Wednesday, August 15, 2018

T-Mobile is completely overhauling how its customer service works and responds to you

T-Mobile announced its latest “Un-carrier” initiative today in a fresh attempt to gain new subscribers and lure customers away from rival providers. And it focuses on a crucial, but less flashy subject than the company’s past splashes: customer service. From a stage in Charleston, South Carolina — and after being escorted into the room by a marching band — CEO John Legere kicked off an event that led to the announcement of Team of Experts, a new approach to customer service that will give customers in different regions of the US their own dedicated “team” of customer care representatives. No robot voices and no confusing tree of push-button menus.

Team of Experts launches today for T-Mobile’s postpaid customers. It can be accessed by dialing 611 or by messaging directly from the T-Mobile app or iMessage using Apple Business Chat.

“The first thing when I did when I became CEO of this company is I spent every night sitting at home listening to both sides of customer service calls,” he said. “I listed, we acted, and we heard. That’s the foundation for what we’re going to do today.”

Moments later, T-Mobile COO Mike Sievert criticized the “massive digital fortress between you and the people who can help you” that is a central part of customer service from most major companies. T-Mobile recruited Rainn Wilson to film some ads that showcase traditional (and miserable) customer service experiences. Sievert pointed to bots, call center runarounds, and obvious, constant reminders about finding answers on the internet as widespread annoyances.

Callie Field, T-Mobile’s executive VP of customer care, said “we’ve fixed it,” and went into the details of Team of Experts.

“You’ll never be bounced from department to department, you’ll have a team of experts that will completely own your experience end to end,” Field said. “If you call back the next day, it’s going to go right back to the same team. They’re going to make sure that it is solved and that you’re happy with the resolution.”

T-Mobile’s new customer service teams are divided by geography, and each contains representatives from customer service, engineering, and other areas of the company. Members of each team all work in close proximity at the customer care center, according to Field.

Customers can reach their Team of Experts from 7AM to 9PM local time by phone or messaging. “In early 2019, postpaid customers will get Team of Experts support 24/7,” the company says. (Standard customer service is available 24/7) They also have the option to schedule calls for a convenient time. This is actually the default approach that T-Mobile seems to prefer. “If you don’t pick up the phone, that’s cool, we’ll call you 5 minutes later. And if you’re busy then too, we’ll call 5 minutes after that,” Field said.

Team of Experts doesn’t mean you’ll always call a number and start talking to a live human instantly. “Sometimes there’s some things you can’t avoid — like wait times. Because let’s face it, sometimes your team’s just busy. The difference is that when we’re busy, we’ll promise to you that we’ll handle you in a way that puts your time first. Our default option is that when you call, instead of waiting for us, schedule a time and we’ll call you back. So it’s your time — not our time — that matters.”

T-Mobile’s chief executive clearly relished his first live presentation in some time, berating and taking his signature hold-no-punches digs at T-Mobile’s competition. “We’re in what I’d call the post-unlimited/pre-5G era,” Legere said. “It’s been a year since the industry, I would say, shit themselves and all went to unlimited.” Legere was referencing the industry-wide return to unlimited data after T-Mobile launched its T-Mobile One plan in 2016.

The moves are T-Mobile’s latest effort to keep up the pressure against Verizon and AT&T. The company claims it has led the industry for 18 straight quarters in adding postpaid mobile customers, taking on 686,000 new subscribers in the most recent quarter. T-Mobile, the third-largest US carrier, is also hoping to successfully push through a merger with fourth-place Sprint; both carriers insist that the deal would expedite the buildout of a robust, nationwide 5G network and lead to healthier, more balanced competition with their two much larger competitors.

Last month, the FCC began accepting public comments on the proposed merger. The Justice Department is currently examining how T-Mobile buying Sprint — leaving consumers with fewer mobile provider choices in the process — might impact prices for smaller carriers in the United States.

Some of T-Mobile’s earlier Un-carrier efforts — the end of two-year contracts and device subsidies, phasing out data overage charges, and zero-rating popular streaming services — have reverberated throughout the US mobile industry and led Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint to at times copy or put their own spin on T-Mobile’s ideas for “shaking up” the carrier model.

T-Mobile is giving customers a free year of Pandora Plus and access to sold out concert seats

T-Mobile just announced a major overhaul to its customer service at its latest Uncarrier event, but — in true T-Mobile fashion — it’s also offering a few new perks to customers, Chief among them is a 12-month subscription to Pandora Plus, which will be available in the T-Mobile Tuesday app on August 21st.

Pandora Plus typically costs $4.99 per month, so it’s a nice deal, albeit perhaps not as useful as Verizon’s recently announced offer that gives its unlimited customers a free six months of Apple Music.

Additionally, T-Mobile’s announced a partnership with Live Nation that will offer exclusive tickets to T-Mobile customers (available 30 days before shows), $25 lawn tickets at various amphitheaters, fast-lane entry to shows, and other perks.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

This Bud Light smart fridge unlocks only when the Cleveland Browns win

Football season is almost here, and Bud Light has put together something special for the fans of the eternally suffering Cleveland Browns: Cleveland Browns Victory Fridges, a bunch of custom-made, internet-connected fridges that will only open when the Browns manage to snap their winless streak (currently at 17 games and counting).

It’s a fun promotion with some impressive technical effort behind it, but there’s just one problem: those fridges will never need to open.

Bud Light claims that the fridges are kept shut with an elaborate locking system whereby the chains holding the doors closed (and the beer inside) are help up by an internal magnet, synced together with the other Browns Victory Fridges through Wi-Fi, similar to the company’s existing, Wi-Fi-connected Touchdown Glasses. When (if) the Browns win a game this season, all the Victory Fridges will unlock at the same time, letting fans across the city celebrate together in a technologically powered triumph.

And who knows? That may even be true, although we’ll likely never find out, given that such a thing would require the Browns to win a game of football.

To fully grasp the cruelty of what Bud Light is doing, you have to appreciate how bad the Browns’ current run of luck has been: in their last three seasons, the team has gone 3-13, 1-15, and 0-16. The last time the Browns won a game was on December 24th, 2016. The time before that was December 13th, 2015. The team is starting the 2018 season coming off a 17-game losing streak, which itself came off the back of a separate 17-game rut that ended with that 2016 win, only to begin the cycle anew.

As SB Nation’s Jon Bois has definitively proven, the Browns live in hell. And no amount of cold beer — even ones locked away in optimistically branded Browns fridges — can quench those pains.

The fridges themselves will be installed at bars around Cleveland, as well as at the Brown’s FirstEnergy Stadium. Presumably, they will likely stand there for weeks, if not years, silently taunting fans with the promise of beer that, if past history is anything to go by, they may never get to drink.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Apple offering instant trade in credit online when ordering a new device

Apple has updated its GiveBack program, allowing customers to trade in old devices to offset the cost of purchasing a new one even when buying online..

Previously, the only way to immediately receive a credit to use against new purchases was to visit a physical Apple Store. Using Apple’s trade-in program online required shipping your device and waiting for an Apple gift card or debit card. Now, Apple has updated its website to indicate that a credit for trading in an old device can be used right away when buying a new one online.

Now customers will see the GiveBack prompt on the “buy” page for all products. If the online form is used, only a couple of questions and a serial number are required in order to complete your trade-in estimate. The newest devices accepted for Apple’s GiveBack program are the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Samsung unveils the Galaxy Home speaker with Bixby smart assistant

Samsung has announced its entry into the smart speaker market with the Galaxy Home. It’s a high-end speaker that’s meant to go head-to-head with Apple’s HomePod, while standing apart from competitors like Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Home with a promise of higher-quality audio. Samsung said the speaker is meant to combine “amazing sound and elegant design.”

The Galaxy Home looks like a strange vase, statue, or fondue pot that might go on a table in the corner of your home. It’s wrapped in fabric and elevated by three stout metal legs. It has a flat top with control buttons on it for skipping tracks and changing the volume.

The speaker is supposed to deliver surround sound-style audio using six built-in speakers and a subwoofer. It also includes eight far-field microphones for detecting voice input. You’ll be able to say “Hi, Bixby” to activate Samsung’s assistant and ask it to start playing music or a number of other tasks. Samsung indicated that it’d be able to do many of the same things Bixby can do on a phone.

Beyond that, we don’t have many details. Samsung isn’t ready to fully announce the speaker yet, and it said that it’d share more at a developer conference in early November.

One of the big questions hanging over the speaker is how well its smart functions will hold up. It includes Samsung’s Bixby assistant, which few have seemed to particularly enjoy using so far. If Samsung wants this to be seen as an equivalent to an Echo, it’ll need an assistant that’s about as smart as Alexa. And right now, it isn’t clear the company has that.

The speaker will also enter into a crowded market. Amazon has already taken a commanding early lead with its Echo devices (along with the spread of Alexa inside of third-party devices), while Google has managed to sell millions of Home devices as well, likely thanks to their low price and frequent sales. Both Amazon and Google may have more to share before the holiday season when the Galaxy Home debuts.

Then, of course, there’s Apple, which is the company Samsung really seems to be interested in taking on — likely because higher-end speakers have larger margins and aren’t a market that’s been dominated just yet. Samsung and Apple may find themselves contending with the same problem: a distinct lack of smarts in their speaker when compared to competitors. If that’s what people are buying smart speakers for (it is), then that’s going to make Samsung’s new product a harder sell.