Call center hell

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[4 December: I got a call from Verizon and an answer. For that, skip down to *here.]

We have a new apartment in Manhattan. Washington Heights. Verizon FiOS is here. FiOS trucks roam the streets. They set up little tables in front of apartments where FiOS is now available, to sign customers up. My wife talked to a guy at one of those recently, and he told us Verizon would bring FiOS to any apartment building where a majority of tenants welcomed it, provided the fiber is in the street. Our street has it, but we can’t get through to Verizon by the usual means (website, phone number). Checking with those is a dead end. They say it’s not available. But I want to know for sure, either way. Because I’ll bet I can sell a majority of tenants on going with FiOS. I know FiOS, because I’ve been a customer near Boston since 2007. So can somebody from Verizon please contact me? Either here or through @dsearls. Thanks.

* Had a good talk with a Verizon rep who called me today (4 December). Here’s what she said:

  1. FiOS is not ready on our street yet, but it will be.
  2. When it is, building owners will be notified, both by mail and in person if possible. So alert the building owner to this eventuality, if the owner is not you.
  3. Meanwhile also go on the website and navigate to where you can request service. Even if they say it’s not available now, the request will be remembered when the service actually rolls out.
  4. Right now Verizon has stopped pushing or building out any new services while existing ones are down or damaged due to Sandy. Since there was a lot of damage, and many customers affected, the company’s first priority is restoring that service. This will take awhile. No telling how long yet.
  5. When the Sandy restoration job is complete, the company will go back to expanding services to both new and existing customers.

So I’ll call Time Warner tomorrow. Meanwhile, maybe the information above will help you too.

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At home in Santa Barbara we get our TV from Dish Network. We’ve been customers of Dish since it was Echostar, back in the mid-90s. We’ve had dishes on five different houses over those years. Since we tend to do a lot of our living elsewhere, much of our watching (what little we do, actually) is on our iPad over a Slingbox attached to the set top box, which is in a cabinet rather than on a set. (An advantage of Dish over Cox, our local cable company, is that we can hide that box, and control it without pointing a remote directly at it. Cox doesn’t have that option.)

Here in Boston (where we are currently), we can watch the Olympics on the local NBC station, or on the iPad over the Slingbox; but I wanted to try watching live on NBC’s own Live Extra app on the iPad. Says the app page, “204 Nations. 302 Medal Events. 3,500 Live Hours. ONE SOURCE. Get to ready to watch every moment of the 2012 London Olympic Summer Games LIVE for FREE with the NBC Olympics.”

So I downloaded the app, got it rolling, clicked on “Live,” got forwarded to a page where I had to choose my provider, clicked on the Dish logo, entered my login and password, and then got this fail, over and over:

I checked the NBC FAQ. I checked to make sure with Dish that my login and password were good. They were. Then, starting yesterday, the new fail was “We’re sorry. You do not have a subscription to view the requested content. To upgrade your programming go to mydish.com and then log back in to view content.”

So I went to http://mydish.com/programming and got re-directed to my login page at https://my.dish.com/customercare/usermanagement/prepLogon.do?overlayuri=-myprogramming-showMyProgramming.do When I logged in there I get to my programming page, which says I have:

  • America’s Top 120
  • HBO & Sho
  • HD 120
  • DVR Service

America’s Top 120 is the fifth among nine American Core Packages. It’s $44.99/mo. Bottom is Smart Pack at $24.99/mo. Top is America’s Everything Pack at $104.99/mo. The HD 120 costs us $10. Showtime is $1/mo. HBO is $16/mo. DVR Service is $6/mo. The total is $86.99/mo.

Nothing there about the Olympics or NBC. So I called Dish.

The first customer service person told me I would need something called “Blockbuster@Home.” Here’s the link. Nothing there about the Olympics or NBC. When I told her we had a Slingbox, however, she said, “Oh! That’s very helpful information. I’m going to send you over to Broadband Support. They can help you.”

The guy at Broadband Support at first told me he knew nothing about the Olympics app, and that there was no way Dish could pay attention to the zillions of apps that can be downloaded on iPads. I told him there was no way that Dish itself would not be aware of the problem I’m having right now, given the interest in the Olympics at this time. He put me on hold. After coming off hold a couple more times to say he was looking into the situation, he came back and told me that I would need to upgrade to America’s Top 200, which is #7 out of the nine Core Packages. It’s $59.99, or $15 more per month than we’re paying now. So I looked to see if there are better deals available from Dish, and found this page here. It says,

AMERICA’S TOP 200™.

Love sports? Get in the game with channels like NFL Network, CBS Sports Network, MLB Network, NHL Network, NBA TV and your Regional Sports Network(s) (based on ZIP code). All of this on top of all the great programming in America’s Top 120™. Plus, get the local channels available in your area included at no extra charge.

That didn’t look too bad, since — as I recall — we do pay extra for the local channels. But, when I look at our billing details, I see that’s not the case. I’m guessing that’s because they come bundled with America’s Top 12o™. But I see nothing about that when I look at details about the package from within my logged-in state. There’s just a grid or a list of channels (many of which are audio and not video) in a link-proof pop-over window. When I look up Dish America’s Top 120 in a search engine, I get http://www.dish.com/entertainment/packages/americas-top-120/, it says, “Entertainment the family will love at a price that’s right. Get over 120 of America’s most-watched channels including CNN, ESPN, Disney Channel and Discovery Channel at an exceptional price. Plus, get the local channels available in your area included at no extra charge.” I suppose that answers the local channel question, meaning that I’m still paying $15 more per month for the Top 200.

But… for how long? On both the America’s Top 120 and the America’s Top 200 pages they say, in tiny print that can’t be copied and pasted, “…requires 24-month agreement.” In other words, I would need to pay $360 more just to watch the Olympics for the next week on my iPad. Or so it appears. Ergo: no way. Ain’t happening.

Far as I can tell (or am willing to put the labor into telling) I have no way of knowing which of these two Dish people is right, at least not by checking on the Web. And at this point I don’t care. I’ve put way more time into solving the problem than any customer should have to, and my only hedge against diminishing returns at this point is provisional satisfaction in hope that this post might help Dish and NBC debug what’s not working between them.

I would also like them both to probe a deeper problem for the whole cable/satellite TV industry (which now includes NBC, since Comcast owns it). In the perfect word of  Scott Adams, they together operate a confusopoly. He explains it this way:

A confusopoly is any group of companies in a particular industry that intentionally confuses customers about their pricing plans and products. Confusopolies do this so customers don’t know which one of them is offering the best value… The classic examples of confusopolies are phone companies, insurance companies, and banks.

He should have put TV networks and cable companies in there too.

The market — meaning you and I — do not demand a confusopoly. Nor do we demand getting this stuff for free. I’m already paying, and am willing to pay more. So are millions of other people. We just don’t want to lose the confusopoly game to get it. Seems like a fair request.

Oh, one last fail to report. At the beginning of my call to Dish, a robot asked if I’d like to take a survey after the call. I said yes, but they didn’t come on when the call ended, and then never called back, even though they have my number.

[Later...] Wanting to make a positive change here, we just posted Let’s help NBC prep for the 2014 Winter Olympics at Customer Commons. If you have some positive ideas in that direction, head over there.

Looks like IBM and I Bookare in agreement. Last week the first image you saw at IBM’s site (at least here in the U.S.) was a larger version of the one on the left, with the headline “Meet the new Chief Executive Customer. That’s who’s driving the new science of marketing.”

At the “learn more” link, the headline reads, “The new CMO and the science of giving people what they want.” In the copy there’s this:

In this highly connected world of commerce and communication, you can no longer market broadly to a demographic. A consumer doesn’t want to be a “segment.” She’s an individual. To capture and keep her business, she must be treated as one.

The onus of this evolution has landed on the doorstep of the Chief Marketing Officer. And that means that the mind-set, as well as the skill set, of a CMO has to evolve right along with it. IBM has identified the three mandates for the new CMO.

The first of those is “Harness data to paint a predictive picture of each customer as an individual—on a massive scale.” The second is “Create ‘systems of engagement’ so you do more than shape desire—you predict it. The third is “Design your culture and brand so they are authentically one.”

Above that last one it says this:

Your brand is tested in every interaction. Today, the same transparency that allows you to understand each customer as an individual; conversely allows each customer to understand everything about your company. And gaps between what the brand promises and what it delivers are known―not just by those who experience them, but by others in their social network. Thus how authentically a culture lives its brand becomes the measure of success. This is the heart of becoming a social business. Marketing’s role is to close the gaps by building a system so that in every interaction brand and culture are one.

Two problems with that. Also two opportunities:

  1. Transparency isn’t what allows a company to understand each customer as an individual. Direct interaction is. Better yet, direct interaction that the customer drives, in her own way.
  2. “Becoming a social business” is very 2011. Business was personal in the first place, and it will be personal again. What the hell is a Chief Executive Customer if she doesn’t have direct personal influence with the company?

IBM is familiar with CRM: Customer Relationship Management. Now it needs to get familiar with VRM: Vendor Relationship Management. Because it’s with VRM tools and services that customers will have the means to tell companies exactly what IBM’s headline welcomes: what they want.

Meanwhile, here’s the bad news for Big Data: what customers don’t want, most of the time, is to be told constantly what they want. Or to be told that their Chief Executive status with a company derives from a “predictive picture” derived from “harnessed data” about one’s individual self — least of all “on a massive scale” in which desire is not only “shaped” but “predicted.” IBM continues,

Today’s abundance of data helps companies understand each customer in multiple dimensions. This leads to insights which, when combined, help build a clearer understanding of each customer as an individual. With that, marketers can make better decisions about the mix that will serve customers more completely—based on needs, desire, likely next action, opinions. Today’s marketing practice requires building this capability of understanding customers as individuals across millions of interactions.

There is no clearer sign that a relationship has gone bad than this statement: “We don’t need to talk. I already know what you’re going to say.” Or worse, “I can also shape your desire.” Hell, that’s a relationship headed for divorce, and it’s hardly begun.

But that’s what Big Data marketing is about — so far — and why it will fail if the customer is not truly involved as an independent and autonomous human being, and not just as a “million points of data:+” (IBM’s term), and then as a target for messages and offers, based on the crunching of that data.

On that same page IBM posts this short pile of Big Data stats:

Earth to IBM and CMOs: The next era isn’t social. It’s personal. No amount of marketing analytics will out-perform knowing exactly what the customer wants, intends, or wishes to contribute to the company’s intelligence about the marketplace —in her own ways, and on her own terms.

If a brand wants to be fully understood and respected — and if it deserves both — it needs to be ready for customers to truly engage, and not just be told what they’re like, and then guessed at.

The means for that will be provided by both sides, not just by one. Until IBM and CMOs welcome independent customers, operating at full agency, outside any company’s silo or walled garden, all this mandating will be the sound of one hand shaking.

 

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Went to see The Social Network last night, and thought it was terrific. Even though most of the scenes set at Harvard and Silicon Valley were shot elsewhere, the versimilitude was high. And,while it was strange to see the recent past treated as history, the story actually works, and carries truth, even if it doesn’t ring true for the living subjects of the story. (I’ve haven’t met any of the movie’s characters, but I thought Justin Timberlake’s portrayal of the Sean Parker character was drawn straight from Jason Calacanis.)

The story that matters, at least to me, is about the making of a Silicon Valley success. In The Business-Movie Business, The New Yorker‘s James Surowiecki unpacks Hollywood’s small and mostly poor assortment of movies about business. His summary statement is “Movies’ mistrust of capitalism is almost as old as the medium itself.” Here’s how he puts “The Social Network” in that context:

Watching “Wall Street,” you’d think that business is a Hollywood obsession. But it’s really Hollywood’s biggest blind spot.

For that reason, the fall’s most important business film—indeed, the most important business film in ages—is not the second “Wall Street” but, rather, “The Social Network,” David Fincher’s film about Facebook. The film represents a rare attempt to take business seriously, and to interrogate the blend of insight, ruthlessness, creativity, and hubris required to start a successful company. Hollywood has made good films about money, loyalty, trust, and organization before—but most of them have been about gangsters. “The Social Network” suggests that it could also start making good films about businesspeople who don’t carry guns.

Henry Blodget’s blog post title sums up his own take: No Wonder Everyone Loves The Facebook Movie: It’s The American Dream. He begins,

True, it paints Harvard as a stuffy cartoon-scape. True, it treats women as as video-game props, sex tools, and platforms for coke-snorting. And, true, Mark Zuckerberg’s character comes off as a bit of an asshole. (But based on the other evidence I’ve seen, this would seem to be a fair representation of the reality at the time. And, thanks to Aaron Sorkin’s writing and Jesse Eisenberg’s delivery, even the assholishness is charming.)

But all this is secondary to the main message of the movie, which is a celebration of what makes a vibrant corner of our economy–and our country–great.

What’s the Facebook movie really about?

It’s about a college sophomore who says “fuck you” to authority, follows his passion, and creates something great. In so doing, he works ridiculously hard, inspires his colleagues, blows past the comfortable establishment, and becomes rich beyond belief.

In other words, the Facebook movie is the latest incarnation of the American Dream.

Ah, but we wake up from our dreams. And Hollywood knows how to make that movie too.

Mark Zuckerberg is clearly an extremely bright and prescient dude, and Facebook could hardly be a bigger success story. But that story isn’t over. In fact, it’s just begun.

(An aside… Both The New Yorker and BusinessInsider, from which I lifted the quotes above, do something I hate. They give me more than I intend to copy, putting on my clipboard a “Read more” and the URL of the piece. So, when I paste the passage, I get bonus jive. Sometimes this is handy, but it smacks of pure promotion, and its annoying.)

Ten years ago this month, on the morning after I gave this speech in Lucerne, my wife and I were walking through the restaurant at our hotel across the lake when a friendly American gentleman having breakfast buttonholed me to say he liked what I said in my talk. I thanked him and asked if he’d be at the conference again that day. He said yes, and that it would be nice to talk later.

Turns out he was the first speaker that morning. His name was , and he was the CEO of Wal-Mart. Later at lunch, which consisted of boxed food you could take out to tables by the lake, he came over to the table where my wife and I were sitting and asked if he could join us. I said sure, and we got to talking. One of the questions I asked him was why K-Mart had failed while Wal-Mart succeeded. He compressed his reply to one word: coupons. K-Mart had hooked its customers on coupons and couldn’t get them un-hooked. This tended to produce too many of the wrong kinds of customers, buying for the wrong reasons. Way too much of K-Mart’s overhead went into printing what was in essence a kind of currency — one that reduced the value of both the merchandise and the motives for buying it. By contrast Wal-Mart kept to old Sam Walton’s original guidelines, which minimized advertising and promotion, and simply promising “everyday low prices.” This saved money and helped build loyalty.

Lee’s lesson comes to mind when I read  at the . It’s too hard to compress the story, so here it is:

There’s a fascinating essay on Facebook just now from the owner of the lovely , about how Groupon nearly bankrupted her business.

The coffeeshop proprietor, Jessie Burke, was shocked at how much money the daily deals site charged to run the promotion. Groupon sold consumers a $13 Posie’s credit for $6, and then sought to keep the entire $6. Eventually, Posie’s and Groupon agreed on a 50% cut: Groupon would get $3 and Posie’s would get $3. Groupon’s $3 was almost pure profit,  but the cafe had to use its remaining $3 to cover the costs of $13 worth of cookies and coffee.

Is it any surprise the promotion was a smash? Over 1,000 customers used the promotion, but the cost imposed by those customers resulted in disastrous losses:

After three months of Groupons coming through the door, I started to see the results really hurting us financially. There came a time when we literally couldn’t not make payroll because at that point in time we had lost nearly $8,000 with our Groupon campaign. We literally had to take $8,000 out of our personal savings to cover payroll and rent that month. It was sickening, especially after our sales had been rising.

The losses would have been worthwhile if the Groupon customers had become loyal, profitable patrons but many only cared about a discount, not about what made the cafe special:

Over the six months that the Groupon is valid, we met many, many wonderful new customers, and were so happy to have them join the Posies family. At the same time we met many, many terrible Groupon customers… customers that didn’t follow the Groupon rules and used multiple Groupons for single transactions, and argued with you about it with disgusted looks on their faces or who tipped based on what they owed.

And here is Jessie Burke’s original post on the matter, at Posie’s blog.

To be fair, the bad customers were neither “Groupons” (as Jessie calls them) nor “Groupon customers” (since they didn’t buy anything from Groupon — in fact Posie’s was the real Groupon customer). They were coupon shoppers. Promotion hunters. Nothing wrong with that, of course. Most of us play that role some of the time. The problem for Posie’s is one of the oldest in retailing: promotions are good for causing traffic, but lousy for causing loyalty. And making constant promotion part of your business changes your business, literally by cheapening it.

What’s clear about Posie’s is that it’s a business built on human contact, on conversation and relationship. Not just on transactions — and least of all on discounted ones.

Relationship is personal. Even at the biggest companies, success and failure ride on personal behavior, and personal connections. “Trust breaks down first over money,” David Hodskins (my business partner of many years and a very wise dude) observes. Throwing coupons into a personal relationships, especially business ones, is a recipe for trouble.

Since the dawn of the Industrial Age, businesses large and small have also looked at individual relationships with customers as a kind of cost — one that can be reduced or eliminated, often by avoiding or de-humanizing conversations with customers. Promotions like Posie’s with Groupon are just one example of how cheapening gimmicks can actually damage a business that depends on personal relationships between a company’s people and its customers. There are many more examples, especially at larger companies, which too often turn customer support conversations into reverse : making humans sound like machines.

Making relationships work has always been both the foundation and the frontier of business. Ideally, technology should help relationships. And to some degree it does. Telephony and other “social” technologies certainly do help us stay in touch. But there are many other technologies, and uses — including some in the “social” space — that prevent or pervert relationships.

Earlier today, when I went looking for Bermuda tweeters, I went down the list of nearly (and now more than) 500 followers of @BDASun (the Bermuda Sun newspaper). A large percentage of followers are just there to promote something. On a day like today, when a hurricane is bearing down on that tiny country, you can tell the wheat from the chaff. The wheat is dealing with the hurricane (or stays quietly hunkered down). The chaff just promotes.

This has me wondering how much of “social media” today is devoted to being social in the old-fashioned literal sense, and how much is about marketing and promotion. Because I think there is a huge split between the two: a split as sharp as the one between Posie’s good and bad customers.

Matterings of Perspective

CRM & VRM, Figure & Ground is a long piece I put up today over at the . It expands on Antagonyms, Social Circles and Chattering about VRM, an excellent post by Cliff Gerrish on his blog. Both frame in hopeful terms the prospects for and finding common ground.

[Note: Jump to the bottom first, to see how this went... and may keep going.]

So I called SuperShuttle to book a ride to the airport in Denver. The first thing the robot voice said was that I could also book this on the Web. So I thought, cool, I’ll do that. It’ll probably go faster, and I can copy the confirmation information directly onto my calendar.

No luck there. I had to register, and the registration never went through. I’d fill out the form, click to make it go, and my browser window would say, “https://www.supershuttle.com/Membership.aspx?content=AccountSettings”, completed 29 of 31 items… and then raise the __ of __ items gradually over time until it said no more and I wasn’t registered. It just sat there with a completed form that had no use. It also annoyed me that I had to opt out of their promotional email newsletter.

So I called their 800 number again. The following isn’t far from verbatim. I’ve done my best to preserve the surreality of it.

Hello SuperShuttle.
I’d like a ride to the airport.
What would you like?
I’d like a ride to the airport here in Denver. I’m in the Hyatt Regency downtown.
Which airport are you flying from?
Denver International. DEN.
When does your plane depart?
Eight twelve AM. It’s a United flight.
Where will you be coming from?
The Hyatt Regency.
What is the address?
650 15th Street in Denver.
Which airline will you be flying?
United.
What is your hotel’s address?
650 15th Street. In Denver. Colorado.
When is your flight time?
Eight twelve AM.
What is your airline?
United.
Your pick-up time is 5:30am.
Can you make it 5:00am? I like to be early.
5:00am. Will you be paying by credit card?
Yes.
What kind of card?
Visa.
What is your card number?

I gave her my number. Slowly. She got it wrong. I corrected it. She asked for my expiration date. She said the card was expired. I said no, the expiration date was in 2011. She finally gave up on the card, and went back to completing the rest of the surreal dialogue.

What is your name?
David Searls. S E A R L S.
S E R L E S?
No, S E A R L S. Like PEARLS, only with an S instead of a P.
S E A R L E S?
No, just S E A R L S.
S E A R L … S?
Yes.
Okay. Here is your confirmation number…
Thanks.
Your pick-up time is 5:30.
I thought we said 5:00am.
Your pick-up time is 5:30.
Can we make it earlier?
Your pick up time is 5:15am.
Five-fifteen.
Five-fifteen.
Okay, thank you.
I am sorry, sir, but our equipment isn’t working well. That’s why I’m having trouble.
Sorry to hear that. Thanks for your help.
Thank you. Good bye.
Bye.

There’s gotta be a better way.

[Later...] And there is. I just got a call from SuperShuttle’s Senior VP of Global Marketing, looking to debug what went wrong here. It was a helpful conversation for both of us. Naturally, I suggested he take a look at what we’re doing with ProjectVRM. Once it’s ready for prime time, what VRM developers are doing can help improve what’s happening on the CRM side of markets such as SuperShuttle’s.

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In Align the interests of: 1. Users and 2. Investors., make a radical yet sensible case for users becoming investors. It’s very consistent with what we’re learning from Scoble plus FriendFeed turning into Friendfeed minus Scoble, which Dave wrote about in Scoble, your blog still loves you, and to which I added a comment that included this:

  The only publication on Earth that’s all Robert’s is his blog. That’s where his soul is, because he can’t sell it.

  …We’re back to first principles now. Users and developers, diggin’ together. Working on stuff that will survive the deaths of companies — and of bright ideas that can’t live anywhere but inside companies that own roach-motel environments that can be sold or shut down tomorrow.

The problem with living in most VC-funded company environments isn’t just that they keep us from living elsewhere (which is bad enough to begin with). It’s that the environments are like houses built to flip. The main idea isn’t to build a great house, but to sell it. It was a lesson I unpacked here in 2001:

  When the “internet economy” was still a high-speed traffic jam somewhere back in 1999, I was at a party in San Francisco. Most of the folks there were young, hip “entrepreneurs”. Lots of all-black outfits, spiky haircuts, goatees and face jewelry. I fell into conversation with one of these guys–a smart, eager young chap I’d met at other gatherings. He was on his second or third startup and eagerly evangelizing his new company’s “mission” with a stream of buzzwords.

  “What does your company do, exactly?” I asked.

  “We’re an arms merchant to the portals industry”, he replied.

  When I pressed him for more details (How are portals an industry? What kind of arms are you selling?), I got more buzzwords back. Finally, I asked a rude question. “How are sales?”

  “They’re great. We just closed our second round of financing.”

  Thus I was delivered an epiphany: every company has two markets–one for its goods and services, and one for itself–and the latter had overcome the former. We actually thought selling companies to investors was a real business model.

Dave take this another step by suggesting that any company whose first loyalty is not to its customers or users is a risky prospect. And that user ownership is a good fix. I agree.

It’s not that we have to blow up everything that came before. It’s that we need to build a new kind of enterprise: founding a People’s Software Company whose first act is to IPO and pool the financial resources of users who believe there is a gap in what Silicon Valley is providing using their old models for corporate structure.

This is definitely in alignment with what we’ve been thinking about and working on with ProjectVRM. And, as with the project Dave wants us to think about here, it’s hard to see the need if you’re looking at the world from the vendor’s side of the demand/supply relationship.

Yesterday Jim Sinur posted Escaping the Zombie Zoo with Better Customer Facing Processes, in which he writes,

  Why can’t I have my own portal that understands me and all the companies I work with and the processes that I use on some frequency? I do like online banking and my bank’s website is somewhat intuitive. Paypal is not too bad either, but why can’t I create a menu of processes I want in stead of organizing favorites? This menu remembers me and all my passwords. I can give it instructions like calculate my net worth as of a certain date and it does it for me. I can tell it to pay certain bills that coordinate with my 15th of the month income check instead of having to rely on credit cards that expire and banks that you can’t control well.

  I want a “Process of Me” where companies can allow me to customize my processes and interface.

What Jim wants is VRM — a way he can manage vendors, rather than just have them managing him. Vendors should adapt to his needs and processes, rather than the reverse, which is what he complains about earlier in his post, and that we all live through every time we have to whip out a loyalty card to interact with some vendor in a lame, exclusive and non-user-driven way.

After Jon Garfunkel replied with a pointer to ProjectVRM, Jim asked, “Which vendors are supporting this or is it a grass roots movement?”

What Dave proposes is one way to remove that distinction.

[Later, on 1 October 2009... This matter has been resolved. The charge for going over has been dropped, the service restored and good will along with it. Thanks to both @sprintcares and the chat person at My Sprint.]

So I just got a “courtesy call” from Sprint, a company I’ve been talking up for a couple years because I’ve had nothing but positive experience with my Sprint EvDO data card.

Well, that’s over. The call was to inform me that I’d gone over the 5Gb monthly usage limit for my data card, to the tune of 10,241,704.22kb, for which I was to be charged $500, on top of my $59.99 (plus $1.24 tax) monthly charge.

I didn’t know about the 5Gb limit. (In fact, I believed Sprint had an unlimited data plan, which is one reason I used them.) Kent German in CNET explains why in Sprint to limit data usaga on Everything plans. He begins,

When is unlimited not unlimited? Apparently when it comes from Sprint. Though the carrier has been very active about touting its new “simply everything” plan, which includes unlimited mobile Internet and messaging, it plans to place a cap on monthly data usage next month. Sprint will limit its simply everything customers to 5GB of data usage per month, plus 300MB per month for off-network data roaming.

A Sprint representative told BetaNews that the cap is needed to ensure a great customer experience.

O ya. By “great” they must mean bill size. Kent continues,

“The use of voice and data roaming by a small minority of customers is generating a disproportionately large level of operating expense for the company,” the representative said. “This limit is well within the range of what a typical customer would normally use each month.”…

BetaNews said Sprint began notifying customers in monthly bills that were mailed this week. The change will go into effect 30 days after customers receive the note. Also, the carrier said it will call customers next month to make sure they’re aware of the changes.

Well, I don’t read my bills. They go to my bookkeeper, who pays them and tosses whatever BS comes along inside the envelopes. I also don’t have a Sprint phone, or phone number. Maybe that’s why I never got that call.

Why did I go over? Possibly because I had little or no reliable landline (cable) Internet connectivity at my house in Santa Barbara for weeks after I got back there in June. I wrote about that here, here, here, here and here. So I used my Sprint datacard a lot. In fact it was something of a life-saver.

Earth to Sprint: that “small minority of customers” is the future of your company. You should invest in them, and in your relationships with them.

The Sprint person on the “courtesy call” knocked $350 off the bill. That was because she was ready to “work” with me on the matter. I asked her how she arrived at that number. She said she couldn’t say.

I hope they work zero in to their future calculations. Because that’s what they’re getting from me as soon as I find a better deal elsewhere.

I’m not sure how to price the good will they’ve lost. In fact, I’m not sure that has a price.

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I’ve left two messages with the very nice senior tech guy who came out on Monday and confirmed the problem without solving it. Another guy came yesterday when the problem wasn’t happening, and gave me the number of the senior guy to call.

Anyway, no response so far. Meanwhile, the usual: hjigh ping times and traceroutes that show the big latency starting at the first hop: inside Cox’s network.

A smart tech friend, suggests we just replace the cable modem and its power supply. Can’t hurt. Of course, that’s Cox’s gear and their job, and they’re awol, still.

Meanwhile, the quanity of work not getting done is huge.

If I had a choice of carriers, I’d switch in a heartbeat, but I don’t. Verizon is the only alternative, and my house is too far from a central office to get competitive data speeds. So, not much leverage there.

Another friend suggests calling the CEO’s office. If I don’t hear back from the senior tech guy today, I’ll try that in the morning.

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The idea was to take some down time in Santa Barbara and get work done in my own nice office, with my nice comfortable chair, surrounded by space and time, with soft sea breezes blowing through.

Instead it’s been tech crash city since I got here last Thursday. (Except for getting out to the Live Oak Festival. That rocked. Also, trees, dirt and great music tend not to crash.)

First a system upgrade hosed a beloved old mail program. So far I can’t get the archives to migrate anywhere. I can still get email addressed to my searls.com and Gmail accounts, but not to my Harvard.edu account. I can send from Gmail. But balls are being dropped and lost all over the place.

Next my Internet connection through Cox got flaky. Mostly it’s bad. Details in my last post. A Cox repair guy finally came today. And, as Russ predicted, tightened everything up, tested it out, and all was fine. Dig this: I didn’t know that service had improved to 18Mb/s downstream and close to 4Mb/s upstream. It was right up there when he left, along with two-digit ping times to everything.

That was then. Soon as he left, we were back to bad. We’re at 3-digit ping times and packet losses. One other discovery: my 8-port Netgear Firewall/Router/Hub/Switch (I forget the name, which cannot be remembered — it demonstrates the opposite of branding) has Issues too. It introduces latencies and packet losses of its own when it’s in the loop. It’s out right now, not that it makes any difference. I’m back using my Sprint data card.

When I called Cox to get them to come back and finish the job, they said they’d send a senior tech on Friday afternoon. That’s two days from now. Then, in the middle of a tech support call with Apple, a Cox robot made an automated survey call. I couldn’t talk and hung up on it.

If you want to reach me, text or call. Or use a Twitter DM. Meanwhile, I’m going to take a shower and go for a long walk. Or vice versa.

Hope everybody’s enjoying Reboot. I really miss being there.

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