DBTG who… is a mobile phone company

Another blog entry from the freshly filled basket of low-hanging fruit, but I’m having the sort of week where sleep and fun are things that other people do and the days go slower than my current DIY projects.  Plus it has been raining quite a lot recently and that is totally killing my buzz.  So I reserve the right not to apologise for writing about something highly non-controversial in the “things that make you swear in public” category.

I am currently preparing to go to war.  My wife has a hilariously over-priced phone contract which was (mis) sold to her 2 years ago by some jackass in a shop who inevitably used the words “this is eeezily the best contract you can get, isn’t it?” at some point during the “negotiations”.  Rhetorical question or not, the answer to his question is “no!”, or possibly “fuck off!”, but she didn’t know that at the time and here we are.  Wary of reproducing this scenario, the negotiation of a new contract has fallen to me. 

I will not be visiting a high street shop to listen to a man-child mangle the English language while wearing a black shirt (collar at least 3 inches wider than his neck) and a purple tie (stupid fat knot: non-optional).  I don’t know what it is about working in a phone shop that so gravely distorts your understanding of dress sense and style and class and hell, dignity, but I made a promise to myself a few years ago to never wear a black shirt with a colourful tie just in case people mistake me for an employee of these places.  I also don’t know how there can be so many different brands in the marketplace, and yet they all have the same uniform?  Asda and Tescos make their staff dress up in different colour fleeces, presumably so you don’t forget where you are, and phone shops could learn a thing or two from their example of brand identification.  The other problems with phone shops are that I have to get up to visit them (always a hassle), there will probably be other people there (all of whom I hate) and if they piss me off I can’t hang up on them.

Instead, I made a call to t-mobile today.  I am already a customer of theirs, and it shouldn’t be too hard to get a second phone added to my bill, at a rate in line with that I am already paying, right?  Hahaha, of course not.  In fact, I had trouble even getting to speak to someone..

There is a massive problem with data protection that I have only recently noticed.  Companies that do business over the phone (or internet) are rightly very nervous about giving someone access to the wrong person’s information.  A couple of years ago I called easyjet pretending to be my father and changed the name on one of his boarding passes (if that is a crime, please assume this is a hypothetical story).  I did this with good intentions, because he had miss-spelt my wife’s surname when booking the flights, and because if he had called them himself he would have lost his temper and no doubt incurred some sort of anger management surplus fee.  The fact that he didn’t know I had done it until after the fact only makes it a better example, because you can imagine his reaction if I’d chosen to also change his name to Mr Shit-Speller while I was there.  I don’t really recall how I was able to talk my way into the easyjet booking system, but I remember it being fucking simple as anything back then.

Today, that is not the case (at least with t-mobile).  So allergic are they to the risk of data theft that the second question I was asked (after my name) was my password.  I have a real problem with this.  At the time of the call, I was in a busy office, surrounded by co-workers who are all nosy little turds.  I don’t distrust them specifically, but reading my password aloud in a busy room doesn’t seem like a smart move.  My bank asks me for several letters from my password, which is a huge improvement because listening to me spelling out “W-A-N-G” shouldn’t give any listeners-in any great insight into what my password might be (though who knows what they are assuming).

I don’t know why t-mobile thinks that getting me to shout my password out loud is somehow going to help me keep it private, but they’re obviously wrong.  The other problem here is that I know for absolute certain that the person I am talking to already knows what my password is (otherwise how would they know it is correct?).  I also know they are a low-paid call centre worker, and not statistically the most trustworthy person in the world (though I have no specific problem with their honesty).  I don’t quite know what I expect them to do with the information, but it makes me feel uneasy.  It probably isn’t logical to trust an electronic database to hold my password safe but not a human being (both have been known to divulge secrets throughout history), but there you go.

Ultimately, this second reason isn’t one I can fight and that is why I will give in and answer their “security” questions when I get home tonight and can make the call in relative privacy.  But gaining access to my account and the ability to discuss it with someone is only the first battle in this particular war.  We all know that I will have to negotiate, then threaten to leave and climb up a long-winded ladder of escalated “retention experts” until I reach the rung that will offer me something acceptable.  Only then can I consider this fight won.

I hate that we have to do this.  We both know that I don’t want to leave, and we also know that I am highly unlikely to accept the first offer tabled by them.  Once, a younger version of me dreamt up the shocking idea of a, wait-for-it: honest & transparent mobile phone company.  The premise was simple.  My company (OliCorp) would sign you up on one of a handful, maybe 3-4, of monthly contracts, depending on your expected usage.  No requirement to select top-ups and boosters and free calls to your mum – keep it simple.  The contracts would be overpriced by OliCorp, a fact that we would be totally upfront about.  The reason being that we had to make sure we were covering unforeseen costs, like if you make a lot of phone calls and suddenly the price of electricity spikes and we have to pay a big bill to route them all, or the help desk in India gets unionised or something.  But assuming we don’t come up against any problems, we would rebate the excess profits we make back to the customers in a fair and timely manner, so that OliCorp only ever makes a 15% profit margin.  And we would be totally transparent about how this is done and everyone would be confident that we are making money (because we work hard at OliCorp) at a reasonable margin and not utterly shafting our customer base in the process.  I was fairly confident that people would buy-in to the idea (maybe not investors so much).  Capitalist it is not, but it never pretended to be so.

Sadly, I lacked the a) capital, b) experience, c) energy to do any more than simply dream about this plan.  But I still think it would work, and as a gift to the world, I offer this business plan, free of charge and copyright, to anyone who reads it and has the above list of requirements.  If you wish to offer me a well-paid job or some other recompense, that would be great, but not necessary.  I will be the first customer to sign up regardless.


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