Monday, August 1, 2011

Consequential Fine Print

Before the Digital Age that we have become accustomed to today, things were simple.
When you wanted to talk to people, you called them—that was it. The person only had one number, and if they were home, you got to talk to them... if they weren’t, well, you tried later. There were no cell numbers, tweets, facebook walls, emails, or voicemails. Simple.
If you wanted to relax and watch television, you would turn it on, set the volume, find a channel you liked (pretty much from a choice of about thirteen), and sit down. Simple.
To keep in contact with distant friends or relatives, you picked up a pen, grabbed some paper, wrote a letter, folded it, stuffed it in an envelope, addressed the envelope, put a stamp on it, and dropped it in the mailbox. Simple.
You had only one choice for your phone company... only one choice for your cable company... and only one choice for mail service. Very simple.
And then the Digital Age was born. Services started opening up to competition. Technology grew faster than most of us could keep up with, and before we knew it, your friends now have a half-dozen different ways for you to get in touch with them; your choice for television channels grew into triple digits; and even something as simple as the mail changed... one street address turned into multiple email addresses.
We quickly grew from a simple system into something way more complex (and confusing) then most people even realize.
In what felt like an overnight explosion, many different companies offering a vast range of phone, television, and internet services surfaced. Each one fighting for your business, and many offering so many choices that the average person becomes overwhelmed and is often blindly fooled into a package that he or she doesn’t really need, want, or can really afford.
My problem is with the companies that advertise every day and in every possible medium. You’ll see full-page ads in the local papers (sometimes multiple adds on different pages), prime-time commercials on all the local channels, billboards, and mail-outs—all on top of the annoying dinner-time solicitations on my home phone or my cellphone (or often both)... “no, I don’t want to switch my long distance provider!”
The ads (in whatever form) are all the same... a special introductory offer of a unnaturally low price for a fixed number of months, plus a free gift if you lock in for a multi-year contract (a gift that is usually something rather costly and appealing but has nothing to do with the services being looked at). I have a few problems with all of this:
1. If you have to advertise that much to get new customers, then you are doing something wrong... word of mouth is worth way more than any ad you could ever buy.
2. If you have to offer free gifts to lure customers to come to you... again, you are doing something wrong... your product or service should be strong enough in itself to draw in new customers.
3. If you have to give very low introductory prices in order for someone to notice you (or consider you)... you guessed it, you are doing something wrong.
If these tactics do manage to get you new customers, but in order to keep these new customers, you have to bind them into a multi-year contract... I think you are doing something very wrong!
Is the business not confident enough with the quality of its products or services that the customer will stay willingly? Obviously not!
Personally, I’ll go with the company that advertises only when it has a new product or service they are introducing; who, on occasion, may offer (reasonably discounted) introductory pricing for new customers; or who may even offer free hardware to new clients that is relevant to the services the clients are wanting (i.e. a free modem for internet service or a free phone for a cellular service).
The biggest difference with the companies I choose... NO contracts are forced on me. If I like its products or services, I stay with the company. If I don’t like what I’m receiving, I leave... no cancelation penalties, no contract payouts, no hassles. With no compulsory contract to trap me for years, this company must have faith in itself and its products and services. Instead of spending a fortune on advertising and free gifts, it puts its money into ensuring it is able to deliver me, the consumer, quality products and excellent services that will keep me as a loyal customer for many years to come... by my own accord.
So, when it comes to companies of ‘Digital Era’ services, if you decide to sign a contract, do some research on the company, ask people who deal or have dealt with the company, and always remember to READ THE FINE PRINT. It also wouldn’t hurt to ask yourself “why are they offering me this to sign up with them?” Is this something I need to use the services? Or is it a bribe? By signing a contract the company could (but not always) be saying “we, as a company, aren’t that good, but once we sucker you in... too bad, you’re stuck!”
I’ve lost count of the amount of people I’ve heard say how much they now regret “taking that deal” and signing that form. Well, sorry... but in two and half more years, you can try something else. Until then, you really should have read the fine print!
The moral of the story...
Be careful... Be smart... Don’t be fooled...
But that’s just me.

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