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Making sense of your existing wireless bill

It can be tough understanding what the heck your current provider is billing you for and how much service you used in previous months. In an effort to help, we’ve put together these short videos to help you read your existing wireless bill.

After you figure things out, why not pop over to our Savings Calculator and plug in your own numbers? You might be surprised to learn how much Ting can save you.

Reading your Verizon bill

Reading your AT&T Bill

Please Wait While We Transfer Your Call… Click!

It drives us bonkers when we call a service provider for help and our call is transferred to multiple service reps, each time being asked to re-explain the problem we’re having. What’s worse, is waiting on hold, and eventually being told that we’re not talking to the right person; then our call is disconnected because the agent misdialed a phone extension to transfer us to the “correct department”.

“There’s fifteen minutes we’ll never get back”, we think to ourselves. You’ve been there too, right?

When we started thinking about customer service at Ting, we reflected our own experiences with customer service at different companies and we knew that in order for our customers to love Ting, we need to try things that promote remarkable service.

So we thought “Why would our reps need to transfer a call to somebody else?” We came up with lots of reasons why customer support agents might need to transfer a call and the reason almost always came down to training.

We figure that “If we gave our support reps the right training, and access to the right systems, they wouldn’t need to transfer calls.”

In a nutshell, that’s how our “No Transfer Policy” was born.

So we’ve ditched the idea of having multiple departments and we invested more energy in training our reps on everything from billing to support and everything in between. If they’re unable to provide a solution to the customer during the call, they’ll call them back with the answer after a chat with a specialist, or perhaps their supervisor.

We don’t think a subscriber of ours needs to be intimate with the operations of our business and how we classify support requests in order to get help from us. As far as a customer needs to know, Technical Support, Customer Care, and Billing are all one department because our support agents are trained to help with anything.

We love the idea of dealing with one person and we think our customers will appreciate our “no transfer policy”, but we’d love to hear what you think!

What do you say… are we solving a service problem that doesn’t exist?

Putting a Face on Support

One of the things that makes the Internet so powerful (effective, seductive, dangerous, intimidating) is the potential for anonymity. I don’t intend to get into the pros and cons of that in this post. I like the way a bunch of smart people outlined them here.

Here’s what I find more interesting in the context of Ting. While consumers may want the option to be anonymous (or maybe just inaccessible) at times, they are absolutely desperate to identify living, thinking, accessible, accountable, nameable human beings at their service providers.

We hear this a lot when people describe their customer support experiences calling into the big phone companies. They fight their way through touch tone systems that seem designed to inspire a hang up. When they do reach a person, that person is so limited by his visibility into the “big picture”, access to the right “systems”, problems that should be passed off to another provider (software, hardware) or even incentive structure (think about companies that weigh length of support calls heavier than result of support calls) that they were better off with the touch tone system.

And a huge part of the problem is that the customer support people remain largely anonymous to the customers. They don’t have direct contact information that could be used to follow through to a solution. They don’t have faces and often do not have last names. They don’t have a LinkedIn profile, a blog or anything that indicates what they’ve done or what they think. They have access to scripts and documentation, but there’s no way of knowing whether they are smart, passionate, empowered people who will dig deep into their own bag of tricks to figure out how to solve your problem.

Ironically, it seems to be the Web companies, who originally represented lean, technical, self-serve alternatives to the larger, people-rich brands, that are putting humanity back into customer support. Zappos is obviously a classic example. But ING, Zipcar, Southwestern Airlines and so many of these Web-focused challengers all seem to be doing it better than their larger competitors.

Maybe these companies have realized efficiencies that allow them to invest more in the length of their support calls and the quality of their people. Maybe if you build a service explicitly for savvier customers, you are less inclined to treat those customers like cattle.

These are the examples we want to follow. And we’re exploring ways to take it even further:

– No hold system at all. No touch tone menu. Dial the phone and somebody answers it. (We’ve done this at Hover. People are shocked.)

– Geek-powered support. Hire the sort of people who already solve mobile phone problems for their friends and families! Pay them to do it for us.

– Support through Facebook, Twitter, instant chat, even video chat. People with names, faces, profiles, email addresses and direct phone lines.

Nothing on that list is particularly profound or revolutionary. Most of it just makes sense. But how refreshing would it be to call up a mobile phone company and instantly get a geek with a face and a name that will work with you, potentially over multiple calls, until you are completely satisfied?

That’s not a rhetorical question. How refreshing would that be?

Every conversation is an opportunity. Even in a call center.

A close friend of mine told me a story about a recent interaction he had with the help desk staff at a large cell phone carrier. I thought I’d share it with you.

My friend has two cell phones, one paid for by his company and the other is for personal use. He’s been paying good money for a virtually unlimited data subscription on his personal device and realized that he’s rarely outside of a wifi hotspot. When he looked at his bill recently (something he rarely never does) his data usage just about floored him. He signed up for a virtually unlimited plan several months back and just now realizes that his usage was less than 100MB each month. And when he thought about it, he figured that nearly 100% of that usage was over WiFi.

So he called up his carrier on the phone and the agent said she couldn’t help him. She couldn’t help him, not because he’s locked in to a contract (he wasn’t), but because changes to data subscriptions for that phone must be done from the phone itself.

Pardon? A customer has called you on the phone for help, and you can’t treat this like the opportunity that it is and help him? What a waste.

I’m all for self administration on the device itself and I bet this carrier spent thousands of dollars designing the app. But when a customer calls in for help and you have them on the phone, why would waste such a valuable opportunity to serve their needs right then and there?

In the end, after some searching, my friend did eventually cancel his subscription from the device, but the interaction with the agent on the phone left him feeling uncared for, slightly confused and annoyed.

I want you to know that when you call us for help at Ting, we won’t let you off the phone until we’ve given you what you need, regardless if we have a self service way of doing this, or not.

Reading Your Phone Bill

We did some listening sessions earlier this week with mobile users (otherwise known as people) to learn about what’s not making sense in mobile phone service and how Ting can do things differently.

We asked folks to bring their current phone bills to the discussion.

But before we got to the bills, we talked a bit about about plans, usage and budgets. Almost everybody in the room at some point described themselves as heavy data users (hogs, whores, junkies, lots of unflattering metaphors). Many said they simply needed an unlimited data plan, at any price, because they would inevitably bust through limits and suffer huge overage penalties. (Don’t get me started on overage penalties. What other service industry penalizes customers for using more of a service? Isn’t that what you want customers to do? I’ll save that for another post.)

Then we asked them to read their bills and figure out how much data they actually used last month.

That’s when it got fun.

Lots of people admitted they had never looked at their bill before. Many leafed through pages and pages trying to find their data usage. Binder clips flew. Highly educated grown-ups debated about the relationship between a kilobyte and a megabyte.

There was (seriously) confusion, frustration, laughter and anger.

Once they got to the appropriate line item, almost everybody ended up realizing that they don’t use nearly as much data as they thought they did. It makes sense. We spend a lot of time on WiFi networks. And most of the activities we do when we are between networks (home and work) – emailing, tweeting, even browsing – just don’t really use that much data.

They realized that they are wasting money every month on data they don’t need.

Then we gave them a Ting plan and asked them to calculate how much they would save. You’ll hear more about that soon. Meanwhile, when you have some time, you should really read your phone bill.

Hello World!

Hello world!

On behalf of everyone at Tucows, I’d like to introduce you to Ting.

Ting is a new mobile phone service launching in the US later this year. Our mission is to bring clarity and control to mobile services – and hopefully to save people some money along the way.

Why is Tucows launching a mobile service? Good question! Let me provide some background and context to explain why this isn’t as crazy as it may seem.

At its core, Tucows’ purpose is to create simple useful services that help people unlock the power of the Internet. All of us here believe that the Internet is the single greatest agent of change the world has ever seen. It’s the love of seeing people getting online and participating in any way they can that gets us up in the morning.

And because of that we’ve been building simple, useful services for a long time.

In 1994 we were TUCOWS, one of the first, best and largest web sites dedicated to helping people use the Internet. That tradition continues at our software download site tucows.com/downloads.

In 1999 as one of the first post-monopoly domain registrars we invented the concept of wholesale domain registration. Not only did this make it easier (and cheaper) for people to buy domains it also made it easy (and cheaper) for businesses like web hosts, ISPs and Internet free agents to sell domains. That focus helped OpenSRS become the success it is now, with over 11,000 resellers in over 110 countries managing over 11,000,000 domains.

In 2008 we launched Hover whose singular mission is to be the best way to buy and manage domain names. Hover has been a great success because of its dedication to being simple and useful and getting away from the cluttered, upsell-filled experience most people equate with buying a domain.

Now in 2011 we’re about to launch Ting. We feel that a lot of what people are forced to put up with from mobile service providers just doesn’t make sense. It’s too complicated, too opaque, too adversarial, too expensive and frankly too inhuman.

We think we can change that.

We want Ting to be a mobile service that makes sense.

We’ve spent the last year or so thinking about what that means. “A mobile service that makes sense”.

We’ve talked to a lot of people and watched the industry struggle with the rapid move to phones as computers with all the complexity that entails. There seems to be an opportunity – let’s be honest – a LOT of opportunity – for someone from outside the mobile service industry to come in and make sense of all this. To look at providing people with a simple, useful mobile service the way an Internet company would approach it rather than how the telecom giants have done it.

Over the coming weeks we’ll be sharing more about our vision for Ting. We’ll let you know what we came up with when we started thinking about “mobile service that makes sense” and we’ll ask you for your insights. What do you think Ting should tackle? What drives you crazy? What just doesn’t make sense for you?

You can sign up to get notifications about Ting and if you’re really keen you can ask to join our closed private beta. You can also follow us on Twitter (we’re @tingFTW).