We now interrupt our period of navel-gazing and travel talk to talk about something more practical. How I’m pretty sure Movistar tried to scam me the other day.
Movistar is my cellphone provider. There are three companies here in Chile, Entel (widely considered the best), Movistar (with many complaints, but still theoretically, a decent company) and Claro, which is rumored to have less coverage, but I have no personal experience with them.
After a series of off-contract phones that I provided myself, my latest one was finally not functioning properly. Specifically, the button to change functions wasn’t working, so if I was on the phone and then wanted to look at the weather, I had to turn my phone on and off. It’s old, probably impossible to repair, and well, I decided I wanted a new one. I decided to get an iPhone, because I am a brainless sheep of a follower, and anyway, I am already comfortable in the “Apple ecosystem,” which I can’t believe I just wrote. I decided on the 4S because I don’t want the latest and greatest, and also because the Iphone 5 is crazy expensive here.
I had done some comparison shopping, across companies (we have numeric portability now in Chile, so I was looking at Entel and Movistar (my current provider)), and across plans for the IPhone 4S, and arrived at a deal in which the phone would cost me X, and the monthly plan would cost me Y. I buy the cheapest plan, because I’m not a heavy phone-user. I don’t really enjoy being on the phone, and find messages and/or internet work just as well. Plus we have skype, oh, and whatsapp, which we use here often instead of SMS, as it’s free, and web-based. It also works internationally, so I get to hang out with my sister online at times, and that’s fun.
At any rate, I went to the Movistar store (which, since it is white inside, and glassed-in, looks very much like an Apple store) that’s on Huérfanos, near Cerro Santa Lucía. I told the woman at the door what I wanted, she checked to make sure they had the phone I wanted in stock, and she gave me a number. I was called to a particular window, explained what I wanted, and was told the following:
Him: You can get the Iphone 4S for X (my expected price) plus 15,000 CLP (30 US dollars), and a contract of Y.
Me: Hmm, strange, I have been on the internet, and that is not the price of the phone I was looking at.
Insert blather from the guy about how the price of the phone is higher because the contract is cheaper, which I know, as I’ve already researched this, and in fact, have been researching it for years.
Insert me saying, no, that’s the contract I wanted, but the price of the phone is incorrect. Can you please get on the internet and look at the price I saw?
Him: The prices are as they are stated on the computer (and as an aside, in unholy irony, he couldn’t get on the internet).
Insert me thinking madly, how do you say “bait and switch” in Spanish. No, I say, the prices are as they are advertised on the internet, and the price is X, not X plus 15,000.
Him: I can’t give you that price, this is the price.
Me: Let’s walk over to the “prechequeo” people and see what they can find. Together with a representative in this part of the store, we go onto the internet, and find the price is X (as I originally stated). I go back to the same dude that was helping me before, the price handwritten on a piece of paper, from the prechequeo dude, but my original guy is helping other customers. I am sent to someone else, paper in hand.
The second salesperson respected the price I had shown her, waived the new simcard fee (which the first guy was going to charge me), applied my discount points, and brought me my new phone. Yay, great peals of joy.
And then I asked to see a supervisor.
Me: I explain the background, and then ask, “Can you explain to me how it is that I was quoted a price that I’d never seen before on the internet, with a contract that was equal to the one I wanted.”
Her: The price of the phone is dependent on the contract.
Me: I know, but in this case, the contract was the same price, but the phone was more expensive. How is that possible?
Her: Oh, he must have made a mistake.
And on and on she went, positing the kinds of mistakes he might have made.
Me: But how did he quote me a price that is not visible anywhere on the website?
Her: There are prices available that are not visible on the internet.
Me: How very transparent. Also, this price was MORE than what was listed on the internet. Can you explain that?
Her: Maybe a mistake, wrong information, data entry problem, confusion, lapse in concentration, etc.
Me: That’s all well and good, but it would have been my $30, plus the $5 that the new lady didn’t charge me for my SIM card. That’s $35 I almost spent unnecessarily. Can you explain to me the discrepancy in price?
And she posited possible mistakes again, and again and again, and assured me that as we got closer to me paying the discrepancy would have been discovered, and I would have been charged the price I eventually paid.
Me: I understand exactly what you are saying, and I hear every word of it. I also know that you do not set the policies here, that this is a job for you, and that you are not in charge of the work flow. But I believe that if I were not an educated consumer, I would have paid the higher price. I want you to tell your supervisors that to me this is a lack of transparency, and it stinks of fraud (huele a engaño).
Her: It was just a mistake.
Me: I understand that that is your position, but I want you to know that from where I sit, as a consumer with 35 extra dollars in my pocket because I educated myself before I walked in the door, and someone who was quoted two different prices by two different Movistar representatives, who sit a mere 40 cm apart, and one of whom was willing to waive the SIM card fee, and one wasn’t, I want you to know that it absolutely seems like an abusive practice.
And as I politely took my leave, I promised to publicize it. And so here we are now.
Lesson learned: Buyer beware, educate the hell out of yourself, ask for transparency in your transactions, ask for breakdowns of the various costs of whatever you’re being charged, for people to talk slowly (if necessary), and know that in Chile, as elsewhere, the cellphone companies are doing what they can to make a buck. And that buck might just be yours.
btw, and for what it’s worth, I bounced the whole story off of the lady in back of me at the payment line, and she said (without me prompting), that it sounded like an engaño.
Movistar sold us phone & internet for $30.000 (US$60) a month. The first bill was almost $50.000, because they charged us about $20.000 (US$40) for a few calls to Viña del Mar. The thing about such abusive practices is that in my case, it has driven us completely off of long distance. We won’t be using any long distance at all, since we can just use Skype — for which we would have paid about US$2 for all those calls. Of course to use Skype you need a credit card. Luckily I have one.
I know this is an old post but I just wanted to say for anyone reading out there that this was not an abusive practice. I mean, yes, long distance calls are expensive unless you have a “plan” but it was not a dishonest charge. I don’t work for Movistar nor I’m a fan of theirs but those $20,000 were a legitimate charge. That’s why everybody in Chile uses cell phones to call their friends/family in other cities.
It will be interesting to see how the cell phone companies are going to compete with the land line services from 2014 on when all telephone calls within Chilean territory (although I’m not sure about Easter Island) will be local calls.
Way to go! Consistancy is NOT something you find here. Luckily you speek Spanish well enough to plead your case!
Speak…sorry. My ‘Apple’ product is hard to type on 🙂
it’s that whole ecosystem really (rolling eyes). Yes, it is true, I can plead my case. Developing those language skills has been time-consuming, but overall, extremely worthwhile!
Kudos for sticking up for yourself and pointing out the terrible customer service. Their schemes probably work on others because so few are brave.
I don’t know about brave, but certainly pissy! I wish I could have walked out, but their plan was still the cheapest, most big business is in collusion anyway, I figure. Maybe some cans and some string? Would not get me on the internet though!
Next time call Sernac, these days they are very willing to fine companies infringing any customer rights. According to the legislation it is a very serious offense for a company to charge you a price that is not the listed one, internet or not. I know that for a fact, because I have been overcharged and complained about the real price and the mention of Sernac smoothed out all the problems.
Thanks, Carlos. Do you think I could still file a complaint without written or recorded proof, and having paid the correct price? Not that you have to be the SERNAC expert, just thought you might know off the top of your head.
Also, when are you coming to Chile?
To tell you the truth I have no idea. A quick look at the Sernac web site seems to indicate that you can send a query (consulta) explaining what happened and they will guide you. There is another section that is explicitly to make complains, but I would start by sending a query and waiting for their reply. When I did it, I didn’t need to go the whole way. Mentioning Sernac was enough for me.
Most likely we will go to Chile next during the holiday season. Mona (my girlfriend) and I are expecting our first child (due sometime at the end of June/beginning of July), so we will travel to show the baby to the family. My parents are coming to visit us around the time of the birth, but having the rest of the family visiting us at the same time is kinda un-practical, so we will be visiting them instead 🙂
Most likely we will have to spend a few days in Santiago visiting people there too, so we’d be delighted to meet you in person.
Hey, Carlos, congratulations on the baby-on-the-way, to both of you. It would be great to meet up. Also, I have moved on to other frustrations, but next time, SERNAC for sure!
Hi Eileen, good read, nice story.
You have given me a platform for my rant, here goes:
I’ve had TERRIBLE experiences with Movistar. It’s been over a month and I’m still waiting for the installation of their internet service in my apartment. I would have switched to a different company — but guess what — the building is only wired for Movistar. They are awful. I have waited in the building on FIVE separate occassions for a technician to arrive for the install — and nobody showed up. This was a total of 15 hours of my time, gone. Not to mention the hours and hours on the phone fighting for the installation. Bottom line, they are terrible and should be avoided at all costs.
I don’t know if you are interested in Spain but there was just a program on about this topic on Spanish tv (http://www.lasexta.com/videos/salvados.html “El cliente perfecto”). They focus on tricks played on consumers and Telefonica, being a Spanish company, was featured of course (they are a nightmare!!).
Forgot to write that Telfonica = Movistar.
Yep, Telefónica home has turned into Movistar here, I think. They seem to be the same company, yes. And I’m neither interested nor disinterested in Spain specifically, but I do think it’s interesting how fraud is just fraud, all over the world! Sorry to hear they’re up to it over there, too. But thanks for popping in to let me know. I’ll check out the program!