The prices shown on the web pages of Estonian telecommunication providers are usually twice as high as what the people actually pay. It is general knowledge that you must reach out to service providers and ask for covert deals to get cheaper mobile plans. I usually participate in the circle jerk of contacting providers for best offers every two years, but this time, Christmas came early!

Congrats on getting more data!

Some time ago, I received a cheerful e-mail that went something like this:

“Thank you for being our client! We value you being with us, so we wish to upgrade your current subscription. This update means you will not have to worry about using mobile data abroad. Thus, we are raising the mobile data you can use per month from 6 GB to 9 GB*!

*Oh, and by the way, we are also raising your monthly subscription fee by 3 euros.

A roughly translated and considerably shortened email from my telecommunications service provider

The trigger for such a change was mainly the European Union’s “Roam like at home” policy. This establishes that people should be able to make calls and use mobile data at the same prices anywhere in the EU. Great news for frequent travellers.

Not so great news for my mum whose average mobile data consumption over the past six months was 0,2 GB with the absolute maximum being a striking 0,6 GB. (She must have watched a whole 10-minute YouTube video with WiFi turned off, whoa!) The numbers are so low because she browses her phone at home or at work where there is WiFi.

Obviously, the increased mobile data was not something my mother needed. Thus began my journey of finding her a more suitable mobile plan.

New phone, who dis?

To start with, I contacted her current service provider Elisa. I explained to them that this change was not required, nor desired in this case, and I kindly asked them to reach out to me so we could discuss what other options there were.

Here’s where the first hiccup happened. Instead of calling me from their official contact number which I have saved on my phone (Elisa: +372 6 600 600), the call originated from a number not known to me. I do not pick up unknown numbers because they typically want to sell me something I am not interested in. Unknown numbers who need to contact me can send me an SMS instead. Easy as that.

Unable to reach me after a week of trying, Elisa sent me an email about me not picking up. We agreed that their representative would contact me again from the same number on Friday at noon. So I waited. And waited. And then it was Saturday and Sunday and the deadline for rejecting the “upgrade” of the existing mobile plan had passed.

An offer you cannot refuse

When we finally managed to reach each other via the phone, the absolute best offer Elisa could make given the low data usage requirement was 0,5 GB for 5 euros. To compare, the previous plan had been 6 GB for 5 euros. This sounded quite ridiculous to me, but I accepted it, for the time being, knowing exactly what would follow.

I reached out to the other two providers I know: Telia and Tele2. Telia could not compete (they seldom can, in my experience), but I had a pleasant conversation with Tele2 who offered me 3 GB for 5 euros. Sold! I signed the contract and they posted the SIM card.

Telecommunication service providers are obliged to notify each other about people moving between the operators to give the current provider time to make a better offer and keep their existing client. So Elisa received a notification which triggered an alarm at their office.

Boom! A representative of Elisa called me to inquire about my leaving. I explained the situation and they offered me 6 GB for 5 euros for 2 years if I stayed (sorry, I thought the offer you made me last week was the best one you could have made??). Note that this final offer was precisely the mobile plan I had had before they sent out their email in the first place! And what I had asked for when I had received the email: for the mobile plan to remain as it had been until then.

So in the end, nothing really changed for my mum or me. Except I now have some extra thoughts in my head… Continue reading if you want to hear them. If not, no hard feelings.

Valuing the customer

Throughout my communication with Elisa, I felt unvalued for three reasons: not being considered an individual, being lied to, and being made to work harder than I should have.

Elisa’s email made me feel like an indistinguishable part of a faceless mass, instead of an appreciated individual. They have an overview of my mum’s data usage. The numbers above literally came from their sales agent. If they knew how little data was used, how come they decided to make me an offer for a plan that includes 15 times more mobile data than the current maximum usage? They did not consider my individual needs until I reached out to them myself and made them look at the statistics.

Furthermore, Elisa tried upselling their update as something beneficial, writing vaguely about customer feedback, overall growth in mobile data consumption, and regulatory changes, whilst mentioning the price increase matter-of-factly. The email even spelt out the price change in words instead of numbers, so that it would be harder for the reader to grasp quickly (because who even reads such emails in detail?). This made it easy to see the benefits of the change (more mobile data) and difficult to notice the expense (increased pricing). Honestly, I am less annoyed about the price increase than about them trying to hide the fact. Although not lying, it felt dangerously close to deception.

An excerpt from the original email from Elisa. Question: what hits you in the eye?

What I do consider lying, though, was Elisa presenting me with their “best” offer and then making an even better one when they found themselves between a rock and a hard place. How can something be better than the best? Where was the second offer during our first negotiation? What would have happened if I had not turned to Tele2? Would Elisa have been giggling their asses off, glad to have made themselves an earning off of another unsuspecting customer? Pretty sure they would not have offered a better deal to me on a platter.

This is a business model of all telecommunication service providers. They count on people accepting the prices at face value instead of trying to squeeze out the best possible deals. Surely, such laziness is where the majority of telco profit comes from. I doubt many people are stubborn enough to regularly negotiate with telecommunication service providers (which they totally should!).

This brings me to the point of too much work. Having to jump through hoops to get a suitable subscription plan is not something a valued customer should have to do. Although I find some sick pleasure in this process, I still think a customer should not have to manipulate their provider. They should feel so cared for and satisfied that the thought of changing providers would not even cross their minds. That is what loyalty is about. I did not have that feeling with Elisa. I literally had to threaten to leave them for their competitor before they offered me the deal they could have made in the first place, saving all parties the hassle.

I understand that the market is evolving and all providers must make adjustments, including changes in pricing. I am not opposed to that. I am opposed to being referred to as a valued customer and then being treated without respect. Honestly, despite offering me fewer gigabytes for the same price, I felt a strong pull towards Tele2. Not because they had been exceptionally polite and pleasant (which they were), but because dealing with Elisa had left a sour taste in my mouth.

Is my transmitter broken or are you just not receiving it?

I rarely take the time to answer those feedback surveys companies send out. This time I did, though, because my last conversation with Elisa was so ridiculous it should be a Saturday Night Live sketch.

Let it be known that I had the opportunity of chatting with two different agents from Elisa. I have no complaints about the first one apart from the fact that she hid a great deal from me. The second one, though… I felt as if I was talking to a rock. I had to double-check the sentences that came out of my mouth afterwards to make sure it was not a me-problem – that I had somehow started talking gibberish or formulating sentences in a majorly confusing way (because most of my sentences are at least somewhat confusing). Since others understood what I wanted to say, I deduced that it must not have been me.

I tried to raise three topics with Elisa’s second agent: why I was not offered the 6GB/5€ deal in the first place, how Tele2 did not have a 2-year validity for their discount, and why Elisa’s preferred method of keeping customers is having them first get into bed with competitors. Regarding the first question, the agent was oblivious to any previous conversations or subscription changes taking place between me and Elisa (don’t they keep records?) and kept talking to me about how the laws are changing and how everyone is increasing the prices (um… irrelevant). Then she argued with me about Tele2’s offer and the contract that I had thoroughly read before signing, claiming that there was no way Tele2 could have offered me such a thing (which one of us was there again?). She sounded slightly sheepish discussing the third topic but managed to successfully circle back to how prices are increasing in general (congratulations, you have successfully mastered a single conversation topic).

In the end, I just gave up, told her they could have me for now and wished her all the best. Mum’s mobile plan was switched to 6GB/5€ soon thereafter.

Chasing cheaper data kills the Earth

Although arguably minor, let’s take a moment to think about sustainability and environmentalism. Because Elisa failed to make me a great offer during our first call, Tele2 sent me a new SIM card that I would have used had I become their customer. What goes into sending a new SIM card to a potential customer?

  • Paper packaging – cannot be reused (but can be recycled);
  • New SIM card itself – materials, time, and energy needed for production. Apparently, SIM cards can be returned to any telecommunications service provider, though;
  • Transport of the SIM card – vehicle emissions.

The aforementioned items affect the environment. Turns out that by trying to negotiate better deals from Elisa’s competitors, I was slowly contributing to the deterioration of our beloved planet. However, what is done is done. I, personally, am satisfied with the result and the adventure I got to have. It should take another two years before I can do it all again. Unless the prices increase in the meanwhile!

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