With mobility on the rise and everyone from the CEO to the sales force needing to stay in touch with clients and coworkers, it's no wonder that corporate employees across the globe reach for the cell phone when it comes time to make a contact. However, that mobility can come at a steep price, especially as more and more people take to services such as text messaging, which can add considerable dollars to already burgeoning corporate cell phone bills. At Westminster College, I'm responsible for all college-owned cell phones and, although we're small potatoes compared to some corporate behemoths, we've been able to significantly reduce our cell phone costs. Here are some tips for helping you reduce yours.
Find a discount program or join a cooperative
As late as the middle of last year, we were paying just about full freight on our AT&T cell service. One day, our account rep came to see me to let me know about a new program AT&T had put together for private colleges and universities. The new program was very similar to programs in place at public colleges and governmental agencies. The program offered excellent discounts and included a number of student benefits. The main downside to the program was the fact that the student discounts were tiered and we had no hope of getting to the deepest discounts because of our size.
My first question to the rep was "What if we join with other schools and aggregate our agreements?" She kicked this around, went back to her superiors and came back with a positive answer. Westminster signed the master agreement and committed to a certain individual volume (which was very reasonable) and any other Missouri private college can now join the agreement.
The agreement provides a deep discount to the college with a slightly smaller discount extended to our faculty and staff personal cell phones. Our students (and their families) also enjoy significant benefits under the program, which has been very successful in helping keep our costs down.
Keep it in the family
Westminster used to handle cell phone service more individually. When we moved our service to AT&T corporate side of the house, we lost the ability to place our devices under family plans, but we could make use of pooled business plans. At that time, our costs went up a little, but we didn't have a lot in the way of data or text services being used and we had only a few phones deployed. As the demand for data services increased and our staff began to text a lot more (remember, folks, our enrollment people work 24/7 with 17- and 18-year olds), we started to add individual text and data plans. Costs crept up. Out of the blue, AT&T announced that family plans were once again available on corporate accounts. We immediately analyzed our usage and moved most of our phones to family plans. At the same time, we added unlimited texting to each family plan ($30 per 5 phones), which was a lot less than adding individual texting plans to each line! With a goal of regular communication, text has become a critical part of our outreach efforts, so managing those costs was pretty important.
If your provider doesn't allow you to use family plans for corporate devices, ask about pooling minutes. Usage per user generally varies each month; in one month, a user might use only 60 minutes whereas heuses 600 the next month. However, overall group usage probably doesn't vary wildly. Aggregate those minutes and see if a pooled business plan is less expensive than a bunch of individual plans.
Share the cost
Many of the employees to whom we've provided cell phones don't want to carry around two devices - a personal phone and a work phone. Instead, we've put into place a program whereby a device user pays a standard portion of the monthly bill through a payroll deduction. In return, the phone can be used for both personal and business use. Personally, I like this plan as it's perceived as an employee benefit for those that need to carry college phones since they save more money that they would otherwise spend on a second phone. It's also good for us because we're able to recoup some of our costs. A win-win all around.
A couple of notes:
- Employees need to abide by institutional safety policies with regard to cell phone use, even when using it for personal use.
- If an employee constantly uses thousands of minutes, we ask for a larger contribution or discontinue the agreement. So far, the folks we've talked to have been completely understanding and did not mind paying a little more to use the phone more.
On the flip side of this, consider the reverse of this. Provide those employees that need service with a monthly stipend or allowance.
Do you have a user that uses the phone solely for the occasional incoming call? Consider getting that user a basic phone with prepaid service and skipping the monthly commitment altogether. After all, if the person's usage eventually goes up, you always move him to a corporate plan.
If a user really doesn't need a phone, discontinue his service and save the money.
Obviously, regular tracking of usage is an important consideration. It doesn't make any sense at all to pay massive overage fees when simply moving up to the next plan would be less expensive overall. If at all possible, make sure your phones are covered in some kind of minute rollover plan - all of our phones are - as these kinds of plans can help you with occasional overages without having to bump to higher minute plans. If you notice a user going crazy with a phone, address it (see above).
Also, make sure to discontinue service for phones that are no longer used. However, if you're very close to the end of a contract period, it might make more sense to pay the last couple of months of service than pay what could be a $175 early contract termination fee.
A call to 411 from a cell phone isn't too expensive. 100 calls to 411 by the group, however, can quickly add up. Consider the use of a service like 1-800-GOOG-411 when possible. It's a free business phone number lookup service that might be able to save you a few bucks.
Since 1994, Scott Lowe has been providing technology solutions to a variety of organizations. After spending 10 years in multiple CIO roles, Scott is now an independent consultant, blogger, author, owner of The 1610 Group, and a Senior IT Executive with CampusWorks, Inc. Scott is available for consulting, writing, and speaking engagements and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.