Saturday, April 5, 2014

Doing it wrong

My current internet plan with Bell has a limit of 65 gigs a month.  Due to the necessity of downloading a boatload of Diablo 3 files I blasted way over my limit and was concerned at the size of the extra charges Bell was going to levy against me.  I know they charge $2 a gig for overuse and I didn't want my purchase of the Diablo 3 expansion to accidentally cost me an extra $50 just for bandwidth.

I cruised over to the Bell website and it turns out I owe $34 extra dollars for usage.  Ouch.  There is a little thing there though that informs me that I can still add extra usage to my account for the month.  On further investigation I discovered that I can pay $5 a month to get my limit to 90 gigs, which is high enough to ignore my current excesses.  Seems good, but I figure I should talk to a representative to make sure upgrading my account will actually work on this month's bill since the billing period ends tomorrow.

The representative assures me that I can buy my extra usage now and it will work.  Great!  Then they tell me that the cost is prorated over the whole month, and since I have only had my extra usage for 2 days I will only be billed 34 cents.  Then the rep tells me I can cancel in two days and not be charged for next month if I want to.

So just to be clear.  Bell was planning on charging me $34 for my usage.  Now they are explicitly telling me how to pay only $.34 instead, and how to do it in a way that is extra irritating for Bell as my plan is rapidly changing.  As far as I can tell I could do this every month if I wanted to, paying a few cents for all of the extra usage I would ever need by only having it active on the day that the monthly bill is calculated.

I get it that these sorts of things happen with big companies.  Customers find workarounds but mostly nobody is going to bother doing them for the piddly savings.  But how often to customer service reps specifically suggest ways to scam the company out of money by abusing loopholes like this?  Is it really policy to offer me 99% discounts as long as I am willing to irritate both of us?  Juh?

Bell, I can't decide if I should call your training program amazing or boneheaded.  I a


  1. Bell makes money on the 90% of people who aren't going to bother to call back and switch their service to the lower tier. I know I most likely wouldn't have bothered -- having to deal with the stress of a potential $30+ overage charge and the 20 or so minutes on the phone across two calls is simply not worth the predictable monthly expense of $5.

    Bell also makes money in customer goodwill. Losing a theoretical and unpredictable $33.66 from you is doubtlessly worth less to them than possibly losing a customer worth hundreds of dollars across multiple years to, say, Rogers.

    I am, however, a bit confused about your suggestion that using what is the service provider's stated policy is somehow "scamming" or using a "loophole." They most likely by are prohibited by law from charging you for services they did not provide -- so the increase charge must be prorated. If your overage occurred on the first day of the billing cycle, you'd be paying the full $5. It didn't, you got lucky, but that's hardly a loophole.

    Technically, you could have waited until the last day of the billing cycle to increase your account cap, but Bell isn't actually required to retroactively apply your new account status to your usage. They're likely doing this because it costs them almost nothing -- and because it may well be that their system checks your bandwidth usage against your account cap at invoice generation time, rather than continuously throughout the billing cycle. Not giving you the credit would be literally not worth the effort. (of course that' all speculation on my part, but it's not all that far-fetched, is it?)

    But ultimately, you paid for a one-time service increase to address a one-time usage spike. Why do you feel you're obligated -- contractually, ethically, or in any other sense -- to then continue paying for services you are likely not going to be making use of?

  2. I don't quite understand what you mean 'if your overage occurred on the first day of the billing cycle'. I have a monthly cap, and even if I exceeded that cap on day 1 I could still wait until the last day of the cycle and increase my limit then because the total overage charge is only calculated at month end. I can know for certain that I am paying 34 cents for the month to get 25 gigs more download space.

    I don't feel that I am required to continue to pay for services I am unlikely to use. I do feel that Bell's clear intention is to offer 25 gigs extra download per month for $5. They don't want to offer that service for 34 cents but my 'clever' use of their online system allows me to do that. I am not going to abuse it generally because generally I don't want or need that extra but it does feel like I am clearly circumventing the intended offer. I won't chastise anyone for doing this but it does feel a bit cheaty.

    1. My original assumption was that your cap increase would have to be in effect as of the moment you exceeded the original cap, no matter when you actually called to request the increase. But with what Peke says below, I suspect Bell simply lets this go as too much hassle and simply bills you based on the date of your call.

    2. As far as being "cheaty," I still disagree. For one thing, you are assuming that just because Bell has a posted policy, it's their clear intention for you to make use of that policy as written. That's far from a given.

      Let's take that $34 figure. Do you even for a second believe that is a reasonable approximation of the cost incurred by Bell in providing you with that extra bandwidth? And if not, why do they throw such an obviously inflated figure at you? This is basic priming, and I suspect the actual intent isn't for you to pay the large sum *once*, but to make the smaller, recurring, payment seem that much more reasonable in comparison. In fact, the more I think about it, the more it seems like the further discounting offered by the agent is a clever upselling attempt. Oh, even the $5 seems too high? Well, sir, we're going to be extra-nice to you and discount it to almost zero.

      Discount it once, that is. What do you want to bet that across a large enough sample of Bell customers, people *don't* cancel the cap add-on for at least 7 months?

      In all your dealings with Bell, the power imbalance is shifted massively in favour of the large corporation, starting with having a trained staff who gets paid to talk to you and to be an expert in their policies and terms of service -- while you're essentially wasting any time you spend dealing with them -- and all the way down to their ability to outlast you in court.

      The one freedom you do have is to not be their customer any longer. So they play the game where they make you feel like you're in their debt, then they do you a "favour." End result is, you end up feeling like you owe them continued patronage -- while giving them more money every month.

  3. It seems very likely that the billing program checks your status at bill time and does not review the entire month. The rep is giving you an inside tip on how to beat the system. Some people at Bell might care, but they are outnumbered, and the effort too large, so it probably doesn't generate sufficient attention to get fixed. Some upgrade might have it.

    They may also just trust that most people will feel that it's dubious to use GB that they are not really paying for. Abusing that isn't great for society, and arguably not worth your time (though I believe as a retired person, your opportunity cost is "playing Diablo 3"), so it's not a drain to them.

    Maybe you charmed the service rep really well? Got a 20 on your persuasion check? Do you have a sultry phone voice?

  4. Naw, my phone voice isn't anything special. Plus, it was through a chat window online so I didn't actually have to talk to anyone. I did no charming at all, just stated facts. They really went out of their way to tell me.

  5. You could instead pay negative amounts for a larger cap with their competition: so, win win for them?


  6. I'm definitely interested to find out if what the customer service rep said is actually what happens on your bill. If I had a nickel for every time a Bell customer service rep assured me that something would be the case and it actually wasn't, well... I could afford to pay all the stupid extra charges they claimed we owed. :)
    Did you save a copy of the chat log with them? Or get their name?


  7. I did not save a chat log or record a name... but they took my account information down and accessed it and the conversation was recorded on their end 'for quality purposes'. If I had to get at it I suspect I could.

  8. I work for a major Telco (here in UK), and we have similar policies (re: giving you the whole bundle allowance for one day of pay). It boils down to 2 factors: the average user not understanding (allowance/30 x number of days) and complaining about the final charges... and to be fair, you will never get it right as a customer because some companies bill partial days, some only count from midnight, some round to the highest MB... In the end every customer calling thinking they have been shafted costs the benefit you would net a loss equivalent to another 20 paying customers.

    The second is as already mentioned the average customer does not game the system so, again, it is a numbers game (ie: how much do you want to bother for a few $5 'cheated' here and there)

    As for why they'll let you pay $5 to get out of $34, the trick those extra charges have a huge percentage of not being ever collected, you lose the customer, need to pay an agency to try to get the debt... lots of hassle, and little cash. Plus beside again the odd customer calling in costs you more than $34.