And who is the customer here?

I moved last week, and in preparation for the move, I decided to do something I’d been thinking about for a while – switch service providers for my cell phone service.  And I did two things that were out of character: I went to the service provider for the phone AND the service (I’ve always bought the phone from a hardware provider and added the service with the service provider), and I went into the store with the goal of switching over because I believed my coverage was greater (I didn’t have my usage and billing data right at my fingertips).  And what an experience it was.  In the end, good, but what an eye opener it was for me.  Why?  Because everything was on a “per month” charge – the hardware purchase over a 24 month contract, the service charge, the insurance option, the extended warranty, the – well, you get the idea.  And I walked out of the store with an idea of – but not certain about – what my new monthly charges were – and a very strong feeling that I had seriously been taken advantage of and had bought more than I needed.  It certainly was true that I had a lot of “stuff”: a new phone, a battery, a car charger, a case – all for “free”.  And the phone, as my friend kept telling me, was “free”.  I knew better than that – but I needed to go reconcile everything to see what I’d ended up with.

And so many of the conversations we have about money and what things cost – and what we want – are broken up into small bites: “it’s only $11/month” or “you pay $4 more per month for the white phone”.  While this brings things into a present context, it is important to “stand up on the balcony” – take a breath and look at the big picture. $11/month over a 24 month contract is $264.  Can you afford it? Is it necessary? Would you be better off saving $11/month for yourself so that if something happens to your phone you can figure out what YOU want to do and not be told by the service provider what options you have?  If you are prone to losing or dropping phones, it may make sense (or, it may make sense to buy cheaper phones!).  And if you don’t know what you have bought, go back and make someone go through things line by line.

I ended returning the phone and all the stuff (within the trial period), and the experience I had going back to my previous provider was completely different: no frantic sales pitch, calmly going through my options, making suggestions and, most important to me was the “customer experience” – no script being read, no condescending “how’re you doing today? I’m sorry you are having that experience.”, and no waiting 45 minutes.  I’ll take a dropped signal for recognition that I am the consumer and I’m looking for them to guide me but not to treat me like a number going through their monthly pipeline.  These conversations are, on the face of it, about money.  But they are really about values.


Useful resources:

newbookNew Book by Kim Stephenson & Ann B. Hutchins

Finance Is Personal: Making Your Money Work for You in College and Beyond

"Although some of the most important decisions we make in life are financial, most people rely on their intuition rather than reason. In Finance Is Personal, the authors digest key findings from psychology to help readers leverage their natural style, preferences, and values in order to make more effective and profitable choices. This book will do more to increase young people's financial IQ than any formal course, MBA, or business experience―a must read!"

(Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premunzic, professor of business psychology at University College London, visiting professor at Columbia University, vice president of research and innovation at Hogan Assessments, and the co-founder of

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