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A trying time at AT&T’s Web site

Jan 14, 20043 mins
AT&TEnterprise Applications

* Disorganized Web sites cost you dearly

In this issue, I want to ask you a really important question: Is your Web site organized? And when I say organized, I don’t just mean the content I mean how the site interrelates with the rest of your business processes. In other words, is your Web site part of and consistent with your business?

I ask this because I seem to keep stumbling across Web sites that are nightmarish in their sheer complexity and fail to address the needs of their users. In particular, I am thinking of AT&T’s Web site for its wireless products. This site makes me think that there’s a huge gap between the online and offline business units that is so profound, it is as if they belong to different companies.

For example, if you order a cell phone by landline or even cell phone and later try to check the status of your order through the Web site you are told that your order is invalid. Hello? Is anyone at AT&T paying attention? Does the company think that someone who used the telephone rather than the Web site to order a phone would never want to go online to check their order status?

And then there’s the issue of how to find information you need on the AT&T Web site. I discovered this when I attempted to find AT&T’s customer service numbers. For some reason the only telephone number I could find for cell phone customer service was under business services even though I tried to access the data when I had logged into the site and been identified as a consumer. After trying very hard to find alternate numbers I hit a link I had tried before and I got a different page with the numbers I wanted.

Now there are only two reasons I can come up with for this change: First, the contacts page changes according to the demands on AT&T’s call centers (which are always experiencing “an unusually high call volume” – Note to AT&T management: this has been the case for more than 30 days in my experience so now it counts as “usual.” Get a grip and change the announcement to “We don’t have enough customer services reps available so you’ll just have to wait and grind your teeth. Now we’ll play you the same looped music and message over and over for the next 20 minutes at least – get used to it.”

The second reason is rather more prosaic: The company is disorganized. I was getting the business page because AT&T’s content management system was misconfigured. I lean towards the second reason.

But the problem for AT&T and other terminally disorganized companies is that they are simply throwing away opportunity. Your Web site is a chance to reduce your support load, to streamline the sales process so that purchasing becomes automated and low cost.

So don’t do what AT&T has done: Think and act as though online is separate from offline. At some time you will have to draw the two worlds into a single view of business and the longer you put it off and stay disorganized the harder and more costly it will be.


Mark Gibbs is an author, journalist, and man of mystery. His writing for Network World is widely considered to be vastly underpaid. For more than 30 years, Gibbs has consulted, lectured, and authored numerous articles and books about networking, information technology, and the social and political issues surrounding them. His complete bio can be found at

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