Huge Phone Bills And Unsuspecting Customers; When Will Mobile Operators Communicate Clearly?
from the and-they-wonder-why-they're-so-hated dept
Just last week Consumer Reports was noting that mobile phone operators remained among the most disliked companies out there. There are any number of theories as to why this is, but here’s a simple one: mobile operators are absolutely terrible at communicating with their customers. They make their customers feel stupid. They hide details in the fine print and make plans as confusing as possible. They add unnecessary fees. It appears that there’s an inability or unwillingness for these firms to communicate clearly and honestly with their customers. It’s so common throughout the industry, you have to wonder if the firms actually believe that this unwillingness to be straightforward with customers is strategically sensible.
However, all it really does is cause more bad blood. Two recent stories highlight this. Up in Canada, Bell Mobility is getting some awful press coverage for sending an $85,000 phone bill to a guy who signed up for a $10/month “unlimited” mobile browser plan. Like many mobile operators who offer similar plans, this plan only covered browsing if it occurred on the phone itself. If you used the phone as a modem, hooked up to a computer, then a different data plan kicks in. However, it’s quite easy to be confused, as from a customer’s standpoint, it’s hard to see how this is a different situation and the plan did say it was “unlimited.” In cases like these, it makes sense for the operator to admit its error, ignore the bill and move on. Actually, it would make the most sense to change its policies or marketing materials to make this stuff clearer — but that’s unlikely to happen. So far, Bell Mobility has only offered to lower the bill to $3,243, rather than get rid of it completely. In a similar (but less extreme) situation, Chris Anderson had his iPhone shut off by AT&T after he accidentally rang up a $2,100 bill simply by traveling to China. As many others have noted (including in a NY Times article), if you take your iPhone overseas, it will keep trying to check email every few minutes. And, it will do so by getting on a foreign GSM network, which will have exorbitant roaming fees… all of which will happen without the user even realizing it. In Anderson’s case, AT&T sent him a text message warning him of problems, but without providing many details or a convenient way to get those details.
The thing is, these sorts of stories have gone on for years, generating plenty of press attention each time. At some point, you would think that the mobile operators would recognize that they’re not communicating the details of the plans very clearly to consumers and start to do something different. But that doesn’t seem to be the way mobile operators work. Maybe they’ve just come to the conclusion that these news stories serve that educational purpose instead — though, the fact that the same thing keeps happening again and again suggests that kind of education isn’t working very well.