Untangling the telephone lines

    Thereís nothing like a good catfight to get the old blood going. Feeling a little forlorn the other day, I decided to instigate a minor skirmish among the warring long-distance companies.
   It started with a call from Steven, an account representative from US Sprint, which is battling AT&T and MCI for supremacy of the telephone lines.
   "Would you be interested in cutting your long distance costs 20 percent or more?" he asked.
   Itís such a trick question. Of course Iím interested, but if I said that to every caller Iíd do nothing all day but listen to sales pitches.
   This was an exception, though. I had known Steven when he was just a little lad, many years ago. I hadnít heard from him in about 10 years, but he obviously got his job with Sprint by telling them he personally knew a small business owner who would consent to see him.
   So naturally, I was obligated to make an appointment.
   He came to my office and gave me the details of "Business Clout," the new service Sprint was selling that would save my company.
   It seemed my business would be grouped with larger businesses, allowing for volume discounts to be passed to me that would undercut any competitor.
   "Sounds great," I said. "Sign me up and go away."
   Steven was delighted. He faxed me the contract that same afternoon. Unfortunately, it included a detailed credit report that needed to be completed. The priority level suddenly dropped 20 notches.
   Meanwhile, Tom, an account representative for mighty AT&T, called.
   "Would you be interested in cutting your phone costs 20 percent?" asked Tom.
   "Sure," I replied. "But Iím about to sign on with Sprint."
   Let the games begin.
   "Why would you do that?" cried Tom. "No one can beat our rates and our service. Sprint doesnít even bill in increments. If you talk for a portion of a minute, youíre billed for the whole minute."
   "That is a blatant lie," said Steven when I relayed the information to him. "We bill in six-second increments just like AT&T. I donít know why he would say that. And weíre the most cost-effective."
   Rather than wait for MCI to call me, I called them, which was probably a first. "How do your rates compare to AT&T and Sprint?" I asked Frank, the account representative.
   Frank snorted. "Our ĎPrism Plusí program will save you up to 35 percent from AT&Tís rates. And weíre 2 to 3 percent less than any of Sprintís promotions."
   Only one more call to make Ė to my present carrier, Telenational. Theyíre a "re-seller" of long distance time, meaning they buy huge blocks at a discount from the larger carriers and re-sell it to us little guys.
    "Our ĎUltra Planí is, as far as I know, the least expensive on the market," said the representative.
   What a surprise.
   Someone, or rather almost everyone, was badly misinformed (to put it gently). I called them all back and reiterated their competitorís comments and then sat back and listened to the malicious retorts.
   My favorite was Tom at AT&T. Told that the little competitive pests were nipping at the mighty giantís heels (saying bad things), Tom arched his back and delivered a 10-minute diatribe about AT&Tís advantages.
   "Why, why, why," he stammered, searching for a thunderous close to his oration, "AT&T invented the telephone!!" That sold me. I signed up over the phone, no contract or credit report needed. Telenational was out, AT&T was in, just like that. Tomís enthusiasm was contagious, and the lack of paperwork was the closer.
   By the next day, however, I had second thoughts. Thoroughly confused over the multitude of plans and options, I called all four companies and simply asked how much it would cost for a 10.2 minute call from San Francisco to Cleveland during peak hours.
   Apparently, that is not a simple question. I had to swear that I would not be eligible for quantity discounts for calls to Cleveland (thank God) or a variety of other options that might cut costs.
   "No," I said. "Just a plain old 10.2 minute call to Cleveland."
   Answer: AT&T, $2.70; MCI, $2.60; Telenational $2.34; Sprint, $2.20.
   Reach out and switch someone.



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