Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Cell phone coup

Back in April, I explained why I hated my cell phone bill. Then I said:

Based on the above information, my ideal phone plan would have fewer daytime minutes, include text messaging, and be a lot cheaper than $60/month. Ideally, both Jeremy and I would have a cell phone (but one or both could be prepaid). Do you think that such a thing exists, somewhere out there, in some combination?

After a lot of research, we realized that Google Voice, a pre-paid cell phone, and a landline just wouldn't work for us. Jeremy is not in his office eight hours a day. He has office hours on different days at different times, and is often in the classroom teaching. Thus, we couldn't rely on his office phone as a part of our communication plan. Pre-paid cell phones are shockingly expensive if you plan on using them for anything other than the rare urgent or unplanned call. Most of the plans we looked at were $1/day for any day you used the phone, and 10 - 15 cents per minute after that. Good for emergencies, not so good if you actually plan on using it. Still it might have worked out if we got a landline to rely on, but landlines in Ithaca are $30/month. The service did include unlimited nationwide calling (I'm glad phone companies have given up sustaining the myth that long-distance calls cost substantially more than local ones), but it was still basically a cell phone tethered to the wall. Not practical. It might be well and good to have a landline, but if I could never call Jeremy with it for fear of incurring another $30+ per month, what was the use?

So we were right back where we started: feeling like we paid too much for our T-Mobile 700 shared minutes family plan. The only thing working in our favor was that our contract was up, and we were free to shop around at different carriers. It quickly came down to Verizon vs. T-Mobile.

Here's what happened when I walked into Verizon. Actually, the only time we actually got to speak with a Verizon employee was on our third visit. The first two we waited for probably 45 minutes without even hardly being acknowledged.

Anyway, I explained the situation to the Verizon girl, being sure to include the information that T-Mobile's plan was $10/month cheaper, and they had told us they were willing to give us good phones for renewing our contract. Could Verizon do anything to court our business? Basically, she told me that I'd be better off with T-Mobile. Seriously! She didn't even try.

But T-Mobile didn't have to know that. I called them and held over the heads the fact that we were free to take our business elsewhere, and that Verizon specifically had a corporate discount worked out with Cornell that would bring their plan down to a comparable price with T-Mobile. After a very long conversation with a T-Mobile representative who did everything in her power to keep us as customers - and some things that were probably out of her power, too, but she did them anyway - we worked out a great deal. For various reasons, I couldn't finish the sign-up process right at that moment, so I told her I'd have to call back. Before I hung up, though, I had her note everything she had promised me on the account so that no one at T-Mobile could deny it later.

When I did call back, and told T-Mobile that we'd been offered: our same family plan at the same price, with unlimited text messaging thrown in for $10/month (usually something like $20/month), with a free T-Mobile @Home router, and new phones for a very discounted price, AND a corporate discount for Cornell, which brought the price down to less than we paid before - the employee could hardly believe me. But it was all there on the account.

And yesterday we got the bill and it really is true, we really did get all that. So now we pay a few dollars less per month than we did before, and we have new phones and unlimited text messaging, and faster wireless at home.

This experience illustrates two things:

1. It is always fun to bargain when you really don't want any specific outcome. It was easy to tell Verizon that I would walk out the door and sign up with T-Mobile, because I really would (and did). Similarly, it was easy to tell T-Mobile that Verizon had some good options for us that we weren't afraid to take. Bargaining gets uncomfortable for me only when I have a real stake in a certain option.

2. T-Mobile really went the extra mile to keep us as their customers. I haven't always had super customer service from them, but in this situation, they were really stellar. Specifically, one of their employees worked really hard to find the Cornell discount. It wasn't listed in their records under Cornell, or even under universities. But the employee wasn't willing to give up. She physically got up from her desk and walked to a different department to check with someone in their corporate accounts division who would know where to find it. And she did!

Needless to say, I'm feeling a little bit better about that bill I used to hate. It may not be less than $60, like I wanted, but it almost is, and I did get that text messaging I wanted. Hooray!


Crys said...

I feel like all those years in the middle east have served you well! You are my bargaining hero!

Lu&Moo said...

I wish I had bargaining power--we only have one option for cell phone service.

Question: do you plan out what you're going to say before you call, or do you ad lib? Maybe a little of both? I know some people who are deathly afraid of making phone calls...I'm trying to guess where you fall on the spectrum.

Bridget said...

Crys, the ME gave me plenty of practice.

Lu, I am deathly afraid of the phone. But when making a phone call can get me a deal, it helps. I never plan out what I'm going to say. In this case, I just knew I was going to ask T-Mobile what they could do to keep us as customers.

Susanne said...

You are amazing! Glad it worked out for you!


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