Sunday, January 27, 2008

Really stupid business practices

Okay, so it's been a while since I posted. I've been a wee bit busy with the real world.

Why am I bothering to post today? What motivated me out of a non-posting funk? Dumb business practices. Today's target of wrath is SBC AT&T Wireless Cingular AT&T Wireless. Sorry, they keep changing the name. (That's a separate rant.) For the record, I've had an account with them since they were named SBC. It's not so much a matter of customer loyalty as laziness, actually.

Back to today's troubles: my wife needs a new phone. Her Motorola no longer has any video at all, which makes it a less than useful device. She's had the phone quite a while, so it's not really unexpected for a semi-disposable consumer device to simply die. This seems easy enough to remedy - just go to your local AT&T store and get a replacement. Piece of cake, right? After all, companies pretty much always take a loss on the hardware, so it should be pretty cheap.

Yeah, right.

AT&T has a semi-reasonable policy of not giving "replacement pricing" too early in a contract period. They do something like no discount for the first 18 months, and then offer a substantial discount (to match their new account pricing) if you need a replacement phone. For the company, this seems pretty wise, as it keeps Joe Consumer from coming in every month and getting a very highly subsidized phone.

There's a few problems with this, however. The dates reset whenever you mess with the contract. My wife's phone is actually several years old, but the current contract started more recently when we added a line for one of the kids. So, we don't qualify for the discount, even though the phone is, in phone years, decrepit.

I can replace her phone with an equivalent newer model for the grand sum of $330. Yup, you read that right. It would literally be cheaper to cancel the contract, go to a competitor, get a new phone and contract, and use number portability to keep the number.

When I noted this fact to the happy customer rep who pounced on me as I came in the door to the place...well, let's just say he looked really unhappy. So much for corporate loyalty to customers. It's actually a penalty for loyalty, which strikes me as really really broken.

I think there's certainly a better way for this to work. Some sort of pro rated system, for example.... In any case, I'm going to call their happy customer support folks and see if they can find a way to avoid losing a customer.

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