Customer Service

December 18, 2004

In a stunning, if only because it is nearly 2005, example of how not to provide customer service I give you Cingular Wireless. Today I tried twice, to upgrade my cell phone to a newer model. For those of you not familiar with how this particular shell game works, you only get a new phone with all the nifty features by agreeing to extend your contract for 1, or 2, or more years. Buying the phone outright is possible too, but they are outrageously expensive.

Most carriers allow you to upgrade after you've had your current phone for 6 or 12 months; I've had my Motorola v60t for over 2 years.

Hire Teenage Boys, They're Good For Customer Relations

At Cingular location number one we were treated to a 60 minute wait. The sole employee was working as quickly as possible on a father and daughter sale. Both were converting from older AT&T phones to new models. During the course of the hour we managed to overhear enough to learn that her coworker was always late. Finally a young man, who was unshaven and mildly sweaty, wearing a ball cap, dirty tee-shirt, no name tag, an an attitude stumbled into the store and said, "Can I help someone." Not only late, but woefully lacking in social graces.

After telling him I wanted to trade up, he went and got the new phone and then started to lecture me about the rate plan. He asked which one I wanted and I said I wanted to keep the one I had. Loudly and snidely he said, "The new phone uses GSM and yours doesn't so you can't." He produced a brochure and I picked on that was close to my current plan. After he accessed my account online he discovered that my current plan would in fact work if I wanted to keep it.

A further access of my account turned up a mysteriously large outstanding bill that he said had to be paid before I could get a new phone. He said this loud enough for all the other customers in the store overhear. Gee, I feel better now that you've scolded me about the rate plan and embarrassed me needlessly in front of all these other customers.

In the midst of his "conversation" with me he queried his coworker to see if she had clocked him in. When she said no, his response was (again at volume), "Shit!" Classy all the way.

Returning home I called Cingular Customer Service and talked a very helpful gentleman who discovered that my phone had been improperly configured when we moved in July. Hence it was using the wrong towers and I was getting roaming charges for local calls that weren't roaming. Almost $100 worth in the most recent billing cycle. So the overly large bill was their fault too.

Change the Rules Early and Often to Keep Paying Customers Happy

Venturing out to try this exchange again, at a different retail location, I discovered that when Cingular botched the transfer of my service from Illinois to Kansas, they also reset the "service date" for my equipment to July 2004. So instead of having a phone that was eligible for exchange, I have one that it is, as far as Cingular is concerned, 5 months old. No new phone for Christmas. Not only was I not told about this gotcha in July, I wasn't told that they were extending my contract by 12 months just because I moved.

So I still have a 2-year old phone. But I only have 7 months to go before I can switch to another service provider. In one day I discovered that they have been over billing me for local calls, that they extended my contract without telling me, and that they reset my service date so I can't get new equipment without telling me. With the exception of the Customer Service representative on the phone, the sales people I dealt with were brusk, if not downright rude to me.

I guess they want me to take my money elsewhere. I'm happy to oblige.

Author's profile picture

Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.