David Pogue is a onetime Mac trade journalist who made it to the big time with a NYT column. I don’t read the NYT anymore because (among other reasons) they now charge for opinion columns — presumably arguing that (Walter Isaacson’s latest complaints notwithstanding) ranting is more more expensive to generate than hard news.
However, the NYT is quite happy to e-mail me the Pogue e-newsletter for free. After remarking how great the pocket digicam has become, in today’s column Pogue then lists several product categories that are not there yet. #2 on the list is
The great cellphone carrier. When the iPhone came out, everybody grumbled and moaned about how Apple had chosen AT&T as its exclusive carrier. I grumbled along with them—and then it hit me: Whom wouldn’t people have grumbled about? People also hate Verizon, and T-Mobile, and Sprint. Everybody feels oppressed by the contracts, mistreated by customer service and victimized by billing gaffes.I think that’s fair — if Cingular (aka AT&T) is terrible, the others aren’t much better. My sense is that each is terrible on at least one thing, each creating a legion of anti-fans. (Although perhaps Mr. Pogue didn’t read this morning’s NYT article about AT&T’s 300-page phone bills for iPhone owners).
I don’t know why one of these cell executives doesn’t just wake up one morning and realize that the way to dominate the cellphone industry isn’t taking out more ads on billboards and newspapers. It’s creating a service that’s so good, the customers love you, recommend you and (here’s the big one) don’t leave you at the first opportunity.
I’ve stayed with Sprint because they’re cheap (regular readers know I like cheap), because when I signed up they had excellent San Diego coverage, and now their Bay Area coverage has gotten better. They built up enough loyalty that I stuck with them after they fouled up my bill last fall, which took several hours on the phone (in 5 phone calls across 3 months) to straighten out. But this sort of billing snafu — particularly for a brand new customer — would often make an enemy for life.
That raises the question: is this an inherent problem of telecom oligopolists? Do the carriers that have good networks get hated for arrogant customer service, contract or pricing policies? (With the remaining carriers offering lousy coverage and lousy networks?) Or is there a cell phone carrier somewhere in the world that is generally loved? (Please let me know)
I would not be surprised if Metro PCS or Leap Wireless have devoted customers, if for no other reason that their flat-rate pricing model avoids the huge surprise overages that piss people off, and probably avoids most potential billing hassles too. (IIRC, they also don’t require contracts). However, neither has a national license so they’d only be suitable for customers who plan to stay within a specific metro region — clearly making enemies of people who bought the service not understanding this major limitation.