Cellphone disservice

OK, gentlemen, let’s get started. First of all, no note taking. These meetings never happened.

We’re here to review our progress in cost savings and revenue generation. Don’t forget that we’re leaders in the cell phone service biz, and we’ve got a fiscal quarter about to end, so we need to make that big push to make our shareholders happy — not to mention making sure we get our bonuses. So, Hoskins, how’s that plan you laid out doing?

Well, boss, it’s going great. One in four customers with high text-message use is trying to upgrade to an option that gives more messages, but we ignore the request. It is taking an average of 2.5 billing cycles to catch on, and I’ve set up the interactive voice-response system to make it just hard enough to get to the billing department, so that 80 per cent who call for a billing adjustment give up before they can get a customer-service representative.

For those who get through to billing, the data they managed to give to the IVR are not passed through, so the CSR has to ask them for the same data again.

Those who don’t hang up are told that adjustments are made by the adjustments department. And those that don’t disconnect when the CSR transfers them and are asked for their data yet again. Works like a charm — less than .01 per cent of callers getting adjustments.

Excellent Hoskins. Smithers, what do you have?

Well, boss, we looked at billing for text messaging, and now that we list the date, time and billing code for every text message sent and received, we’ve managed to triple the size of our bills. This means we can sneak in two or three bogus messages in every bill, and the sheep, er, sorry, the consumers rarely notice. At 10 cents per message and 50 million customers, it adds up quick.

As Hoskins’ ploy is ensuring that most charges are never disputed, we’re looking at an extra income of around US$50 million per year.

Outstanding, Smithers! Bumsted, what’s happening with the Web site?

Well, boss, we’ve got a new scheme in place. We’ve made it pretty easy to get registered on the site and we push paperless billing like crazy. The trick is we don’t send out one in 500 e-mail notifications when bills are posted and then hit them with a late fee.

And with the process that Hoskins has created, we get maybe one out of 1,000 customers getting through to dispute the charges.

We’ve discovered most of these people accept the argument that their spam filters must have eaten the message, and we immediately credit them the late fee. That stops 99.99 per cent of them complaining to consumer advocacy watchdogs. But we don’t add it to the bill for two billing cycles, so that gives us their money for 30 to 45 days. That’s worth around $23 million a year.

We’ve also set up a service that lets our customers request warranty exchanges via the Web, but we force them to log out and back in on the pretext that we’re handing them from one secure system to another. Sure, we could tunnel them through, but doing it this way means that their inconvenience saves us a fortune in development, maintenance and bandwidth.

Oh, and when they get to the other site it never works (it is really a dummy — cool, eh?), and so we send them to customer service in India (front-ended with Hoskins’ IVR) which is way cheaper than the Web service. In addition, the 50 per cent who give up more than cover the cost of outsourcing by saving on warranty swaps.

Gentlemen, this is fantastic! We’re seeing real progress in both cost savings and revenue gains. Who knew that information security in a cell phone company could be so much fun!

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