AT&T Wireless' Odyssey


There's a very interesting article over at CIO Magazine called "AT&T Wireless Self-Destructs: The story of a botched CRM upgrade that cost the telco thousands of new customers and an estimated $100 million in lost revenue." It's a pretty straight-forward postmortem of their customer service upgrade fiasco just before the number portability deadline last year.

GSM was a great opportunity for AT&T Wireless, but it was also a huge CRM challenge. The company had to convince its old customers to move off TDMA, which worked as well as most other carriers' networks for voice calls, and onto GSM, which had poorer voice quality, according to Morgan Stanley. It also had to convince new customers that GSM was the wave of the future, that they would soon be shipping data over their phones instead of their laptops. But customers didn't buy the pitch. By 2003, AT&T Wireless's percentage of customers on GSM was hovering at 15 percent, according to analysts, while Cingular had 35 percent of its customers moved over (thanks, in part, to its acquisition of a cellular provider with an existing GSM network). And things weren't improving. In the third quarter of 2003, less than half of AT&T Wireless's new customers were choosing GSM, while Cingular was signing up 75 percent, according to Morgan Stanley.

Everyone at AT&T Wireless agreed that the company would keep its existing customers and add more new ones if its customer representatives could handle more calls and get customers up and running faster. Customer service representatives needed about 20 minutes, on average, to work through five or six screens that fetched information from about 15 legacy systems, say former employees. Slow access to customer information records was just one of the reasons why AT&T Wireless possessed the second-highest cost per subscriber (behind Sprint PCS) of the top six national carriers in 2003, according to financial services company UBS.


In the spring of 2003, the company decided to upgrade to [Siebel] version 7.5 for the roughly 3 million customers on the GSM and general packet radio service (the data portion of the new network). TDMA customers would continue to be serviced through AT&T Wireless's legacy Axys CRM system until they could be moved over to GSM and the new Siebel system. The project was called Odyssey.

ROTFL. The project was called "Odyssey"?!?!? I mean, there are lots of good code names out there, you might as well choose one that isn't going to curse the project, no? That is the most amusing thing I've read in a while. The author of the article obviously gets the significance of the name since he stresses it... but I love how he leaves it up to an exercise of the reader.

Anyways, you need to read the article to see that the disaster wasn't just a matter of IT disorganization - there were obvious failures of senior management to retain the right people during such a critical moment and then maintain proper direction and morale: Layoffs during the transition? Farming out work to India for over a year previous? Come on! It was a complete disaster completely directed from the top.

The worst thing to come from all of this is that Vodafone wasn't with-it enough to pick up the pieces and got out-bid by Cingular. Thousands of jobs are going to be lost because AT&T Wireless had to sell so quickly to a company who already competes with them directly. So everyone working in retail stores that overlap and many of the back-end support people as well are going to lose their jobs (if they haven't already lost them to outsourcing already). Vodafone would've needed that infrastructure and people in place. And the guys that did all this? They're getting *fat* bonuses for the sale. This sort of thing should be illegal and the guys in charge at AT&T Wireless should be jailed, seriously.

Don't forget to read the comments to the article, as well. Despite one idiot who claims that the entire fault was because Siebel used Java (are you *kidding* me? What an idiot) the rest of the comments verify what happened.


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