Virgin Mobile is the latest company to offer price protection for customers who lose their jobs.

Starting April 15, the phone company will offer what it calls "Pink Slip Protection" that will pay for three months of its service for new and existing customers who lose their jobs. Customers must prove that they're eligible for state unemployment benefits, and must have one of Virgin Mobile USA's prepaid monthly plans that don't have annual contracts.

While three free months of cell phone use while looking for a job may not sound like much time, it's a start that should help people get back on their feet and find a job, said Bob Stohrer, chief marketing officer for Virgin Mobile.
"We hope that what we're helping people to do is get themselves situated and back into employment," Stohrer told me in a telephone interview.

Like many companies offering help to people who lose their jobs -- Walgreens, Ford, Hyundai, FedEx Office, and others -- it's a tactic to build the brand and help create customer loyalty. After all, if a business helped you when times were tough, maybe you're more likely to stick with them for the long haul.

Virgin Mobile's Stohrer admitted as much, saying the Pink Slip Protection plan could tip the scales for someone looking to buy a cell phone amid all the prepaid phone choices out there.

"Anybody who takes advantage of this is going to become a better customer for us in the long-term," he said.

The national unemployment rate is 8.5%, so its probably safe to assume that about the same percentage of cell phone customers are unemployed and could use this plan. At a time when having a cell phone is no longer a luxury but a necessity, especially when looking for a job, Virgin Mobile customers may flock to the program when it starts April 15.

"You rely on your cellphone even more when you're out of a job" and networking and trying to get ahold of employers, Stohrer said.

Customers must have a Virgin Mobile monthly plan for at least two consecutive months to be eligible for the pink slip plan. People with one of its text-only plans are also eligible, although texting to request a job interview isn't recommended.

Getting a helping hand, if only for three months, is still a helping hand.

"We're trying to help somebody get back on their feet and manage costs when they're really tight," Stohrer said.

Aaron Crowe is an unemployed journalist in the San Francisco Bay Area. Read about his job search at www.AaronCrowe.net

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