Take Back The Beep, Part II

Wow, what a ride.

On Thursday, on this blog, in my e-mail column and on Twitter, I launched “Take Back the Beep,” a national campaign to restore your time and money from the country’s cellular carriers. I’m referring, of course, to the obnoxious, drawn-out, 15-second instructions that Verizon, Sprint, AT&T and T-Mobile tack on to your own voice mail greeting. You know: “To page this person, press 5. When you have finished recording, you may hang up. To leave a callback number, press 1,” etc.

The response has been amazing. Gizmodo, Engadget, Consumerist, Technologizer and other blogs joined me in the cause. Radio stations called for interviews. And above all, readers responded, flooding the carriers with such a volume of complaints, three out of the four wound up setting up special channels to accommodate it all.

Here are the latest links where you can complain:

* Verizon: Post a complaint here: http://bit.ly/FJncH.
* AT&T: Send e-mail to: customerissues@attnews.us.
* Sprint: Post a complaint here: http://bit.ly/9CmrZ
* T-Mobile: Post a complaint here: http://bit.ly/2rKy0u.

Along the way, a few interesting developments.

* In mid-afternoon yesterday, T-Mobile deleted all of the messages posted to its forums on this topic. Then it began rejecting any new posting containing the word “beep.” Finally, it created a new forum (link above) just for messages on this topic.

* About 500 of you sent me copies of your complaints. I was impressed: you guys know how to do business. You weren’t hostile or abusive — in many cases, you even acknowledged the carriers’ need to make money — but you made the case, articulately and firmly, that wasting our time is not the way to do it.

* Many of you mentioned, as I did earlier this week, that there are secret codes to bypass the obnoxious instruction messages. It’s * for Verizon, 1 for Sprint and # for T-Mobile or AT&T.

But this is not a solution. It requires you to know in advance which carrier the person you’re calling uses, which is unrealistic! Making the instructions optional would be a far superior idea.

* Many of you replied: “Well, why don’t you give out the code when you record your voice mail greeting? For example: ‘You’ve reached David Pogue. Press star to cut to the beep.’”

This is a good idea. But it’s only a patch, not a solution. Only a tiny fraction of Americans would bother to change their greetings; I’m guessing that a majority don’t even know HOW to change their greetings.

We need a more sweeping change.

* Lots of you reminded me that Sprint *already* lets you eliminate the canned instructions. Not easily, but it’s doable: Access your voice mail box. Press 3, for personal options.
 Press 2, for greetings.
 Press 1, to change your personal greeting.
 Press 3, to add or remove the caller instructions. Follow the prompts to turn instructions on or off.

(How strange that Sprint’s P.R. people, who knew of my crusade in advance, didn’t mention this fact! Maybe even they didn’t know you can turn off the instructions.)

* Apparently, the iPhone doesn’t present the instructions, either. Apple negotiated a special arrangement with AT&T to eliminate them.

* Verizon customer-service reps, to their immense credit, have been e-mailing each customer back, one at a time, to explain that “Verizon Wireless has this instructional message in place to ensure that callers who are not familiar with our voice mail system leave a message correctly.“

Nice of them to write back, but totally bogus reasoning. What’s on our greetings should be OUR decision, not Verizon’s. Furthermore, if there’s anyone left in America that doesn’t know how to leave a message at the beep, then they shouldn’t be allowed to use telephones.

All right then: will all of this work? Will there be any change?

I can’t say. I will say, however, that all four carriers explicitly said that they intend to monitor the situation. “We definitely want to hear from customers on this,” wrote AT&T’s Mark Siegel to me (yes, even after customers completely swamped his e-mail with complaints).

In the end, the craziness of mass participation will die away, and maybe that’s what the carriers are hoping for. But I’m also hopeful that, with the stupidity of these instruction messages brought to the public consciousness, customers will be reminded how irksome it is every time they leave a message — that it’ll bug them from now on — that it will become a canker that won’t go away until the carriers make it so.