A parable of client service in four acts.


The wireless providers’ market in the US (AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile) has achieved saturation. Subject to rounding errors, every American from age 10 to age 90 has a smartphone.

Among the providers, it’s a battle for market share, with high fixed costs (building out the networks) and very low variable/marginal costs (actually serving up the data). This is a recipe for price wars, and indeed we know this to be true from many news reports (for example, The New Sticker Shock: Plunging Cellphone Bills, (WSJ June 2017) (“The cost of US cellular service is rapidly plunging, reversing years of increases [because] the US cellphone market is nearing saturation”)).

So, thinking as a market-responsive animal, I decided a few weeks ago to find out what competitive deals and benefits Verizon might offer Adam Smith, Esq., LLC, which has for years been a satisfied and undemanding AT&T customer.


Act I:

I walked into the nearest Verizon store on Broadway, not far from our offices, and spoke with the store manager to describe our company’s needs. Chief among them is that we have no landlines in our offices (we’ve gone all cellular/mobile) and our offices are located on the fourth floor of a 1903 building with solid masonry walls over two feet thick which are impenetrable to cellphone tower signals.

Indeed, the building’s structure is so effective at blocking signals that when visitors arrive at the reception desk in the lobby and reflexively pull out their phones, the lobby attendant has to say, “Sorry, there’s no service in this building; you’ll have to go back out on the sidewalk.” This has become something of a joke to those of us who work here. But what this means is that to use our phones to make/receive calls, we need an in-office signal booster. AT&T calls their device, about the size of a hardback book, a “Microcell.” We have had one sitting on a windowsill in our office for years, and it works wonderfully. Without that device, you have to do what people arriving in the lobby do: Go downstairs and out onto the sidewalk to get a signal.

And by the way, in case you’re wondering why visitors carrying AT&T phones can’t piggy back on our Microcell, it’s because it’s configured only to recognize our Adam Smith, Esq. phone numbers and is invisible to all others; as you can understand on a moment’s reflection, this is an indispensable feature, and its importance will become germane as our story develops.

Meanwhile, back at the Broadway Verizon store: The manager told me Verizon had an equivalent little box which they call a “network extender device,” so, so far so good.

Remember that what lured me in to begin with was the hope of shaving some meaningful percentage off our monthly fees. I explained that to him—even showing him the summary page of our last AT&T bill so he could see the number he had to beat. Then he asked me what seemed an odd question: Did I want to set up our account as “business or consumer?” I replied, “Well, it’s a business, but I really don’t know the right answer to your question. What’s the difference and what’s better for us?” “Business is definitely what you want; we can give you a bunch of discounts, free or cheaper phones, and so forth; but I’ll need to have one of our business sales reps contact you.”

A day or two later “Bob” (not his name) called me and was eager to get the account set up “but first I need to run a credit check; I’ve had some bad credits lately,” which struck me as a mildly hostile way to kick things off.  Be that as it may, he told me what I needed to submit—which wasn’t negligible—and promised to get back to me later.

Act II:

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