Op-Ed: Cellphone companies are going too far with ringtones Special
Ringtones can be fun, but a feature called ringbacks is often imposed on cellphone users who don't want music to replace the ringing sound when friends call them. What's the point of this immature add-on?
I'm not 15. I don't want a silly cellphone feature Rogers Wireless
(my Canadian carrier) calls ringbacks
. Also known as caller tunes
for Verizon customers, this "personalization service" replaces the ringing you hear when you call someone with a clip of music. It's often prefaced with, "Enjoy this ringback while we connect your call."
Recently, I got this feature but I had no clue it was on my phone. I received a text message after getting a new "value pack"
saying I am now a member of ringbacks and I should click a link to get a free tone. I didn't click the link, but I later found out that when a friend called me, he heard music and that preface message instead of a ringing sound. I never asked for this feature, I never wanted it but Rogers Wireless opted me into this pointless ringback program.
For several years, Rogers Wireless offered ringbacks free to any customer who got a new plan. Costing $1 monthly, ringbacks was something you had automatically instead of managing the ringback to turn it on. By forcing us to take action to turn off a feature, Rogers Wireless was upsetting countless customers who may have never even heard of this add-on in the first place.
"It's annoying but it seems like more of a pain to remove it," says Aria Tesolin, 18, a Toronto resident who was automatically susbcribed to ringbacks three years ago and hasn't bothered to cancel it. "What if the song offended me?" she wonders. "It's not fair to add a service without telling me."
Rogers Wireless senior manager of media relations Leigh-Ann Popek tells me in an interview the company currently has 200,000 subscribers using ringbacks. But it's unclear how many have opted in to use the service or whether they were like me, unknowingly being subscribed to ringbacks.
She adds, "So many Rogers customers enjoy the ringback service we’ve recently taken steps to make it even more customer-friendly."
In fact, as of Nov. 8 Rogers Wireless users will now have to send an SMS to use ringbacks, an about-face from the previous policy of automatic opt-in. Was this in relation to customer complaints of being forced to have this service slapped on their cellphones?
A further interview request with Rogers Wireless was not answered by time of publication.
So at least Rogers is now listening to customers and realizing no one wants to deal with a service they never requested in the first place. Baby steps, right?
But I fail to see the motive behind even throwing ringback's $1 monthly fee into cellphone packages. Who else other than pre-teens want music instead of inbound ringtones?
First, it's unprofessional. When a friend calls me, do I really want him listening to music instead of standard ringing? It screams immaturity. I don't mind ringtones when a cellphone rings, an outbound ringtone, but this service just doesn't vibe with the over-15 set, in my opinion. More than one of my friends has told me how foolish this service has become.
Second, ringbacks can be confusing. When I first called someone with a ringback, I thought I reached some strange voicemail feature. I wrongly thought I didn't reach the individual, and I hung up. But I hung up in mid-ring, all thanks to the lame music masquerading as some feature Rogers trumpets
as a way "to express your music style."
Third, managing ringbacks is frustrating, and that's an under-statement. It took me several minutes to find the right menu item to turn off ringbacks when I texted "ringback" to 555. I'm quite tech savvy and it still took me too long; imagine Aunt Judy who got her first cellphone trying to sort through the link's options and poorly placed Settings page to switch off ringbacks. It's as if Rogers didn't want anyone to easily turn off ringbacks.
Is this a sneaky cash grab? Rogers customer service reps say no
(see comments), it's part of their value packs, so you're not paying extra, per se. Oh really? What if ringbacks weren't automatically included in these packs? We would save $1 month, $12 a year. Of course, that would mean Rogers would be out $12 a year from those 200,000 subscribers, totalling $240,000 in revenue for Canada's largest wireless carrier.
As more players enter the wireless market, it would be smart if the entrenched giants began reacting to customers in order to better polish their brand. Rogers Wireless started doing so by turning off the automatic opt-in feature for ringbacks earlier this month; but why did it take them this long? And why did they bury this news on their website and public communications?
I'm all for cellphone add-ons, and I'm not naive to think no one wants features such as ringbacks. But I'd like to see exemplary customer service from a company raking in thousands of dollars from me for the past seven years; and sometimes, one mistake can be a bruise that doesn't heal too quickly.