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Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Arguing over “Adequate”

I don’t know which seems sillier – Verizon launching their national holiday ad campaign differentiating on the strength of a table-stakes service attribute, or AT&T going to the trouble to sue them over their representation of it.

Verizon is actively promoting their nationwide 3G coverage and pointing out a perceived weakness in the 3G coverage of AT&T, who has sued them in response, claiming “their use of white space in their advertisements misleads people into thinking that AT&T offers no coverage in most of the country."

Does any of this really matter?

Plotted against population density, the two networks are within percentage points of each other in terms of coverage.

Further, “coverage” isn’t a service delighter, or even representative of customers’ desired service. It’s an indicator of available service alternatives, or an identifier of adequate levels of service. If you have the coverage, you’re in the consideration set. If you don’t, you’re not. The more alternatives customers have, the higher the level of expected service.

For most consumers, this conversation is about nothing.

It’s easy for network-based services (airlines, cable, shipping, telecom) to focus on coverage, mostly because it is operational and tangible.

But of all the complaints people have about their wireless service providers, 3G coverage represents a minority. Follow either Verizon or AT&T on Twitter for half a day, and you’ll get an idea of how important 3G coverage is to consumers, compared to the themes of my phone doesn’t work / I can’t get the plan I want / my bill is never correct / I can never get through to a customer service agent that can fix my problems. I have yet to see, “I’m in the Tetons, and can’t get 3G coverage!”

By focusing on network coverage, Verizon & AT&T neglect the service their customers desire, and focus on who is doing a better job delivering on what is adequate. When adequate is the goal, I don’t wonder why churn rates in telecom are among the highest in any industry.

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