Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The true value of valued customers

WHENEVER I GET a letter from a big company that begins, "Dear Valued Customer," I know that nothing good will happen after that. Usually I will find encrypted in thousands of words the fact that my charges will be going up - again. So if the company chooses to sweeten the message by informing you that its services are changing to greatly benefit you, don't fall for it. It's not about expanded services. It's about money.

Step 1: There are no better examples around than the companies that operate in the media industry. A recent communication from AT&T illustrates my agony in getting beyond the second paragraph to find out how much it will cost me. The company doesn't tell you in so many words. You'll have an opportunity to check it out when the next bill arrives. Even so, the bill is sliced into so many line items that I'm never sure what I'm paying for. But to be fair about it, I must ask: Isn't the company's motto, Rethink Possible ?

Like its many rivals, AT&T is finding exotic new ways to swell my bill. And they play a good hunch that since I'm not a teenager, I'll have a helluva time figuring out what all of the strange technical gibberish means. (It's been years since I received my Air Force orders, but it was so debilitating of my sense of the English language that it remains the standard for the kind of commercial stuff I get in the mail these days.)

Step 2. If I have any questions there is a number to call. God knows where it might reach a live agent these days. A recorded message courteously pleads for patience. Whether you call at daybreak or midnight, you must understand that the company's agents have been overwhelmed by assisting other callers in a moment of unusually heavy demand.

Step 3. What happens next leads me to believe that the phone traffic is moderate, but that it's terribly important for the company to seize the opportunity to fill so much dead time with commercials about how much they care about you while hiking your bill.

During one lengthy session this morning, I was electronically informed that AT&T U-verse allows me to view over 100,000 movie titles; that I can add a prestigious soccer channel for only $15 a month; that I can buy a "house wiring protection plan for only $5 a month; that by paying my bill with a paperless account I can save 1.8 million trees; etc. etc. etc. There was other stuff about "24 megabytes downstream" and something called smart phones (did I get that right?) After waiting 25 minutes, I hung up, totally defeated .

My next bill could be very interesting - even if I don't understand it.

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