Opinion Articles

Friday, January 31, 2014

A grumpy not-so-old man looks at his mobile phone bill

Mark Bridge writes:

Sometimes I worry that I’m turning into a grumpy old man. That I’ll follow the path of Rick Wakeman and become better known for my views on body piercing than for playing ‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII’ on eleven keyboards simultaneously.

But the mobile industry seems determined to transform me from an enthusiastic evangelist of communications technology into a mumbling cynic.

You see, I’ve just received an email from my mobile phone network. Like many mobile operators, it stopped sending me bills several years ago. Gone are the days when I’d receive a straightforward communication that told me what I owed, when the payment would be taken and exactly what I’d done to generate those charges.

Instead, I’ve received an email that’s relatively useless in comparison. Here’s what it said… and here’s what I thought. (I’ve been generous and removed the network’s name because I somehow doubt they’re the only one doing this kind of nonsense).

Check your bill online >

Great, thanks for the suggestion. Incidentally, dear reader, that wasn’t a hyperlink despite the chevron at the end. A hyperlink would have been useful.

Hi Mark,

Getting better. Personalised.

This month's bill for account number ending xxxx is ready online. It’s for £xx.xx.

As I’ve already said, back in the olden days you sent a fully itemised bill in the post. Now you tell me where a virtual copy is and make me fetch it myself.

By the way, when’s it due for payment?  Oh, right. I need to go and find out.

If it's a bit more than usual, it could be because you went over the minutes, texts or data included in your plan. Or made calls to ‘08’ or international numbers. Or even used your phone abroad.

Woah. Hold on. You know what last month’s bill was. Don’t give me this “if” nonsense. If you can personalise the bill with my name and put the right amount on it, you already know if it’s “a bit more than usual”. And let me tell you, it’s not.

But if it WAS more than usual, you’d know exactly why. And you could tell me. But you won’t.

By the way, I’ve never really accepted this euphemism of “plan”. It’s not a “price plan”. I’m not planning anything. It’s a tariff. Sorry, I digress.

You'll find more about what is and isn't included in your plan on your bill. And there are some great ways to keep costs down at xxxxxx.co.uk/extras

I refer you back to my comments about personalisation. And those “great ways to keep costs down” are actually services with an additional charge.

See my bill >

Hyperlink. Well done.

But that’s not all. There’s a section at the end entitled:

The easy way to keep track of your bills

I was quite happy keeping track of my bills by putting them in a box file. Still…

To make sure you know what to expect from future bills, we've made it easy to keep tabs on all your minutes, texts and data. Wherever you are.

On your mobile: Download the free app on iOS, Android or BlackBerry

Online: Log in to xxxxxxxxx

Over the phone: Call us on xxxxxx free from your mobile

Okay. Except your app only summarises my use of minutes, texts and data. I can’t get itemised data. The same goes for your telephone service. And we’ve already determined I can see my bill online if I can be bothered to track it down.


What’s particularly depressing is that I was once an employee of the network I now use. In the year 2000, once they’d finished squishing millennium bugs, the IT department worked with the Marketing department on a project to demonstrate ‘mobile billing’. And we succeeded. (When I say “we”, all the clever technical stuff was done by James Rosewell and his colleagues at the time. I looked at usability and wrote nice words). We were able to deliver live billing data to the screen of a mobile phone. A Nokia 7110 with its ‘Series 40’ WAP browser, no less.

Sadly, some 14 years later, that level of customer service still hasn’t been implemented.

On the positive side, one day I’ll probably look back fondly to the days when my network actually sent me an email.

Author: The Fonecast
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