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What AT&T's Head-Spinning Over iPhones in NYC Says About the Company

Saints be praised! AT&T (T) really does believe in Tinkerbell -- and New Yorkers, because about as suddenly as it disappeared as an online choice for Big Apple residents, the iPhone is now virtually on sale for them. The back and forth, and AT&T's explanations for what was happening, could give you cranial rotation that would make you look like something from The Exorcist. But what AT&T didn't say actually says a lot about the carrier.

To review the history:

  1. Sunday, customers in New York City were finding that they could not order an iPhone online from AT&T. One contacted The Consumerist.
  2. A reporter called AT&T customer service, which confirmed that NYC residents could not order the iPhone online and said that it was because "New York is not ready for the iPhone," otherwise known as Our Networks Can't Handle the Data.
  3. As of late Sunday, the story changed to the iPhone being unavailable online for New York City because of "fraud."
  4. As soon as press inquiries started piling in at AT&T on Monday, the explanation changed yet again, becoming, "We periodically modify our promotions and distribution channels."
  5. By late-afternoon on Monday, the iPhone suddenly returned to the AT&T web site as something available to New Yorkers.
That leaves a number of deductions you can make about how the carrier operates:
  • It is clueless about PR and, in advance, how its actions may play in the public arena.
  • It has little to no effective coordination of image and reputation.
  • Major operational decisions can be made without regard to strategy.
  • Either lower levels of management are free to make significant policy without review at the top or those in charge of the company are capable of some really bone-headed actions.
Yes, AT&T did react -- multiple times and all within a 24-hour span. Speed of reaction is good, but the lack of coordination and the continuing impression of confusion aren't. Although Google (GOOG), RIM (RIMM), and Palm (PALM) may not have had a market handed to them, they've done well, learning something significant about a competitor and watching it shoot itself in the foot.

Image via stock.xchng user ledomira, site standard license.

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