Paying the price for fairness

Rupert Goodwins
Written by Rupert Goodwins

Last week, I got an anguished call from a friend. She’d just got her mobile phone bill, and it was ten times higher than she was expecting. Blood was spat. Two days later, another friend had the same experience. In both cases, the bill was comfortably into three digits for a month. Neither pal was naive or inexperienced in the dark ways of telcos. Both felt – justifiably – that they’d been ambushed; one by a new contract with complex bundling rules, the other by an un-promoted change in how international calls were charged.

What really got them – and me – was the telco response: “Tough”. Not just to the complaints that they’d been sandbagged, but to any request that they could set a cap, or be warned about reaching a limit, or even – shock, horror – be able to monitor what they were being charged. The rule is caveat emptor – let the buyer beware – but with the added twist that it’s difficult or impossible to find out what you’re being charged. If you or I tried it, we’d be banged up. Telcos take it as a God-given right.

“It’s not as if any other operator is any better”, moaned one friend. “I’ll move somewhere else when my contract is, up, because I hate this bunch with an absolute passion, but I know it won’t make any difference.”

Readers with a long memory will recognise the old saying “We’re the telephone company. We don’t care. We don’t have to.” from the days of the state monopoly. Competition was supposed to solve this, but toothless regulation (yes you, Ofcom) and consolidation in the market has practically removed that.

The result: customers love mobile phones and hate mobile phone operators. Actual, tangible, volcanic hatred. I too have that, not least because of the number of times executives have openly boasted to me how they get away with murder and don’t even have to hide the bodies.

This leaves mobile payment companies in a hard place, both from the temptation to emulate the telcos and operate as spivs, and from the realisation that even if they do run an impeccably customer-centred operation dedicated to delivering true value at a fair price, that ingrained customer distrust will poison their image anyway.

The answer is also twofold. First – of course – take the high ground and be a good company. Make your profits, but do so honestly and openly. Having done that and created an industry where respect and value are obvious, turn on the telcos. Add your voice to the clamour to get decent regulation in place – capping mechanisms, transparent pricing, instant and automated reporting of billing. The sort of ground rules that shut down gangsterism.

Because if mobile payment companies can operate under self-imposed codes of conduct that return fairness to the customer experience, then so can the telcos. The trust of the customer is the one surefire guarantee of long-term corporate success: it may seem unfair that the mobile payment industry has to reform two industries to get it, but as any sort of life experience will tell you, that’s the way of the world. If you want fairness from telcos, you’re going to have to fight like a dog.


photo credit: El Productor: La verdad sobre un rol distorsionado via photopin (license)

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Rupert Goodwins

Rupert Goodwins