Rich Tucker

It’s impossible to turn on the television without seeing an ad attempting to convince you to switch cellular providers. New customers get free phones, rollover minutes, no roaming charges. But once you sign on the dotted line, they’re free to give you the shaft.

Back in December our phone was stolen. To get a new one from Cingular would have cost $150, but the helpful sales clerk had a suggestion: Get one for less from EBay. There was just one drawback -- while the phone we bought was indeed less expensive, it didn’t work in our area (even though the listing on EBay had indicated it would). So we were still phoneless until a friend stepped up and offered us a used one.

Inexplicitly, just five months later that one has broken. We’re back to square one.

Again the Cingular people are no help. The walls of their stores are decorated with phones, some as inexpensive as $20, but that price doesn’t apply if you’re an existing customer. They’d be happy to give a cheap phone -- even a free one -- to someone who’s been using another carrier. But if you’ve been with Cingular for years and years, you’re out of luck until your current contract runs out. It’s akin to going to an expensive restaurant, getting lousy service, eating lousy food and, at the end of the evening, still having to pay a hefty bill.

Too often corporate America treats potential new customers better than it treats loyal existing ones. Too often it builds lousy cars and charges a fortune to fix them. And too often it has turned 800-numbers into what consumer guru Clark Howard calls “customer NO-service” lines. Americans have to punch so many numbers into our phones (when they’re even working) before we can talk to a human that many people just give up.

We’re often paying more for less customer service. No wonder so many say our economy’s on the wrong track.

Rich Tucker

Rich Tucker is a communications professional and a columnist for