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my T-Mobile hurt locker

March 14, 2010
Filed under: cellphones — bcd @ 11:12 am

cellphone companies are historically one of the great evils in corporate customer service. is there any other industry that values ‘shiny, new penny’ customers more than the mobile phone industry?

when the NexusOne was released by Google, i was interested. i had a current T-Mobile account (2.5+ years) and a non-3G Blackberry Curve that was out of contract. seemed like i was all set for a new phone!

er, slow down.

first off, via Google’s sales page for the NexusOne, i was ineligible for any subsidy. after digging around the intertubes, i found out that because my wife and i were on a “family” plan, the NexusOne subsidized was not available to me. foolishly, i thought i would change that.

right around the time the NexusOne came out, T-Mobile revamped their service plans and released two new plans: “Even More” and “Even More Plus”. diametrically opposite from how new phones are offered, the new rate plans are available to all customers, new and old. switching plans would actually be financially beneficial to me: my wife and i paid roughly $220/month for our family plan, with the @Home service added and unlimited text/data on each phone. under the new plans, we would lose the @Home service (which T-Mobile was discontinuing anyway) and pay $140/month with unlimited text/data. $60 a month is decent savings and i would be able to get a subsidized NexusOne: win-win for me!

i knew there are risks associated with changing a rate plan. my departure from Sprint (my previous carrier) for the warm climes of T-Mobile was the result of getting screwed during a plan change; it was the usual scam: you switch plans, at which time your carrier signs you up for a new two year contract (unbeknownst to you) and by the time you figure it out…well good luck getting that fixed.

since the Sprint debacle is in my databank of corporate ass-fsckery, i knew i should get this question cleared up with T-Mobile. thus i made sure that the very first question i asked the T-Mobile customer rep when inquiring about a plan change was, “will i be required to have a new two year contract”? i was assured that i would not.

as you can guess, i was in fact signed up for a new two year contract on an almost three year old, non-3G Blackberry. T-Mobile would later say this was an “error.” really, you think?

fortunately, my wife caught this “new contract” issue the very same day that i changed the plan. it was actually pure luck: my wife went to a T-Mobile store to ask about the NexusOne; she had no idea it was a web-only sell, she only knew i had mentioned wanting one. the T-Mobile store rep informed my wife that i had just “signed up” for a new two year contract. fortunately, she was able to have that changed, because otherwise i would have been “Sprinted” by T-Mobile.

i gave the T-Mobile billing system a few days to sync-up and then i went back to Google to see if i could buy a NexusOne via a subsidy. lo and behold, it was now offered discounted, only for existing customers the NexusOne would be $279 and for new customers $179. both required the same two year contract and data plan.

so by changing out of my family plan, i saved $100. now all i had to do was recoup the ‘shiny, new penny’ customer $100. no problemo!

properly armed with a new plan (and still being contract-free thanks to my wife) i called T-Mobile back and asked for the “loyalty” dept. if you don’t know, all cell companies have loyalty departments. the loyalty dept is to keep customers from jumping ship to other carriers. loyalty reps are armed with all sorts of deals, such as discount phones prices (even on new, subsidized phones), or rebates, or trimming your contract date to allow you do get a new phone/contract ahead of the industry-standard 22 months. so i figured i was good-to-go with getting the NexusOne for $179. long-term customer, user of data services, i even had shown a penchant to purchase extra wireless products, such as the @Home program. instead, i was told, “NO!”

so to recap: T-Mobile would rather lose at least one customer, possibly two, who have used their service and provided roughly $2400+/year in revenue…all to save $100 subsidy. wonder how long it would take T-Mobile to earn back that $100 in a two-year contract? i am guessing less than a year.

while dealing with the loyalty rep, i was nice, i was polite, i became the calm little center of the world. I was the Zen master. i told the loyalty rep i was going to find a new company and phone and i would be leaving. this is usually the kicker: you gotta be eligible to leave (read: outside of contract) to achieve any real help from the loyalty dept. the loyalty rep gave me her apologies, but said her hands were tied by Google. yeap, T-Mobile couldn’t offer the phone to me for the new customer subsidy price because Google had that specifically excluded in the contract! an image appeared in my mind at this time: it was one of Tom Hicks negotiating with Scott Boras to bring ARod to the Texas Rangers. the CEO of T-Mobile must be a Hicksian-level negotiator. it is more likely that T-Mobile adopted this stance because they could blame the inability to deal on Google. whatever.

so for all of Feb i searched for a new carrier/phone. midway through the month my wife informed me that she can’t get to Facebook on her phone. i ask when it started and she says roughly the beginning of the month. i do a little troubleshooting and it appears she is getting no data access at all. voice works, texts work, but no data. i login to the T-Mobile site and our account looks fine. she is signed up for the new plan, unlimited texts, and the unlimited G1 data plan. so i am forced to make the dreaded call to support. after about 90 minutes of script reading and trying all the things i had already done, the second-tier support rep says he’ll have to enter a ticket for the “network engineers”. i get a trouble ticket assigned and the second-tier support rep says he will call us in two days to see if has been fixed and then he will follow-up about pro-rating the monthly bill, since she’s been without data for two weeks. i was semi-impressed with at least his commitment to see the trouble ticket through.

silly me! despite giving the guy our business phone number as a contact number (and i think they have a few mobile numbers for us already), no one ever called. no one. not support, not billing, nothing. oh, her phone magically started serving up web pages, but no one followed up. standard.

then the Feb bill arrives from T-Mobile. it had the expected $135.95 for “Monthly recurring chgs” plus an unexpected $155.80 for “Usage charges”. i instantly knew the problem, which was confirmed by the bill. it showed that all $155.80 was on my wife’s phone for “MESSAGING CHARGES.” the bill also listed her phone as having “Text Messages – Unlimited”. oxymoron.

sure ’nuff, i decided to ruin my morning by having to deal with T-Mobile yet again (i am up to 5+ hours of call time in dealing with these issues), the problem is as-expected: they fixed her account’s technical setup for data access, but had not properly setup the billing. duh – no shit.

at the end of this call, the billing rep said she wanted me to talk to a “loyalty” rep. even though i know it will make no difference in my decision to leave T-Mobile, i agree. maybe this corporate giant might one day figure out why they suck.

that loyalty rep? she offers me $100 instant rebate on the NexusOne. yeah, the same $100 that i asked for almost two months earlier. i politely thank her and tell her no. sometimes, you gotta have principles.

so, why did all this happen? it could be one of a few scenarios:
1) the rep who initially was helping me change plans? maybe she was a malicious bitch, who felt that if she made my plan change the worst experience ever, i wouldn’t change plans ever again!
2) that same rep could have been new, or under-trained, or poorly trained.
3) that same rep could just be a fscking retard.
4) maybe there are various departments in T-Mobile with misaligned goals and metrics.
5) maybe T-Mobile, who start their calls with, “this call could be monitored or recorded for quality assurance,” actually suck as QA.
6) it could be that their internal systems are so complicated that Harvard grads with MBAs from MIT couldn’t do the daily work.

while it would be fun to think it was #1 or #3, i doubt it.

it is more likely that the employees work with a system that is very complex and they are poorly/under-trained. it is also more likely that T-Mobile’s quality assurance work is well below par. and i would not be surprised to find out that call quotas and goals to close tickets lead managers/departments to make decisions that ruin long-term business relationships.

so what did that $100 cost you, T-Mobile?


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