Wireless cell phones can be a great time-saver—that is, until the bill arrives. A company with 50 employees typically receives a wireless phone bill about 300 pages long. The bills frequently contain so many errors that Chuck Davis, CEO of Wireless Watchdogs in Los Angeles, calls his work, “Nextel: CSI,” after the crime scene investigations on television detective shows.
Davis, whose company has started teaming up with builders to root out overcharges, has seen plenty of them. “We see phones being charged two and three times for the same access fee each month. We see services that were not requested showing up on the phone. We see discounts that were requested not being applied,” says Davis. Also common is for a corporate customer to pay $150 to $200 for unlimited minutes. But then there will be an extra, superfluous $10 charge for unlimited nights and weekends. Davis calls this “the unlimited ‘unlimited plan.' ” If dozens of employees are paying these extra charges, it adds up quickly, he says.
Brian Gordon, the information technology specialist for Beazer Homes in Las Vegas, was a CSI victim. “My phone was activated on the wrong plan, which created overages,” which are charges for using too many minutes, he said. After being contacted by Wireless Watchdog, Gordon says the company generated a detailed report analyzing Beazer's wireless bills: how many minutes they used, when, and how many cell-to-cell minutes. The latter are the most expensive calls, since the company is paying for both cell phones. Calling the company's 800-number on a cell phone is another no-no, advises Watchdog: The company is paying both for the 800-number and the cell phone charges.
The wireless-analysis company—founded in April 2002 and now with 150 clients—not only recommended different plans for some users at Beazer, but recommended a different company (Nextel), whose “radio” feature, which functions like a walkie-talkie, is free. Beazer's Gordon uses it to “direct connect” with contractors: “I'm on my way. Are you on site?” is a classic radio, rather than telephone, call. Gordon also appreciates Nextel's managed address book, under which the company's phone numbers can be pushed out to all users. No programming numbers into phones.
Tangled Issues It's perhaps ironic that the wireless world, intended to make life simpler, is now more complicated than it used to be.
“One person reviewing the bill is not enough,” says Gordon, who supervises 125 cell phone users. Nextel, until recently, did not even provide reports, he says.
Watchdog Davis says his company is paid by taking a percentage of the initial savings. Usually they save a company 20 percent to 35 percent for the first three months, he says. Then they work on a per phone fee, typically on a month-to-month basis. “We have to earn their business every month. We have no long-term contracts,” says Davis.
The housing industry, says Davis, presents special challenges to cell phone users including a lot of “flat” phones—phones that are run over by heavy equipment. Wireless Watchdogs is going to offer an award this year in various categories for those who offer the best stories about how they lost their phone. “There are a lot of housing developments that have cell phones buried in their concrete, or swimming at the bottom of Porta Potties,” he says. Golf courses can be cemeteries for cell phones, too, he adds.
Human nature is also part of the problem. When new phones are ordered, Davis cautions, call volume skyrockets, especially if the new phones have additional features. Managers should be aware of a new source of contractor discontent: cell phone envy. “He has a flip, why doesn't mine have a flip?” sighs Davis. “There's nothing I can do about that.”