I was one of the first owners of an iPhone in Spain, buying my iPhone 3G on July 14, 2008. Just a couple weeks ago, almost two months after the launch in the United States, the iPhone 4 began to be announced in the local mobile shops. In 2008, I paid 359€ for my phone, a decision I do not at all regret. So I was pretty much prepared for a similar amount of cash to be exchanged for my upgrade two years later. Here’s what happened when I bought my iPhone 4 yesterday:
Me: Hi, I’d like to buy the new iPhone 4 and use it with my current iPhone plan.
Clerk: You want to exchange points for a phone upgrade?
Me: Huh? I want to buy a new phone.
Clerk: Right, tell me your current mobile number.
Me: [mobile number]
Clerk: Okay, you have 18,600 points.
Me: Wow! That much?
Clerk: That’s nothing at all. Worthless.
Me: Well, I’ve only been a customer for two years.
Clerk: It’s not by time, it’s by how much you spend.
Me: Oh, that makes sense, I don’t pay much.
Clerk: [clicks through company website with the internet dexterity of an octogenarian] Okay. I’m sorry, but with only 18,600 points, it’s going to cost you 386€ to buy the iPhone.
Clerk: That’s really expensive.
Clerk: Here’s what I’d recommend. Since your two-year contract is up, you’re no longer bound to stay with [company]. You should call them up and mention that and say that you’re considering switching companies and ask if they could offer you some more points.
Me: Okay. I’ll try that and come back.
I came really close to not calling them at all to avoid the inconvenience, but in the end I phoned up my mobile service provider and made some guesses as to what to tell the computer to let me talk to a person. Eventually a service rep comes on the line…
Service Rep: How can I help you today.
Me: Hi, I’m a current iPhone customer and my contract is up, and I was wondering if you could offer me some points to upgrade my phone.
Service Rep: Your contract is with the phone you’re calling from?
Service Rep: [with no negotiation or hesitation whatsoever] I can offer you 150,000 points. That will make the new iPhone 4 cost 260€.
WHAT?? I get a 126€ discount just for asking for it??
By this point, I had only made it walking about 50 meters from the mobile shop, so I turned around and bought my phone.
This experience parallels many, many, many experiences I have had with Corporate Spain. Default policies are in place to royally screw customers, but all you have to do is to ask to not be screwed quite so hard and they say, “Oh, okay. Here’s the real deal we can offer.” I can see the capitalist value in profiting from the laziness of the majority, but it seems so dishonest. You can imagine the social discord when Spaniards visit a country like England, where no one asks to talk to the manager unless they’re dying, and even then they apologize for the bother. If you want to not get screwed in Spain, you must complain.