One of the nation’s largest wireless carriers, T-Mobile, suffered an outage recently, leading frustrated customers across the country to share their raw and unedited thoughts about the failure of service on social media. Countless customers complained that they were not able to make phone calls or that their service was spotty or unreliable. Competing carriers said similar issues their customers were experiencing could be traced back to problems with T-Mobile lines.
Online tracking services such as Down Detector clocked more than 100,000 outage reports from coast to coast. By the end of the day, that number dropped below 25,000, then to 1,000 overnight. However, before that work was done, customer concern ramped up when some local sheriff’s offices tweeted about the outages, saying they may have restricted customers’ ability to call 911 in an emergency. One widely-commented post came from the Harris County (Texas) Sheriff, tweeting: “We were advised there is a nationwide outage for T-Mobile’s ability to make 911 calls. T-Mobile is currently working on this issue.”
T-Mobile looked into the issue and responded quickly, blaming the issues on “widespread routing” problems “affecting voice and text.” Neville Ray, T-Mobile president of technology, sent out a tweet connecting with concerned customers, “Thank you for your patience as we fixed these issues… We sincerely apologize for any and all inconveniences.”
While lines were down, T-Mobile suggested customers utilize third-party calling apps including WhatsApp or FaceTime, which will work over a Wi-Fi connection. Meanwhile, Verizon customers, frustrated by similar connectivity issues, also reported them to Down Detector and other tracking sites.
Verizon spokesperson Karen Schulz told the media that those reports were inaccurate, saying: “(These sites) utilize limited crowdsourced data drawn from sample social posts, which are often statistically insignificant or factually incorrect. A number of factors (may) contribute to a false report on those sites. Verizon’s network is performing well…(However), we are aware that another carrier is having network issues…”
According to major media reports, both Verizon and competitor AT&T, whose customers also claimed outages, blamed these reports on T-Mobile’s network issues. Consumers, however, just wanted their phones to work.
In the end, from a consumer PR perspective, the major service interruption T-Mobile’s customers experienced was definitely not a good start to that Monday for T-Mobile. However, the company did make some good calls in response. They connected quickly, apologized, explained the issue in simple, clear terms, and offered temporary solutions until the problem was fixed. This is a good process in responding to a serious potential PR crisis. T-Mobile could have gone another way, and customers would have come away even more frustrated than they already were. Instead, the company owned the problem and the solution.