When did cell phone companies get the idea that making things difficult for their customers was a good idea?

Here are just a few examples of where they went wrong:

* Having two year contracts, and extending them at every opportunity. If you have to threaten your customers to keep them from leaving, you’ve got a problem.

* Sending customers outrageously large bills when they use too many minutes. Why would you want to punish the people who are using your service the most? They should automatically upgrade you to the next plan, or call/text you to let you know you’re at your limit.

* Having way to many service plans, features, and line items on the bill. My last bill had no fewer than 12 line items on it, many of them taxes and fees that I couldn’t explain the purpose of. (Note: Apple, a company that understands this, tried to fix this with the iPhone.)

Each one of these features was probably designed by a well meaning MBA or consultant who did a detailed analysis of how it would improve the bottom line. And they were probably right. Using a two year contract probably DOES improve the bottom line by selling more phones up front (you get the phone cheaper since it’s being paid off over time).

But the problem is that the consumer doesn’t CARE about T-Mobile, AT&T, or Verizon’s bottom line. All they know is that they felt angry the last time they were locked into a plan, used too many minutes, or saw a ‘Regulatory Programs Fee’ on their bill.

Did the cell phone companies really need the government to step in and tell them they should let their customers keep their phone number when switching? It seems like a no brainer to me. If you can provide additional value to your customers with hardly any additional work, maybe you should do it.

Trust your customers the same way you’d like to be treated, and that means treating them with respect. They will reward you with far more business in the long term.

They may even start to have a little bit of brand loyalty, something that is missing in the cell phone industry right now. Despite all those early termination fees, customers are jumping ship left and right. Just like a fist full of sands, the tighter they try to hold on, the more customers will slip through their fingers.

Cell phone companies are winning the battle and losing the war with this type of short term thinking, and it’s time they woke up.