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Talk is cheap but a cell phone isn't

Published March 27. 2010 09:00AM

You probably own a cell phone and, if so, you probably have a contract.

And if you're like most people, you're probably paying way too much.

With services such as unlimited calling, text messaging, plus taxes and other add-ons, a monthly cell phone bill can run from $80 to well over $100.

People are overpaying to talk on a cell phone. Many believe the high price is a rip-off. Worse yet, early contract termination penalties can run up to a few hundred dollars. Cell phone service shouldn't be so costly and that's one reason why Wal-Mart jumped into the cell business.

Wal-Mart offers unlimited calling and text for $45 a month, undercutting the competition by half. I jumped on the bandwagon as soon as the deal became available. But I kept my old AT&T phone just in case. Last week, after realizing that the Wal-Mart program has been working fine for months, I called AT&T to cancel my expensive contract, which had expired.

What I learned is that AT&T is on the warpath. Too many folks are doing what I did. AT&T didn't want to cancel my service. They didn't want to give up a monthly paying customer without a fight.

The AT&T customer service rep gave me such a hard time that I realized how serious this cell phone competition has become. It's outright war.

If you call to close out your AT&T service, understand that the real job of the customer service rep isn't to do that for you. His job is to do everything in his power to get you to stay on board.

He'll ask you a series of questions as to why you're leaving. All of those questions are none of his business, which is what I told him. But he refused to take no for answer.

We got into an argument. Forget thet old philosophy that says 'the customer is always right.' AT&T has an altogether different approach and it surprised me.

The rep pretended he was unaware of Wal-Mart's less expensive program. Then, a few minutes later, he admitted he knew about the Wal-Mart deal. He then tried to bash Wal-Mart and question my decision to switch.

"I just don't understand why you'd leave AT&T after being a loyal customer since 2006," he said.

I replied: "Well, I don't understand why AT&T would make me pay twice as much as Wal-Mart for the same phone service." He had no answer.

We then argued a bit more. Forget customer service, AT&T has declared war on those who jump ship. When he realized all hope was lost, he asked if AT&T somehow could assign my monthly bill to another person.

He urged: "Can we transfer your service to someone else in your household, or maybe a friend?" Our discussion had become frustrating and I was at wit's end.

"Sorry," I said. "I live alone and I have no friends." I told him my real name is Ebenezer.

He finally agreed to close out my account. "First I'll need to put you on hold for 3 to 5 minutes," he said. During that time, he apparently reported to a supervisor that he was unable to convince me to keep the program and was unable to transfer the monthly expense to another poor, unsuspecting sucker.

Finally, he came back and closed my account.

I decided to write about my experience because others might find it helpful. You can save money by shopping around for cell phone service. And there is no need to tie yourself into an expensive contract. But if you decide to switch, be ready for a fight with your current provider. It's a jungle out there.

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