JackLeaker: Is this Ben Popken, editor of Consumerist
benpopken: Hello, yes.
JackLeaker: Ben, I saw your post regarding the Cingular SMS Increase and wanted to let you know that Cingular’s Legal Team disagrees with you on that point
JackLeaker: I’m a PM for Cingular myself and worked on that project
benpopken: Thanks for reaching out
JackLeaker: I can give you the verbatim, Legal-approved talking points
benpopken: I’m aware this, yet people are still reporting success.
benpopken: Your legal team’s findings notwithstanding.
JackLeaker: yes, I’m sure they are…
JackLeaker: customer care is a huge organization and word spreads slowly
JackLeaker: just wanted you to be aware.
benpopken: I’d be happy to look at the talking points.
JackLeaker: Q. Since Cingular is raising its rates, are customers entitled to cancel service without paying an early termination fee?
A. No, that doesn’t apply here. This is simply a pricing change for pay-per-use text and instant messaging, which is an optional service. It’s similar to buying a ringtone – that’s optional as well. It’s not part of your monthly rate plan.
Customers who pay for text and instant messages on a per-use basis are generally those who use text messaging occasionally. Frequent users generally purchase packages or bundles, so they can send and receive messages for as little as a penny each.
JackLeaker: direct from our KMS systems
JackLeaker: probably violating my non-disclosure agreement
JackLeaker: but it is legal approved scripting for speaking with customers, so I’m not so worried
benpopken: Thanks for that
benpopken: Curious though
benpopken: Is a user asked whether they want text messages when they start service?
JackLeaker: Sales will attempt to upsell a potential customer on an SMS Package (for which they are commissioned)
benpopken: Let me reprhase. Does a customer have to opt in to start receiving text messages?
JackLeaker: they do not have to opt-in, no…but they can opt out of sending and receiving
JackLeaker: just like Mobile Internet capabilities are enabled on the phone
JackLeaker: and if you do not subscribe to a plan, you pay per KB
JackLeaker: same with MMS as well
benpopken: Right. Then I don’t see how your legal team can consider it an optional service.
benpopken: Because a customer does not opt-in to start it
JackLeaker: Because adding or changing your SMS package doesn’t effect your contract terms…
JackLeaker: for example…
JackLeaker: let’s say I start service with no SMS Bucket
benpopken: If they’re on an SMS plan, I understand that the etf-free cancellation won’t work
JackLeaker: and six months from now, I want to add one
JackLeaker: that will not extend my contract
JackLeaker: as the company does not consider it a change to T&C’s
benpopken: We stated in the post that it doesn’t apply to people on SMS plans.
JackLeaker: right right…
JackLeaker: and that’s absolutely correct
JackLeaker: that’s Legal’s way of avoiding letting anyone out of contract
JackLeaker: I can’t say that I agree with Legal on this
JackLeaker: and it’s not the first time I’ve disagreed with them since the merger
benpopken: There’s a logical fallacy in their reasoning.
benpopken: let me try and recall the fancy Latin name
JackLeaker: perhaps…like most legal issues it’s a matter semantics (sp?)
JackLeaker: one Legal “expert” interprets a line of text one way
JackLeaker: and another Legal “expert” another
JackLeaker: one other part of the talking points…
JackLeaker: The increase is for the pay-per-use feature, which is an optional service that you only use it if you choose to.
benpopken: I can’t remember it
JackLeaker: which is where their view of “optional” is coming from
JackLeaker: I can tell you that it’s simply an attempt to get more people to buy SMS packages
JackLeaker: or other “Media” packages
benpopken: But wait, isn’t the pay-per-use the default setting?
JackLeaker: unless the customer chooses to block SMS
JackLeaker: I understand your point
benpopken: So these talking points are issued to all the customer service reps?
JackLeaker: they exist in the Knowledge Management Systems (where all policies & procedures reside)
JackLeaker: and which is what reps use to support calls
benpopken: What’s the flowchart of actions when a customer calls and says I want to cancel?
JackLeaker: with a customer service organization numbering over 10,000 reps on the phones, there’s always the opportunity for a customer to get a rep who doesn’t know about the talking points, or weak at arguing such points and simply lets the customer cancel for no ETF
JackLeaker: depends how they do it
benpopken: Can a tier 1 cancel or does the customer have to go to cancellations?
JackLeaker: if they select “cancel” in the IVR (automated voice answering that everyone hates) they will route to a special cancellation team
JackLeaker: what is sometimes known as a “Save” or “Loyalty” team in the industry
JackLeaker: if they choose other options they’ll generally route into normal Customer Care (what you call Tier I)
benpopken: If a customer wants to successfully cancel using the txt message rate increase, what should they do?
JackLeaker: if they tell that “Tier I” rep they want to cancel during the call, or indicate something along those lines, the rep is supposed to transfer to the “Loyalty” group
JackLeaker: it’s going to be a matter of luck regarding which rep you reach right now
JackLeaker: hope that you reach a weak rep
JackLeaker: if not…
JackLeaker: you could attempt to keep calling back and escalating
JackLeaker: I obviously can’t recommend that as it costs Cingular a lot of money
benpopken: How long do customers have to cancel under the 30 day policy?
JackLeaker: you mean for this SMS increase?
JackLeaker: Legal is saying that this is not allowing customer’s an opt-out
JackLeaker: they can cancel anytime, but ETF will be owed
benpopken: okay, but if it were legal
benpopken: b/c the change goes into effect in january
benpopken: is it just 30 days from when their december bill posts?
benpopken: ^ *would it
JackLeaker: if legal’s direction were that this required allowing customers out of contracts, T&C’s require a 30 day notice ahead of the change during which time customers must cancel
JackLeaker: 30 days from notice, so technically about 30 days from dropping of the invoice
JackLeaker: so figured Bill Close date + 3-5 days for invoice development
JackLeaker: if the customer does not choose to cancel during those 30 days, they remain under the contract
benpopken: so 30 days from December bill close?
JackLeaker: the opt-out only applies if the customer cancels
JackLeaker: they can’t just state that they want out of their contract then stay on service
benpopken: right, the idea is out of contract and out of service
JackLeaker: as to your other question
JackLeaker: the date of change is 1/21
benpopken: got it
JackLeaker: the last cycle with notice would be 30 days before that
benpopken: Here’s what one person on Digg said
benpopken: “I just called and it worked perfect for me. No questions asked. I was also able to maintain my same rate, but on a month-to-month basis.”
JackLeaker: interesting…rep screw up
JackLeaker: got lucky
benpopken: thought so
benpopken: So what’s up with the text message raise anyway?
benpopken: Seems to be a fad among carriers
JackLeaker: data rates are driving the revenues in the industry right now
JackLeaker: voice ARPU is way down
JackLeaker: and keeps dropping
JackLeaker: do you know “ARPU”?
benpopken: average revenue per user
JackLeaker: so the business breaks down ARPU by services to understand where margins are
JackLeaker: and data is driving that
benpopken: So more people are texting and having IMs sent to their phones and such
JackLeaker: SMS and MMS aren’t truly data, but Cingular considers them to be
JackLeaker: and using Internet
JackLeaker: and that’s the higher margins
JackLeaker: so if our competitors raise rates
JackLeaker: or have higher rates
benpopken: Why aren’t SMS and MMS truly data?
JackLeaker: SMS utilizes the voice network
JackLeaker: and MMS utilizes both GPRS and SMS
JackLeaker: so it’s psuedo data
JackLeaker: anyway, because they aren’t “voice”, companies consider them data
JackLeaker: raise the PPU rates
JackLeaker: push people to SMS or Media Bundles
JackLeaker: increase Data ARPU
JackLeaker: and margins increase too, as those new SMS package subscribers probably won’t use most of their allotment
JackLeaker: I just ask that if you post any of our conversation that you not identify me…I’m not on shaky employment ground here or anything and would prefer not to lose my job
benpopken: I will keep your id secret
benpopken: I really appreciate you reaching out like this
benpopken: very illuminating
JackLeaker: I completely agree with the target of your blog…this is a very consumer unfriendly industry as I’m sure you well know
JackLeaker: I see your newer post now
benpopken: Yeah cellphones are one of consumers top gripes
benpopken: How did you find out about our blog, by the way?
JackLeaker: I had previously heard of you, but hadn’t read it. I read Engadget and Gizmodo every day though and Gizmodo linked to your story on the Cingular piece. I tried posting there but they didn’t approve my comments…decided to go to the source of the article which was you
benpopken: Would you like a comments invite?
JackLeaker: sure, I’ve got a lot of catching up to do on your blog :-)
JackLeaker: I love gadget/electronic blogs
JackLeaker: and especially consumer ones
benpopken: here ya go:
benpopken: (Link: http://www.consumerist.com/?op=acceptinvite&code=FODwEOsWmP)http://www.consumerist.com/?op=acceptinvite(Link: http://www.consumerist.com/?op=acceptinvite&code=FODwEOsWmP)&code=FODwEOsWmP
JackLeaker: sweet, thanks!
benpopken: no problem
JackLeaker: that’s a disturbing image of Jack, the Cingular icon
benpopken: his name is Jack?
JackLeaker: I do not know why
JackLeaker: I’m former AWS, so it’s hard to understand the logic
JackLeaker: I preferred the “Death Star” myself
benpopken: Do they often refer to Jack?
JackLeaker: standard Korporate Koolaid
benpopken: mmm yummy
JackLeaker: (Link: http://www-xl.cingularextras.com/fuel/enduser/portal/endUserHTMLDir?categoryID=4208&pc=U&dc=0)http://www-xl.cingularextras.com/fuel/enduser/portal/endUserHTMLDir?categoryID=4208&pc=U&dc=0
benpopken: Do they make a lot of “you don’t know jack” jokes?
benpopken: that’s too bad
JackLeaker: the branding will be going away anyway
JackLeaker: whenever the AT&T/Bell South merger completes
JackLeaker: well…not immediately, but eventually
benpopken: Maybe they will merge all the logos
— BEN POPKEN