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Way back in the early days of launch, a core team of customer-focused individuals worked day and night, smoothing out and sweating all the little details around the kind of service and support we hoped to offer Ting customers.
Over time, it became apparent that a couple of individuals could be counted on time and again to help build a support offering we could be proud of.
Today, I’m happy to share with you all that yesterday we celebrated the promotions of Mike Whitman and Monte Shen, two members of the Customer Experience team who have earned the title of Senior Customer Advisor; with their help, our task always seemed a little bit less daunting, and a heckuva lot more fun.
I hope this blog post finds a place on their respective parents’ refrigerators and their moms will brag to friends and family about how their sons are improving the way customer service is delivered by a mobile company.
After a string of additions to our mid-range and hero Android smartphone lineup, we’ve made some progress on the feature phone front too. We’ll be adding the Samsung Array (M390) to the lineup just as soon as we get them in the warehouse. We’ll also be adding the accessible flip feature phone that some customers have been asking for in the near future.
Both of these devices will hit the Ting devices page by the end of October. Sooner, supply chain willing.
Accessible feature phone
We finally have a confirmation on the model number for this guy. We thought it would be the Samsung M400… but when all our searches turned up a PocketPC device (the SCH-M400) we had some doubts.
Turns out, the Samsung M400 is indeed the accessible feature phone that will be available soon, but with the SPH precursor (SPH-M400).
This device features a large 2.4-inch inside screen with easily adjustable font sizes. It has a colossal keypad with large numbers, a dedicated 911 key and “in case of emergency” button that stores three contacts for quick dialling should the need arise. It’s also got a hands-free speaker button that pushes calls through the louder rear speaker. In addition, a text to speech utility will read off on-screen text including contact names, caller ID history, missed calls and also helps with menu navigation for the visually impaired.
More refurbished options
Given the popularity of the refurb devices we’ve been able to offer so far, we’ve redoubled our efforts to get more and better refurbs. Side note: What does redoubled even mean, really? Seems strangely unquantifiable given that it’s used to refer to a quantity… Don’t think I’ll be using that one again.
We ran a poll on Facebook asking if anyone was interested in the Kyocera Echo refurbished at about $60. This device is an odd one with its dual screens and quasi tablet mode. Voting so far suggests people aren’t really interested. If you feel differently or if you agree, cast a vote.
We’re planning to partner with a reseller of used and refurbished devices to expand our available product offering further. When BYO(S)D comes online we’ll be able to offer up used and refurbished Sprint devices for use on Ting too. That will mean a huge increase in the number of devices that we can offer for use on Ting.
When talking to potential partners, we’re very careful to ensure they understand what we’re doing and that they keep customer service as close to their hearts as we do. We can’t say who the third party we’ll be working with is until the ink is dry but rest assured, they’re really good at what they do.
In addition to adding to our device offering, this partner also offers a used device purchase program which means Ting (or really, any) device could also be sent in for some cash without the Craigslist / Kijiji / eBay hassles.
We’ve received several questions about what the SoftBank / Sprint investment announced recently means for Ting and, by extension, other MVNOs.
At Tucows, we work with thousands of resellers around the world and we manage millions of domain names. We understand the importance of the partner / provider relationship so when we looked for a carrier network to partner with in order to pursue Ting, we chose very carefully. Sprint was the right choice for a number of reasons, some of which I’ve discussed before and some we’ve explored elsewhere on the Ting blog. Sprint’s commitment to its partner MVNOs remains as strong as ever.
More importantly, I believe the investment will be a positive for Sprint, and therefore for us, for three reasons: Better leadership, better capitalization and a more global focus.
SoftBank is, at its roots, an Internet company. Masayoshi Son rose to prominence in the dot-com boom and managed to stay there. SoftBank is not a traditional telco. Their entrepreneurial spirit and Internet foundations marry perfectly with Tucows and with Ting specifically.
Sprint was a little weak in its balance sheet. Softbank has provided capital and will allow better access to additional capital. SoftBank is a great source of thought leadership and greater capital access. The alternatives would be much more traditional players and could have potentially held greater risk. The less traditional the player, the better it is for us in my view. This capital access also comes with great LTE experience and expertise.
Finally, SoftBank is more global in focus. We are small but very global with partners in over 120 countries around the world. As things evolve, having a global player like SoftBank as a partner makes it more likely that we will be able to think globally when it comes to Ting and mobile. This will help all Ting customers.
I note that the incumbent major mobile carriers are very influential and can present a story angle to the media to cast doubt on the wisdom behind the SoftBank/Sprint investment. In fact, I’m pretty sure I can can already hear the spin machine coming up to full RPM. I would not at all be surprised to see some nasty negative stories over the next couple of weeks, but from our perspective we like the potential that this new relationship brings.
The first BYO(S)D device is now active on Ting. There are five more similar activations in the hopper that will be live on Ting by the end of this week as a part of our early alpha testing. This is the start of phase one of the BYO(S)D program. It also means we’ve hit our first major milestone and BYO(S)D is moving ever closer.
We’ve learned a lot about the BYO(S)D process through our initial tests and we’re confident we’ll be able to offer up a smooth and seamless experience on launch.
We mentioned previously that we’re going to divide the beta period up into two phases. We’ve decided we need to do the same thing for the alpha testing. Any impact on the timing for our beta phases looks like it will be negligible. Our previous BYO(S)D timing predictions are still the best we have.
Phase one alpha (underway):
This alpha test will be devices that fall under the category of low-hanging fruit: They are inactive devices coming from an existing Ting customer who already has the master subsidy lock (MSL, the code that locks a device to a specific carrier), there’s no number porting required and the customer isn’t concerned about when specifically we do the activation.
The phase one alpha will bring Sprint devices from five members of the Ting Army over. We’ll be working closely with these brave souls to identify any issues in the process which, as it stands currently, requires human intervention on our part.
BYO(S)D isn’t going to be efficient (for us or you) if each new activation requires a call to customer service. Our goal is to make calls to the help desk an exception as opposed to a rule. That’s why we’re breaking the initial testing into multiple phases, each step allowing for more devices to make the move than the one before it.
Phase two alpha:
This will be a somewhat broader test of the process. Rather than automating at this stage, the process will still be a manual one. What we’ll be testing here is a broader range of devices and variables such as porting a number and bringing over a device that has active service. We’ll be testing the top five most popular devices which, judging by your responses to our BYO(S)D survey and optional beta sign-up, should cover as much as 80% of the devices we’ll be activating. Those five devices are:
HTC EVO 4G
Samsung Galaxy SII (Epic Touch 4G)
LG Optimus S
HTC EVO 3D 4G
Motorola Photon 4G
The remaining about 20% of devices is spread much more broadly across as many as 100 different devices. That, my friends, is what we call a challenge. It’s one we have a plan to tackle though.
Phase one beta:
We’re still on target to launch this first beta wave at the end of this month or early next. The specific timing is flexible. Necessarily so given that the purpose of these phases is to test the process, find and fix the friction points. While we have a good idea of what to expect we won’t be surprised to see some surprises. Wait, what?
This phase will be another manual one but with some testers (from among the most popular devices) attempting the automated process that we’re working on.
Phase two beta:
This phase will test the automated procedure for the most popular devices. We’ll have a beta of the Ting my Android Phone app in testing too. The process for bringing a Sprint device over to Ting will be web-based with an optional Android app which will find and apply the MSL to unlock the device, will send your phone’s ESN to Ting servers such that it’s registered with us and ready to be activated.
We’ll also open this phase up for beta testers to bring over any Sprint device at all, though we’ll be asking for feedback and insight into the process such that we can begin to document how the process works for the ~100 devices that make up the aforementioned ~20%.
The challenges we’ve encountered and that we expect to encounter are of the fun problem solving and team building as opposed to the insurmountable and hair rending varieties. One of the biggest challenges is to make it easy for non-geeks to be able manually reprogram MMS and 4G (WiMAX) “data realm” settings from Sprint to Ting. 3G and LTE (when LTE devices are available for BYOD) will require no such end-user intervention. We’re looking to add the ability to reprogram these settings into the Ting app which will mean Android devices are well looked after. We’ve exploring what the best option is for feature phone users.
Also, some older model feature phones cannot have their MMS settings changed. As such, MMS wouldn’t work at all. We expect this issue to be confined to a very small portion of feature phones; basically anything that was manufactured back when MMS was a new concept… so yeah, a very small portion.
We’re making great progress on BYO(S)D. We’ve added further testing phases to ensure that when we launch, the BYO(S)D program is ready for primetime.
In the meantime, if you haven’t already, please take a moment to fill out our BYO(S)D survey and beta program / beta news signup sheet below.