So many seams: Smoothing out CEM

By: Tim Young

Confession time: I have never been happy with my cell phone provider.


In the couple of decades that I’ve had a mobile phone, I’ve had service through at least five different providers, sometimes churning away from one CSP and eventually looping back years later, hopeful that any issues from before had been resolved. “This time will be different,” I say.

And it never is.

I’ll admit that, like most other modern wireless customers, I have high expectations. And in some ways, those expectations have been met or exceeded over the years! My calls are almost never dropped. The quality of my connection is almost always clear. I get a signal almost everywhere I go (and am secretly happy that there are still a few places out in the hinterlands where I get zero bars, for the sake of an occasional quiet vacation). My handset does incredible things, and even with one of the higher-cost carriers, I think there’s a good bit of value for the money I spend.

So what’s my complaint? What more could I want?

Second confession: I hate playing the game. I hate haggling. That’s true for used cars, cell phones, or flea market pots and pans. I’ll go down the rabbit hole of coupon codes and special offers and all that jazz, but the more hoops I have to jump through, the less happy I am about the whole interaction.

I want a reasonable deal and am willing to pay a reasonable price for it. I like offers to be consistent and hate having to escalate, escalate, escalate to get the better deal that I know exists. I don’t always need the best deal, even. But when I know that the system contains lots of opportunity for savings, I’d be a chump to pay full freight.

And almost every interaction I’ve had with a wireless provider makes me feel like I’m right on the edge of being a big ol’ chump.

I renewed my mobile plan last summer. Two smartphones, unlimited plan, with a perfectly attractive monthly bill, from my CSP’s point of view. I went into the provider’s retail location around the corner from my house, and a teenager with her feet up on the desk (and no shoes on) offered me a terrible deal. So I went online and got a different, but still pretty rotten, deal. So I called the provider and got yet another offer for a still-not-great deal.

Then I went to the Apple Store and walked out with two iPhones for next-to-nothing and an extension of the plan I was already happy with. The whole thing took 15 minutes.

In the end, sure, my provider gets my money, but they don’t get my loyalty. My loyalty goes to the company with the knowledgeable customer service rep who whisked me through the process in no time and sent me on my way with the hardware I wanted for a very low out-of-pocket cost. I’m much more likely to switch providers than I am to switch handsets, because nothing about my positive customer experience had a thing to do with my CSP.


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