Cagey Consumer

Dialogue with an Excel Rep

On June 28, 1998, an Excel Rep contacted me about the long distance rate calculator on the Cagey Consumer web site, with the following comment:
I was disappointed to see that your Excel premier III plan was not included with Excel. It's billing saves people money over the dime deal, and actually since I have a PB4 plan some of my call are only 2 cents a call, or 3, or 4 etc, but never over 6 cents a minute.
I had started the rate calculator to highlight the fact that there were reasonable ways for people to compare different long distance rate plans, especially in light of the many "flat rate" plans that had started to become available, such as Excel's "Dime Deal." But it certainly was possible that I had overlooked some other Excel options that were appropriate for inclusion in the rate calculator.

Thus began a series of email messages that would span 7 days, and would make me want to tell people flatly to avoid Excel altogether. Better sense won out, and realizing that this conversation represented the failure of a single Excel rep, I offer a transcript of these messages as amusement rather than to tell people that Excel reps have no clue about how to advise their customers. I've left out his name, as well as any details that might be used to identify him.

Cagey Consumer:
I've now spent an hour looking at Excel's plans, both what I could find on the Excel web site and from individual Excel rep pages (mostly out of date) for info on Premier III.

I'm guessing that what you call "Premier III" is the same as Premier Plus III? Am I right?

What I've found is that Excel hasn't done a very good job describing this plan... nothing really new, Sprint's learned how to do this too.

Premier Plus III is described as a "small business" plan rather than a residential plan, but for the sake of argument, let's assume that they'll let residential customers sign up for it.

It doesn't look very competitive... as described on the web site, the rate is either 12.5 cents a minute for all your interstate calls, or it's 12.5 cents a minute for your calls to Excel customers, and 30% off of Excel's "tariffed" rates (which aren't spelled out anywhere) for calls to non-Excel customers.

Oh yes, you get 6-second billing with a 1 minute minimum, and have to pay a $2.50 monthly charge.

As for the rates you're paying for PB4, I don't understand why you bother to mention them. PB4 is offered as a "commercial" plan, has a $100 minimum, and a term committment. But there's nothing about a 6 cent a minute rate for interstate calls

So all in all, there is either something wrong with the information you're giving me or there's something wrong with the info on the Excel web site. (Well, I =know= there's something wrong with the info on the web site.) Can you suggest a better source for Excel's rates that I can use?

Excel Rep:
I will get back to you with the information. I am a rep. Hold on.
Excel Rep:
If you can give me your address I will mail you the brochure that gives all of the info. on PremierPlus III for Excel. The Intra strate calls vary, 10 cents in CA,NY,IL,GA,MD, NJ, MA. The Interstate are `12.5 with six second billing. This is the rate used by all of my reps in CA unless their bill is over the $100 and then they go to PB3 or PB$. If you make a lot of calls intrastate it brings the effective rate down quite a bit.

I have a PB4 because my long distance is over $100, and so all of my outgoing and inbound calls are 6 cents. Since it is six second billing first minute I can sometimes have a 2 or 3 cent charge. I also put an automatic dial 10752 on my intralata calls out of zone one and get the 6 cents for those which were previously eleven and 14 cents for the local calls to my office 18 miles away in the San Diego area. Our International calls are usually better than anyone else also.

I would expect our rates to almost always lead the pack. Were we not the first dime deal? Since our customer retention is the genius of this company (5 friends will never leave me....and since our customer acquisition costs lead the industry ($56 as compared to AT&T $300) I think we will always be on the cutting edge of the competition). We are in the process of migrating a lot of our traffic away from leased lines and as we do this it will bring costs down further. Our recent merger with Teleglobe of Canada will also put us into some very conpetetive internet markets, low level satellite phones, cable, etc. We are all looking forward to the day we go into electricity....our commissions will quadruple. Thanks for posting everything on the internet. You are performing a fine service. Best wishes

Cagey Consumer:

[I gave him my address as requested... and then added the following comment:]

Six second billing isn't worth paying 25% extra unless most of your calls are under 3 minutes. I agree that for a lot of people, intrastate rates may be more important than interstate rates, but there are also lots of people who make very few intrastate long distance calls.

> I have a PB4 because my long distance is over $100, and so all
> of my outgoing and inbound calls are 6 cents.
I'd like to see the brochures on this... what I saw on the web site didn't seem to indicate this rate for interstate calls.

Looking forward to the brochures.

Excel Rep:
You are right, the interstate calls depend on the state of origin. This whole thing has totally confused most of the public, but that's where we come in...we will tailor each person's usage to a particular system that fits their needs, since we each only have 14 to 15 loyal customers with at least 20 customer "points". Other companys sell their systems and say sayanora. We check back with our customers if there is a better deal. We have found people, especially commercial who are paying 25 to 35 cents a minute with all of the major carriers.
Excel Rep:
Eli, I just went to the web site. You have all of the information there that I have. I really don't need to send you a brochure. PB3 is 6.5 cents a minute in California, inbound and outbound. PB4 is 6 cents a minute intrastate and look at the great calling card rates. Ah well, we will all be on low level satellite wireless phones in another year anyway. Then the whole ball game will change. It's a war over customers and I really think we have a better mousetrap as indicated by our phenomenal growth from 33 million in '93 to about 2 billion in 97 and now we are a 7 billion dollar company. This pie in telecommunications is growing so fast and is so big that you don't really have to get a small sliver you just have to lick the knife.

I can't really believe it but "they" are predicting that this will be a one trillion dollar industry by the year 2000.

Cagey Consumer:

[The rates he's talking about don't apply to interstate calls... so I try to give him an opportunity to "point out" that he's not talking about interstate calls... but he doesn't seem to get it.]

Okay, the way I see this, you're agreeing that it was all a mistake on your part to mention either the Premier Plus III or the PB4 plans with regard to the Long Distance Rate Calculator, as neither of these plans is competitive insofar as interstate rates are concerned. Is that right?

Excel Rep:
Not at all. The info is all on the web site. If you want anything clarified you can call customer service 24 hours a day: 1-800-875-9235.
Excel Rep:

[He claims memory loss, and goes off on a tangent about the Excel strategy.] ]

The Web site is

I don't remember ever advising you to use Premier III or Premier Plus III(there is no such thing). I was merely saying that when we become reps we sign up for Premier III or PB4 for specific reasons. I would never advise a person to sign up for a specific thing unless I could see his calling patterns and usage. That's the difference between us as reps and AT&T or whatever other company people go with because we are personal reps for a few people and we service them carefully.....the loyal retention of our customers is dependent upon that.

We just have a few loyal customers each aand that makes the whole company filled with loyal customers who are loyal not to Excel but to each of us.

We don't really get into rates as much as you do except on commercial and we can beat most commercial rates.

But if you don't really understand net work marketing then it probably wouldn't make any sense to you.


Cagey Consumer:
[Well, if his goal was to get me upset, he's finally succeeded, having failed to come up with coherent responses to any of my messages. Having at last obtained a response that demonstrates that he's gotten me upset, he demures.]

You wrote:

> We don't really get into rates as much as you do except on
> commercial and we can beat most commercial rates.
As I recall, you initially contacted me regarding the "long distance rate calculator" on my Cagey Consumer web site, indicating you were "disappointed" that it included only the "dime a minute" Excel rate plan and not any other Excel plans, implying that certain other Excel rate plans might be more advantageous for certain people.

Additionally, you told me about rate plans such as "PB4" and how you paid just 2 or 3 cents for certain calls, and never more than 6 cents (presumably, per minute) for calls.

You at one point offered to send me a brochure, then declined, claiming the information was all available on the Excel web site. When I asked you to point me to the specific web pages on the Excel web site indicating these rates that are better than the "dime deal", you told me:

I'm at a loss to understand why an Excel rep would want me to include an uncompetitive rate plan on my long distance rate calculator. While these other plans may provide slight reductions in call costs for a small number of interstate calls, overall, they are more expensive for interstate calls than the "dime" plan.

As to intrastate calls, other Excel rate plans may be preferable to to the Excel dime deal, but as indicated on the long distance rate calculator page, only the costs of interstate calls are consider by the rate calculator.

Again, for reasons that I fail to comprehend, you have made misleading statements about Excel rate plans, and have persisted making such false assertions even after I have given you an opportunity to retract these statements. I would appreciate an explanation of this behavior. Thank you.

Excel Rep:

I did not intend to mislead you. I did not realize you were only interested in interstate plans.

I did make one error in statement for which I apologized. I don't believe I need to apologize for any other "behavior." I stand by the rest of my staements. If you wish to win some sort of argument I concede. I will not impugne your integrity or make ad hominen attacks. Please consider our discussions completed.

Thank you for responding, the end.

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