It may come as a shock to some people that tech companies are corporations–charged first and foremost with making money. Still, it sometimes seems like it wouldn’t hurt Big Tech to treat us just a little bit better. Here are some of the ways companies try to screw you… and how a savvy customer can avoid them.
The Problem: You too can get a “color cameraphone” for free! All you have to do is sign away the next two years of your life to unresponsive customer service and dropped calls. And when your shoddy phone inevitably breaks, you better believe they’ll nail you down for another two years when you walk in that store to get a replacement. And then you have to pay for an “upgrade” to the latest and greatest phone — which is just like your old one.
The Solution: First stop: Celltradeusa or CellSwapper. You can pawn your unwanted contract off to someone who it might be a better fit for. Or just buy an unlocked cell phone. Companies like Samsung and Nokia now sell them directly to consumers. It’ll cost you more without the carrier subsidy that keeps most phones cheap, but it’s a small price to pay to not be somebody’s bitch for the next 24 months. And a bonus: For unlocked phones like the Black Carbon, Samsung provides customer service so you don’t have to deal with your carrier when things go bad.
Worst Offender: Umm… Cell phone carriers everywhere?
The Problem: You get the privilege of paying a licensing fee for a crippled version of “Who Let The Dogs Out” that won’t even play on an off-brand MP3 player.
The Solution: Get music from DRM-free download sites like emusic.com. And if you rip your own CDs into iTunes, make sure you change the default setting from Apple’s
proprietary sometimes unsupported AAC format to the uber-flexible MP3. Somebody also told me about something called BitTorrent. You might want to Google it.
Worst offenders: Apple, Microsoft, Sony (rootkit, anybody?)
3. Feature Crippling
The Problem: You’ve got a Bluetooth phone, but your service provider decided they don’t want you to use it as a modem. In fact, there’s a good chance your phone’s Bluetooth is disabled for everything except wireless headsets.
The Solution: Research your fave phone before you sign up for a service provider or lay down cash for a phone is the only real option. Visit PhoneScoop for full phone specs and look for features like DUN, Dial-up Networking, if you want to use your phone as a modem.
Worst Offender: Verizon is pretty notorious for this everybody has done it
4. Unfriendly Customer Service
The Problem: You wait on hold 20 minutes, only to find they can’t help you because you don’t have four different serial numbers in front of you.
The Solution: Check out GetHuman for the direct line to a human voice. And for the best service, get the cancellation department on the phone (see #6).
5. Format Wars
The Problem: The inability of a few companies to get along could turn your next-gen DVD player (not to mention your brand new copy of Little Man) into a very expensive Betamax.
The Solution: This one’s easy — sit it out. The movies on HBO HD are better than anything that’s been thrown on either Blu-ray or HD-DVD yet. Or just get a cheap upscaling DVD player and max out your Netflix subscription. Expect a Blu-Ray/HD-DVD hybrid player in the next year or so and then wait another year for the price to come down to non-millionaire levels.
Worst Offenders: Sony, Toshiba
6. Companies Suing Their Customers
The Problem: Nothing says “We appreciate your business” like a subpeona. Seriously though, when you’re suing old ladies and 12-year-old girls for downloading Fergie songs, you’ve got issues.
The Solution: Use your neighbor’s Wi-Fi — the RIAA will come knocking on their door! When you download those tracks you already own, make sure you’re not using a six-year-old version of Kazaa. Use something like Azereus. We have no idea what it is, but it seems like a good product.
Worst Offender: RIAA
7. Overzealous Retention
The Problem: CrunchGear readers are probably familiar with the case of Vincent Ferrari — the man with the AOL account that he didn’t know he needed. His recording says it far better than I ever could.
The Solution: Take advantage of the hard sell. In the name of keeping up accounts, cancellation departments have enormous power to chop zeros off your monthly rates, add on bonus features, and generally give you better bang for your buck. Don’t dilly-dally with the customer service line—threaten to cancel the second you get someone on the phone and they’ll do your bidding.
Worst Offender: AOL
8. Pushing Extended Warranties and Protection Plans
The Problem: Most shelf-fillers give big box stores razor-thin profit margins. It’s add-on waranties and protection plans (the modern equivalent of rustproofing) that really pay for corporate bonuses. Of course they’re usually a rip-off.
The Solution: Just Say No. Even better — stick it to them and only buy their loss-leaders — those advertised items they sell for a loss to get you in the door. Anything that costs less than it does online is a loss leader.
Worst Offender: Best Buy