The Editorial of Editorials: Where We've Been

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We’ve been a little abscent lately, for which I personally apologize.  Much to our dismay, this site isn’t our primary source of income, so we’ve had to focus on other things.

That being said, let me express some of a personal nature: my distaste for the wireless business right now.

Don’t get me wrong - I love technology, I love new gadgets, and I love talking about it all.  I even enjoy working in the business, and I enjoy helping people make the right choices.  But sometimes, this business takes a lot out of you, which as of late, seems to be my soul.

In the beginning, the business had to do what it could to convince people to buy into wireless telecommunications.  They made many concessions to get customers on the network, and created a truly unique business model that has no clear similarities to any one industry.  Over time, those concessions mixed with a growing sense of entitlement within the consumer base.  The wireless carriers were expected to bend over backwards for consumers, even when it made little business sense.  Over time, that entitlement has grown.

PhoneCan and it’s editors have long extolled the virtues of moving away from the subsidy-contract system.  The overwhelming reason why we believe a non-contract system is a better one is based on consumer choice and empowerment (not to be confused with entitlement), but one of the secondary reasons is because of the tenuous relationship between provider and customer.  As carriers gain more control over the customer’s buying decisions, they risk walking all over the consumer.  As consumers demand more and more for free, the service provider has no choice but to make profits in other ways.  The system we currently find ourselves in is not sustainable over the long-haul.  Either the carrier has to give in to satisfy the consumer, or the consumer has to be trampled on to allow the carrier to make it’s money.

This is the situation we find ourselves in today.  Customers want more and more for less and less.  Businesses want more profit at a lower cost.  The two are in opposition of each other.  Only one can win, and in this case, it’s probably going to be the one with the deepest pockets.

But I digress.  This post was about MY distaste for the business.  Let me bring this back into perspective.

I’m constantly stuck between two worlds: wanting to please my customers, and wanting to do right by my employer.  The problem is, neither seem to deserve what I can give them.

My customers have become needy and bitter.  They get some amazing discounts off phones, and all they do is ask for more.  It’s only gotten worse since the iPhone came to Verizon.  I thought the simplification that happened around the time of the iPhone launch would make things better, but in reality it’s made it worse.  Many customers feel they deserve the iPhone, regardless of contract time frame, and at a lower cost than Apple allows.  It’s not uncommon for those of us in the business to hear, “I’ve been with you for five years, what is Verizon (or any company) going to do to keep my business?”

The answer isn’t one that people want to hear: not much.  Or at least, not more than they do for anyone else.  You see, the time of exceptions and deals came when there were millions less to cater to.  Now, with 100 million customers to service, many of them are asking to be treated better than the others.  There are simply too many customers to make this a viable system, so the companies are phasing those systems out.

The reality is, most companies discount their equipment three times more than they did six years ago.  A smartphone (or PDA phone, as we called them back in the day), would easily run $500 to $600, and they didn’t do a tenth of what a $200 smartphone does today.  They were discounted about a hundred bucks.  Today, phones like the iPhone are discounted $450.  And the only reason they do this is because consumers demand it.  Even now, the magic price point of $200 (as most good smartphones are priced) isn’t enough.

In response to paying an extra $200 to $300 per customer these days, carriers have found it necessary to make back that cost in new ways - bringing us mandatory data plans, tiered data, and an achaic minute allotment system when unlimited could be more affordable.  But being an industry seeking a steadily increasing profit margin each year, we also have increasingly restrictive subsidy rules and an unwillingness to work with the customer as much as they have in the past.

To me, the solution seems simple: get out of the subsidy business.  It dictates almost every aspect of the business, from the manufacturer to the carrier and through the consumer.  Without it, customers would have the power to dictate their own terms of service.  Carriers wouldn’t feel obligated to dish out hundreds of dollars per customer to keep them around.  Entitlement would move from the service provider to the electronics retailer, who is much more able to handle the “I deserve it because I say so” mentality, since they are out of the subsidy/contract cycle.

But evenb I have my doubts that it would ever change.  Apple tried an unsubsidized phone with the first iPhone, but sold millions more because they changed to allow for subsidies with the second model, moving forward.  Google tried it wil the Nexus, and it really hasn’t taken over the wireless phone business by any means.   The biggest reason why a subsidy-free world may never exist is simply because the manufacturers have too much to lose.  They know their product is simply going to be discounted by the carrier, so there are none of the usual market demands dictating pricing or supply and demand.

And that brings me back to the issue at the core of this editorial.  Some of us feel torn between an employer that is increasingly demanding more and more from it’s employees and customers, and from the customers they enjoy helping each day.

In my job, I hear that argument I mentioned about being with a service provider for so many years.  The longest-running customer I’ve ever seen in all my years was actually this year - since 1993.  That customer had been with Verizon and it’s predecessors for almost 20 years.  And they get no better treatment than someone who’s been with us for two years.  And in the long-run, that’s the most equitable system that can be put in place by a company with 50 to 100 million customers.

On the other side, I get paid less to do more than I did eight years ago.  More is expected of me, and frankly, most of the expectations from my employer are antiquated and archaic anyway.  As an employee, we are never good enough for someone’s expectations.

And so, I’m just fed up with the system.  It seems like every avenue where I helt the customer, it’s never good enough.  And every way in which I make my employer money is inadequate.  I’m tired of it all.  And it’s kept me off this site, for which I again apologize.

Have faith, readers, for this funk shall pass, and PhoneCan will come into it’s own.  Heck, maybe I’ll even be able to make a living here, where at least I know I’m making some headway with consumers.

Thanks for being faithful.

Epik