Or why I hate companies that treat their existing customers like crap.
Recently, my wife's cell phone died. She stopped by the Bell World store to see what her options were. The store associate noted that my wife was eligible for a 'hardware upgrade' and that it would just be better to get a new phone (imagine that). My wife was not happy with that response and was suspicious that the phone would die just as she became eligible for a new phone. I agreed with my wife that it was suspicious, but I reminded her that she needs a cell phone for work. Since I use my cell phone occasionally, I let her borrow it until she got a new phone.
My wife is a busy person, so I decided to stop by the Bell World store and check out the available phones. I found a LG 6200 flip phone that was little bigger than her previous cell phone, had a camera and an external/internal color display. The phone was $29.99 with a three-year contract. I also purchased the extended warranty and a 'value pack' that consisted of a car charger, case and hands free kit. By purchasing those things, the hardware upgrade in-store fee of $15.00 was waived. I paid for the phone and brought it home.
I showed the phone to my wife and she was excited. She liked the size - she found her previous phone a little too small. She also liked that I got her the accessory pack and the extended warranty (which includes a free loaner). Extra costs but she was happy. The existing rate plan was retained save and except for the Mobile Browser I added to her account.
A month later and I view the bill online. Hey, what is this "Hardware Change Processing Fee" of $20.00 on my bill? Wait a minute. The Bell World associate said that the hardware upgrade fee was waived. A quick call to Bell Mobility and I learn that the fee that was waived was the store fee for 'programming' the phone. The customer service rep did not explain what the fee on my bill was for. I said that was unacceptable. No one mentioned that I would be subject to another hardware upgrade fee. I never authorized it. I asked to speak to a manager, and naturally, none were 'around'. The rep took my number and supposedly sent a form to her supervisor/manager.
I began thinking about these hardware upgrade fees. If the fee in the store was not waived, I would have paid $35 total in hardware upgrade fees just for buying a new phone on an existing account. So my $29.95 phone would have been a $64.95 phone (plus tax). But that $35 figure sure does sound familiar. Yup, it does. It's the 'one-time' fee you pay if you are a new customer: the good old 'account setup fee'. So Bell has managed to mutate the one-time fee into an every 24 to 36 months fee. Of course, Bell will argue that these are all different fees, but I can see through the facade.
Look, Bell is a company, and companies can charge whatever they want for the goods and services the provide. That said, I have two problems with Bell.
One, they nickel and dime you on top of that low price. They advertise one price but when you add things like an account setup fee, a hardware upgrade fee (or two) or a monthly system access fee, the true cost is much different. That $0 or $29.95 phone becomes a $35 or $64.95 phone. that monthly $20 charge becomes a $28.95 monthly charge. Advertise one inclusive price. Don't use small print to tell the truth.
Two, they do not take a proactive approach to retain existing customers. For the $35 in hardware upgrade fees, I could have gone to Telus or Rogers and tried out their service for the next two years. I probably would have received some bonuses like free messaging, additional minutes, etc. for signing up as a new customer. I did get one month's free of Mobile Browser. Wow, after being a customer for over three years with two cell phones, my loyalty is worth a measly eight or nine dollars. A new customer can get three or six months free of an optional service. I get one month. Thanks.