A letter to T-Mobile

First, let me start by saying that I’ve historically been one of T-Mobile’s biggest “boosters” in my circle of friends and acquaintances.  The service has good coverage at a reasonable price, and I’ve never had any issues with dropped calls (although occasionally my phone doesn’t ring when there’s an incoming call, but I believe that’s a complaint I cover below under “outdated firmware”).

However, over the past two or so years I’ve been a “FlexPay” subscriber I’ve been sorely disappointed by the level of customer service I’ve received.  Every time I’ve called with a problem, I have never had a satisfactory resolution.  Further, it is really frustrating to realize that you actually have the nerve to charge me extra for the indignity of dealing with this inferior customer service.

The problems started almost right away.  I purchased a G1 Android handset late in 2008, and then later added my girlfriend to my account in early 2009.  When I added my girlfriend’s line, at the end of every bill cycle I’d start getting money deducted from the FlexAccount bucket when I’d send a text message.  It took months to get this problem resolved, with hours on the phone every time trying to explain to CSRs (who often times had a poor grasp of English and were obviously connected via a VoIP circuit with technical problems) who seemingly never understood the problem. I won’t repeat this entire story here, and the polite complaint letter I sent to T-Mobile’s Customer Relations department was ignored, so it is apparent to me that nobody cared then.

Since that time, I’ve called FlexPay Customer Service a couple of times with similarly mixed results, including when I switched from a G1 to a Motorola Cliq (which I’m also not totally happy with, but I’ll get to that later).  Every time I have an issue I’ve had great customer service from your employees in the store, but they are powerless to actually help me and just apologetically hand me the phone after connecting me to FlexPay (or, in a number of cases such as the “text message problems” above, are courteous enough to sit on the phone and attempt to resolve the problem themselves with the FlexPay representative).

Fast forward to today.  Me and said girlfriend are splitting up.  About a month ago, we were both at the Lloyd Center Mall here in Portland, where you have a company store staffed by some of the friendliest and most courteous cellular store employees I’ve had the pleasure to interact with (I’m not being sarcastic: this is in essence the body of my biggest complaint).  I asked in the store how we could go about splitting our service into two separate accounts.  At the store, I was told that all I needed to do was call the FlexPay accounts department by dialing 611 on my handset, and tell them I want to “release” the number so my girlfriend can switch it over to her account.

“No problem,” I thought.  “I can do this a little later in the month when my girlfriend will be ready to take this over.”

What I wasn’t told was that we both needed to be on the phone AT THE SAME TIME to complete this transaction, otherwise I’d have to pay an ETF.  There was no way I could set this up in advance, have the girlfriend call in at her leisure, and be done with it.

This is a huge inconvenience for me.  As with a lot of “breakups”, we aren’t exactly on the friendliest of terms, my girlfriend and I.  Additionally, I’ve moved some 20 miles or so away and (like a lot of fellow Portlanders) depend largely on public transit, as does my girlfriend.  This means standing in the same room together isn’t exactly convenient, and given our relationship status not always pleasant or desirable.  In addition, we’re on different schedules (I’m a self-employed telecom engineer [yes, I’m aware of the irony here], she’s a student), so coordinating a time when we can both be on the phone to take care of this business is, at best, difficult.  Lastly, I don’t necessarily want her to have access to my account, and I don’t want to have any way of her accusing me of having access to hers, so simply conference calling FlexPay customer service won’t work for us.

Lastly, there’s my Motorola Cliq.  When I upgraded from the G1 to the Motorola Cliq back in early Spring, I noted that the Cliq was running Android 1.5, an obsolete build by just about anybody’s measure.  I was reassured by the rep in the store that an upgrade was in the works.  As of this writing, Motorola and T-Mobile have not released an update for the Cliq even to 1.6, which is the minimum for running a number of important Android software components: even your own app for checking account balances doesn’t run properly on 1.5, a fact I find personally quite amusing.  Don’t get me wrong:  I _LIKE_ the Cliq, but since Android is a bit of a moving target it is frustrating that I purchased a handset less than six months ago that can’t even run the latest version of Google’s Maps application and is castrated by running a software version that few other Android handsets on the market are stuck with.  It’s worth noting even the venerable G1 runs 1.6.

I understand this latter issue is not a FlexPay problem, and that everybody who purchased a Cliq or a Cliq XT is in the same boat.  However, it just demonstrates to me that T-Mobile’s entire customer service organization is melting down, and makes me feel like my business is not wanted.

And that’s the sum of my complaint.  My feelings are that T-Mobile no longer cares about their customers.  Your individual employees at the local level have all been wonderful.  The few times I’ve interacted with your non-FlexPay customer service department they’ve all been friendly and helpful.  However as an organization T-Mobile is falling way short of the mark you helped set in the cellular industry early in your history, when you were regular recipients of JD Powers medals.

My FlexPay account came up for renewal on the 17th of June.  I intentionally removed the money from the debit card associated with my FlexPay account so the service would get shut off.  I’m presently debating just paying the ETF for both of our lines and going with another provider who is actively seeking my business.  It’s a real shame, because I’m not a big fan of either AT&T or Sprint, and Verizon’s pricing and “nickel-and-dime” attitude (where they intentionally disable handset features so you are forced to use network services instead, of course at a fee) rubs me the wrong way even if my experiences with them have always been stellar (I had service with Verizon for a couple of years in between T-Mobile dropping support for Palm handsets and the introduction of the G1).

However, both Sprint and Verizon seem committed to Android, and both have Android handsets that are very tempting with up-to-date features T-Mobile doesn’t even offer.  For example, Portland is a Sprint 4G market (I actually use Clear, their 4G WiMAX partner, for Internet connectivity at my office), so the Sprint’s EVO 4G is a very alluring handset for me. The Verizon Droid Incredible and the upcoming Droid X both look like amazing handsets.  Even if I wanted to go prepaid I have options: the Motorola i1 handset coming to Boost Mobile, even though it is running on Sprint’s slower iDEN Nextel network and also runs an obsolete Android version, is tempting given Boost’s all-you-can-eat $60/month pricing and fairly ubiquitous WiFi access (it is worth noting that a month of Boost service plus an AT&T HotSpot account for WiFi access is still $20 less than I’m paying for unlimited service for one line on T-Mobile, and have you seen how many Starbucks outlets there are in the Pacific Northwest?).    Apple’s recent release of the iPhone 4 doesn’t make my decision any easier, either.  I’m not a huge AT&T fan: to be honest, T-Mobile got my business because AT&T’s merger with Cingular created headaches for me I wasn’t willing to tolerate, but it’s difficult to NOT find the Apple iPhone 4 to be one sexy handset.

One reads in the paper that T-Mobile is bleeding customers.  More than one business publication has outright questioned your parent company’s dedication to the US market, and one even specifically has put T-Mobile on the “Brands that won’t be around in 2011” list.  I can understand why, given how I’ve been treated as a customer.

I understand you created FlexPay as a way of providing service to customers with “interesting” credit histories access to your network, as opposed to having to pay a large deposit or denying them outright.  What I don’t understand is why your company insists on providing these otherwise good customers with inferior customer service, when that used to be a T-Mobile hallmark.

I won’t even touch the fact that I’ve been told that many T-Mobile services I’d gladly pay for (such as HotSpot access and a wireless modem for my laptop) are simply not even allowed for my account class: this seems doubly stupid given there are now even prepaid providers like Virgin Mobile (even regional PCS provider Cricket seems to be doing quite well selling 3G access on account terms similar to FlexPay) who sell access to data services.

I don’t honestly know what T-Mobile could do to keep my business at this point.  Like I said, I’ve allowed my account to go delinquent while I figure out exactly how to untangle this mess.  Given my usage patterns, I’ve been relying on a prepaid phone that gives me free minutes when I shop at a local grocery store chain, and while it is on a cheap handset that has no features it works great (I’m lead to believe it uses Sprint’s network for access).

When I first tweeted @TMobileUSA, I was very frustrated, and was reaching out in desperation to anybody who’d listen.  This was not my first attempt to reach out to T-Mobile, but it is the first time T-Mobile has reacted at all.  I appreciate that you responded, it demonstrates that there are still employees at T-Mobile who care.

However, that doesn’t solve my problem.  Other than my complaints with FlexPay’s call center (which I assume is outsourced, based on the accents and interesting interpretations of American English idioms, to an offshore call center) all my interactions with T-Mobile employees have been wonderful.  However, everybody seems powerless to actually help, and I fear you are in that same boat.  You probably do care about me as a customer, and you are probably passionate about T-Mobile.

In the end, however, that’s not enough to keep subscribers.  T-Mobile’s management is leaving you and your colleagues out to dry while your customers leave in droves.  I have a lot of choices, even as a customer with poor credit.  I mentioned Cricket above: even though their handset offerings are bleak, it is difficult to not walk by the Cricket kiosk in the mall advertising $50 unlimited everything (phone, text, data) and not feel a little bit of “buyer’s remorse” when I look at my $100/month T-Mobile handset with an outdated Android version and inferior customer service.  Sprint will sell me an Evo 4G handset with a modest deposit.  Verizon actually WANTS my business back (amazingly enough) sending me personalized postcards announcing the latest Android handsets, and would let me walk out of their stores with a Droid handset on a conventional post-paid account.

That doesn’t mean I’m not willing to hear you out and see what can be made of this.  I know I’m just one subscriber.  That said, it is dedication to each subscriber individually that put T-Mobile on the map, and it is that exact dedication to each subscriber that has made Verizon “Big Red.”

I don’t want to leave T-Mobile.  In the end, however, I’m going to go with whatever provider will give me acceptable levels of customer service, a handset that meets my needs, and charges a competitive price.  At this exact moment, T-Mobile is failing on all of these to varying degrees, and I feel powerless as a customer to even have my complaints heard.

Thank you for your time.  Please reply to feedle@feedle.net.

Follow-Up, August 7: I was contacted by a T-Mobile customer service representative in response to my tweets, and this post, in late June.  As a result of that conversation, I was told that I could have my ex-girlfriend call and take care of switching her account.  I was promised a follow-up E-mail with contact information in case I had further issues.

Today I hear her having all kinds of issues talking to T-Mobile customer service.  It would appear that there is no record of my conversation, and that my account was not noted as I was promised.  It is also worth noting that I also never got the follow-up contact info E-mail I was promised.

I’m done as a T-Mobile customer.  The customer service department seemed completely disinterested in keeping me as a customer.  No effort was made to dissuade me to disconnect service.  No offers to escalate my issues, no solutions to my complaints.. only a very scripted “I’m sorry…” response.

To some degree, T-Mobile is fortunate their competitors can’t keep Android handsets in stock.  If it wasn’t for my nearest Sprint company store being sold out of Evo 4G handsets, I’d already be gone.

There really isn’t much T-Mobile can do to make me happy anymore.  I feel like I gave them a chance back in June, and things haven’t changed.  I feel like even the one simple promise that was made (to note my account to ease my account split) was not kept.

If anybody at T-Mobile is still there, and still cares, here’s the ony way I’m willing to stay a T-Mobile customer:

– a firm date for the Cliq to be upgraded to at least 1.6.
– if I cannot get a firm release date, or if that firm date is missed, a written promise that I can get a comparable handset (ie: a phone with a slide-out keyboard) running Android 1.6 or later at the 2-year contract price at my convenience
– that I be moved off FlexPay onto a conventional post-paid account, even if I must post a modest deposit
– a written apology for being lied to multiple times and what T-Mobile is doing to ensure no other customer ever has to deal with what I’ve had to cope with

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