Shortly before Christmas, I accompanied a friend of mine to a local Bell Telephone dealership to see about getting her an Apple iPhone and 3G, high-speed cellular service.
My role in the business was twofold: To serve as consulting technology nerd to help her understand the use and operation of an iPhone, and as a second brain to sort through the advantages and disadvantages of Bell’s various 3G service plans.
As it transpired, the techno part of my assignment was a no-brainer: Given her needs and usage habits, I could quickly tell her that what she wanted was a 16 GB iPhone, and identified several on-board or downloadable applications she would most commonly use.
The assignment’s tough part was the logical part – in other words, understanding the logic of the iPhone plans on offer, which, frankly, made no sense at all, and one of which proved the deal-breaker for my friend.
First, let me say I will avoid naming the Bell dealership we were dealing with, since my beef is with Bell, not a local business operating as its agent.
The young woman at the store in question was personable, professional, courteous and clearly enthusiastic about 3G service and the iPhone – just who you want at the point of sale in any business.
Her inability to close the deal was not due to any deficiency on her part; it was because the deal offered my friend was not really a deal at all – it was more an insult to her intelligence.
This friend has been a Bell customer for several years, and continues to pay on an old cell plan, the terms of which expired several years ago.
Over that time she has acquired, through several Bell bonus offerings, I think, a $200 credit on that account.
Since her cellphone is now getting old, crotchety and out of date, the advent of 3G service in Whitehorse seemed an opportune time to upgrade her phone and plan.
All the ads announced you could get a 16 GB iPhone (regular price $499) for $199 if you agreed to a three-year service agreement at plans ranging from $45 to $95 a month.
My friend’s intention was to ferret out the best service plan (which turned out to be the next-from-the-bottom $55 a month one), and then spend down her $200 credit to buy the iPhone.
The young woman at the counter confirmed my friend’s credit, and we started the paperwork to open the new account.
It looked a pretty straitforward deal for both parties: My friend got a new, improved telephone and service plan and the telco would gain about $15 a month, since her previous monthly payments were around $40.
Then things came unglued when the clerk explained my friend would have to pay the $199 for the iPhone.
Why? She had a $200 credit.
Could she get the phone without the three-year plan?
Nope. You have to have the three-year plan.
So, a new customer can get a phone for $199 if they sign up for a three-year plan. An existing customer with an exemplary record can get the same deal, but they can’t use their bell credits.
So there’s no benefit to longtime customers with a good history with the company.
My friend’s $200 credit is a gift to her from Bel Tel for eternity because she can never use it for anything.
Being a reasonable woman, my friend was more than a little disillusioned and miffed by this situation, and we left the store empty handed.
I had, in fact, been considering signing up for the same deal – though at a slightly higher monthly rate, since I am a more heavy data user. I thought the better of it, though, at least for the moment, since I did not want to weaken my friend’s position as an aggrieved customer.
I am not saying I refuse to sign up for the Bell service on the basis of this one miscue; but I am saying it made me hold my fire about committing myself for three years to a company that appears to place such small value on customer loyalty.
Maybe the Bell people should get their act together in the customer service department so a perfectly good salesperson like the young woman in question is not left with such a logically and ethically unsupportable deal to offer.
Rick Steele is a technology junkie
who lives in Whitehorse.