Dear AT&T...

It was a normal Friday night in my household. The kids were in bed and the wife was relaxing. Me? I was tirelessly working away at creating something interesting on the internet. It was a standard evening for our household. At 8:30 PM our AT&T internet connection went down... Reluctantly, I called your tech support number after my standard troubleshooting did not yield results. Your phone representative told me that my account had been suspended. They gave me a phone number to call and were not able to tell me anything else. How odd.

I called the supplied phone number and discovered that it was the "Bellsouth Abuse Department". My account had been flagged for abuse. How very odd.

Here's the not-so-funny part. You disconnected my account on Friday evening *after* the abuse department closed....on a holiday weekend. This meant that I would not be able to regain DSL access to the internet until Tuesday morning at the earliest. For an active internet user this is akin to taking my crack pipe away. Shame on you.

Here's the funny part. I called Earthlink and they were more than happy to provide me with an internet connection. The line was provisioned and I was on my way down the information superhighway before you could even call me back.

Amazing. Your OWN doing caused me to shift my business to Earthlink and they were more than happy to take it. This is not only a lesson for AT&T but for all other consumer facing companies in the world. Remember this: I have choices. And if you push me to far I will exercise my right to make those choices and shift my business to a competitor. Simple, right?

The take away: Consumer marketing is increasingly all about the experience. Look at the tools that have been created to capture that experience. The Net Promoter Score comes to mind. Focus on your experience and, if you're product speaks for itself, you will *easily* rise to the top.

Oh yeah....and in case anyone was wondering, AT&T explained to me that my account had been sending spam so the assumption was that one of my computers had a "virus on something". I couldn't even tell you what the email address on this account was let alone the last time that it was used. After admitting to me on the phone that he/she (the Bellsouth Abuse Department representative) was "not very technical" my account was turned back on immediately......and summarily canceled by me after being transferred to the billing department.

Cross Channel Sales

Do corporations today recognize the power that lies in an effective cross channel sales strategy? I would argue that some do but many do not. For example, at this point most major retailers recognize the need to offer a "pick up in-store" option when shopping online. The fact that I can buy a bunch of cool stuff from Best Buy and then pick it up in their store sounds like a great option to me. I pay the same price but avoid the shipping costs (and someone picks the items from the shelf for me). Here's the problem: Most brick and mortar stores are ill-equipped to handle online purchasing traffic. That is, it can be supremely easy to buy something online and opt to pick it up in the store. However, the in-store experience can be a dismal one. In most cases the staff that service these online purchases are part of the customer (dis)service counter and it takes longer for them to *find* your order than it would for me to actually pull my items off the shelf.

I mentioned Best Buy but they are actually further ahead from a cross channel sales perspective than many of their competitors. I'm looking at the you over there in the corner....Wal-Mart, Home Depot and Target. Your prices are great but I often opt for other online retailers (with the in-store pickup option) based on what I remember about the in-store experience. Ugh, what a hassle it can be to simply communicate to a retail associate that I ordered something online for pick-up in the store.

The takeaway: Your offline retail experience has the potential to *kill* your online sales activity. Remember that you are the experience....offline, online, catalog....it doesn't matter. What the consumer will remember is their overall impression of all interactions. They will not discern between great prices/great selection online and a dismal offline experience.