When this text message buzzed in on my cell phone the other day, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it:
FREE VZW MSG:
You are trending to incur substantial data usage charges on your account. We can help. Call 888-320-0591 for details. Reply Q 2 opt out.
Helpful warning or wolf in disguise? You decide.
No one likes to “incur substantial data usage charges,” so my first instinct was to call. I had been burned in the past by a bunch of unauthorized mobile charges (partially Verizon’s fault, partially some unscrupulous content providers, partially my own teenager playing with his new toy — but that’s another post for another day…). I wanted to avoid a repeat performance.
But then, as a marketer and connected consumer in the 21st century, I am conditioned to be suspicious. Very suspicious. I have received all those phishy spoof email warnings about impending bank account closure, PayPal and eBay verification requirements and innumerable other online scams. Something about that text message gave me pause.
I looked at the message again. It just didn’t seem authentic. “Reply Q 2 opt out”? Doesn’t that sound a bit too chatty for a Fortune 100 company? I refused to be duped into calling a phone number that could very likely be registered in some little-known (and little-regulated) Caribbean island only to have my account charged $90/minute.
So I called Verizon Wireless at their regular customer service number, told them about the text message and asked what was up with these so-called “substantial data usage charges.” Their answer: Nothing. Nada. No problemo. My account is in good order.
Now I put my detective hat on (no, not the kind with the ear flaps). I Googled the 888 number from the text message and found a few concerned posts from other Verizon Wireless customers who had received the same text message and also wondered whether it was legit. One reply said that, yes, the message was from Verizon, not to worry. But then I worried. Maybe that reply was a scam as well. Who can you trust?
I called Verizon again and described the text message in more detail. This time I specifically asked them if the text was in fact from them. The customer service rep I spoke to didn’t know anything about it, but was curious enough himself to put me on hold and go find someone who did. For that, he gets a gold star.
Turns out the text message was legitimate. It came from Kipany, a marketing partner that VZW hired to send such warnings to try to improve their customer service and ward off billing surprises. A nice thought, but the execution was lousy.
Not only did Verizon/Kipany cause me to worry unnecessarily about my charges, they also violated a couple cardinal marketing rules, and quite possibly some consumer privacy laws as well. Any marketer that allows a third party to communicate with its customers should first tell (better yet, ask!) those customers. The third party communications must be consistent with the brand that I do business with. And by all means, tell your customer service organization what is going on. Equip your call center reps with the information they need to support the likely onslaught of calls from customers who are trying to determine who is lurking under that bonnet.