AT&T's ridiculous mistake doesn't feel like a mistake at all

If you were told your barely one-year-old phone would "soon" be incompatible with your provider's "new network," you'd be upset. Unless, of course, you realized "soon" meant not soon at all.
Written by Chris Matyszczyk, Contributing Writer on
AT&T Business: Customer experience and digital transformation (CxOTalk interview)

Soon, it'll make you happy.

Cognitive tests are popular in America right now. So let's try this one.

You get an email from AT&T. It reads, in part: "Your device is not compatible with the new network and you need to replace it to continue receiving service."

What would you think? Especially if the first sentence of the email offers: "We will soon be upgrading our network to use the latest technologies."

Would you be perturbed? Shocked, perhaps? More than a little annoyed because you own a barely one-year-old Samsung Galaxy S10e and it's about to become incompatible? Supposedly. Or would you think a scammer in some dark, disturbed studio apartment was trying to gouge what little money you have left?

One irritated poster on an AT&T forum sniffed that their Samsung Galaxy S10e was barely a year old, yet seemed to be one of the handsets in jeopardy.

I'm not sure I'd be too cheered in that situation. Until I stopped to consider whether there might be a salient fact the email oddly omitted.

It was Android Police that first spotted this email, one that AT&T sent to an untold number of customers.

You see, the company is upgrading its network so that 3G will go the way of other small-number Gs that you can't even remember having. Which means some phones may, indeed, not be able to make voice calls. (Who makes voice calls anyway these days?)

And now we must turn to the definition of soon. Or the various soons that exist in everyday life.

I might soon go to the supermarket because we need more milk. This soon would signify the next 4-8 hours.

I'll soon go to the dentist for a cleaning. This soon would be in the next 6 to 8 weeks.

America might soon disappear down a dark hole from which it may never re-emerge. This soon would signify the next four or five months.

None of these soons refers to February 2022. For this is the soon when AT&T will actually shut down its 3G network. And that fact wasn't visible until recipients clicked on a link.

Naturally, I contacted AT&T and asked whether it could soon soothe my perplexed state.

A spokesperson soon -- no, quickly -- responded: "This email was one of many planned to keep customers informed about the shutdown of our 3G network in early 2022.  It should have included the date that certain devices would no longer be supported. We apologize for any confusion this may have caused and will be more clear in future updates."

The phrase more clear would suggest there was at least something clear about the original email.

I fear what was most clear was that the company was trying to scare -- or even trick -- customers into buying new phones. 

What possible justification can there be for using these words in an email: "We want to help you transition as seamlessly as possible and ensure your service is not interrupted."?

How many phones might be released between now and February 2022? Galaxys, iPhones, LGs and so many others will waft across people's eyes and, no doubt, be the subject of copious emails from AT&T.

Yet here is AT&T trying to sneakily get you to buy a new phone now. You might think it's understandable. Phones sales are down. Yet most people now have less money than they did a few months ago. Might they not resent an email that was -- oh, I almost forgot -- headed: "UPDATE NEEDED."? Yes, in capitals. Oh, it touted "free same-day delivery" too.

I want to be forgiving. I want to believe this was a mere oopsie perpetrated by someone working from a very small space between their bed and their fireplace. 

We're talking, though, about the same company that plastered 5GE on customers' phones when the terminology was manifest trickery, so much so that Sprint sued AT&T about the claim.

5GE still appears on my iPhone XR right now and it means utterly nothing in terms of actual, real, tangible, allegedly fast 5G. Earlier this year, the National Advertising Review Board declared that phrases like "5G Evolution" and 5GE being "the first step to 5G" -- being used in AT&T's promotions -- suggested that your 4G phone could now get 5G. Which was deceptive. (Oddly, AT&T didn't agree.)

Ultimately, then, I worry someone at AT&T thought this email was an excellent first step to drum up business.

They may now realize it wasn't. Not soon enough, perhaps.

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