Thursday, September 16, 2010

The New One-Armed Bandits

Business owners hate it when new expenses crop up. The biggest one for many entrepreneurs is the monthly mobile phone bill.

A few years ago, nobody paid a dime for cell phones, let alone smart phone service. Now, many businesses are finding that they must issue BlackBerrys - or at least mobiles - to all their employees. Yes, they do great things and help improve communications and productivity, but they often add a big chunk to the expense column.

This week, I interview a cellular phone expert about how small businesses should manage their cell phone plans and audit their bills.

In the course of researching the column, my own cell phone bill came up. Mindy, the expert, said that my per-unit cost (take your total expense and divide by the number of mobile phone lines you have) was pretty reasonable.

In digging deeper, however, she noted that I wasn't using the full minutes on the plan I had, and could probably downgrade to a less-expensive plan without going over the usage limit. She also advised that I cancel a video-streaming service that I wasn't using, but that was costing me $15/month.

Mindy's recommendations got me thinking. I got out my land line bill and looked it over, only to find that I was still paying for call waiting and line insurance on my home phone, which almost never rings these days. In fact, we'd been thinking about dropping it altogether.

My son, who is honing his negotiating skills for a possible job in business, got on the telephone. Verizon tried to talk us out of downgrading our plan, but he held firm and saved us $25/month. AT&T, whose customer service reps are not likely to be on commission (as Verizon's are), not only happily revoked the services we weren't using, but they also recommended a new long-distance plan that will provide unlimited calls at less monthly cost.

Cha-ching! Another $20 in monthly savings. What's the lesson here? Whether you run a small business, are self-employed or are just looking to reduce your household budget, take a few minutes to look over the little things. You can't do it all at once, so maybe this month comb through your phone bills. Next month, see if there's room to save somewhere else.

In this economy, every little bit counts.


  1. I keep meaning to do this with my phone bill but I don't know what each item is. This means I have to call AT&T and have them go over it with me. I suppose it'll be worth it in the long run, but I seriously dread calling customer service at any large corporation. Just getting through the phone droid to a human being is such a miserable experience.

  2. Yes, that's the problem, Petrea. And I have no doubt that the companies' lack of transparency increases their bottom lines, which is why they don't remedy the situation.

  3. I wonder. We just received a letter from AT&T telling us how hard they're working to put in new service, new cell towers, new capacity. There was no come-on, no offer. Just a letter.

    To me this reeks of two possibilities: either they're losing business for some reason or Verizon's about to get the iPhone.

    Either way, lately I've been noticing that businesses have forgotten that business is about selling something of value to a customer who has the money to purchase it. They're all running scared, worrying about their bottom lines and leaving their customers out of the equation. I'm particularly sick of phone droids.

    I've noticed this lack of service at banks, doctors' offices, the phone company, department stores, etc. "Sorry we can't help you, we're worried about our bottom line."

    The businesses who haven't forgotten me are the ones I haven't dumped. We shall see how AT&T treats me when I call. I have no particular loyalty to them, and would be happy to give Verizon a try.

  4. Yes, customer service has suffered miserably in recent years, I agree. In fact, this is an area where small businesses can really differentiate themselves with customers.

    In terms of AT&T, the cell phone expert told me that iPhone users in SoCal complain a lot about poor service, dropped calls, etc. That lack may be depressing their sales here, which is why they sent out that letter.

    She also told me that Verizon has the best service, T-Mobile is a close second and none of the others provide anything better in terms of deals/coverage. Interesting.