The Consumer Matters is the blog of Leslie Grandy, aka Gearhead Gal.  My passion is creating and delivering compelling products that delight customers through simple and elegant user experience design.

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Entries in Verizon (5)

Tuesday
Feb022010

Hey, Verizon, My USB Modem Doesn't Receive SMS Messages. But Then You Already Know That.

I try to imagine I'm a normal consumer when I do my job and when I post on this site, because it is important to me to exercise great empathy for the average user. However, I have to admit every now and then, that because I work in technology, and I love gadgets, I am not every consumer. The difference is an important one.

By way of example, I recently bought a Verizon Wireless USB Modem. I have no Verizon phones, because I own an iPhone, Blackberry Curve and NexusOne, and I didn't need another phone. (This is when my admission I am not every consumer is relevant.) I carry different devices for different reasons and different times, which I know is not average. Switching phones keeps me from getting too familiar or biased towards any one phone, or to any particular mental model. So, in my defense, I like to believe it keeps me from getting too jaded like early adopters tend to do.

In any event, I prefer to manage my wireless bills online, which brings us back to me being pretty average. I went to the Verizon Wireless site today to create an online account so I could keep track of my data usage and set up auto-pay. Again, nothing out of the ordinary. After asking me for my phone number, and asking me to identify myself as the primary account holder with the last four digits of my social security number, the site informed me that the account would  not be accessible till I retrieved the temporary password that was being sent by SMS to my phone.  Excuse me? That's right, I just got finished telling you in the paragraph above that I am not a Verizon PHONE customer. And who should know that better than Verizon? Didn't they just look up my account to verify my social security number as the primary account holder's before they sent that SMS? That same account could have told them what devices I owned, and that none of them could receive SMS.

Sure, Verizon plans to send me a hard copy of the temporary password through the good, old USPS. But the fact remains they missed the opportunity to ensure I will use the online portal at the moment when I was actively engaged and had the time to do so. Any marketer worth their weight knows that getting someone to come back and take action is much harder than working them into action once you have their eyeballs.

My issue is not about security and authentication. It's about the original experience. Why do I have to wait at least 3 days for the temporary password to complete the transaction? Sending a temp password by snail mail as a back-up may be the best way to "close the loop" and ensure a customers' privacy. But that's really just a consequence of a more foundational problem: either Verizon don't understand CRM or they have such a bias for their voice-centric network, that their CRM system doesn't support a use case for a customer with a data-only device that can't receive an SMS.

Friday
Jan292010

Product's Not Out Yet, But Reviews are In

First published on Technorati

Although the sleek new device announced today is not available, social media is already buzzing about missed expectations and opportunities squandered. The financial markets always anticipate a letdown when Steve Jobs, the company’s favorite presenter, walks on stage and today was no exception. Just after 10AM Pacific time, Apple’s stock (AAPL) took a tumble below $200, although it closed at nearly $208.

Most notably absent from the portable device was a camera. One of the main complaints iPod Touch users have had is the lack of camera, and Jobs’ demo of the amazing photo application on the iPad only served to highlight this missing component. One Apple fan, @itshenry, wrote, “iWish they had iAdded an iSight.”

Another loyal Apple user posted his disappointment with Apple’s continued lack of flash support, @markhall pointed out, “You can’t claim it’s great for browsing and not support Flash.”

Other add-ons many had hoped to be featured but were never shown include: expandable memory, USB ports, multi-tasking, a multi-user interface for shared usage and a better media management experience to improve on the Apple TV product, a less popular member of the Apple family.

On the services side of the equation, the most noticeably missing rumored feature of the iPad was an announced partnership with Verizon, which has long been expected to sell the iPhone, but which requires support for its CDMA network. Although the iPad will be sold unlocked, since a version that supports CDMA was not announced, Verizon’s customers will only be able to use the Wi-Fi versions of the new tablet. 

Thursday
Jan212010

Minutes, Messages and Megabytes - Making Sense of Wireless Pricing

First published on Technorati

On a recent visit to the concessions counter at the local Cineplex, my husband and I debated about the size of the popcorn tub to buy. He often argues that the best value is in buying the biggest bucket, while I maintain that it’s not a value because we consistently leave half of the bucket uneaten, since the portion size could feed a small village for a month. Inevitably when we have this debate, other couples join in and take sides, but in the end it is hard to argue that the small bag is a “good buy.”

Wireless carriers appear to have learned a lot about marketing to consumers from movie theater concessionaires. And the recent round of announcements about new unlimited wireless plan pricing from AT&T and Verizon continues the tradition. Intuitively, consumers feel good when the per-unit price of an item seems smallest. Unlimited voice plans give you the smallest per unit charge imaginable, since your phone bill is capped but your usage is not. Wasted minutes – known as “breakage” - are like uneaten popcorn in the bucket under your seat. It’s still the better deal per unit, even if you don’t take the benefit from the extra units. But some consumers wonder, is leaving a monthly pile of unused minutes and messages really a better deal?

There really is no risk that unlimited plans will drive voice consumption higher, because the truth is that voice usage is flattening and voice revenue has been declining. While carriers are hoping to spur the utilization of their voice networks and extract more revenue from their existing network assets, a minute of voice is no longer worth what it used to be to the average consumer.

Text messaging has followed the same bundled pricing strategy, although unlike voice, messaging has grown substantially in the past few years. To protect their margins, US carriers control the messaging costs by leveraging existing voice networks to control message size and offer no specific delivery time frame for messages.

While carriers appear to be giving away unbounded aciPhone mobile webcess to their mature voice networks with unlimited minute plans, they are much more miserly about giving away data. The accelerated adoption of web-enabled phones, app stores, and downloadable media has shown carriers where the demand is heading. Within 3 years, analysts believe the number of Internet-compatible mobile phones will be 1.82 billion, exceeding the number of PCs, and drive the majority of website accesses. Within 5 years, these same analysts predict mobile devices will become the main mode of accessing the web.

To protect against an overwhelming demand for data that may precede the build-out of their mobile broadband infrastructure, US carriers are much more defensive on the broadband side, and have been creating additional pricing tiers for data plans. These plans will introduce a new unit of cost for mobile consumers to assess: the megabyte (MB). Verizon, for example, will be charging all 3G phones users a mandatory $10 per month for 25 MB of web access. Unfortunately, most consumers don’t actually know how to gauge the number of megabytes they may consume while scrolling or surfing any particular site’s web pages. To help consumers prevent overages, most carriers provide a way to gauge remaining, unused megabytes, but these tools don’t give users an easy way to predict how visited sites may consume them.

Vodaphone MB Usage Calc 

Vodaphone introduced a MB Usage Calculator to help people pick a plan up front, but it isn’t specific enough to allow a customer to budget the number of pages you might be able to view, or how long you can spend on any web page. When Apple coined the phrase “1000 songs in your pocket” to describe the capacity of a 4GB iPod, they defined a unit of storage, a gigabyte, in terms any consumer could understand. To aid wireless consumers in understanding the new billing measure, Bill Shrink created a nifty graphic that applies the same approach to megabytes and data, translating these digital units into recognizable measures of usage. Bill Shrink

Saturday
Dec192009

Sprint: We Protect Our Customers' Data. You are Just a Consumer. 

First Published on Technorati: December 18, 2009 at 12:40 pm

Personally Identifiable Information (PII) makes it possible for a marketer, salesman or hacker to uniquely identify you. But what happens when your unique personal data, like your home address or phone number, appears in a stranger's customer's record?  Is it still your information to control?

In my last Technorati post on the topic of personal data, "Who's Protecting My Information in the Cloud?", I highlighted a challenge consumers have tracing their identity with platforms that share your account info, like Facebook, in order to extend capabilities through the Internet cloud. But what happens when a company erroneously possesses your data in an account they believe authorizes them to use it to market to you? What rights do you have as a consumer to remove your personal data from another person's account and opt-out of the marketing?

I, like many other consumers, have placed my phone numbers on the National Do Not Call List, so when I received an automated call from Sprint, on my Verizon landline pSprinthone, I was perplexed. I have not been a Sprint customer since the turn of the century. I have owned this landline number since 2006. My wireless accounts are with T-Mobile and AT&T.

The automated voice on the other end of the phone notified me that a refund check in the amount of $37.67 had been approved and was in the mail from Sprint . The bot repeated the message and hung up. I was concerned this call might be a scam, or reflect a misappropriation of my identity. Thanks to caller ID, I could return the call and the 800 number it resolved to turned out, in fact, to be a call center for Sprint.

After navigating their menu of options that kept asking me for my Sprint account information, which I don’t have since I am not a customer, I got to a live rep. The rep acknowledged after a few minutes she couldn’t access the customer account where my landline number was stored to remove it. Why? Because I couldn’t give her the PIN for that account, let alone the Sprint account number.

I requested they stop calling me since they had no explicit permission to use the number as the listed owner of the landline. I offered to fax an affidavit and a copy of my phone bill which showed my address, to verify it didn’t match their records for the customer who was associated with my home phone number.

I even suggested there might be a risk that more of my personal data could have been co-opted, perhaps by someone perpetrating an identity theft for credit. “It was probably just a typo by the person who entered it,” she casually offered. Escalation to her supervisor was no more successful, and he summed up the situation this way: “There is no one in the Sprint or Nextel call center who can remove your personal information without a PIN.” A PIN, of course, which is only given to a Sprint customer, which I am not.

After two more automated bot calls from the Sprint 800#, I decided as a consumer I needed to understand the company's corporate policy on how they verify who 'owns' the actual data in the records they protect. Sprint’s representative provided the following official comment about its willingness to verify personal information and remove it from a customer record:

Sprint strives to maintain the most up-to-date and accurate customer account information. Inevitably, situations arise where inaccurate data is incorporated into our account records. When such a situation is brought to our attention, we will take the appropriate steps to resolve it.
In this instance, Sprint's Office of Privacy is reaching out to the Sprint accountholder whose information includes your landline phone number. Out of concern for customer privacy, we must first verify the change with the accountholder. Once the accountholder consents to the change, we will promptly update the information.
If an individual who is not a Sprint customer is contacted by Sprint about a Sprint account-related issue, we encourage them to contact our Office of Privacy at officeofprivacy@sprint.com, or visit http://www.sprint.com/legal/privacy.html. Our Office of Privacy will analyze the facts of the case and assist in resolving the issue.

The important insight in the above statement is that the Sprint customer must verify that the data can be removed. Companies contract to protect the personal information of customers, not any consumer. The bias is to protect the people who pay them to do so.

I asked Sprint specifically, then, how they verify their account holder has permission to use the data in question, especially if one of their customers may be using the appropriated data to commit identity theft. I further asked them to provide instructions for what recourse a consumer has to expunge the “inaccurate data” if the Sprint customer does not permit the change. 

Apparently that policy is still formulating, as Sprint has not provided a clarification on this point. The State's Attorney General's office could not be reached for comment.

Sunday
Oct182009

Favorite Tweet of the Day

Now that's  advertising & iBranding!  RT @ekowus: iDon't know what it is but I want one  http://bit.ly/pEBbn #verizon #droiddoes #iphone