Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Business Ethics

Not only is business ethics in the news (the outrage over executives of bailed out companies getting huge bonuses), it's a live topic in my own everyday life.

I was looking at the charges on my phone bill yesterday, and noticed that a new charge started appearing a few months ago, called a "shortfall" charge to the long-distance portion of my bill. Incredulous, I wondered if it really meant what I thought it must mean: were they actually charging me extra for not making enough long-distance calls? I called the phone company to ask. Sure enough, that is exactly what it meant! What used to be one of the least expensive long-distance plans by my carrier had quietly morphed into a bizarre and expensive plan. No longer am I merely paying a monthly charge whether I use my minutes or not (which I grumbled about back in the good ol' days) -- I now pay extra above and beyond that for each minute I fall under the 30 minutes! In other words, the cheapest my bill can be is if I make exactly 30 minutes of long-distance calls per month. But if I use fewer minutes, I get charged for each minute under 30! (And if I go over 30, of course, I get charged for that too!)

It's insane. I tried, on the phone, to switch to a different plan (one that still has a monthly charge, and now limits me to 12 minutes a month, but at least the monthly charge is cheaper and there is no "shortfall penalty"), but I couldn't believe that this is really the cheapest plan they have. But working with the customer service representative on the phone was really frustrating. She was polite enough, but put me on hold for really long periods of time in-between questions. I was suspicious that this was a deliberate strategy to discourage me from switching to the less-expensive plan. My battery on my cordless phone gave out and I had to run across the house to another corded phone in order not to lose the connection. I stubbornly held in there, because I was getting upset and didn't want to fall for this. I remained as polite to the customer service representative as she was to me, but still did voice my outrage at a plan that charges you extra for not making enough long-distance calls.

Then I decided to go online to see if I could more easily find an even cheaper plan. I did. At least I think so. When I tried to follow the online instructions for changing my plan, at first it pretended that my number was not a valid number. When I cleared my cache and then even started all over again in a new browser, it finally recognized my number, but when it detected what I was up to, it got me stuck in a loop that wouldn't let me proceed.

Maybe these are all just honest mistakes -- a change in my plan that they forgot to inform me about; being put on hold for long periods of time; the website not allowing me to make further changes. And maybe there are good reasons for charging me extra for not making enough calls. Maybe there is some way that my not making enough calls is expensive to them -- maybe the logic of this is just escaping me at the moment.

But, in relation to all else that is going on, I'm really starting to wonder whether business ethics has gone completely out the window.

I sure hope that other companies don't start following suit. Can you imagine if we have to start paying shortfall fees for, e.g., not using enough gasoline, heating fuel, electricity, etc.?

Has it become a civic duty to "stimulate the economy" by paying extra when we aren't consuming enough?


  1. If it's not too late to switch your long distance service, you might consider this program that provides inexpensive service (without a monthly fee or minimum) while benefiting Friends General Conference.

    I used this service when I had a land line (I now only have a cell phone), and it worked flawlessly. I don't make many long distance calls, and my bill was usually under $5.00.


  2. Good idea! I'll definitely look into that! Thanks!