Rarely does anything surprise me in the wireless industry, with companies changing their pricing on what seems to be a regular basis in an attempt to one-up its competitors. So, when I heard that AT&T was doing a reversal of sorts, I was a bit surprised. Consumerist ran an interesting story a few days ago about an AT&T customer that wanted to add her 25 percent business discount to her wireless account. We all like discounts, and in a recessionary economy, every penny counts.
So, the customer called into AT&T's customer care department. While the company couldn't add it for her without proof of employment, they offered to walk her through the process of submitting her work e-mail address on AT&T's business discount page. Admitting that her company didn't provide her with an e-mail address, the customer representative recommended that she visit a store, where they could add it for her. Fair enough, she thought. She went into the store on a Friday, attempting to add her discount, and the following is what happened:
"I called on Wednesday, and went to the store on Friday. I know they will want employment verification so I bring my name badge, photo id, the paper with the discount code. Go in and the man at the desk goes about setting me up. Then he says this "There is an activation fee of $36 to add this discount to your account."
I look at him shocked. I asked how long they were doing this for, the answer, it started just this week. He was unsure of his words, and seemed like he anticipated my reaction.
I asked "what?! Are you becoming an airline? You want to charge me for a discount, why? Is it because AT&T thinks they lose money on a discount?" He responds with "No, they don't think that". In shock I say "so what you are saying is I won't actually get my discount for 3 months, my discount comes to be about $12 (this was rough calculation in my head on the spot), so it will take 3 months for me to see any discount for my phone."
Despite my personal shock, I realize that you can approach this two ways: defending it and challenging it. Let's argue both for a moment. From a defense perspective, one could argue that the fee is no different than a membership fee, or the little coupon books that schools peddle every year. You pay up front for discounts in the future. In the case above, though she has to pay $36 to activate the discount, she'll start seeing the benefits after three months. Add in her approximate savings of $12 per month over the 21 month agreement (since three months go to recouping the fee), and you get a total of $252 in savings. Certainly not as appealing as $288 (full discount, no fee), but it's a discount nonetheless. In the end, she called customer service after adding the discount, and was able to get the fee waived.
But, why pay a fee to get a discount, especially when other carriers give you the same thing for free? With AT&T's lack of offering anything competitive (and no AT&T, your "Rollover" feature is NOT competitive - if you're getting Rollover minutes you're paying for minutes you don't need) compared to Verizon's Friends & Family, T-Mobile's myFaves, and Sprint's Simply Everything plan, I don't understand where they get the audacity to add additional fees. If anything, they should be working to make their offering(s) more competitive in relation to the other carriers. Unfortunately, I have a feeling that they believe their possession of the iPhone, combined with the brand awareness of the AT&T name, will keep customers from defecting.
All of this leads me to the most important part: what do you, as consumers, think of the charge? Is it a perfectly acceptable fee, or a worthy reason to leave the company? Sound off here, or shoot me a tweet!