Persfi/26"/dt1st/mark2nd

By JANE BRYANT QUINN

It's a jungle out there, and for once, I'm not talking about investments. The subject is long-distance telephone calls. The marketing is wild. If you haven't lined up a special promotional deal for yourself, you haven't tried.

The salespeople who reach you by phone will sweeten almost any deal, if you'll quit your current carrier and switch to theirs. You're probably also being barraged with direct-mail offers.

The carriers' arsenal of incentives includes free long-distance minutes, frequent-flier miles, videos, rate discounts and cash. Bargain-hunting consumers called "spinners" in the industry whirl from carrier to carrier, picking up every special offer that comes along.

An old friend of mine Allen Whitney of Worcester, Mass. called recently with a tale that beat all. He had been subscribing to AT & T;'s One Rate Plus plan, which waived its monthly, $4.95 fee for his first six months. When he got a second number, at a second home, he asked that the fee be waived again. AT & T; said no.

So when he got a call from a sales rep for MCI WorldCom, he was ready. The clincher was MCI's Sunday rate of 5 cents a minute. At AT & T;, his Sunday calls were 10 cents a minute. What's more, he was mad at AT & T.; He made the switch.

AT & T; struck back. It sent him a letter, saying he was missed and enclosing a $100 check. By cashing it, he'd return to the fold.

One thing about Whitney he doesn't stay mad. "An enticing offer," he concluded. He cashed the check.

Here's where the story gets interesting. When MCI learned that he was back in bed with AT & T;, a sales rep called with a proposal. "I've got a way for you to double your money," he said. Return to MCI. Then AT & T; "will offer you another $100 to switch back again."

Surprised, Whitney pointed out that if he made another round trip, MCI would lose him as a customer. That didn't bother the salesman, who said he just had to "make his numbers" his commission or quota. (MCI wouldn't comment on how he was paid.)

Would AT & T; pay for the same customer twice? Yes indeedy, according to spokesman Mark Siegel. The second check might not be as high as $100, but then again, it might. Since Whitney spends around $40 a month on long-distance calls, he could wind up with five months free.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.

Prev