Networking

The downside to corporate wireless plans

When looking at corporate wireless plans, Jay Rollins finds that the promise of pooled minutes, volume discounts, and a dedicated account manager may seem like Nirvana, but you're giving something up.

When looking at corporate wireless plans, Jay Rollins finds that the promise of pooled minutes, volume discounts, and a dedicated account manager may seem like Nirvana, but you're giving something up.

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With corporate wireless plans, the promise of pooled minutes, volume discounts, and a dedicated account manager may seem like Nirvana but be aware of what you're giving up.

Just like every good IT department, we were seeking a way to save the company money. Our strategic sourcing initiative targeted wireless plans. We dealt with the coverage issues, cost issues, customer service reputation and, of course, cost. We also looked at a full book of business leverage. In other words, if we used a telecommunications provider for phone or data services that this volume would count toward our discount.

Here were our options:

Verizon

Pros: Technologically innovative. Great wireless coverage and customer service. 3G cards are reliable and a great mobility tool. Provides telecommunications via the Verizon Business products and a lot of great products and managed services. Good wireless product line with various gadgets, TREOs, VCAST and Blackberry. Cons: Expensive. Verizon Wireless and Verizon Business are two separate entities and volume discounts do not help one or the other. Verizon wireless does not have a corporate pooled minutes plan.

AT&T

Pros: Very large telecommunications coverage. The pooled minutes plan on wireless and wireless coverage is decent. Both the wireless business and the land line business work together and mutual discounts are available. Decent wireless products to include various Blackberry devices, 3G cards, and tether plans and, of course, the iPhone. Comparatively inexpensive. Cons: Reputation for not-so-good customer service. Wireless coverage not as good as Verizon.

T-Mobile

Pros: Great wireless product, relatively inexpensive and offers pooled business minutes. Excellent customer service. Cons: No telecommunications infrastructure to leverage, and coverage is not as comprehensive as Verizon or AT&T.

Sprint

Pros: Fast 3G cards are a great product and faster than Verizon or AT&T. Great flat-rate plans. Cons: Limited telecommunications services to leverage. Wireless coverage is not as comprehensive as the Verizon or AT&T networks.

Regional coverage is obviously something to consider. If your business is concentrated in one particular area, your options go up. If you are spread out, they go down.

Here are a couple of experience stories:

I used T-Mobile at one company in the past. We had excellent customer service. The account rep would give us a call ahead of time if we were going to go over our pool of minutes and allow us to increase them as needed. Although we had excellent service and coverage in one area, we had real challenges in California and Chicago.

I also have experience with Verizon at a previous company. We had great customer service on the business side. Products were very good and the account reps were top notch. However, their hands were tied with the wireless business. No discounts and no pooled minutes. We spent hundreds of thousands of dollars with the company and couldn't get a break on wireless. That's their business strategy, but it does not promote partnership. It promotes a vendor vs. customer relationship.

AT&T after the BellSouth/Cingular acquisition dramatically improved their network and coverage and brought some innovative telecommunication products (i.e., MetroEthernet).

So when you sign up for a corporate plan, you give up certain things, one of which is freedom and flexibility. My iPhone died over a weekend. I went to the Apple store to either get it fixed or get a replacement. "Oh, you're on a corporate account. You need to go to the AT&T store." So, mildly upset, I went across the street to the AT&T store after waiting for them to open an hour later. From them I hear: "Oh, you're on a big corporate account. You're going to have to call AT&T." Now very upset. I call an AT&T number. "Our offices are closed at this time. Our hours are Monday through Friday..." So basically, if your phone dies on a Friday, you're screwed until Monday. I call my rep on Monday to see if they can call the AT&T store and square everything away so I can stop by and pick up a new phone. "There is no way the store can get reimbursed if you buy the phone there for the corporate discount so I will have to order one and have it shipped over night."

Now there are reasons these rules are required, but I was trying to put myself in my CEO's shoes. If he was on the road visiting satellite offices and this happened to him, how would he react? Time for some expectation setting with the CEO and a meeting with our wireless provider's management with annual spend information in hand. A better solution is out there. We'll find it.

I'm interested in your stories with wireless providers.

4 comments
Jay Rollins
Jay Rollins

Point of clarification. The customer service comment for AT&T represented an informal poll of my network in the Midwest. We do get great service from our current rep, but the self-imposed rules get in the way of putting the customer at the center of what they do.

jaysonc
jaysonc

I am confused by the CONS for Verizon. I have a corporate wireless plan with pooled minutes. To save costs, the majority of my users are on very inexpensive plans adding only 200 minutes to the pool while a select few are on a very high plan contributing 4000 minutes to the pool. My account rep did a cost benefit analysis for me to encourage me to set it up this way. That to me is good customer service. They do not, however, have a pooled data plan which I wish that they did. I run all Blackberry's here so I have to pay for at least the 10MB data plan for each user despite most of them not coming anywhere near that much. Either way, I personally do agree that Verizon Wireless does provide excellent customer service. Verizon Business...mmm, not so much.

vmirchan
vmirchan

I agree - is it not amazing AT&T does not stay open for service on weekends - I have blogged about it myself. If it was for religious reasons like a Chick-fil-a you could maybe understand. The key word is customer in customer service - at times and methods convenient to customers. I imagine enough of their 70 million wireless subscribers have a billing or technical question they have or save for weekend chores. It is amazing they have got away with it for the last 2 or so years as their customer base has grown. Prior to that it was open longer hours and on weekends. The galling thing is their stores are still open for sales on weekends. What message does that send? Even though they charge a separate 3G charge, Verizon tends to remind you there is a local hotspot nearby and try to get you off their 3G network. With a 3G rollout which started in the early part of this decade, our country still has spotty coverage and very slow speeds compared to Korea or Japan. The usual excuse is we are a much larger country, but if you just limit to our major metro areas that excuse should not apply. As you mention corporate discounts reflecting volume are tough to come by. I would also recommend most CIOs use international benchmarks for their negotiations. For the price performance 3G is not great value.

gsullivan
gsullivan

I'm not necessarily questioning your criticisms of ATT Wireless- but I am a bit shocked to hear them. We are a big ATT shop (formerly Vzw) and I find their customer service to be one of the best customer service's out of all. Trust me, I am a HARSH critic of anyone's customer service, as in you better make me feel wonderful or else you are on my 'Fecal Roster'. It's just interesting to hear your opinions to the contrary. Thanks for the article.

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