Integrity Matters
June 30, 2004

Cellular phone service can lead to confusion

Question: (E-123)

Dear Jim:

It seems that retail sellers have come to rely increasingly on the use of intentional customer deception as an integral part of marketing strategy. For instance the cellular phone business offers of numerous similar services at varying prices under different conditions are bundled together in complex ways then sold under multi-year contract. Can there be any cellular users who have not gotten "surprises" on their billings due to incomplete understanding of the complexities of their cellular service -- and then found the customer service to be just too time-consuming to be practical for recovering small costs? Everything they are doing is legal of course but smells a bit like the docks at Monterey Bay after the fishing boats arrive. Caveat emptor is always good advice, but do you think it is ethical for sellers to design and sell services with the specific intention of outsmarting their buyers?


We live in a world that makes obvious that we cannot afford to treat one another shabbily. Mistakes are made. Apologies are appropriate. Relationships need to be nurtured to sustain them and healed when problems arise. The very same process applies to business practices. You have described shabby treatment by one industry. Even though laws may not have been broken, trust and confidence have been damaged.

Your description of the marketing of certain cellular services should be an embarrassment to those who lead such enterprises. Of course what they are doing is deceptive, and it lacks integrity. Until and unless this industry regulates itself, the pressures will build to the point where society will have had enough. Selling techniques such as you described are frighteningly similar to the incessant phone calling that interrupted our early evenings and created a groundswell of negative reactions forcing the "Do Not Call Registry" listing that reshaped the telemarketing industry.

Citizens will, once again, reach the point of understandable frustration and demand actions by their elected representatives.

Committees will be formed, and investigations will likely lead to stringent and perhaps even counterproductive legislation.

How sad for free markets and for the purchasing public. Those business operators who have "played fairly" will be slapped with the same controlling hand that was designed only for those who created the problem.

A smart competitor in this cellular services industry would see this as a positive opportunity. The integrity-centered operator would engage in "carpe diem" and seize this moment to promote a straightforward and honest approach. Customers would flock to those who would say (and then implement) a "here is what you get plan" with no extra costs. Hopefully, the integrity message will come through and confirm that yes, integrity matters -- and it pays.

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