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What you say may come back to haunt you

I love my new Rogers 3G Internet Stick (Novatel MC950D for you geeks). So much of my business depends on me having internet access, I felt limited always chasing down Wi-fi hotspots in order to get my mail, update my blog or douse wildfires between meetings. The Stick with my Eeepc 701 Netbook makes for a great anytime, anywhere combination.

Rogers had a great promotion in December ’08 where they offered the stick for free ($299 value) if I signed a one year contract. Although data rates in Canada are horrendous compared to the US, they have a flex rate package that is not too bad ($30 for 500MB, $35 for 1GB, then tiers up to 5GB/month for an absolute max of $100/month, resetting each month at the lowest tier). These rates are for anywhere in Canada – don’t even think about crossing the border unless you get a second mortgage.

Okay, now for the point of this post. Since I am already a Rogers customer for my cell phone (a Sony Ericsson W810i which I love), I was hoping to get the data package on the same account so I would not have to pay the bogus charges for 911 (50 cents a month) and the “system access fee” of $6.95/month extra. I went into the same store where I got my cell phone, and asked the salesman about putting the data account on the same as my phone account. “Of course” he said. When he printed out the contract, I saw the charges listed on it, which I pointed out again. He said that those charges will be waived. I crossed them out and initialed on my copy of the contract and his, and pointed it out a third time. I left thinking that I got a great deal.

So when I got my first bill I was just a bit surprised to see that I got dinged for the 911 and System Access Fee charges twice (once for my voice line, again for my data stick). Although I expected that I would have to pay, I still went to the store to point this out. They said there is nothing they can do. I apparently accepted the contract in its entirety and not I nor them could make changes. And since I’m past the 30 days cancellation period, I am now stuck for the whole year contract.

Now I understand where Rogers is coming from, being that the 3G stick has its own cell phone number, therefore triggering the 911 and system access fee charges even though you can’t make a voice call on it, and it is on the same bill as my voice line. So yes, they are right and I am wrong. But I still have to pay the bills, as I am reminded every month.

I can’t help getting a bit of this disgusting feeling that I got misled somewhat by the sales guy and therefore snookered by Rogers. Even though I love the service and depend on it for my business, it leaves a bit of a bad taste in my mouth. Millions of dollars of advertising and marketing, wiped out because one employee didn’t pay enough attention to what was said.

The problem is that Rogers just lost a bit of my loyalty and goodwill. And the competition is no better, whether it be Bell or Telus or any of the branded networks (Koodo, Virgin, etc). And no matter how hard they try, my respect for them has eroded.

In a big corporation, where’s the accountability? The sales guy got his commission, and he figured he would never see me again in person (why would I go back if everything is fine?). The corporation has me locked into a contract, so they’re happy. What am I going to do, sue over $84 dollars a year? If the sales clerk had simply explained the situation up front, and not made a promise he could not keep, I would still have signed up for the service (it’s that cool), and the goodwill would have stayed intact.

The cell phone business is brutal, and I would not want to be working in it. There is no customer loyalty, because the pricing structure of the whole cell phone is warped, with great free offers to get you on board but nothing to thank me for being a reliable customer for ten years or more because you are a captive for the life of the contract. The big corps have more loyalty to shareholders and executives than they do to the customer paying the bills.

The big advantage that we as solos have is that when a client talks to us, they’re talking to the boss. We can create that personal connection. Our word is our bond, and you can be sure that your client will take you literally. Especially now with the integrity breaches and trust violations that have poisoned people’s perception of business, real connection is a rare and valuable resource.

Remember that whatever you say, whatever you promise, people will remember to the letter, no matter what is in the written contract. If you are not sure, check it out. Always underpromise and overdeliver. And if you think you’ve given too much, give even more. There’s no such thing as too much chocolate.

Call me naive, but Rogers (and that cell phone store) went from a business that I would enthusiastically refer to others, to just another “meh”. And that’s too bad, because the need for businesses we can believe in has never been greater.

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