Pay For Communication Now or Pay For It Later

I thought about getting my son a cell phone for Christmas. Thought about it, but not doing it. A communication breakdown led me to change my mind.

I know my sons are probably the last two teenagers in America who don’t have cell phones. Part of the reason is that my 17-year-old son has never wanted one. He eschews many of the trappings of teenagerdom including electronic gadgets. Until recently, I didn’t believe my 13-year-old was responsible enough to care for an electronic device, but he has taken pretty good care of his iPod. Well, until it went through the wash, but the Apple store replaced it for free.

Another reason — and probably the biggest one — that my kids don’t have cell phones is that I’m too cheap to pay for them. I live a pretty thrifty lifestyle and I have a hard time doing anything that will add to my monthly bills.

But this year, after much thought and input from others, I decided the time had come to give the 13-year-old a cell phone, partly for practical reasons. He’s not always the easiest kid to track down.

I went to one of those big-box electronic stores that advertised a selection of free phones. I went to the big sign that read “Wireless” and talked to the kid who was working there. I asked lots of questions and ended up believing that I could add this free phone to my cellular service for only $10 a month. What a deal! I picked out a cool phone — did I mention it was free? — and the kid called the service provider to add the line. I was excited about giving this gift to my son for Christmas.

Then, a few days later, the service provider sent me information that explained what I had done. Somehow, my brain had not absorbed all of this information in the store. Rather than adding $10 a month, adding the new line would increase my monthly cellular bill by $35! That would nearly double my bill each month!

I called the service provider and a customer service rep explained that I had switched from an individual plan to a family plan, plus there was an access charge for the additional line each month. But the phone was indeed free.

Last night I took the phone back to the store to return it and cancel the changes to my service agreement. The same kid was working there. “Wow,” he said. “I didn’t know it would add that much to your monthly bill. I really thought it would only be $10 more a month.”

Clearly, this kid either was not well trained or the information he was given was not clear. That’s the fault of the big-box store, the service provider or both. Someone somewhere had failed to communicate with him so that he could communicate clearly with customers.

As a result, not only did the big-box store and service provider lose potential new revenue, but both had to take the time to undo what had been done. Now, I know most customers who found out about the higher price would have shrugged their shoulders and said, “Oh well. It’s Christmas. I’ll pay for it anyway.” But I bet even those customers would be left thinking the companies involved deserved a lump of coal in their stockings.

Between the rework and the reputation damage, the failure to communicate up front with employees — especially those who are on the front lines of customer service — can be high. It’s too bad more companies don’t invest in communication now in order to avoid paying the price later.


2 Responses

  1. Robert – this is a completely calculated risk on the part of BOTH the service provider AND the store. As you correctly note, a majority of people who go through the same process you did would live with it, rather than going through the hassles involved in undoing everything, and the few customers like you who make them undo it, are MORE than offset by the others who pay that monthly $35 to the service provider, and the money the service provider pays the big box store to sell their plans with the phones.

    While I agree with you that most companies would be better off by training their staff properly in how to communicate about the business’s – any business – policies and services, in this case the results are exactly what everyone involved wants, well, except perhaps the customer!

    This has nothing whatever to do with better communication training, and everything to do with profiting from the intentional mis-communication with customers.

  2. Look up “organized crime” at and you’ll find two examples: cell phone providers and cable companies. It’s impossible to get a straight story from either of them, and the price quoted is ALWAYS less than what you wind up paying. The scams they’re allowed to get away with are unbelievable.

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