6 - 2007

Give yourself credit: Think twice before switching services to save money

Back in September, I heard about a great deal for an employee referral offer from Sprint: Wireless service with 500 minutes and unlimited data for $30 a month. That’s a few bucks better than my gazillion-minute “legacy” plan with Qwest, which had no data service.


My Palm Pilot died a year or more ago, so I’ve been lugging around a paper organizer – not so good for my achin’ back. I missed the backup feature of the Palm/Outlook calendar and contacts. And I have a new client that often needs me to review documents between 3 and 5 p.m. — just when I am most frequently running around, shuttling my kid from here to there.


Without a lot of thought or research (atypical for me), I signed up for the Sprint deal. I placed the order and the phone arrived within two days. Wow! I was impressed.


For about five minutes.


The short story is that I signed up on about Sept. 16. This morning, Dec. 6, my issues with Sprint have been resolved at last (fingers crossed).


The long story:

  • Sprint ran into trouble porting my number, which I use for my business. All my cell phone service was cut off for days, meaning (a) I looked like a goofball to my clients, and (b) I had to give out my personal number to my clients – not my favorite thing.
  • I asked to speak to supervisors and was told no one else could help me, but my problem “had been escalated” (I think this means “is getting so bad, no one knows how to solve it, but we’ve all agreed to make your life hell while we think about it”).
  • After hours of customer service calls, I did some research and found the fax numbers for the CEO’s office and the FCC. I sent them both an account of what was going on. No response.
  • Finally, my number worked again. I was so relieved I almost cried.
  • Then the billing hassles started. My bills showed the wrong plan, two months in a row. Promised credits weren’t applied. Reps said one thing and did nothing. Got my second bill on Saturday, with a monthly total of $221 instead of $30. After an hour on the phone with three reps (each of whom hung up on accidentally disconnected me), I gave up for the day.

On Monday, I called again and had the weirdest experience. It was as if the person wanted to find out what my problem was and resolve it. It was so strange! She asked about the situation, confirmed that I had signed up for the plan I said I had, and put me on hold for a mere 20 minutes while she fixed it. Then she applied a credit for the erroneous charges (about $180) and sent me confirmation of the changes via e-mail. When I checked my account online, the balance was correct. Weird!


Today, stranger still, I received a call from someone in the executive offices in response to my letter (faxed on Oct. 19). So they’re a little slow, but I got an apology, another $100 credit for my trouble, and most valuable of all, that rep’s direct telephone number if I run into future problems.


All in all, changing my phone plans to work more efficiently has cost me at least 15 hours on the telephone with Sprint (for those who are counting, that’s two full days of lost work time) and at least $50 in unnecessary charges (extra fees, taxes on the inappropriate costs, etc.). That totals hundreds of dollars — meaning the “good deal” now will take more than a year to pay for itself, assuming I would have spent $30 more per month for a comparable plan. A few more days and I would have coughed up another $200 to cancel my service early.


I’m especially shocked at the service because I am the queen of complaining. I have a strong belief in companies Making It Right when they are wrong. I wasn’t asking for them to do anything but deliver the service they offered and I agreed to purchase.


Normally, the complaint process that works for me is:


  1. Stay reasonable. No yelling, no crying, and certainly no cursing or name calling.
  2. Explain what you want. Say “Here is what happened. Here is what I need.” This fixes 90 percent of problems.
  3. Move up. If you don’t get a response or the person you speak to is clearly powerless or confused, ask to speak to a supervisor. Say something like, “I know this isn’t your fault, but I need to resolve this issue today. Can I please speak to a supervisor?” This takes care of another 9.5 percent of problems.
  4. Keep moving up. At some companies, the customer service reps get downright nasty if you ask to be treated right. Then it’s time to get serious. Call or fax a letter to the executive offices. I’ve done this once or twice before, and usually, you receive a response very quickly from a team with the power to help you.
  5. Take it to the law. With regulated companies, find out who regulates the organization and send a copy of your complaint to them. This does a public service by helping to keep the company honest, and it shows the company you mean business.


The lesson? If I’d done some online research, I would have found myriad sites full of exactly these complaints, and perhaps I wouldn’t have left Qwest (whose “spirit of service” slogan has new meaning for me) so quickly.


To Sprint’s credit, the rep said they are in a transition with their customer care center, and the service I received on Monday is how things should be from here on out. Meanwhile, let’s roll out two old clichés: Buyer beware, and look before you leap.

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