Take Back the Beep From Your Cellular Provider

I was as mad as BEEP

Get made and "Take Back the Beep!" (Photo: mypre.com)

Get made and "Take Back the Beep!" (Photo: mypre.com)

The first time I signed up for cellular telephone service, it was with Cingular. I wanted two phones so that my fiancée and I could communicate during our wedding planning phase, so I signed up for a family plan with shared minutes. At first the bills were reasonable, but soon they began to balloon out of control. It was at that point that I realized that while cellular-to-cellular calls between us were free, checking the massive number of voice mails we left for each other throughout the day were not. Leaving them, retrieving them and listening to them all counted against our monthly allotment of minutes, and we began to run over frequently. I even used a cash advance or short term loan on occasion to help hold the line between paydays.

But did you know that even the automated 15-second instructions on how to use voice mail counts against your minutes? Consider how often you’ve sat through that automated voice; it adds up to a lot over the life of a two-year contract. This is something customers from all the major carriers have put up with for a while, to their detriment. Now, with movements like “Take Back the Beep” in full swing behind them, consumers are standing up to the bloated, greed-driven wireless carriers like AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and others. Progress has come in small spurts, but Take Back the Beep founder (and technology writer) David Pogue is enthusiastic that the response the campaign has received from consumers thus far will make it impossible for the carriers to ignore.

How you can get involved

According to Pogue, there have been over 28,000 blogs written on the topic of Take Back the Beep. He has done numerous radio and podcast interviews on the topic, and thanks to the effectiveness of this consumer information campaign, America’s big four carriers have been flooded with “thousands and thousands” of complaints. For those of you who would like to contribute to the cause, here’s how to get in touch with your carrier:

We all know how to use voice mail

So please stop insulting our intelligence with needless directions. We refuse to pay for it any more.

Three of the four big wireless carriers have responded to the Take Back the Beep campaign so far. That’s one too few, Verizon. Get on the stick and do what’s right. You’re confirming in my mind why it was a good idea to leave you for a different carrier – that, and I wanted an iPhone.

AT&T wants to offer visual voicemail to all handsets

Speaking of the iPhone, here’s how AT&T responded to Take Back the Beep. “We are going to make some changes” is their general statement. They have made an E-mail address available, and that in box has been full most of the time. Executive Director of Media Relations Mark Siegel told Pogue that the overwhelming response has made them “look again” at how they handle voice mail. For iPhone customers, visual voice mail eliminates the automated introduction, but the majority of AT&T customers do not have that expensive smart phone. Thus, they have to deal with the air time waster. Siegel’s response to this is that visual voice mail will be made available on other devices in the near future. Until then, they’re working on “how to shorten” the message.

Mind you, if you are aware of the cellular carrier for the person you’re calling, there is a key you can press to skip the automated instructions. If they’re AT&T or T-Mobile, hit #. For Verizon, press *. For Sprint, the magic key is the number 1. However, you won’t know most of the time which carrier the person you’re calling uses, so a universal standard would have been nice.

T-Mobile is paying attention

The response from T-Mobile has been less illuminating, but at least there has been a response (get it, Verizon?) According to T-Mobile’s media relations machine, “T-Mobile is always looking for ways to improve our customers’ experience, and this issue has our attention. We appreciate the feedback we’ve received from our customers, and these comments are being taken into consideration in our planning.”

Even though I’m not a T-Mobile customer (as much as I’m a fan of Catherine Zeta Jones), I’d still like to hear more than the typical PR claptrap. AT&T has set the bar high here, so get moving, T-Mobile.

But not as high as Sprint

Why is that? Because Sprint has actually given their customers what they want. What a concept! And Take Back the Beep wasn’t even necessary, as the option to disable the voice has already been around for some time. According to Pogue, it’s very easy to do. Sprint customers, make haste and do this:

  1. Access your voice mail box.
  2. Press 3 for personal options.
  3. Press 2 for greetings.
  4. Press 1 to change your personal greeting.
  5. Press 3 to add or remove the caller instructions.
  6. Follow the prompts to turn instructions on or off.

And the Verizon guy remains silent

Verizon’s PR contact hasn’t responded to my request for a progress report.

What your cellular carrier wants from you (Photo: flickr.com)

What your cellular carrier wants from you (Photo: flickr.com)

Apparently a media relations guy for Verizon said in an ABC News interview that customers can turn the automated voice off. Unfortunately, that’s a lie. I don’t imagine that someone Verizon entrusts to speak to the media is ignorant of product features, so the representative lied. Pogue called him on it via Twitter, and the representative claimed he was “misquoted.” What he supposedly was getting at is that voice mail can be turned off completely.

Say what?

Pogue shares our outrage over such a non-intuitive, arrogant response by asking us “Isn’t that like saying, ‘My son bites his nails, so let’s chop off his hands?'” I say that Verizon is due for a good chopping.

Yet to their credit, Verizon is responding to every single complaint that they receive about the Take Back the Beep campaign. However, the response is canned: “The voice mail instructions are there to assist the many callers who may be unfamiliar with the correct prompts.”

Thus, they attempt to justify their greed

I’m very happy I’m no longer one of your customers, Verizon. We all know the “wait ’til the beep” routine. You don’t need to charge us for the hand-holding. I hope you receive virtual truckloads of complaints and lose customers until you become customer friendly. You exist because of us; we do not use your services simply because you exist. Please your customer base or face the flames at your peril.

Take action today, consumers!

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Personal Money Store recommends you take action and give your cellular provider a piece of your mind. Even if you aren’t a customer but feel strongly about this issue, send an E-mail or leave a post letting them know. The higher the flood waters, the less chance there will be that the fat cats find dry land. And you know how much cats hate water… as much as the Center for Responsible Lending loves a cash advance or short term loan for life’s little beeps. If you want to keep your budget dry, click the button to get started.

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