“Cellular Customer Service” is an Oxymoron

I’m finding myself muddling over the concept of mediocrity this week. While I try my hardest to be a patient and understanding person in all situations, I can’t help but notice that I seem to be running into it a lot lately. This time it concerns a cellular services company and its insurance provider. I’ll refrain from mentioning names, because it probably doesn’t matter. In the area of customer service, they really all seem to have their own horror stories.

I had been having troubles with my Blackberry recently – Java script errors when running the GPS service on it, the battery draining after one or two short calls, the need to reboot the thing by pulling out the battery all the time. Finally, it just died, refusing my efforts to revive it and just blacking out, teasing me with an occasional lighting of the screen but going blank as soon as I’d touch the screen. My husband reminded me that we’ve been paying insurance on the thing at the rate of $7.00 per month for as long as I’ve owned it, and that I should take it in and get a new one if need be. I decided to head into the store and find out what I needed to do, so I packed up the phone, my PC in case we needed it, and my purse and headed on down. Turns out, they can only deal with battery issues at a “regular” store, so they referred me over to another store in the area that is designated as a “repair” store with a technician on site. So I packed up, got in the car, and headed over there.

Turns out, there is little sticker under the trackball on a Blackberry, and this sticker is normally all white. If for some reason your device has been exposed to any type of moisture, be it steam, water, rain, wet hands, even humidity, this sticker gets pink in parts. My sticker was pink at the very top, nowhere else, but this still qualifies as “water damage” and basically gets them out of doing anything for you for free. However, I was told that if I wanted to stick with the same device, and I didn’t want to upgrade with the commitment of a new, two year contract, I could pay $100.00 and get a new phone from the insurer by filing a claim. The technician explained that this was a great deal, because even though the same device with the new contract was available at a price of $49.00, a new phone without the contract was listed at and would indeed cost me about five hundred dollars. Therefore, the $100.00 replacement offered through the insurance was a great deal, according to the technician and the other person in the store. Ok, I’m currently out of work and in need of my device, and I don’t want to get sealed in to a new contract , so I bit the bullet and shelled out the hundred bucks.

A couple of days later, the new device arrives at my doorstep. I hesitated when I opened the box, because it had the name of the insurance company on the box that the device was in – it did not say “Blackberry.” I’m confused now, wondering if this is a reconditioned phone, and if so, why the $100.00 charge for a “new” phone was hyped to me as such a great deal.

As I’m running my son around to doctor’s appointments (that’s another post), I take advantage of an hour’s lag time to go have the technician help me set up the phone and see if, by some miracle, we can transfer some of the data from the old phone. No luck on the data transfer – my old device was DOA – but he did something really quick with my phone, told me that my browser would pop up in an hour, and sent me on my way.

Four or five hours later, no browser, no email, nada, so I called the toll free customer service number for some help. A nice gal in the Phillipines spent about a half an hour on the phone with me, walking me through the steps I needed to take to set up the wireless service on the phone and get the parts moving. She even surprised me with a call back to make sure that I was receiving calls ok. Turns out the other guy hadn’t done a thing.

I didn’t have any numbers to go by, so I resorted to my Gmail contacts and devoted all of Friday evening to entering as many of them by hand as I could find listed. For the others, I sent a general email to many folks asking for their numbers. They replied quickly and were happy to oblige, expressing their condolences at my agonizing, manual process. By the time I was done, I thought I’d need either carpal tunnel or thumb surgery, or maybe a couple of cortisone shots in the hands.

That’s when we decided to go ahead and plug the phone into my laptop via the USB cord to save my hard work, in order to avoid this nastiness again. Nice thought, but it wasn’t meant to be, because as it turns out, the device’s port was defective and couldn’t transfer the data. We found this out when we made another trip to the official “repair” store and they tested the device. Hence, the need to file another claim, request another phone, and yes, re-enter all of the numbers by hand because the connection to the laptop won’t work.

At this point, I was mad. I’m asking for a new device rather than a reconditioned one, because apparently they don’t even recondition them, they just throw them back in a box and ship them off to the next sucker on the list. The only new device they’ll send me, though, is listed at a retail price that’s $200 less than the model I turned in, and has less functionality. So I agree, not too confidently, to another reconditioned “new” device, and upon receipt of it, I’ll have to go through the whole thing on the phone with the gal in the Phillipines, key in all of my contacts and their numbers again, and reload all of my applications. I asked them if they were going to reimburse me for my time and didn’t get much of an answer to that either.

So why does no one care what type of experience or service I receive as a consumer of this company’s products and services? Why is it necessary to misrepresent to me that a “new” phone is really a reconditioned phone? Why do I feel that if any of us opened up the trackballs on our Blackberry after a bit of time, we’d find pink on that sticker so that they don’t have to really cover anything? This is the stuff that trust is made of, and I have none in this company.

Maybe mobile is in the driver’s seat right now, but companies are rethinking the length and breadth of their strategic plans because technologies and the ways in which we consumers access and share information are evolving at exponential rates, and becoming bogged down in inflexible plans when adaptability is the name of the game is the equivalent of Darwinian suicide.

I’m a customer of this company because they are the “devil I know,” not because I like them or their products or services are differentiated from their competitors. Wouldn’t it be nice if mobile companies could find a way of keeping consumers in their court by way of engagement, instead of by tying them to their apron strings by way of contractual balls and chains?

The bar is set pretty low. It seems as though anyone who wants to set a new standard in customer service only has to study the failures of cellular companies to know where to start in terms of making inroads and improvements. Take a look at any of the social media channels using the names of these companies as keywords, and you’ll feel a visceral kinship with the expressed frustrations of consumers there. Do the opposite of what they’re complaining about, price it reasonably, be innovative, and you’ll be the new standard bearer in whatever it is you’re about to undertake. As a matter of fact, use the same channels to ask consumers to help you brainstorm and paint a picture of what utopia looks like from their end of things in relation to your offering. The really good companies are listening, and consumers will support them in their efforts. If you open a mobile service company, let me know. I’ll be over.


About diannawiggins

Information and Knowledge Management professional with experience from Fortune 500 and nonprofit industries. I exude a love of learning and
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