Or, how to not appreciate your existing customers.
Back in April of 2001, I was preparing to start work at Netscape. I’d be working from home, so I needed high-speed access, and DSL was my best option. Eventually, I decided on Earthlink. It took a bit of effort, as there were some physical problems along the line to my house, but they got worked out and once the line was provisioned (whatever that means), I was up and running. Nice speed, too.
So last week, I decided to find out how my rate—unchanged since I started almost seven years ago—stacked up to current rates. It turns out I was a bit high, paying $49.95 a month for a service that would cost a new customer $34.95 a month, once their introductory monthly rates lapsed. And I noticed that doubling my speed should cost $39.95 a month.
So I called up Earthlink to get my rates (both data speed and monthly fee) adjusted. Guess what happened? Yep: roadblocks. First I was told that those were rates for new customers. I pushed back, and was told that because I’d been a customer for so long, they were willing to adjust my rate to $39.95. For the doubled speed? Oh, no, for my existing speed. If I wanted to go to the higher rate, it would be $54.95 a month.
My pointing out that this was grossly out of line with their current rates had no effect. I assured them that I was more than willing to skip the introductory rates and just go to the base rates. Didn’t help. I could pay $39.95 a month for a service that should cost $5 less, or upgrade to the better service at a rate $25 higher than it should be.
Annoyed, I hung up and resolved to take my business elsewhere, as I’d warned them would be likely. I did some digging and discovered that AT&T/Yahoo! DSL would cost $34.99 a month for twice the data rate I’d been getting at Earthlink with no term requirements—I’m not locked into it by an initial contract. I like that. I called them to find out how long it would take, and found out that DSL service has come a long way in seven years. They provisioned the line remotely in three days, not the three weeks it took local technicians back in ’01.
So I’m up and running at 6M/768k in three days with no fuss and no term obligations, and best of all, my monthly cost has dropped $15.
Of course, when I called up Earthlink to cancel, they were suddenly able to offer me the rates I’d asked for before, plus they’d even throw in a month for free. Too late, I told them. I’d already tried and failed to get the regular current rates, and I’d invested the time and energy to find an alternative. I wasn’t going to walk away from that just because they had belatedly decided to play fair.
It still amazes me that companies haven’t figured out that customers will make tracks if they’re treated badly. And given the ease with which service can be established these days, if my new provider causes me trouble… well, I can always go elsewhere. Or even go back.