We Interview Cingular About Cancelling Over Text Message Plans

JackLeaker: Is this Ben Popken, editor of Consumerist
JackLeaker: ?
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
JackLeaker: about?
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: yes
JackLeaker: unless the customer chooses to block SMS
benpopken: right
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: right
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?
benpopken: Yes
JackLeaker: none
benpopken: ?
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
JackLeaker: okay
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: exactly
JackLeaker: as to your other question
JackLeaker: the date of change is 1/21
JackLeaker: so…
benpopken: got it
JackLeaker: the last cycle with notice would be 30 days before that
benpopken: gotcha
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: yes…
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: right
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: yes
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: so…
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: Omterestomg
benpopken: *Interesting
benpopken: I will keep your id secret
JackLeaker: thanks
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: Thanks!
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: yes
benpopken: “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
JackLeaker: :-)
benpopken: Do they often refer to Jack?
JackLeaker: yes
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?
JackLeaker: lol
JackLeaker: nope
benpopken: that’s too bad
JackLeaker: indeed
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


What Cingular Tells Customers Canceling Over Text Message Rates
Cingular Foils Reader’s Attempt To Break Contract
Break Your Cingular Contract Without Fee, Thanks 2 Txt Msg $ Raise


Edit Your Comment

  1. AlteredBeast (blaming the OP one article at a time.) says:

    “JackLeaker” sounds like an STD.

    Sorry for the immature joke…

  2. AlteredBeast (blaming the OP one article at a time.) says:


  3. AlteredBeast (blaming the OP one article at a time.) says:

    oops…I meant to write…

    BTW, it was nice of that guy to take the time to explain all of that. Too bad you can only get honest explinations on matters like this on the “down low”, and not from a regular CSR. I doubt they would say “This is a technique to push people to SMS plans.”

  4. rekoil says:

    benpopken: *Interesting
    benpopken: I will keep your id secret
    benpopken: and will not id you as a PM on the project

    Way to go, Ben…

  5. Altered: You make an interesting point, I think part of the mistrust between consumers and companies comes from the fact that they feel obliged to try and “trick” people using legal wrangling.

    It’s only going to get worse, I suspect.

  6. Ben Popken says:

    Rekoil: Screenname replaced with “Jack Leaker.” Re: PM, he said he didn’t care, so I left it in.

  7. Pheos says:

    benpopken: I will keep your id secret
    benpopken: and will not id you as a PM on the project

  8. Daytonna says:

    Very interesting insight!! Thanks Consumerist! Its pretty rare where we get a good glimps(sp?) of corperate inner workings, and the driving force behind rate changes. I guess I shouldn’t be supprised to find that it boils down to money.
    Was interesting to note that the phone company was seeing its revenue drop from competition from VOIP/IM/Texting.

  9. Ben Popken says:

    Pheos, see comment above yours.

  10. bravo says:

    Well, interesting interview, but the policy is still bullshiite nonetheless. I guess w/ American Idol coming up, Cingular will be rolling in 50% more dough with the bazillion SMS votes that show gets.

  11. Hoss says:

    JackLeaker: ben, didn’t you say you wouldn’t out me as PM
    benpopken: yet I just ripped that, sorry
    benpopken: we’re safe
    JackLeaker: but you left where I told you I was PM
    JackLeaker: Uhm, I guess you didn’t usnderstand what “we’re safe” means

  12. ValkRaider says:

    Of course THEIR legal disagrees.

    That is their job.

    They will *always* disagree.

    What is relevant is whether or not the Courts will agree, or whether or not the regulating agencies will agree…

    I would very seriously contend that an option that is enabled by default is indeed part of the service. That if I have to “opt out” than it is not simply an *optional* feature.

    For example, you can go to the web and send SMS to ANY phone number, from a variety of services including Google. So what if someone sends you 100 messages just because they found your phone number randomly? You would have to pay for them.

    So raising the rates DOES impact every user, for all practical purposes.

  13. infinitysnake says:

    I think the little logo guy is called ‘jack’ because he looks like the toy…

  14. Ben Popken says:

    Hoss, how’s this for you?

    JackLeaker: I only worked on the part impacting the former AWS subscribers
    JackLeaker: so it wouldn’t be immediately evident

    Consider the reverse scenario: Commenter: This interview is cool, but I wish I knew more about the subject. Is he in PR? How does he have so much knowledge about Cingular policies?

  15. Hoss says:

    just raggin on you guy. who cares? he gave away the store as it was

    good job

  16. Ben Popken says:

    Sorry, my ragometer was broke. I’ve submitted it to repairs but they denied my warranty claim.

  17. RumorsDaily says:

    I could go for a Ragu-meter. Mmmm… Ragu.

  18. bigroblee says:

    Just out of curiosity, why are you all so eager to break a contract you willingly went into? Like the feeling of getting over on a major corporation, or is this just the excuse you were looking for to jump ship? Oh, and Michael, WTF are you thinking, that you will find another carrier that won’t charge you for incoming text, or for that matter will keep prices static forever? If you hate contracts people, there’s a simple solution! Stop accepting the discounted phones, don’t be a cheap fucker, pay full purchase price, and get service with no contract! Simple, huh? Although, last I checked, Cingular, Verizon, and T-Mobile will only give you the unlimited mobile to mobile and nights and weekends minutes with a minimum of a one year contract. Good luck. Next time, again, DON’T ACCEPT THE DISCOUNTED PRICE ON THE PHONES, and then you can go no contract.

  19. AlwaysPonder says:

    Note to Jack –
    As a former Cingular contractee I want to thank you for trying to help shed some light on this whole situation. I was also encouraged to see that company folks don’t always buy the company line 100%.

    Ben – thank you for a great service to the consumer.

  20. AlwaysPonder says:

    Bigroblee – I think it is disingenuous of you to not disclose your relationship to this story. From your earlier posts it appears that you work for one of the carriers….which colors your opinions in this matter, just as my experience as a Cingular Contractee has colored my opinions. At least I am not hiding that fact.

  21. acambras says:

    Yes, AlwaysPonder — I agree. I suspect Bigroblee is an industry troll — he has copied and pasted his comment/rant to every cell-related post over the past couple of days.

    Bigroblee — REVEAL THYSELF!

  22. UnnDunn says:

    Bigroblee: The problem with your theory is Cingular REQUIRES you to accept a contract to get on a monthly service plan, even if you purchase a phone at full-price.

    I recently got a Cingular phone second hand from a friend, and when I tried to sign up for service, they insisted that I needed a 1-yr contract. I was like “What’s the point of getting a contract if I’m not getting a phone discount in return?” She was like “you get the benefits of a monthly plan.” What benefits? The benefit of getting jacked for at least $50 a month even if I don’t talk much?

    I said “fuck that” and now I’m on GoPhone. Hearing a story like this makes me want to get my phone unlocked and go with T-mo.

    It’s annoying that the cellphone companies can get away with this, but I guess it’s just the way it is. Hopefully one of the new MVNOs can shake things up a bit, but I’m not naïve enough to hold my breath.

  23. tmarios says:

    How can a service be “pay per use” if you pay for service you do not choose to use; for incoming message you do not want, you still pay for receiving them.
    There is no way for Any carrier to allow you to choose if you want to receive an incoming message or not ( that way you do for answering a call or the same way the MMS does). This is due to the nature of the SMS ( utilizes the control channels that you need in order to use your phone anyway). If you are changed for messages you DO NOT CHOOSE to receive then you are subscribed to a service you do not have 100% “PAY PER USE” ability.

  24. tippps says:

    just spent 30 minutes or so on the phone with cingular. they played hard ball with a well scripted retention (F-you) specialist “manager”
    i told her that i also had a biz account with 50 lines at nearly $65,000 a year and if im going to get stuck with $150 im calling Troy form Sprint who calls me every month trying to get my cell biz from Cingular. her reply was “were sorry to hear that”. i told her if she minded that i am recording the call and will play it for Larry Ellis at the Cingular Executive escalation department (if you all want his number let me know and ill post it)
    ultimately i got nowhere and cingular just lost $65k a year of my money over a measley $150

  25. Jobeleca says:

    UnnDunn, if you don’t want the 1yr service contract, there’s an alternate version of the various plans that does not include unlimited mobile to mobile or rollover (i.e. a non-promotional plan) that you can get without any contract at all. I’m an AT&T employee so I know exactly what I’m talking about, just make sure the rep you’re talking to uses a plan that does not include the letter “P” and does include the letter “B”. FYI: All family plans are considered promotional, so this tip only applies to individual rate plans.

    AlteredBeast, I know exactly what you’re talking about… since this past summer, we’ve been permitted to be that candid with you upon request, and most people trained in the past year will be, but we have a huge number of older reps who remember the way it used to be and are habitually paranoid.