January 31, 2006
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T-Mobile and the Specious Bill

Linda noticed that my bill from T-Mobile -- the American repackaging of Deutsche Telecom -- had some curious charges. $7.96, to be exact, for downloading ring tones like "Fresh Azimiz by Bow Wow S". Now, I don't know much about Azimiz but I'm pretty sure that's not what I was doing at 4PM January 3. So I called to inquire.

They were happy to remove the charges this once as a courtesy, but insisted that the tones had been downloaded into my mobile phone. Or, not my mobile phone, a Treo which can't download these tones. Their theory is that someone took the SIM out of my phone, put it into a Motorola phone, spent 20 minutes downloading ring tones, and then surreptitiously returned the SIM to my phone. In any case, they were simply being nice -- and did not intend to extend this courtesy again.

My theory is that they made a billing error.

Unfortunately, three consecutive agents insisted that a billing error was inconceivable. Two implied I was lying.

Finally, "Kenneth" said the right and obvious things:

Do the math. If I'm a liar trying to beat T-Mobile out of some ring tones, or if my (non-existent) kids swiped the chip out of my phone, they're giving up the marginal profit on the ring tones and retaining a customer that will cost them ten or twenty times that cost to acquire. If I'm not a liar, they're not losing the marginal profit, they'll still need to acquire a new customer, and they risk blowback ranging from bad word-of-mouth to correspondence with regulatory agencies. There is no percentage in playing the cards as T-Mobile played them.

I'm a nifty wireless customer -- I pay for a bunch of minutes and seldom use them, I've had the same plan in place for three years, and I've encouraged a bunch of people to buy Treos. I'm expensive to replace.

And they were going to have to find a replacement because their call center people couldn't do the math.