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How to Affect Change

AMAZING the Power of Web 2.0 (blogs/twitter) and then to throw into the mix good “ole fashion” email, newsletters and the results could even inspire the somewhat cynical of us…

It is MY OPINION that these tools had at least SOME impact on the DOD policy of utilization of Web 2.0 tools

From David Pogue’s NY Times Column

“Take Back the Beep” Campaign: An Update


It’s been two weeks since I started “Take Back the Beep,” a campaign to flood the four big wireless companies with complaints. I want them to eliminate (or make optional) those time-wasting, redundant, airtime-eating, 15-second recorded instructions that you hear every time you leave a message for someone (or call to retrieve your own).

To my delight, the campaign has taken on a life of its own. It’s been written up on 28,032 blogs; I’ve done a number of radio and podcast interviews; and the carriers report that “thousands and thousands” of complaints have poured in.

As a reminder, here’s where to direct your complaints (Sprint already lets you remove the message):

* Verizon: Post a complaint here: http://bit.ly/FJncH.

* AT&T: Send e-mail to: [email protected].

* T-Mobile: Post a complaint here: http://bit.ly/2rKy0u.

So how is the campaign doing? Has it had any effect on the carriers? Is there any hope of making those ridiculous, infuriating instructions optional?

Yes. Here’s where it stands, carrier by carrier.

* AT&T: “We are going to make some changes.”

AT&T supplied an actual e-mail address for reader complaints, and apparently it was flooded. The huge majority of e-mail notes were emphatic but polite. (For those of you who sent abusive notes, a tip: that’s not the way to get things done.)

Anyway, here’s the big news of the day: it worked. Mark Siegel, AT&T’s executive director of media relations, wrote with some very encouraging news:

“David: All the messages we got from customers really made us look again at how we handle voice mail, and we are going to make some changes. I commend you for raising the issue.

“– First, we really appreciate hearing from the thousands of customers who have contacted us.

“– As I know you know, any customer with our Visual Voicemail service does not listen to an upfront voicemail message. Today, our iPhone customers enjoy Visual Voicemail. In the near future, we will make Visual Voice Mail available on other devices.

“– In the meantime, we are actively exploring how to shorten the voicemail message on our other handsets.”

(He also reminded us that when you call an AT&T customer, you can always “hit pound to get around” the instructions recording. Problem is, of course, that you’d need some way to know when you’re calling an AT&T customer, because the keystroke that bypasses the message is different on each carrier–it’s * on Verizon, 1 on Sprint, # on T-Mobile and AT&T.)

In any case, this is fantastic news, and it came so fast! Congratulations to AT&T for sacrificing millions of dollars in revenue in order to make life easier and more efficient for the rest of us. This, clearly, is a company that really does listen to its customers. And at least on this issue, it’s putting its money where its mouth is.

* T-Mobile: “This issue has our attention”

T-Mobile has also gotten the message loud and clear; at last count, there were 38 pages of complaints on the “Take Back the Beep” forum the company created for this purpose.

When I asked if the campaign was reaching T-Mobile’s decision makers, this statement is as far as company would go:

“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.”

The wheels of progress turn slowly in cellular companies–we can’t expect instant results–but I take this statement as a good sign.

* Sprint: Change it yourself

Sprint already lets you eliminate those instructions. It’s not simple, and it’s not publicized, but it’s possible. If you’re a Sprint customer, I encourage you to make this change right away:

Access your voicemail box. Press 3 for personal options.? Press 2 for greetings.? Press 1, to change your personal greeting.? Press 3 to add or remove the caller instructions.? Follow the prompts to turn instructions on or off.

* Verizon: ” ”

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

He’s probably still irritated at me. When ABC News interviewed him about this campaign, he told them that customers can already turn off the instructions. Which isn’t true. So that night on Twitter, I said that he was lying.

He called me at home to let me know that he wasn’t lying–he was misquoted. What he said was that you can turn off *voicemail altogether* if you don’t like the 15-second instructions.

Well, O.K., but…huh?

Isn’t that like saying, “My son bites his nails, so let’s chop off his hands”?

In the meantime, Verizon is the only company who’s been responding to every single reader complaint. Its customer-service reps are sending out a canned reply, which insists that “The voice mail instructions are there to assist the many callers who may be unfamiliar with the correct prompts.”

Oh, give me a break. You’d have to search very, very hard to find somebody who hasn’t, in the last 40 years, ever heard the concept of speaking at the beep.

The canned response goes on to point out that you can press * to bypass the instructions (if, again, you know that you’re calling a Verizon customer, which you can’t possibly know), and that you can also shut off voicemail altogether (the baby-with-bathwater approach).

I also heard from a manager at Verizon who asked to remain anonymous, but he or she did share this much: “Your blog about the take back the beep is a major success and thorn in the side of the cell phone company I work for.”

So that’s something.

Thanks to everyone who’s helped to join this campaign. It looks as though, by focusing our unhappiness and organizing our resistance, we’re going to wind up creating real change in the world. And it’s a great feeling.

Next up: war, disease and global warming.

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