Reflecting On Ting

Ting had a phenomenal reputation for its customer support. Given that lackluster support is par for the course in the cellular industry, it’s particularly impressive that Ting managed to buck the trend while offering a low-cost service.

Earlier this month, DISH acquired Ting’s subscriber base. DISH’s customer support has a lousy reputation. I’m worried that a lot of what made Ting special will disappear as subscribers gradually become integrated with DISH.

While I’m sad to see Ting changing, the recent moves were reasonable for Tucows, Ting’s parent company. Here’s a screenshot I took showing the change in Tucows’ share price in the handful of hours after the news about the acquisition of Ting’s subscribers went public:

Tucows' stock rose over 16%

Changes for Ting subscribers

I’ve found Elliot Noss, Tucows’ CEO, and many of Ting’s employees to be unusually straight talkers. While understandable, it was a bit disappointing that some of the usual candor was missing in statements and discussions related to the acquisition. Still, light was shed on important factors that could affect Ting subscribers going forward. The excerpts below come from Elliot Noss’ Reddit post.

Pricing

For those following, DISH is now becoming a fourth competitor in mobile with T-Mobile taking over Sprint. We are going to help them grow their business and try and make tens of millions of customers as happy and satisfied as you all have been. And for you, soon, DISH will be offering much improved pricing.

I have no reason to doubt that prices will come down. Ting did a great job pushing forward pay-for-what-you-use pricing, but Ting’s data charges haven’t been competitive with the rest of the market for several years. While I expect data prices will come down, I don’t know if DISH will let Ting’s customer base stick with pay-for-what-you-use pricing indefinitely.

Customer support

Our customer service people will still be the ones answering your calls, etc. for the first while and before they are not we intend to help DISH be able to provide service that has you just as happy.

In my view, Ting managed to offer far better support than any of the major carriers offer their own, postpaid customers. I seriously doubt DISH’s customer support will offer the same quality that Ting’s support agents offer.

4 thoughts to “Reflecting On Ting”

  1. I know I sound like a broken record on this, but the quality of toolbox that nobody but Ting Mobile agents actually see on a daily basis is why I’m optimistic about the prospect of scale.

    No other MVNO has what Tucows (disclosure: my employer) has to help manage Ting Mobile. And I’m convinced that any other MVNO with this tool set could do it.

    The agents you get at other MVNOs aren’t malicious. They’re not thick-headed. Most of what is seen as their failure to deliver can usually be traced back to the tools they’re provided to resolve an issue. They’re asked to do wildly complex tasks with comparatively little. You’d likely do the same in their position. Why does it sometimes require a transfer to another person to check a port status or update a credit card on file?

    That’s the difference here. I know it’s hard to see on that side of it.

    But it’s also why I’m excited for what’s next.

    1. Thanks for the comment Mitch!

      I hope you’re right. And I hope this post didn’t come off as too obnoxious or frustrating!

      I take what you’re saying about the quality of Ting’s toolbox seriously. I’ve had several conversations with support agents at various companies where it seemed like problems stemmed from limited tools rather than a failure of a support agent’s competence.

      Despite that, I still feel like Ting’s success was about more than its toolbox. I don’t think network operators themselves (as opposed to MVNOs) are all that constrained in terms of tools. Even though network operators can develop pretty much whatever tools they want, I’ve found the major operators have generally lackluster support.

      I’m excited to watch what happens as Ting transitions into being an MSE. I’d love it if in a couple years I could write a post titled something like: “Update: I Was Wrong About Ting (and DISH)”.

      1. To be clear, the MNOs themselves AREN’T limited by their toolset. They have all the same tools we have. But too often either the training isn’t there to use the tools, or there’s an intentional silo in place to separate the two. Which is probably fair. You don’t want Sprint retail reps spending their valuable time flipping an ownership flag for an MVNO when they make $0 on the transaction.

        I won’t disagree that some of Ting Mobile’s success has to do with the culture at Tucows (and is something we put into the other brands, for sure), but it’s not like it’s been the same static group of people the entire time.

        I’ll use myself as an example. Ting Mobile started in 2012, and I didn’t come on until early 2017. That’s 5 years of already class-defining customer service when I wasn’t there giving the service. I was dropped in with this set of tools and the rest is kind of history. I wouldn’t be as effective as I am at any other MVNO (and certainly I wasn’t when I worked for Sprint) without feeling empowered to actually fix problems, rather than just bouncing customers around.

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