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Mike Reyes, aka Mr. Controversy, has considered himself a writer ever since he was a child. He wrote for various school publications from about 1995 until 2006, and currently runs both The Bookish Kind and Mr. Controversy, which is an offshoot of the regular column he wrote in High School. He's also a film journalist/critic for Cocktails & Movies and CinemaBlend, as well as the author of several short stories such as "The Devil v. George W. Bush". Any inquiries for reprinting, writing services, or general contact, should be forwarded to: mikereyeswrites@gmail.com

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Monday, September 24, 2012

A Letter of Concern to Mr. Francis Shammo

So Verizon Wireless has decided to get rid of its Unlimited Data Plans instead of a newer, fresher approach: The "Share Everything" Plan.  As if that weren't enough of an insult to customers who've stays with Verizon for years on end, one of their corporate officers (One Francis Shammo) showed just how out of touch the company is with the consumer.

In order to give them what for, I wrote them a rather upset letter.  Now warning:  this puppy's long, so if you've got a while, feel free to enjoy.  Also, if you like/agree with the letter, I suggest you do what I intend to do...flood the Internet with this letter (or send it to Mr.Shammo himself at Verizon Communications.  I don't have a mailing address for him, so I might just send it to a corporate address and address it as "Care Of...").
"Unlimited is just a word, it doesn't really mean anything.”
“That whole unlimited thing, I think, is going by the wayside."
Fran Shammo, CFO of Verizon Communications

Dear Mr. Shammo,

                Back in 2001, I received my first Verizon Wireless Phone: a sign my father was ready to move into the Cellular Phone age and ready to let his eldest boy jump onboard as well.  Up until this point, I’d only ever had a TracFone.  My parents were worried I’d be one of those kids that would use their minutes like water and run up overages on the account.  Overages, as most consumers know, are the devil when it comes to service contracts.   Who really wants to pay for something that should (logically) be included in the contract?  We’ll get to the point of Overages later, but for now I’ll continue to reminisce about my adolescence.  It helps sell the emotional impact of my ultimate message.
I also remember by time I was in College in 2002, I was a text fiend.   Enough of a text fiend that I racked up HUGE text overages.  My father, the person responsible for the bill, was furious about these overages, and kept telling me to watch my texting.  While I tried to, I couldn’t help but use it.  I mean, cell phones were giving my generation a convenient way for all of us to communicate in situations where a phone just wasn’t convenient.  But then, one day, something beautiful happened…Unlimited Texting!  This wonderful revelation gave us the ability to use this new and handy feature all of our phones were built for (and required to have) and we were allowed to use it freely, without fear of recrimination or overage fees!  Soon, Unlimited Mobile to Mobile calling happened: Hooray for that too!  I can call people who have Verizon and not have to wait until after 9:01 PM or The Weekend!  I can TALK to people!  The very things Cell Phones were built for…I could engage in them freely!
Off the top of my head, I can remember several (if not all) of the phones I’ve had under the Verizon Wireless Banner:

Motorola  (Model Unknown): 2001 – 2003  (It was small and black, had ringtones out of an 8 bit video game, and had a green backlit display with black text.  I still look fondly upon this phone, even with the constant $10 replacement antennas I had to keep buying.)
Motorola t720: 2003 – 2005  (Color!  And a flip phone!  And 16 bit ringtones!  It was so advanced at the time, I loved it to shreds.  Still had problems with that damned antenna though!)
Unknown: 2005 – 2007 (You’ve got me on this one.  I don’t know what phone I had at the time.)
Motorola Krzr: 2007 – 2009  (Finally!  No damned antennas!  And it was a camera phone!  And it was red!  I sidestepped the Chocolate craze and went with this reliable phone.)
Blackberry 8330: 2009 – 2011 (At last!  I dip my toe into the Smartphone waters!  And it was…hampered by that damned trackball.  And it was so behind in the App world.  Honestly, Blackberry was on their way out for a while, and this was only proof.  Still a decent phone with a decent camera.  I only replaced it because I was due for an upgrade just as the battery died its final death.)
HTC Droid Incredible: 2011 – Present  (Which brings us to today.  I have a full on Smartphone…and it sucks.  It was great in the beginning, but then it started glitching out on me randomly and turning off at any given moment.  Not to mention the screen will light up for no reason, except to perhaps say “Hi.  How are you?”.  Also, the panels will shift without me swiping.  That’s kinda weird too.)
                Now through my twin narratives of added features to the calling plans, as well as the hardware used on said plans, there’s a singular thread running through both…evolution.  What was once a “premium” feature on a phone, prone to caps and overages as any good premium feature is wont to do, eventually became a “standard” feature.  For definitive purposes:

Premium Features: Special features that will lead to, if not already entail, premium charges.  Think of a cable provider getting TV Land for the first time and shelving it on a slightly higher tier than Basic Cable.
                Standard Features: Bare bone features that are eventually built into plans and the hardware that is used in said plans.  They are commonplace, and compulsory in design.  To further the cable analogy, this is when TV Land shifts to a lower, more basic tier; and becomes part of the standard lineup.
                Text Messaging used to be a Premium Feature, now it’s pretty much Standard.  Camera Phones used to be Premium Features, where you’d have to pay higher prices for a phone that allowed it (and a plan that allowed it too).  Again, that became standard.  Unlimited Mobile to Mobile…you get the drift.  The trend held: something was introduced as a Premium, but then became a Standard once something new came along.  However, this where it gets tricky.
                When I got my first Blackberry, I remember buying  my first Data Plan.  For $30, I was allowed access to the Data Network on my Phone, which allowed me to surf the web, download apps, and use what seemed like Premium functionality on my somewhat Premium phone.  (Smartphones were starting to become Standard at the time, so this whole part of the narrative is in a rather grey area.)  Wow…a Premium feature that was pretty damned Premium!  Sign me up for that bad boy!
(It is at this point in the story where I suggest you take out your Top of the Line Cell Phone (Presumably an iPhone 5 or Samsung Galaxy III), with Unlimited Data no doubt, and either load up YouTube or Spotify.  There yet?  Marvelous.  Now then, I’d cue up the song “Our Town” by James Taylor.  It’s on the Cars soundtrack, so if you can find one that’s complete with the narration and visuals, feel free to load that up for a Premium experience.  After all, you have all the data, um…time, in the world.  Ready to go?  Excellent.)

                Over time, Data Plans became standard on Cell Phones.  The number of phones that didn’t require Data Plans dwindled.  It was why my father bought an LG Cosmos Touch, a phone I’d have never suggested he buy, except for his distain of having to pay for a data plan.  It’s why my kid brother still has an LG Titanium, which too its credit has stuck around for a while.  But alas, the phone has grown feeble, and may not live to see Christmas.  (Or, it’ll just keep wonking out.  Sorry, was going for dramatic narrative/A Christmas Carol vibe there.)  Now if history were anything to go by, one would have assumed that Data Usage would have just been built into plans and become Standard.  But I guess there isn’t anything new and shiny for you to charge consumers a “Premium” rate for, because that’s exactly what hasn’t happened.  But wait…there was something you could have charged a “Premium” rate for.  Family Data Plans!  Duh!
(How’s the video doing?  If it’s ended, just cue it up again.  In fact, set it on a loop.  Again, data is, um time is on your side.  Are you getting the same feeling in your gut Lightning McQueen did when he learned about Route 66 being bypassed, thus turning Radiator Springs into a Ghost Town?  Keep reading, you’ll get there.)
Instead of starting Family Data Plans though, you’ve started a de-evolving process.  You’re now charging for a feature you used to provide freely, and in Unlimited Quantities.  You’re building a bypass road that’ll take all of the cars away from Route 66.  The problem though?  You’re Radiator Springs…and you’re building the road for everyone to drive away and into the arms of another provider.  That bypass road?  The “Share Everything Plan”: the plan that does away with unlimited data and forces people to choose Data Brackets to share with their families.

(Ok, we’re reaching a crescendo now.  Time to switch music.  Still got Spotify/YouTube up?  Great.  Now load up either Ravel’s Bolero or Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture.  It’s time, um I mean data, for a change.  No, wait, I was right the first time!  Anyhow, moving on…)

                Oh sure, you could say “Those are family plans, Mr. Reyes.  We’re evolving!”.  To which I would reply, “No, Mr. Shammo.  You’re partially evolving in the short term, but backsliding into de-evolution in the long term.  And it is keeping customers in your good graces that occurs in the long term.”  (I should know, I‘ve been a customer of yours for the past 11 years.)  And the truth is, your comments about “unlimited” being “just a word”, as well as your selling practices with the new “Share Everything” plan, have been brazen about the fact that Unlimited Data seems like a passing craze.
                In fact when you’re shilling the iPhone 5 on the official Verizon Wireless website,  you include a tab that says “Why Verizon?”.  Under that tab, you flagrantly hawk your Share Everything plan.  I wouldn’t do that if I were you, simply because that’s a reason to ask “Why Should I Not Get Verizon?”  I know you’re secretly laughing to yourself, thinking “You want Unlimited Data?  Go find it somewhere else, peasant.” Wait…you’re not saying that?  You mean as somewhat sensible businessman, you WANT to keep my business?  Buddy, you want to keep my business as much as Mitt Romney wants that 47% of voters that would never vote for him to do just that.  In other words, you have a really funny way of showing that you want my business, and the business of all of us other former “Grandfather Clause” cases.

                If anything, “Grandfather Clauses” are there for a reason: they help promote business.  In the Contracting World (a world I occupy as a professional), we have what we call “Legacy Customers”.   Those are the guys we stay with on efforts we keep over time, simply because it’d cost too much to switch to someone else.  Also, we stay with them because they take care of us.  You know…like good business partners do.  Now in my own personal price justification for your network, I cannot justify paying for a “Sharable Pool of Data” at (insert rate here, on top of monthly phone rate), when Sprint or Tmobile will offer me and my family an “Unlimited Everything” plan for (insert rate here).  It’s stupid for us to remain with you, and that’s four plans you’re saying goodbye to.  Do the math on how much you’re losing the next two years you would have had with us.  And don’t even get me started on your policy of paying full price for a phone, yet keeping your Unlimited Data Plan.  You’re not going to get that extra money from me…you haven’t earned it.  If anything, you’ve squandered my customer loyalty in this decision.  
It is with all of this fact digging and emotional reminiscence that I have arrived at the decision…my family and I are switching carriers.  You’ve gotten our money over 11 years, and this is the thanks we get?  You sure have a lot of nerve trying to make a quick buck like this, when you’ve usually been classier than the rest when it comes to things such as this.  You should be moving to Unlimited Data built into the plans, much like you did when you built Unlimited Mobile to Mobile Calling, or Unlimited Texting into your plans.  You shouldn’t be backsliding and start to charge extra for something you’ve been offering for free.  That’s how you lose business, and that’s what’s happening here.  (Also, you’ll notice my father is the primary account holder, not me.  He listens to me on what we should do in terms of this kind of stuff, so you’re not safe with him either.)
                However, I have a problem…and you have an opportunity.   My plan is up for renewal next Spring (around April or so, with a window of Early “Discounted” Renewal in December), and as of this moment I’m thinking of switching to an unlimited Data/Voice provider.  Think Sprint or Tmobile.  Indeed, if I can’t have my Unlimited Data, I will get it elsewhere.  The fact of the matter is, I’ve gone to bat for you several times over the years.  I’ve scored you converts who have stayed throughout all this time.   If I wanted to, I could probably influence them to bugger off.  All I have to do is start the trend, and then others will start it too.  Up until that moment where it all just crashes down on you and you’re left with a husk of a corporate giant.  Oh, right…I was supposed to give you an opportunity as well as a problem.  Your opportunity: undo your decision to not grandfather Unlimited Data users into the program.  Believe me, customer loyalty money is easier to earn than New Plan Change money.  (And it doesn’t result in angry letters that reference Disney/Pixar films to get a point across/ are posted on the Internet.)
                In closing, allow me, the humble and misguided consumer, to give you a short history lesson.  (And if you’ve skipped to the end of this letter , you’ll still get my point.  It’ll just be without nuance or rationale…much like your decision to take away Unlimited Data.  Except I didn’t force a family of four consumers to keep their outmoded phones I no longer produce in order to prove my point.)  Hollywood Video’s CEO was known for saying that the Online Rental “craze” that Blockbuster bought into was just that…a craze.  A passing fancy.   Soon to no longer be a going concern.  Well, I would suggest that you take out your Unlimited Data 4G LTE iPhone 5/Galaxy III again, and load up the website for Blockbuster.com and HollywoodVideo.com.  Notice who’s a rental chain (albeit a struggling one), and notice who’s an entertainment blog/merchandise hub.  (Hint:  It’s pretty obvious if you’ve read the rest of the letter.)

                The clock is ticking, Mr. Shammo, and don’t think I won’t be circulating this letter (and any future responses) to my friends.  In fact, it’s already on my blog.  It’s ok though.  If you’re lucky, my words will just be words.  Doomed to go by the wayside, signifying nothing.

                Michael Reyes

1 comment:

The Caustic Critic said...

If you do end up switching, do check out T-Mobile. I've been with them since I first got a cell phone in 2003, and I've been nothing but happy with their service and plans.