Selling consumers services they don’t need is nothing new; recent examples include Wells Fargo’s fake account fiasco and Office Depot’s computer virus scanning program. Now, a labor group has filed a complaint with federal regulators accusing wireless carrier T-Mobile of using similarly aggressive sales goals, driving employees to enroll users in services they don’t actually want or never asked for.
Labor coalition Calling Out T-Mobile — a project of Change to Win Retail Initiatives — filed a complaint on Friday with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, according to the Washington Post. The complaint is based on a new report [PDF] that found T-Mobile’s “’unrealistic’ and ‘punishing’ sales targets” led employees to fraudulently add programs or services — such as insurance or additional lines — to customers’ accounts without their knowledge.
The group’s report — titled “Under Pressure At The Un-carrier: How Hard-Selling At T-Mobile Hurts Employees and Customers” — is based on an analysis of thousands of customer complaints filed with the Federal Trade Commission, interviews with employees across the country, and online surveys of both employees and customers.
According to the report, troubles with sales at T-Mobile began in 2013 when the company adopted its “un-carrier” platform. At that time the company began to use deceptive “no contract” claims and misleading early termination fee marketing to fuel growth, the report claims.
Feeling The Pressure
In a survey of more than 500 T-Mobile employees, Change to Win found that workers say they were driven to add services to customer accounts because of “crazy” and “unrealistic” high-pressure sales goals handed down by the company and threats of retaliation if they missed targets.
In fact, 83% of T-Mobile sales associates said they felt pressure to add products and services that customers did not explicitly request.
This pressure comes in the form of managers monitoring goal progress hourly and pushing workers to add more charges — such as accessories, insurance, or lines — to customers’ bills.
According to employees, the highest sales goal pressures relate to adding insurance to customers’ accounts. Multiple workers tell Change to Win that the company requires sales staff to sign up 80% of it new accounts with the JUMP! insurance and upgrade program which costs $9 to $12 per device per month, or with a $10 per month premium handset protection service.
In order to meet these goals, one employee reports that it has become standard practice to add the JUMP! insurance and upgrade program to customers’ accounts without their consent and then remove it a few days later. This, the worker says, makes employee numbers look good and the “boss will be happy.”
Another employee says she was pressured to add the ancillary fees to a customer’s account by a manager, who instructed “don’t give [the customer] the option to say no.”
Consequences Of Missing Goals
To make the sales goal pressures worse, many employees tell Change to Win that T-Mobile structures their pay in a way that is dependent on hitting targets that are unachievable.
For example, commission can double a retail worker’s hourly base wage, which is as low as $10.21 an hour, Change to Win reports.
One T-Mobile worker reported that he relies on sales goal bonuses to pay bills.
”I couldn’t make it on my hourly alone,” he said.
If an employee is in danger of missing goals, workers tell Change to Win that managers often “explicitly or tacitly” press them to commit fraud.
When an employee doesn’t make goal they are disciplined or required to attend sales “coaching” meetings on their days off, the workers report to Change to Win.
“If you don’t meet your goals you get lower hours, and when you have less hours it becomes harder to meet your goals,” one worker told the group. “It becomes a cycle hard to get out of.”
Employees report that if they express concerns about the unethical behavior or high-pressure sales tactics, they are “seen as a cry baby.”
Despite attempts to keep customers in the dark by removing the charges before they hit bills, many call center employees say they receive frustrated complaints from account holders about these billing problems likely tied to the fraudulent add-ons.
One employee says she receives daily calls from customers who are irate that extra phone lines have been added to their account without consent.
In many cases, the issues have been traced back to associates “adding lines customers don’t need, or telling customers they’re going to get something for free but adding it to their bill,” the employee reports.
According to Change to Win’s analysis of FTC complaints, between 2013 and 2016 T-Mobile has received the highest number of complaints from customers of any wireless network.
In one case a Georgia customer told the FTC that during an account set up at a local T-Mobile retail store, a $12 monthly insurance fee was fraudulently added by a sales associate.
“No one asked if I wanted to purchase an insurance for my phone,” the customer states. “That has been added to the account without my knowledge or approval.”
Similar issues were uncovered by Change to Win’s own surveys completed in Massachusetts, Maryland, Minnesota, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin.
In all, the group found that one-in-three T-Mobile customers in five states reported they were fraudulently enrolled in programs and services by the company.
For instance, 55.7% of survey respondents said their monthly bill was more expensive than they were told it would be when they signed on with the company.
Customers tell Change to Win that these costs were the result of being fraudulently enrolled in programs by employees.
Specifically, 43.5% of customers said they were enrolled in phone insurance programs they did not request; 27.7% were enrolled in unlimited data plans; 12.4% of customers received unwanted additional lines; 11.9% were enrolled in unlimited texting programs; and 18.1% said they were fraudulently enrolled in other services.
Consumerist has reached out to T-Mobile for comment on the report. We’ll update this post when we hear back.
For now, Change to Win suggests the wireless provider should reform its sales culture from the top down. Changes should include:
• giving workers a meaningful voice in setting metrics or eliminate sales goals based on compensation;
• enforce a “no discipline” policy for employees who raise concerns on goal metrics;
• align customer service goals with customers’ best interest;
• improve the pay for employees;
• reward staff for long-term customer retention;
• audit and investigate how fraudulent enrollments are tracked;
• publicly report how many opened lines are not in service and how many fraudulent enrollment complaints are received.