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Small Business Bullies?

Expensive lessons for a small business owner.

The AT&T Yellow Pages folks who service Northeast Wisconsin paid our company an unintended compliment a couple of weeks ago when they shut down one of our clients’ websites by mistake — at least we hope it was a mistake. 

Because we have a monitoring system for our clients’ sites — including some websites that we didn’t author and don’t control, we immediately noticed that the site was down and notified the client. The only thing that came up when you went to the website was “This account has been closed. Call [xxx-xxx-xxxx] to have this account reinstated.”

Coincidentally, just two days before the site went down, a Yellow Pages sales representative tried unsuccessfully to talk our client into increasing the size of her monthly service with them, which was already contracted to stay open until September of this year.

So was it really coincidence? Consider the sequence of events:

  1. A Yellow Pages sales rep called our client to try to increase the size of her contract.  She said “no” and explained that Yellow Pages has simply not brought in any new sales for her AND she is considering moving her website to another provider.
  2. The Yellow Pages rep stated that the client’s domain name is the property of Yellow Pages and she would have to pay them for it (although they didn’t say how much).  Note: Our client made it clear when she contracted with Yellow Pages that she was the owner of the domain name and it could and would be transferred at her request.  They agreed with her.
  3. Two days later, our client’s website was inexplicably shut down without notification — a website account that was and is still under contract.
  4. Yellow Pages didn’t answer the phone number listed on the “This account is closed message” until well into the next business day. Finally the website was brought back online, nearly one full day after it had been taken down.
  5. The Yellow Pages business rep (not the sales rep as before) who helped get the site back online said she would be happy to transfer the domain to a new provider and understood our client’s frustration. “Just let us know when you are ready,” the business rep said.
  6. At our client’s request, AlignTech Solutions quickly prepared a new website for her during an all-weekend marathon session.  But for the next three business days our client’s business rep could not be contacted by our client to initiate the domain transfer process and didn’t return any calls. Frustrated, our client blocked her own phone number when calling the Yellow Pages business rep and was “magically” able to immediately get through.

So… is scaring small businesses into staying with the Yellow Pages the new sales tactic? Are they really that desperate?  It seems that they are – and maybe for good reason.

While the company has packaged business ad placements in paper-based Yellow Pages with “website leasing” options such as our client has, this effort has enjoyed a declining success for AT&T over the recent past.  Those options provide a low ROI for their customers and their website editing tools are sadly outdated.  Their efforts to translate that same advertising business from paper to their newer online offering hasn’t been greatly successful… at least for consumers.

Also consider the generational shift away from Yellow Pages:

  • Boomers who were small business owners thought they had to be listed — that’s just how you did things.
  • Generation Xers needed coaxing to be listed.
  • The Y Generation has no use for “yellow doorstops”.
  • The Z Generation will read about the Yellow Pages in their history books.

Add to all of this the type of bullying our client just experienced, and I don’t think the Yellow Pages can survive too much longer.  To learn more about this issue, Google “‘Yellow Pages’ +complaints +’AT&T'” for an ocean of similar stories, including these:

About Jeff Hayes

Jeff is an agile coach, an agile trainer and a speaker, helping organizations to adopt agile while developing high performing teams. He specializes in scaling scrum to suit the individual enterprise.

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