Are You On The RIGHT Plan?

I thought I'd share 2 recent observations. The first one (from which the title) was with Verizon Wireless. The second one was shared by my GF.

1. Verizon story.

I happen to have a fantastic deal as far as my wireless subscription is concerned. As a Hopkins employee, I get a 25% discount already, plus (as I use the phone in large part for work), my bill is partially paid from my discretionary account at work. All in all, the total cost is little and the difference I would save going on a lower minute plan is even smaller, close to negligible. Therefore, I am now on a 900 min/month plan, even though I don't use more than 200-300 (also, I use 1-2 texts, under a 250/month plan). I know I could save a few bucks by going to a lower min plan, but since its costs are negligible, I don't mind the cushion of extra minutes.

The other day a Verizon Wireless rep called me on my cell and announced that she wanted to review my usage, to make sure I am on the "right" plan, implying I am not paying more than I need to. So we went into the details and there was very little question she was looking for overage. Not only there was no overage, but the opposite. Quite a bit of unused minutes. She then checked a few previous months, where the same pattern showed. This caused her to pause, as she was really not ready to "address" that (very clearly, she was all warmed up to convince me that it is really to my benefit if I upgrade). After the pause, she realized there is no upgrade that could be sold (I guess if one uses 200 minutes on a 900 min plan, trying to explain that it is for their best to go for a far more expensive 1350 min plan would be somewhat of a stretch, even for the best sales person with superior intellect that this particular rep clearly didn't have). So she concluded that I was on the "right" plan, congratulations.

Right. The "right" plan for whom exactly? Clearly, not for me. If I am using 200 min on a 900 min plan and 2 texts on a 250 SMS plan, I am obviously subscribing to far more services (and pay more) than I need. This call made it very clear that such a problem is not a problem for Verizon. If it is a problem for me, then it is my job to deal with it, not theirs. They are not going to call me (and pay an employee for their time, etc) to help me save money and allow them to make less in profits. That makes sense. We live in an individualistic capitalist society, where everyone should attend to their own interest, nobody (especially a for-profit entity, working solely to pursue their shareholders' interest) will look out for you.

Yet, I can't help but noticing the sneaky representation of this marketing effort, which is intended to trick you into something you probably don't need (i.e. if you just occasionally go over your minutes by a few, which they try to use as an excuse to sell you a more expensive plan, chances are you will end up paying far more with the standing higher subscription than the occasional overage, otherwise they wouldn't bother calling you). Of course there may be a few customers who actually pay more in overage on a regular/recurrent basis than they would if they upgraded their plan. But almost all of those will figure that out themselves and buy the plan they need as opposed to wasting money. I agree a few people may not be noticing that and the call from the phone company asking to upgrade actually could save them some money. But that will never make this tactic overall benefiting the customers versus the phone company. Again, if it did, they could not justify the costs reaching out to you. The minority of players may actually win on slots and even win the lottery, but there is no question who benefits as a whole.

I think the experience I had just showed how blatantly false is the representation that this call (and review of the usage and the plan) would help customers find the "right" plan. When I was obviously on the wrong (for me) plan, subscribing to a plan with far more services than I used the rep absolutely did not discuss or mention the possibility I was over-subscribing and in fact I could save money going on a cheaper plan. Well, that obviously wasn't in the cards, wasn't her (and her company's) plan, and the idea of finding the "right" plan really was taking a shot at perhaps selling a more expensive subscription under the disguise of helping to find the "right" plan. In other words what she was obviously told was to "try to sell the costliest plan you can, based on any remotely rational-appearing references to the usage data and ensure everyone is paying the most we can make them to pay". Clearly, with such instruction, she was not to inform me that I could actually benefit from downgrading my plan.

2. Personal Banker

The other story I would like to share is similar in that it involves a company, solely looking out for their own interest of increasing profits, representing to their customers as they cared about them. (Well, they may care about the customers, as long as that caring works towards increasing their profits.)

My GF runs a consulting business and she has her business premium accounts with the same bank (will keep it anonymous for the purposes of this blog and I also don't think there is a lot of difference in this regard between different banks) as she has multiple personal accounts with as well (including credit, checking, mortgage). She has a "personal banker" "helping" with matters related to her business account. Turns out the personal banker shared with my GF that her mortgage account was overdue (which she knew very well as she prefers to pay the mortgage after the first due date, technically late, so that the funds earn interest during the overdue period before reaching the penalty date). Now this personal banker should have absolutely no dealings with her personal mortgage!

Another time, the personal banker commented on my GF's personal checking account balance. That she also should not have accessed! So my GF had trust issues with this personal banker, and when she went to the bank to deposit a large check and to get some other minor banking work done, she went to the teller as opposed to the personal banker (who also was in the bank at that time). The personal banker noticed this and came over to the teller's desk, and from behind his back, was checking out all my GF's personal accounts. When my GF asked the teller about this, he obviously was somewhat inconvenienced by the situation , but said that the personal banker only wanted to make sure things are good, in her effort to "help" my GF. Right.

From this story one thing is clear. This personal banker's main interest was to protect the bank from any possible liability (that could stem from my GF's personal finances), snooping around my GF's personal accounts that she was absolutely not asked to do. Looking into my GF's personal finances could not have possibly be of help to my GF in any way as it relates to her business banking. The personal banker's job should have been strictly limited to the business accounts and she should not have been even aware or knowledgeable about the fact my GF had personal accounts with the same bank. Again, a "personalized" approach to "help" customers or just another way a company is looking out for its own interests disguised as something that looks like something else.

CONCLUSION

These every day observations are minor and many of you will say that there's nothing surprising about this, what do you expect? Yet, when you don't pay attention and subconsciously assume genuine help (as that is how you are) on the part of a for-profit entity, you may forget that you are vulnerable to the tricks and tactics that exploit that natural and subconscious assumption of true help intent most good-willed humans have.

Looks Like Gigaom Maybe Wrong on This One...

Link: http://gigaom.com/2011/03/07/why-facebook-is-not-the-cure-for-bad-comments/

Interesting (and I think highly biased) opinion. Gigaom, like many other news/blog sites, have seen their (anonymous) comments go down and Facebook is being blamed for it.

Gigaom asserts that is not a good thing. Their argument: FB is responsible for the "homogenization" of blog comments. Interesting. Well, I don't think blog comments that become homogeneously CIVILIZED (or more civilized than anonymous ones) is that bad of a thing overall. For removing the shade of anonymity actually by and large makes the extreme and borderline (or completely) uncivilized comments gone.

Obviously Gigaom cares about the number of people visiting their site because that helps them make ad revenue. If fewer juicy and outrageous comments are posted, they see a decline in the number of their visitors. I can see why they would be sorrow over that. But then to go out and rationalize and make an argument for why this is a bad thing is actually inappropriate.

I think you should stand by your opinion, with your name in your blog posts. If you can't do that, maybe your opinion is not worthwhile of other people's attention after all. I am talking about worthy attention and not some perverted curiosity like "look how crazy this comment is".

Making an argument that outrageous comments are good (helping express some healthy diversity of opinion) and then the fact these declined (because of Facebook) is a bad thing smells despair and is quite pathetic.

Another Hotmail Account Hacked, Another MS User Deserting for Good

Started using Office 2010. Hoping to explore "cloud" options more, prompted to log in to hotmail. I do have a login, but haven't used in years. Login failed (even though I'm sure my pw is correct). I ask to reset pw, where it shows me an alternate email as "ma*****@brturbo.com.br". Clearly not mine, my account clearly hacked. I try to report. Takes me to all sorts of pages, asking questions like what my IP was on my last successful login, what the answer to the secret question is (without showing what the secret question is), etc. Not using this account, I obviously don't have an answer to those. I tried to reach MS at their main #, where I was directed to MSN live. It disconnected me as I don't have a currently paying account. I was willing to do anything (even paying for a support call, despite the fact it is their scewup) because of concern over my hacked account, but apparently MS perfectly seals itself off so that what they view as unqualified people can't bother them. I usually figure out some backdoor despite service providers strong defense mechanisms to ensure their customers needing help won't get to them. But I have to say (and kudos to MS), in this case I failed, MS won. They triumphed in ensuring I got no help, remain with a hacked account, frustrated, without a solution, screwed. Fine.

In general I do not harbor any sentimental influence when selecting products and services. I pick whatever works for me at the moment. No loyalty or any of that. My previous experience only matters as long as it is relevant to the present status. If another product is better I go with that, brand doesn't matter. Also, bad experience in the past has no meaning as long as for some reason the same providers offer the least unfavorable option at the moment.

But in this case I have to say I will be willing to put up with some personal inconveniences in the future and pick less than most favorable solutions in an effort to avoid MS products.

Perhaps iPhone/iOS is not exactly losing to Android overall?

Link: http://www.appleinsider.com/articles/10/12/13/androids_weak_sales_drive_verizon_toward_apples_iphone.html

Some have accused me of being biased toward Android... Well, I am not biased that way, I think, just a user, not even particularly loyal (i.e. if something works better for me I don't hesitate for a second to switch).

I have, however, been somewhat biased against Apple, because of their controlling marketing behavior that reminds me of communism (which nevertheless clearly works; I wished I owned some of their stock as Forrest Gump).

New market research now shows that the big hype behind the Android-VZW presumed juggernout actually stands on weak legs... See attached link.

I think the iPhone is a great product, I never questioned that. It does not work for me, due to the fact it allows less flexibility (and I am customizer, but not jailbreaker type). If Verizon heeds Steve Jobs' controlling approach, that's because the Android dream failed (at least for the short term, at least for VZW).

However, if the roumor proves correct that the VZW iPhone, presumably coming out after Xmas, will be 4G/LTE, it definitely be a shocker.

BTW, I just ordered my VZW 4G/LTE USB modem...

Tax Cuts in America, 2010: The War on the Middle Class

Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H5OtB298fHY

PF: The economy is not a zero sum game. Those who are poor are not poor because the rich are rich. Scaring away the rich (and they will go, they can afford it) will not help anyone in the economy.

ZM: It is not a zero sum game, at least not 100% a zero sum game. But it is hard to deny that the separation between the rich and the poor will get wider with the rich making it a game to get even richer, and it does help the poor get poorer, to some extent. E.g., the $100K/yr tax cut to the guy making over a million, if instead spent on supporting the less fortunate (i.e. extending jobless benefits) will prevent the less fortunate to get even poorer.

Consequently, as to the economy, I disagree. The concept of "let's help the rich and corporate interests with massive tax cuts because that will help create jobs and will trickle down to the bottom of the social ladder" has been prominently proven wrong over and over again.

Somebody on the verge of losing ANY income at all, I think is more likely to spend on basic life necessities, pretty much 100% of that sum, if you give them an extra $50k/yr than if you give the same amount to the guy making $1mi and already possessing everything they need/already able to buy.

PF: ok, we can agree to disagree, but a few points;
1. you are not "giving tax cuts" to the rich, you are just taking slightly less away from them. similarly you are not "helping the rich". you just leave them more of what is theirs.
2. are you saying that higher taxes have no negative effect on jobs? I find that hard to believe. The more you tax, the more jobs go abroad. Kind of self evident.
3. Is the "separation between the rich and the poor" what really matters? Not to me. If I can choose between earning 5 while the other guy gets 8, or earning 6 while the rich guy gets 50, I would choose 6 anytime. Wouldn't you? Why? If you start making comparisons, make comparisons globally. But even that doesn't make sense.

ZM: Well, this is a philosophical question... Let me also add a couple of points, if I may (looks like I am re-generating the blog I was going to write anyway, in parts).

1. So why even tax at all? Why take away anything from people out of what's theirs? What purpose does it really serve to pay taxes in the first place?
2. If you say we should help the USA become a "Banana Republic" with policies benefiting the richest Americans (and thereby helping the social gap get wider), because otherwise their business and money will land in another less civilized part of the world, you quasi propose we become less civilized as well. Like 3rd world countries. In other words, rather than showing the entire world the way and creating an example of maturity and altruism, some of the most advanced and noble human qualities, we should instead just move the clock back closer to the time we lived in caves where the strongest always had his way and the only rule was the rule of strength? Where the weak had no protection?

The way we distribute and redistribute wealth is an indicator of the society's maturity as a whole, marker of our collective intelligence and conscience. I am not a communist and I do believe we need to allow stimulation that is consistent with and based on greed and selfishness. That definitely produces a force that moves things ahead. I am a capitalist in that sense. But I also feel there should be very carefully tailored policies to help our society remain stable and in good conscience. And that is to prevent the poor getting even poorer and to prevent the middle class being eliminated/becoming less affluent. The collective well being/quality of life of the society as a whole is at stake, which I think is a greater concern than any one individual's wellbeing or the satisfaction of the most greedy. We have to guard our society's values by not allowing the social division to grow to the extremes. I would be ashamed to live in a "Banana Republic". The society's collective conscience is in danger if we act otherwise.

I personally am grateful to be fortunate enough to be capable and gifted enough to be able to achieve what I have. However, instead of using all that as a jumping board and basis to distance myself more from the less fortunate, I am all for giving back for the fact I happened to be more fortunate, a token of my gratitude, if you will. I could not have a good (personal) conscience if I acted otherwise.

People in this country like to ride on the high wave of patriotism where we give the utmost credit to those who are willing to sacrifice their lives for their country's world-power, religious or corporate agenda. Giving your life, I guess, is the ultimate sacrifice, the greatest level of altruism. It is kind of encouraged here... Altruism is good, encouraged, appreciated!

My question then to some of my fellow countrymen: By way of altruism, how about giving up a few percent of your already enormous income, where your fellow Americans are suffering and hungry here, today?