Cingular Admits Store Salesmen Add On Features You Didn't Ask For, Just To Make More Commission

Matt’s voicemail stopped working so he called up Cingular to get it fixed, and while he was there he had them check out the rest of his account to make sure everything was ok, but they found something disturbing.

Listen to the call

Seemed that when he was in Cingular store earlier that day, the salesman had added on an extra service to Matt’s account without his permission, a $19.95/month service that would let him access wireless internet at airports.

The rep on the call, which Matt recorded, basically admits that Cingular store salesmen will add on features that you didn’t ask for, just so they can make bonus!

He asks why this service would be on there that he didn’t request. She says, “…when you go into a store, they make commission, but I’ll just erase this for you…it’s best just to go through the phone when you want something, because they’re just all about commission, unfortunately.”

The service had a 30 day free trial period, so Matt wouldn’t have noticed for a month if he hadn’t called and checked.

This call was recorded in 2005, so surely they’ve put a stop to this by now… — BEN POPKEN

Cingular: Here I Come…FUCKERS! [Matt And That]
(Photo: dmeyer)

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  1. traezer says:

    My ex used to sell cell phones. He would add features too, but he would actually tell his customers he was doing it, and that they could cancel in 30 days. Lots of customers would go along with it so that they could try out the features for free.

  2. LatherRinseRepeat says:

    Also, make sure they don’t extend your contract. When I was buying a couple of phones for my parents, I upgraded their calling plan to a better one and agreed to a 1-year contract. But when I looked on the screen, the salesman was ringing me up for a 2-year deal, for the price of a 1-year deal.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I used to work at a Sprint retail store. Add-ons were a major way to jack up your commission. For instance if we signed you up for a $4.95 per month add-on service, we instantly made $4.95. This even counted for ‘first month free’ services. Every customer of mine automatically got PCS Vision, 7pm Night-time calling, and more: their first month was free and I tacked on an extra $20 – $30 to my commission. In the end, the customer would forget to cancel and Sprint made a killing. Sad but true. Lesson? Always opt for detailed, paper billing, and set aside five minutes comb through it like a hawk.

  4. enm4r says:

    I don’t understand why Cingular/Verizon/Sprint, etc don’t check for this. It seems an easy way to crack down on this sort of thing, if the customer calls/cancels within 30 days or whatever, don’t pay commission, and on the flip side if the customer got any sort of extra promotion for signing up, you charge that to their account as well.

    Maybe I just don’t feel like all the hassle of adding/removing features, but if I’m a customer, you aren’t making more money off me and expecting me to do any extra work. But I also have no desire to persuade you to give me a lower price by saying I’ll add all these features (if that even works.)

    Seems like an easy practice to stop if they wanted, the fact that they aren’t taking measures means they’re willing to allow their associates to do this and the amount of customers that forget to drop them afterwards justifies this economically.

  5. sleze69 says:

    This absolutely still happens as it happened to me lat month when I added my girlfriend to my plan. Somehow a roadside service was added to both our phones AND a completely wrong online service was on each of our phones(they must have had a special). I noticed it on my online bill, called and had everything fixed.

    More likely than not, people will just assume everything is ok and will leave things on their bills. If it weren’t so, Cingular would be condoning in-store reps to scam the company…and that wouldn’t last very long.

  6. Dervish says:

    It’s not just Cingular. A few years ago my fiancee was with Sprint and I was with Cingular, whose service sucked balls (plus I had one o’ those buzzing GSM phones). We decided to get on a Sprint plan together, so we went down to the store and signed up for the most barebones of plans – because why do I need internet on my phone when I have a computer?

    We went over everything with the rep. He tried to sign us up for a few different add-ons, and we explicitly refused. Sure enough – our first bill comes, and there’s extra charges on it. The difference between us and most of the rest of their customers is that we were watching for it. I guess the higher-ups need to teach them that no means no.

  7. tvstand says:

    I’m not denying that cellphone reps do this all the time, but in this case there was nothing nefarious going on.

    With Cingular there are two separate line items that enable internet access. “Wireless internet express” is just the line that enables GPRS service. He signed up for MEdiaNet Unlimited which is what the rep correctly identified for $20 a month with one month free. Without MEdiaNet he would have been charged per kilobyte. I would not be surprised to learn that after he canceled that service his internet access was turned off too. This is a case of a phone rep not knowing the products, not an in-store rep sliding in a feature for a commission.

  8. Alexander says:

    This is standard M.O. I used to work for a Verizon Authorized dealer (not as a sales person but as a buyer) and in training it was drilled into every sales person to simply add extra stuff on to the contract because they would get their commission whether the customer kept the package or not. Plus, if the company as a whole hit a certain number of extras they would get a HUGE bonus at the end of the month. It was so easy because 99 out of 100 customer would never look at what they were signing or what was checked/filled out. They just signed it and went their merry way. Whenever they’d come back and complain (rarely) we just simply sent them to the corporate stores. Sad but true…

  9. eldergias says:

    Lesson: Take down the name and employee number of the rep you use, and even record/video tape your conversation if possible. Make it explicitly clear and impossible to confuse that you don’t want the services. If you see them on the bill have them taken off, go back to the store, and confront the employee with the proof, as well as the manager. Then send the proof off to the consumerist, the company management, and the newspapers.

    This all equals one completely fired employee, crackdown on the store, possible crackdown on the company, and probably free stuff for you.

  10. TheRep says:

    As a Cingular employee, I would like to point out that sales of additional features have a 180 incubation period, during which if they feature is removed, or even changed they commission that is made off of the feature is deducted from your next paycheck. To this end, someone would have to “miss” the extra charges for 6 months before the store employee actually “makes” any money.

    It’s more about metrics. The wireless industry is very harsh towards its employees about their sales performance, always pushing for higher feature/accessory revenue, lower churn, etc. I believe I’ve got over a dozen metrics that management are looking at, and anytime any of them are less than acceptable (all of which are unreasonable anyway), I hear about it. This is the sad truth. The current target is that every customer leaving a Cingular store be paying $15 dollars on average in additional features. I mean that’s ridiculous even taking into account heavy users with PDA/blackberry plans.

    Hypothetically speaking, if someone were to do what the store employee in this article did, he wouldn’t get paid on the feature because it didn’t stay on the account for 180 days, but according to tracking tools used by his manager he “looks” better. While this does not condone the action, and it’s something that I abhor in general, I just wanted to shed light on the potential motivation behind this practice. It’s not always about making money, sometimes it’s simply about getting your boss to stop nagging you about unrealistic goals.

  11. Buran says:

    @thbarnes: Ah, so you’re a fraudster. ‘Cause that’s what it is to charge people for something they never asked for.

  12. blazio says:

    Man i hate these fucking cell phone companies that screw you just to make a buck. I mean what ever happened to customer service?!

    It’s dead I tell you…customer service is dead.

    And I think the lesson thbarnes is that WE SHOULDN”T HAVE TO LOOK OVER OUR BILLS LIKE A HAWK. What the fuck kind of customer service is that to add services people don’t ask for? It just sickens me that people would be willing to fuck over customers just for more commission. When I walk into a store, I shouldn’t have to worry about being screwed over months later.

    And don’t tell me that you are trying to make a living by increasing your commission…there are plenty of hard working people out there who make there living legitamately WITHOUT screwing over other people.

  13. cac67 says:

    I agree this should never happen, and it’s horrible that it did. But why is this showing up now when it happened 2 years ago?

  14. BillyShears says:

    When I switched from Verizon two years ago, they pulled the roadside assistance crap on me as well. I thought that was amusing since, well, I don’t have a car.

    I didn’t catch it until I got home, but you better believe I ran down to the store the following morning and watched them remove it from my account.

  15. CJ4 says:

    I had a similar experience recently when I purchased blackberry pearls for my wife and me from cingular/att. Fortunately, the agent’s duplicity came back to haunt them.

    About a month or two after I bought them, my wife lost hers. I thought great, a couple hundred bucks down the drain and I’m going to get screwed on the re-purchase. However, while on the website trying to find out what I was supposed to do to suspend her account, I noticed that we both now had the replacement insurance and had been paying the monthly charge since I had purchased the pearls. I had never carried the insurance before and did not request it at the time of purchase, so the only reasonable conclusion was that the agent had put it on there without asking. At that point, however, I wasn’t complaining.

    When I called to place a claim through the insurance program, they told me that the insurance did not cover pdas. I retorted that well, your agent signed me up for it without my consent and I had been paying the premiums so they better cover it in this case. The speed in which the agent reversed course and said they would honor it “just this once” was amazing and, to my mind, seemed to clearly indicate that they were well aware of this scam but were instructed to deny the claim unless the person complained and insisted.

    After that it was smooth sailing: I had a new pearl in days. Well, not quite. They sent me the wrong type of phone (an old Cingular 8125 instead of the Pearl 8125), which when I called to fix, was fed the same story again about pda’s not being covered followed by an immediate reversal of position and attitude when I complained. Magically, the insurance charge was gone on both of our accounts the next month.

    The moral of this story: if you have a pda phone through cingular/att, check to see if you have been enrolled in the insurance program. If so, either call and cancel/get a refund or be adamant if you ever lose the phone.

  16. sonnyf says:

    The exact same thing happened to me when I went to the Sprint store to replace an old cellphone for my father. I didn’t notice the add-ons until I got the phone bill, and had to call customer service twice to get the charges dropped.

    The first time I had them cancel the add-ons. But I was still angry about the fees I’m still being charged with and called again to complain and threaten to cancel service all together.

    These trial add-ons shouldn’t be added unless I expressly give them permission to. Seriously, cell phone company behavior is almost like a racketering outfit.

  17. joryplummer says:

    Last July, I went in to sign up for a new plan. 2 weeks later, after sending maybe 20 texts, I realized they weren’t charging me. Turns out that the salesman added MEdia Net onto all of our lines, and also Roadside Assistance. Needless to say, we got it removed, and then had to get credits.

    Liars.

  18. cgarison says:

    I got an additional Cingular cell phone plan to cover 3 new phone I was moving over from other carriers. What a disaster. First, It took three calls to Cingular over two weeks to get someone to take me seriously and place the order.

    Now, I get the phone and get the service I thought I wanted and the bill should have been around $80.00 plus tax. I get the first bill and after my activation fees, the monthly service was over $140.00/month. When I informed the folks at Cingular that I was going to give back their phones and sue them for breach of contract because I did not order road-side assistance, media plans or insurance on their phine, I was billed for all of those services.

    It took about 20 seconds of silence before the charges removed from my bill.

    I still have Cingular, but their tactics are totally ruthless.

  19. umyeahorsomething says:

    I used to work for AT&T Wireless before they got bought by Cingular. Almost all my coworkers did this. And the sales rep definitely does collect that money on their commission checks, but when a customer cancels that feature after 30 days or whatever, that amount gets subtracted from their next commish check. The key is to do it enough so that even if some customers cancel (very few do) then it will all even itself out. Every manager I ever worked for discouraged this practice because it’s a form of phantom churn. It creates a false sales record for the company as a whole.

    Just a tip: the sales reps make commission on service plans, features (txt, mobile internet, insurance, etc). They do not make commish on the phone itself. Most sales reps don’t even care what phone you get,.. they are more interested in what plan+features you will get.

    Another tip: When you are in the store browsing around, take a look at the signs posted. Some of them are corporate collateral and others are store made. So for instance, let’s say a phone plan is $39.99 and text messaging is $4.99 and a mobile internet plan (or maybe a car charger or something) is $9.99. The store will bundle those features together and advertise it as such and such plan for only $54.95 (or something to that effect.) Then in the hussle and bussle of a busy Saturday afternoon, the sales rep will quickly get you into that package and out the door. Bang, sales rep just made a fat commission (roughly $50 commish for something like that).

    Moral of the story, don’t go into a store unless you have to. And if you have to, then at least go into a corporate store. If you think the corporate stores are bad, those are nothing compared to the mall kiosks (authorized resellers).

  20. LABurns says:

    Maybe it’s just the cynic in me, but how does anyone know that call is actually authentic? It sounds like some guy and his girlfriend. I’m not trying to say that cell phone companies do or do not practice this sort of thing (actually they probably all do, I remember a big thing with Verizon and Roadside Assistance a while back) but this story is being posted under the premise that this was a Cingular press release from an official verifiable source.. Seems a little shady to me, like someone wasn’t happy with their Cingular service for what ever reason is trying to hurt their reputation.. Just my two cents.

  21. Trozzur says:

    Whenever you get a new plan or upgrade/extend/etc., make sure you get the sales employee’s card and follow up through the phone or web within a few weeks. If everything wasn’t done perfectly, return to the store so you can discuss the matter with the manager. I got 2 months free from Sprint for this effort.

  22. Solo says:

    Wow. It sounds like shopping for a cell phone plan is turning into something as enjoyable as buying a car.

    “What do I have to do to send you home with a nice $50 extra accesory today little lady?”

    Sales people trying to screw you instead of helping you? Say it isn’t so.

  23. godai says:

    So two days ago, me and my mom go to get new phones.

    I was getting an over priced cingular 8525 and my mom one of the latest razrs. My phone was 450 (with a 50 rebate) and the razr 99 with a 5 rebate.

    So all said and done 450 worth of phone on a family share plan and a data/messaging plan for my 8525. We made it clear that that is what we want. We also called ahead to make sure the 15% discount my mom was eligible for would be honored at the non-corporate store.

    He suggests a case, and figure why not. Especially since he offered a buy one get one free. But says the 15% wouldn’t apply to the accessories.

    First bill came up to around 610. Which was basically the 2 phones and one case at full price.

    His argument was that the money from the 15% was what was buying the second phone case.

    Then after basically giving back the second case and telling him no go. He came back with another bill for like 570. At various points we asked for the itemized bill but never got anything until he had placed the charges. Of course this gets us more pissed off.

    Why didn’t we walk at this point? He had already moved all our info to the new phones and the other cingular stores around us were closed by this point.

    Third time he got closer to an actual 15% discount. Which he would only give us on the after rebate price, so 67.50 (450 *.15) off of 580
    (450 for the 8525, 99 for the razr, 30 for the one case) We eneded up around 530 with taxes.

    It only took us 90-120 minutes to get to this point, and me being told that 15% of 450 is not 67.50 and that he had a calculator in front of him. I now know how the verizon .02 cents guy feels.

    The sales guy in the end wasn’t sure if he owed my mom cash or if the refund got put on the card. Since he effectively charged the card multiple times. And that the manager would call the next day.

    So anyway we get our phones home vowing never to go to that store again, and my mom starts filling out the rebate forms. Thats when we notice. both phones have the emergency roadside service on them. And my mom’s phone has a 15/mo Media Net/messaging package.

    So its time to call 1-800 cingular or whatnot and she cancels the added stuff and complains.

    Of course the cherry on the top, corporate informs my mom that the 15% off she was eligible for was only supposed to be on accessories.


    For the too long to read people,

    Basically here’s the shady stuff. He first giving us a “free” $30 case but not giving us $30 we were expecting as part of a discount.

    Then after finally getting home, noticed he added 2 extras on one, and another on the second phone.

    So this goes on til today.

  24. The Big O says:

    They arrested the number 1 salesmen in the country for Cingular not too long ago at a location in metro Atlanta…for….wait for it…adding features after people left.

    And this was the NUMBER ONE SALESMEN. Why? Commission. Guy made almost 100 grand a year SEELING CELL PHONES!

  25. Statik1 says:

    I use to work for Cingular as a sales rep in there Pacific market at a corporate retail store and I can tell you the article about the guy getting extra features put on with out him knowing is the up most truth. I cant even begin to count how many times I witnessed other sales reps adding features to users phones, what happened to the man in the article was an everyday thing at Cingular. We had numbers to hit so we would do anything it took to try to get close to them and sad to say if it was at the cost of the customer so be it. I quit working there as soon as the sales quotas we were give got to be ridiculous, at one point the feature quota was going to rise to $20 a customer…..yeah thats right $20 extra we the sales team were going to have to try to add in features per customer we helped. Do you think everyone on your family plan or individual plan is going to have a $20 text message package??? From seeing what customers were typically adding to their feature bill per month really wasn’t even around $20, to get in that range we nearly had to break our backs unless you were a business customer that was going to add a pda plan for $40 which you really could get for $20 but of course Cingular does not want you the consumer to know about but that bit has been out there for awhile. So if your going to add features to your phone plan just call in to customer service, the customer service department is not on quota so they don’t care what you add.

  26. MattT. says:

    This happen to me. My mom got a new phone as she could upgrade since I put her on my account and the salesman added a unlimited texting plan as well as and data plan. I normally use pay per use since I never text and only check e-mail for data wise. I was bewildered when I could not use the internet because they put the text and data plan on her phone only pulling me off the pay-per-use plan to nothing. So she was unlimited text and 1mb data somehow. So I call up Cingular and they nicely fix this, but I was still amazed the workers do this even though it is clearly illegal.

  27. CSR says:

    This kind of thing is exactly why when I see that the person who has called in is a new customer, I go over their features with them. Every so often I get a “What? What is *that*?” response. Then, when I have explained, they tell me they never asked for it and don’t want it.

    And in general–please, for the love of God, look over your contracts before signing them!!I had a customer the other day swear he hadn’t wanted a two year contract, but the copy of the signed contract I was able to pull up quite clearly stated two years. He then screamed at me about how he “doesn’t read those things”. Um…then don’t be too surprised when you end up being held to condictions you don’t want. I even offered to read him the entire contract, but he didn’t want to do that either. Ok…you don’t want to read it and you don’t want to hear it. Just how is the company supposed to advise you of the terms and condictions? Telepathy?

    One thing I did find odd about the recording of this call, and made me wonder if it was bogus, was that I never heard any typing in the background. Any time I review a recording of my calls with my sup, at times I can hear my typing in the background. Of course, I’m a big believer in fully documenting an account, and maybe this rep wasn’t. Or maybe I didn’t have my speaker volume turned up enough to hear it. Still, it made me wonder.

  28. gardoglee says:

    So why am I not surprised to hear this? Because this is so similar to other Cingular tactics which irritate me as a former customer. At least, I’m trying to become a former customer…they don’t seem to want to acknowledge that. While you are checking for added features on your phone, you might also want to check that they are not restarting your lock-in period. You see, there are certain changes to your account which you or I might consider just options changes, but which Cingular considers signing up for a new plan. The most infamous example is anyone who was an AT+T customer before Cingular bought AT+T. The instant you used your phone on the Cingular network they set your lock-in period to two years…even if you had been an AT+T customer for a decade or more. I would guess they will do the same thing for existing Cingular customers when they change the name to AT+T again. That way, they can ding you the $300 early termination fee if you decide their service sucks. This might seem a bit unreasonable if you have been a Cingular customer for a while (particularly if you were an AT+T customer before you were a Cingular customer), but that is just another way they make you continue to pay. As to motivation, well if you think they are hard on the store reps for not hanging you with unwanted features, you should hear what they do to customer service reps who do not meet their assigned retain goals for subscribers requesting termination. If you request termination you will be rerouted to a termination specialist, whose whole job is to do anything to keep you on the service. Lose a subscriber and you could lose your job…or your head.

    Of course, the unwanted features thing isn’t limited to cell phones. Several companies have had problems with sales reps adding on unwanted warranty extensions to customers’ purchases. Best Buy, for example, had such a wave of this a few years back that they fired a whole bunch of sales reps and sales supervisors. Of course, Best Buy actually fired some people for foisting unwanted features, which seems to be the opposite of what Cingular is likely to do.