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Customer spotlight: Felix Whelan

FelixIf there’s one thing we like more than messing with the mobile industry, it’s talking to our wonderful customers.

After dealing with the incumbents for 30 years, Felix Whelan and his family made the move to Ting. Detailed in length on his blog, Felix describes the horror stories he experienced with a big carrier along with some compelling differences he discovered after making the switch.

We reached out to Felix to chat further about how he came to find Ting, the difference between an MVNO and one of the “big four”, his thoughts on smartphones and much, much more.


How did you first hear about Ting? What made you want to switch?

I first heard about Ting on the “Mr. Money Mustache — Financial Freedom through Badassity” blog. I came across that blog researching ways to get a grip on my personal finances. I have a decent and steady income, but for most of my life I’ve lived paycheck to paycheck, with not much to show for literally decades of hard work. In January, 2014, I started a spreadsheet to track how and where I was spending money, and by September, I had eight full months of hard evidence in front of me showing all the ridiculous ways I was wasting enough cash to have retired on a long time ago, if I had lived wisely instead of blindly. I knew I had to make big changes if I wanted to be able to afford to retire someday. So on my own blog (FelixWhelan.com), I crowned myself the “Mayor of Frugalville,” and launched a series of posts chronicling my personal journey toward frugal “badassity…”

My cell phone bill seemed an obvious place to start, after reading the Mr. Money Moustache post where I discovered Ting. Most everyone’s cell bill is a great example of where we all waste enormous amounts of money. Ask anybody in this country to name five cell phone carriers, and they’ll list the mega-corps AT&T, Sprint, Verizon… And stop there. They can’t think of two more. I really believe most people have no idea companies like Ting are out there offering the same or better cell phone service as the mega-corps, with wildly better customer service, and doing so at a tiny fraction of the cost. It’s a kind of corporate “Stockholm Syndrome.” After many years of being abused by the giant, faceless, heartless mega-corps, we wind up identifying with them. We hate them (I mean, really, who doesn’t hate AT&T?), but we’re also strangely bonded to them. We can’t imagine walking away.

You should hear the excuses people make. When I told my nineteen year old daughter we were dumping AT&T and switching to Ting, her first words were, “But we won’t have any coverage! The phones will never work!” Even after I explained that Ting runs on the Sprint network of cell phone towers, with free roaming to Verizon, even after I showed her the coverage map on the Ting website, she refused to believe. She was furious. Now that we have Ting, she loves it. But the very thought of leaving AT&T, of going with a company other than the one all her friends used, terrified her. She thought AT&T owned the cell phone business, and if you didn’t sign with them you’d be talking on tin can telephones. That’s how effective AT&T’s brainwashing with endless TV commercials has been.

Here’s another story. A woman I work with has her cell phone contract through Sprint. She pays for five phones – her own, her husband’s, and three teenagers. Her average bill is just shy of $500 a month. Five Hundred Dollars! That’s more than my mortgage! I told her all about Ting, and how she could easily cut that bill in half or more just by dumping the mega-corp. She could keep her fancy iPhone, just pay less for the service to run it on… You should have seen her face. You’d have thought I opened a can of sauerkraut and held it under her nose. “But I finally got my phone just the way I like it…,” she whined. “That’s your phone,” I answered, “not your service. And you own your phone. Bring it to Ting, and you’ll get the exact same performance for half the cost. Probably less.” She refused to believe me. She was 100% certain that her Sprint iPhone would not function without her confiscatory Sprint contract. Again, very effective brainwashing…

So, what made me want to dump AT&T and switch to Ting? To quote William Wallace at the end of Braveheart, “FREEEEE-DOM!” I, for one, am done with corporate Stockholm Syndrome. My superlative experience with Ting has proven to me that every big, loud corporation out there has small, quiet competitors who are providing better service at lower prices than the big boys. You just have to look for them. And when you find them, it’s golden. Ting was my first foray into this “dump the big boy” mindset, but it definitely won’t be my last.

What are the biggest changes you’ve noticed since you switched from a major carrier to Ting?

I have more money in my bank account. I have much, much more control over my account than I ever had with AT&T. Do I want to add a phone? I can do that myself, right on my online Ting dashboard, with zero activation fee. Do I want to block my kids’ data? Turn off one kid’s texting ability for a week (a far more effective disciplinary tactic than mere grounding)? Do I want to turn it back on? Same thing. I don’t need to call and ask anyone to do these things for me. Total account control is literally at my fingertips. My coverage is a lot better than it was with AT&T, too. The joke with those guys was that their slogan should be “Less coverage in more places than any other carrier!” But it wasn’t a joke. I sometimes had to step out into my front yard to get a signal on my AT&T phone. That never happens now. It’s fantastic.

When explaining Ting to family or friends, how do you describe us?

Just like I am in this interview. With Ting I don’t have to make anything up. I just tell the truth. I just show people my bill. I just show them the website. Everything Ting is doing makes sense, and sells itself. The biggest obstacle for Ting is people’s fear of stepping outside the shadow of the big boys.

You mentioned not having mobile data with your previous carrier. Now that you’re on Ting, do you find you use your mobile data connection?

Remember, I’m the Mayor of Frugalville… I didn’t have data service with AT&T because I didn’t want to pay for it – and I especially didn’t want to pay for my teenage children to Facebook and Tweet and play games all day! With Ting, I still don’t want to pay for any of that, and one of the beauties of Ting is that the choice of which services I want to use and pay for is entirely up to me. It’s that freedom thing again. My data service with AT&T was blocked at my request, but that didn’t reduce the price of my contract by a penny. I was still paying for data accessibility, because it’s part of the standard contract, and you can’t negotiate an individual contract with AT&T or any of the other big boys, that I know of. You have to “pick a package,” whether you’ll use all the stuff it includes or not. So you’re paying for it whether you use it or not. With Ting, I pay for exactly what I actually use, and at a rate that is a solid 75% below what AT&T was charging me for the exact same services.

What kinds of phones do you have on Ting? What did you have with your previous carrier?

With AT&T, we all had the 99 cent dumb phones from Wal-Mart – another reason not to pay for data service. They weren’t smart phones, so what would be the point?

With Ting, we all now carry awesome Motorola XT603 smart phones I bought on eBay at Frugalville prices. Another great benefit with Ting is that you can bring your own device. You don’t have to buy a phone from them to use their service. Just about any Sprint phone will work. I knew I was going to need four phones, so I filtered eBay’s search for Sprint smart phone lots, then by auctions ending soonest. By jumping in to bid during the last three seconds of the auction (so nobody would have a chance to outbid me), I got a lot of five Motorola XT603’s for $99.00, with free shipping. That’s twenty bucks a phone! So we now each have a smart phone, with one in storage, just in case.

Why have smart phones but block data service, you might ask? Here’s another awesome thing about Ting. We have Wi-Fi at home, I have it at my day job, my daughter has it at the college she attends, most public places like libraries and restaurants have it… With Ting, there is no charge at all when I use the data capacity of my smart phone over Wi-Fi. Other companies charge for that, but how does that make sense? I own the phone, and I’m either paying for the Wi-Fi or it’s free. How can any phone company claim a piece of that action? But they do. Ting does not. With data service turned off, the only time I don’t have access to the Internet on my phone is when I’m driving – and no one needs to be surfing the net while doing 70 MPH on the highway! I’m grateful that my daughter is not tempted to try it. She knows it won’t work. She only has to make it to school, and safely out from behind the wheel, to get back on Faceboook…

How important are the Ting control panel tools to you? Have you set alerts or caps on your devices?

I haven’t set alerts or caps because I want to see what my family’s usage is going to be in real practice before I set any limits (other than turning off the data). After three or four months of “organic” use of talk and text, I’ll have a better idea of what to expect, and whether or not I need to impose limits. I doubt that I will. With AT&T, I was paying for 750 minutes a month, but when I looked at my last few bills, we were using less than 300. Why pay for more? When my daughter was younger, she sent and received thousands of texts a month, so an unlimited texting plan made sense. But she must have grown out of that, because our last several AT&T bills showed we were using less than a thousand texts a month between all four family members combined. So why pay for unlimited? Why pay for any service you don’t actually use?

I love the control the Ting dashboard gives me over my account. I’ve already waxed eloquent on that, but it’s worth saying again – Ting puts the power in the customer’s hands. Switch to Ting and you will never have to beg a customer service representative for help with your account. Just make your own changes, as you see fit!

I haven’t mentioned Ting’s customer service yet, and I want to. After decades of lies and abuse from AT&T, the friendly, thoughtful, and truly helpful customer service I have received from Ting has been nothing short of inspirational. I called the Ting customer service line several times in the course of getting my account set up and my phones activated, and every time I got exactly the help I needed, from staff who knew exactly what they were doing, who took the time to understand what I was asking, and who at least convincingly sounded like they were glad I called! Nobody tried to sell me anything. They just helped. Compare that to any mega-corp out there. When was the last time you looked forward to calling customer service? With Ting, you will. That’s saying a lot!

If there was one thing you’d recommend we do to make Ting better, what would it be?

I do have one suggestion. I love Ting’s customer referral program, where if I send someone to Ting from my blog or a Tweet, and they move to Ting, they get a $25 credit they can use to buy a phone from Ting, or if they are bringing their own device, that they can apply toward their first phone bill. For referring them, I get a $25 credit toward my phone bill. That’s a terrific program.

The one problem I see with it is that most people are very leery of making any kind of “snap decision,” especially when it comes to major choices like changing cell phone carriers. Remember the “Stockholm Syndrome” from earlier in this interview. I strongly suspect that my blog (FelixWhelan.com, shameless plug there) is sending lots of curious frugal folk to the Ting website, but they probably have to think about it a while, do some more research, maybe buy a cheap Sprint phone on eBay, before they are ready to pull the trigger and make the move. When the day finally arrives that they are ready to jump carriers, they go straight to the Ting website to get the ball rolling, and neither they, nor I, get the credit.

I would love to see the Ting website “remember” my referrals, and give both me and the friends I have referred the $25 credit if they return to the website to sign up within a reasonable period of time, say within 30 days. If they click links from more than one referrer during that 30 day timeframe, give the credit to the purveyor of the last referral link they clicked, since that was clearly the one that drove them to decision. It’s an extended version of what Amazon does with their affiliates. If someone clicks through to Amazon from a link on my website, Amazon “remembers” that referral for 24 hours, and gives me a piece of any purchase that person makes site-wide during that 24 hour period. If Amazon can “remember” me for 24 hours, I know Ting can stretch that to 30 days!

Please consider this suggestion! It would be a great improvement to an already great program!

Thanks for this opportunity! – Felix


After chatting with our dev team, they confirmed that referral cookies are tracked for 90 days in the backend! If you signed up for Ting through a referral link and didn’t receive your discount, reach out to us and we’ll make it right.

 

Thanks to Felix for taking the time to talk about his experiences with Ting. Look out for more customer interviews coming soon to the Ting blog!

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