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Q&A: Visible CEO Miguel Quiroga talks customer service, expanding service to Android users

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Image: Visible

Visible is a digital-only wireless carrier that ditches brick and mortar stores for a smartphone app that lets you “order service from your couch.” Backed by Verizon Wireless, Visible isn’t an MVNO because it’s not buying network access from Verizon. Instead, Visible has direct access to Verizon’s network as if it were its own.

For $40 a month, Visible users get unlimited talk, text, data, and mobile hotspot. That price includes taxes and fees — it’s just $40 a month. There’s a small catch in that your data speeds are limited to just 5Mbps.

At launch, Visible only supported Apple’s iPhone, but starting Thursday, the company is launching Android support in beta with Samsung’s Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus.

Additionally, Visible will also begin selling devices directly to users who can take advantage of free overnight shipping, zero down, and familiar monthly payment plans on 11 iPhone models and the Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus. Lastly, Visible is launching Visible Protect, a device protection service that costs $10 a month in partnership with Assurant. 

For the past few weeks, I’ve been using an iPhone 8 with a Visible SIM card. And, despite my reservations, I have to admit that the 5Mbps speed cap hasn’t been as big of an issue as I expected.

In fact, on one occasion I used the iPhone’s hotspot as my lone internet connection for a morning. I streamed music, watched YouTube videos, and went about a typical day’s worth of work and not once did I feel like I was using a slow connection. Granted, if I needed to manage large files stored in the cloud, the speed cap would have had more of an impact.

But for browsing the web, streaming video and music, and managing my email, the speed was a non-issue.

Prior to Thursday’s announcement, I had the chance to talk with Visible CEO Miguel Quiroga and learn more about why Visible exists, how the company plans to tackle customer service, and opening up the service to Android users. Below is the conversation, edited and condensed for clarity.

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Visible

ZDNet: What was the thinking behind Visible?

Quiroga: Over 60 million customers in the US switch carriers on an annual basis. One of the questions the team came up with was, Why do customers do that? Is it is a store experience? Is it the price point? Is it coverage? Maybe it’s the complexity or perhaps the lack of transparency and the hidden costs?

I think that where we arrived was that there’s an opportunity and a premise that all the different complexities don’t have to exist in this particular category, there’s a different way to do business. What we landed on here was that if you have a simple, easy to use, easy to understand offering — something that’s a high-quality product experience, and great customer service — it’s ultimately going to bring a lot of value to a customer. The idea of Visible being an all-digital carrier, that’s easier and simpler and more accessible way to both sign up and manager service from the comfort of your couch, without having any of the kind of complexity that customers often struggle with, such as what exactly is on the bill, and what does it mean — we think that’s pretty compelling. We offer a $40 unlimited data, voice minutes, and hotspot on Verizon’s 4G LTE network.

ZDNet: Can explain why Visible started with iPhone first? Why not Android? It’s the opposite direction that most prepaid carriers go.

Quiroga: For us, it was really about how we were trying to launch the business and focus on the customer experience we wanted to have because the iPhone kind of category of products is much more kind of systemic as versus in the Android environment. While it’s a great ecosystem is also a little more fragmented, there are a lot more manufacturers in play. The iPhone allows us to really put much more attention on the experience. So the thinking was: focus on iOS, which allows us to do the things we need to do in parallel, we’ve been working on the Android experience as well, in addition to the type of testing and device range, and that’s required to do so. So that’s really why we focus on the iOS experience first.

ZDNet: One thing I noticed when reading about Visible is it’s almost as if you go out of your way to make sure to say you’re not an MVNO of Verizon. The exact wording is “Visible is backed by Verizon, but operates independently.” Why is it important for you to make that distinction?

Quiroga: I think a couple of things. So let’s talk about the MVNO topic real quick. From an MVNO perspective, MVNO has a very specific meaning in the industry. It’s really about the wholesale type of relationship that a company will use to buy network access in bulk. Our relationship is completely different. We’re a full facility carrier because we are directly using Verizon’s network. It’s a different offering, it allows us to prepare a type of offering that gives more value to consumers. So the fact we don’t have stores, the fact that we have that type of relationship, it allows us to essentially tap value directly to the consumer. So that’s why we make that distinction. And that’s why we’ve been really kind of focused on differentiating between what an MVNO is versus what we are.

The concept around why we talk about not being an MVNO and that Visible operates independently is because it’s a way that we look at the way we built this company and the business model. I know, it sounds like an obvious thing. But the culture that we’re building here, the types of employees, the fact that our headquarters is actually in Denver is something that’s unique, and we think it’s something that we want to make sure is clear, because the way we operate, the way we approach things with a customer-centric lens is something that’s uniquely Visible.

ZDNet: Visible’s data plans are truly unlimited, right? There’s not an arbitrary cap or slowdown at some point?

Quiroga: That’s correct, our data is unlimited.

ZDNet: Okay, but it’s capped at 5 megabits-per-second?

Quiroga: That’s right. The speed cap of 5MB was based on a lot of the research we did from a network analysis perspective around doing all the traditional things most consumers do, including streaming video, streaming of audio, as well as all the day to day activities from browsing and email. The thinking is that that gives the broad spectrum of customers that type of access they want.

ZDNet: Why launch with the Samsung Galaxy S9 and S9 Plus as the first devices in the Android beta?

Quiroga: With the focus on the S9 and S9 Plus, we wanted to make sure had the right type of device availability that was very popular in the US. The S9 is a very popular phone, it’s a high-quality build, and we felt that the two sizes gave customers the type of choices they’re looking for. It’s where we decided to start the Android offering, but we’ll quickly follow along with additional products that we’ll make available to customers. One of the things we didn’t want to do is wait until we had a vast catalog, then deploy to customers. We said, “You know what? Let’s get this in customers hands right away.”

ZDNet: If I was to take the SIM card and put it in a Note 9, would I be able to do change the API settings, or is there something on the network side that’s going to prevent other Android devices from working?

Quiroga: There is a concept of essentially having device certification against the network, as I’m sure you’re familiar with. So what we have currently have completed testing on for the Samsung family of products is the assignment of time. Plus. It’s not because we don’t want customers to do that. It’s just simply that we wanted to make sure the appropriate testing was done, and it would work seamlessly.

ZDNet How long do you expect the Android part of your service to be in beta? I know the iPhone beta wasn’t just a month or two, it was longer than that. How do you see the Android beta proceeding from here as you certify more devices?

Quiroga: I think it becomes a little bit of our mindset of leadership team here is that beta means different things to different industries. I often talk about the term beta, when it looks like it’s something like Google was taken to the extreme, I think of Google Maps, it was like 12 years or something crazy. We’re not gonna do that. That doesn’t work for us. Beta for us means that it’s consumer available and it works for the consumer. We’re just trying to get customer feedback to essentially improve the product line as we go. We don’t have the exact window of time, but I would say fairly quickly we would move beyond that. But for us, it’s really about focusing the beta as a way to explain to customers, please give us more feedback, because it allows us to continue to improve the product.

ZDNet: One of the biggest differences for Visible, when compared to traditional carriers, is that there’s not a place for me to go if I’m having issues with my phone and get help with it. Customer support is a big part of, I guess, a huge problem you have to solve as an online-only carrier. What kind of approaches are you taking to troubleshooting handset issues and customer support overall?

Quiroga: Our mindset here is just because we’re online doesn’t mean that there aren’t people to help and whether that’s through chat, or if we absolutely need to we can get on the phone and work through an issue. That’s one option. In addition, Visible Protect offers a type of live support, either in an Apple Care environment for iOS or from an Android perspective, there’s a network of stores which will also perform Apple Care-like support.

ZDNet: For the past few weeks I’ve been going back and forth with Google’s Fi service trying to get picture messaging to work on an iPhone XR. The customer service aspect of it has been horrible. It takes several days to get an answer through email and the entire experience just hasn’t been smooth. How does Visible get over this stigma that online-only carriers can’t provide customer support?

Quiroga: I would propose there are two scenarios. You have the online environment and you have the store environment. I’ve had similar issues with a physical store, and the downside of that is now you’re meeting the person — this is their fifth time in here and it’s still not working. To me, this is a standard customer service problem across the industry, and I’ll tell you with Visible what we’re trying to do to make it better.

What we’re trying to do is two things. One, operationally orient ourselves so that those kinds of issues with our ability to resolve, close, or at least address it, more specifically, we’re going to be in a better position. Two, there’s a mindset towards how we close these issues. Chat is one thing, but I’m a huge believer that whenever you have someone on the phone, then fix the problem. You do it, period.

ZDNet I didn’t mean to turn this into a personal thing. For me, it’s just I’ve seen this issue with Mint, and Republic — with all the other carriers that take a similar approach.

Quiroga: Here’s one other little nuance that might be interesting. All the examples you’ve provided are MVNOs, We actually own our own network and that allows us to have a type of level of network focus, intelligent insight, and trouble resolution that is unmatched in this category. That’s why we think we can ultimately solve those challenges for customers and make the type of experience you had be something that is not common.

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Snap to launch a new Creator Marketplace this month, initially focused on Lens Creators – TechCrunch

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Snap on Wednesday announced its plan to soon launch a Creator Marketplace, which will make it easier for businesses to find and partner with Snapchat creators, including lens creators, AR creators and later, prominent Snapchat creators known as Snap Stars. At launch, the marketplace will focus on connecting brands and AR creators for AR ads. It will then expand to support all Snap Creators by 2022.

The company had previously helped connect its creator community with advertisers through its Snapchat Storytellers program, which first launched into pilot testing in 2018 — already a late arrival to the space. However, that program’s focus was similar to Facebook’s Brand Collabs Manager, as it focused on helping businesses find Snap creators who could produce video content.

Snap’s new marketplace, meanwhile, has a broader focus in terms of connecting all sorts of creators with the Snap advertising ecosystem. This includes Lens Creators, Developers and Partners, and then later, Snap’s popular creators with public profiles.

Snap says the Creator Marketplace will open to businesses later this month to help them partner with a select group of AR Creators in Snap’s Lens Network. These creators can help businesses build AR experiences without the need for extensive creative resources, which makes access to Snap’s AR ads more accessible to businesses, including smaller businesses without in-house developer talent.

Lens creators have already found opportunity working for businesses that want to grow their Snapchat presence — even allowing some creators to quit their day jobs and just build lens for a living. Snap has been further investing in this area of its business, having announced in December a $3.5 million fund directed towards AR Lens creation. The company said at the time there were tens of thousands of Lens creators who had collectively made over 1.5 million Lenses to date.

Using Lenses has grown more popular, too, the company had noted, saying that over 180 million people interact with a Snapchat Lens every day — up from 70 million daily active users of Lenses when the Lens Explorer section first launched in the app in 2018.

Now, Snap says that over 200 million Snapchat users interact with augmented reality on a daily basis, on average, out of its 280 million daily users. The majority (over 90%) of these users are 13-25 year olds. In total, users are posting over 5 billion Snaps per day.

Snap says the Creator Marketplace will remain focused on connecting businesses with AR Lens Creators throughout 2021.

The following year, it will expand to include the community of professional creators and storytellers who understand the current trends and interests of the Snap user base and can help businesses with their ad campaigns. The company will not take a cut of the deals facilitated through the Marketplace, it says.

This would include the creators making content for Snap’s new TikTok rival, Spotlight, which launched in November 2020. Snap encouraged adoption of the feature by shelling out $1 million per day to creators of top videos. In March 2021, over 125 million Snapchat users watched Spotlight, it says.

Image Credits: Snapchat

Spotlight isn’t the only way Snap is challenging TikTok.

The company also on Wednesday announced it’s snagging two of TikTok’s biggest stars for its upcoming Snap Originals lineup: Charli and Dixie D’Amelio. The siblings, who have gained over 20 million follows on Snapchat this past year, will star in the series “Charli vs. Dixie.” Other new Originals will feature names like artist Megan Thee Stallion, actor Ryan Reynolds, twins and influencers Niki and Gabi DeMartino, and YouTube beauty vlogger Manny Mua, among others.

Snap’s shows were watched by over 400 million people in 2020, including 93% of the Gen Z population in the U.S., it noted.

 

 

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Twitter rolls out bigger images and cropping control on iOS and Android – TechCrunch

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Twitter just made a change to the way it displays images that has visual artists on the social network celebrating.

In March, Twitter rolled out a limited test of uncropped, larger images in users’ feeds. Now, it’s declared those tests a success and improved the image sharing experience for everybody.

On Twitter for Android or iOS, standard aspect ratio images (16:9 and 4:3) will now display in full without any cropping. Instead of gambling on how an image will show up in the timeline — and potentially ruining an otherwise great joke — images will look just like they did when you shot them.

Twitter’s new system will show anyone sharing an image a preview of what it will look like before it goes live in the timeline, resolving past concerns that Twitter’s algorithmic cropping was biased toward highlighting white faces.

“Today’s launch is a direct result of the feedback people shared with us last year that the way our algorithm cropped images wasn’t equitable,” Twitter spokesperson Lauren Alexander said. The new way of presenting images decreases the platform’s reliance on automatic, machine learning-based image cropping.

Super tall or wide images will still get a centered crop, but Twitter says it’s working to make that better too, along with other aspects of how visual media gets displayed in the timeline.

For visual artists like photographers and cartoonists who promote their work on Twitter, this is actually a pretty big deal. Not only will photos and other kinds of art score more real estate on the timeline, but artists can be sure that they’re putting their best tweet forward without awkward crops messing stuff up.

Twitter’s Chief Design Officer Dantley Davis celebrated by tweeting a requisite dramatic image of the Utah desert (Dead Horse Point — great spot!)

We regret to inform you that the brands are also aware of the changes.

The days of “open for a surprise” tweets might be numbered, but the long duck can finally have his day.

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Facebook’s Oversight Board throws the company a Trump-shaped curveball – TechCrunch

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Facebook’s controversial policy-setting supergroup issued its verdict on Trump’s fate Wednesday, and it wasn’t quite what most of us were expecting.

We’ll dig into the decision to tease out what it really means, not just for Trump, but also for Facebook’s broader experiment in outsourcing difficult content moderation decisions and for just how independent the board really is.

What did the Facebook Oversight Board decide?

The Oversight Board backed Facebook’s determination that Trump violated its policies on “Dangerous Individuals and Organizations,” which prohibits anything that praises or otherwise supports violence. The the full decision and accompanying policy recommendations are online for anyone to read.

Specifically, the Oversight Board ruled that two Trump posts, one telling Capitol rioters “We love you. You’re very special” and another calling them “great patriots” and telling them to “remember this day forever” broke Facebook’s rules. In fact, the board went as far as saying the pair of posts “severely” violated the rules in question, making it clear that the risk of real-world harm in Trump’s words was was crystal clear:

The Board found that, in maintaining an unfounded narrative of electoral fraud and persistent calls to action, Mr. Trump created an environment where a serious risk of violence was possible. At the time of Mr. Trump’s posts, there was a clear, immediate risk of harm and his words of support for those involved in the riots legitimized their violent actions. As president, Mr. Trump had a high level of influence. The reach of his posts was large, with 35 million followers on Facebook and 24 million on Instagram.”

While the Oversight Board praised Facebook’s decision to suspend Trump, it disagreed with the way the platform implemented the suspension. The group argued that Facebook’s decision to issue an “indefinite” suspension was an arbitrary punishment that wasn’t really supported by the company’s stated policies:

It is not permissible for Facebook to keep a user off the platform for an undefined period, with no criteria for when or whether the account will be restored.

In applying this penalty, Facebook did not follow a clear, published procedure. ‘Indefinite’ suspensions are not described in the company’s content policies. Facebook’s normal penalties include removing the violating content, imposing a time-bound period of suspension, or permanently disabling the page and account.”

The Oversight Board didn’t mince words on this point, going on to say that by putting a “vague, standardless” punishment in place and then kicking the ultimate decision to the Oversight Board, “Facebook seeks to avoid its responsibilities.” Turning things around, the board asserted that it’s actually Facebook’s responsibility to come up with an appropriate penalty for Trump that fits its set of content moderation rules.

 

Is this a surprise outcome?

If you’d asked me yesterday, I would have said that the Oversight Board was more likely to overturn Facebook’s Trump decision. I also called Wednesday’s big decision a win-win for Facebook, because whatever the outcome, it wouldn’t ultimately be criticized a second time for either letting Trump back onto the platform or kicking him off for good. So much for that!

A lot of us didn’t see the “straight up toss the ball back into Facebook’s court” option as a possible outcome. It’s ironic and surprising that the Oversight Board’s decision to give Facebook the final say actually makes the board look more independent, not less.

Facebook likely saw a more clear-cut decision on the Trump situation in the cards. This is a challenging outcome for a company that’s probably ready to move on from its (many, many) missteps during the Trump era. But there’s definitely an argument that if the board declared that Facebook made the wrong call and reinstated Trump that would have been a much bigger headache.

What does it mean that the Oversight Board sent the decision back to Facebook?

Ultimately the Oversight Board is asking Facebook to either a) give Trump’s suspension and end date or b) delete his account. In a less severe case, the normal course of action would be for Facebook to remove whatever broke the rules, but given the ramifications here and the fact that Trump is a repeat Facebook rule-breaker, this is obviously all well past that option.

What will Facebook do?

We’re in for a wait. The board called for Facebook to evaluate the Trump situation and reach a final decision within six months, calling for a “proportionate” response that is justified by its platform rules. Since Facebook and other social media companies are re-writing their rules all the time and making big calls on the fly, that gives the company a bit of time to build out policies that align with the actions it plans to take. See you again on November 5.

In the months following the violence at the U.S. Capitol, Facebook repeatedly defended its Trump call as “necessary and right.” It’s hard to imagine the company deciding that Trump will get reinstated six months from now, but in theory Facebook could decide that length of time was an appropriate punishment and write that into its rules. The fact that Twitter permanently banned Trump means that Facebook could comfortably follow suit at this point.

If Trump had won reelection, this whole thing probably would have gone down very differently. As much as Facebook likes to say its decisions are aligned with lofty ideals — absolute free speech, connecting people — the company is ultimately very attuned to its regulatory and political environment. Trump’s actions were on January 6 were dangerous and flagrant, but Biden’s looming inauguration two weeks later probably influenced the company’s decision just as much.

In direct response to the decision, Facebook’s Nick Clegg wrote only: “We will now consider the board’s decision and determine an action that is clear and proportionate.” Clegg says Trump will stay suspended until then but didn’t offer further hints at what comes next.

Did the board actually change anything?

Potentially. In its decision, the Oversight Board said that Facebook asked for “observations or recommendations from the Board about suspensions when the user is a political leader.” The board’s policy recommendations aren’t binding like its decisions are, but since Facebook asked, it’s likely to listen.

If it does, the Oversight Board’s recommendations could reshape how Facebook handles high profile accounts in the future:

The Board stated that it is not always useful to draw a firm distinction between political leaders and other influential users, recognizing that other users with large audiences can also contribute to serious risks of harm.

While the same rules should apply to all users, context matters when assessing the probability and imminence of harm. When posts by influential users pose a high probability of imminent harm, Facebook should act quickly to enforce its rules. Although Facebook explained that it did not apply its ‘newsworthiness’ allowance in this case, the Board called on Facebook to address widespread confusion about how decisions relating to influential users are made. The Board stressed that considerations of newsworthiness should not take priority when urgent action is needed to prevent significant harm.

Facebook and other social networks have hidden behind newsworthiness exemptions for years instead of making difficult policy calls that would upset half their users. Here, the board not only says that political leaders don’t really deserve special consideration while enforcing the rules, but that it’s much more important to take down content that could cause harm than it is to keep it online because it’s newsworthy.

So… we’re back to square one?

Yes and no. Trump’s suspension may still be up in the air, but the Oversight Board is modeled after a legal body and its real power is in setting precedents. The board kicked this case back to Facebook because the company picked a punishment for Trump that wasn’t even on the menu, not because it thought anything about his behavior fell in a gray area.

The Oversight Board clearly believed that Trump’s words of praise for rioters at the Capitol created a high stakes, dangerous threat on the platform. It’s easy to imagine the board reaching the same conclusion on Trump’s infamous “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” statement during the George Floyd protests, even though Facebook did nothing at the time. Still, the board stops short of saying that behavior like Trump’s merits a perma-ban — that much is up to Facebook.

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