT&T and began actively updating the blog entry and Twitter (even @-replying to each complainant he found via a Twitter search) to keep people informed of AT&T’s official response. In short, he was doing precisely what AT&T ought to have been doing!
If your company ever has a service crisis like this, how are you equipped to respond? Will you rely on a local newspaper reporter to assure your customers that something is being done? (Are you willing to trust the media to communicate as well as Etan did with your customers?)
If you are not active in social media (especially Twitter), you are not set up to control your own message through a crisis. That’s a dangerous place to be.