Warning: Extra long post ahead, even by my standards...
My travails with T-mobile started probably the day I got my phone. The phone arrived and a quick call to T-Mobile ensued to take care of activation etc. Deluded I was to think that I could get a custom number, that I requested and surprisingly was given one. But the area code allocated to me did not match that of Athens (Ohio) where I was then and the T-Mobile customer service person tried to convince me that the code was the right one. I hung up and then called back, to get a different agent who accepted my argument and finally gave me a "740" number. Little did I know that my troubles were just at their infancy.
My troubles with cell phone coverage are legendary among my friends. Unless I stood right next to the window in our hall or walked out of the basement apartment to the parking lot, I was never going to complete a call without dropping it at least once. When I graduated that summer, I moved from Ohio to Illinois to hunt for a job, but my scene was no better. To add to it, the Illinois weather in late fall and winter forced my staying indoors for 99% percent of the time. With no alternative, I included V's (my roomy in Illinois) home phone number with my resume and promised myself that I would break the contract and go for a new cell phone when I got my first job. Sadly that was not to happen, till much later.
That was around the time when I heard that friends who tried to call me sometimes got "all circuits are currently busy. Please try your call later" messages. It seemed to happen rather randomly and was limited to just incoming calls. And later, things got ugly when I moved to Delaware. Once the training period ended and I started applying actively for open positions, I started talking to customer service about it along with another friend from Ohio was also facing the same issue. During one particular billing cycle, I spent almost 140 day time minutes (over a period of two weeks) enquiring with T-Mobile about the status of our complaints
The funny part is that they don’t seem to have a logical system. Logically one would assume that, your case history would be available on file. But no, every time you talk, in each level, you will have to explain what is wrong. If you are lucky and the lower levels think that you are eligible to talk to the advanced tech support, you will go forward. There were times when the first person would take my case history, tell me there are no updates with a promise to get back in touch in case something comes up, and hang up. At every level, one would be asked the same dumb questions about turning the phone off and on back again and so on, in spite of one having explained just a minute earlier that it does not work. At different points of time, we got our cases into tickets that we were asked to quote. A few days after I received the first ticket, I called and found out that the ticket had been mysteriously "closed" without us being informed. We managed to get the case re-opened, but all we heard was that they were looking into the issue and would get back to us once they knew what was wrong. Nothing came out of these claims. Then, a friend who used to work on wireless communication explained what was going on with the vague messages that plagued my phone. I won't go into technical details, but it was obvious that T-Mobile's circuits in Athens were the cause.
By then I had lost all hope of getting the issue resolved. And when, in November, I moved to New Jersey, I found that my new apartment was no better. According to T-Mobile’s coverage map, I was in a “fair” area (one above the bottom-most “None” class). The-whole-keeping-my-cell-on-the-window-sill continued, but even that did not help sometimes with calls going directly to voice mail. After I got a couple of pay-checks I decided to chuck T-Mobile and went on Amazon.com to hunt for a new service provider and phone.
I waited till I got the new phone in my hand and called T-Mobile to cancel my account at the end of the cycle. More stories and fantastic offers from T-Mobile followed. The lady in customer service promised to improve my service by putting up a new tower! I almost fell down on the floor laughing. She offered 1000 minutes for the 40 dollars that I was paying. I laughed and asked her if she thought I was a fool. I told her I knew how much a tower cost. I told her not to feed me stories and arranged to have my service cut on the 18th of February, when my billing cycle ended. Incidentally I was going to be in Chicago then for a long weekend.
Within a few days of my return from Chicago, on a Friday, I found a letter from T-Mobile informing me that my account had been referred to collections. It appeared that I had missed paying my bill (due to various reasons) and 30 days had gone past. I was surprised that my account had gone to collections even before I had received a final bill. Again due to various reasons, I decided to call them and pay them first thing on Monday morning from work. On Saturday, I finally found my final bill on the mail.
When I called them, I wanted to ask them why my account had been sent to collection even without a reminder. I know I was technically at fault and felt really bad and worried about the whole thing, but on the light of what transpired later, my worries now seem to be without reason. Anyways, when I called T-Mobile, they asked me to pay my bill and insisted that they had no record of my account being referred to collections. I paid the $90 odd that was due (my final bill) and resolved to take this matter up with the “collection agency” in question.
I looked up their number and called them. And that’s when I realized T-Mobile’s game plan. The “collection agency” acknowledged that they had been asked by T-Mobile to contact me about my over due bill. But the guy I spoke to told me that they were just a “letter” agency, i.e. they just send letters and do not actually “collect”. He said that if I had called them first (instead of T-Mobile), all he would have done, would be to instruct me to call T-Mobile immediately. He told me that T-Mobile does this to all overdue accounts just to offend the customer to pay their overdue bills. And the customers usually do so immediately on the notion that because their account has been “marked” for collection, their credit history has already been maligned and any more procrastination would only damage things more.
I do have with me, both letters that inform me that my account has been referred for collections. And when I call, T-mobile has no record of this, while the “collection agency” claims that this is the norm with T-mobile. I understand I was at fault in the first place for being late with my payment, but was $90 big enough for T-Mobile to play around with the truth by threatening me with (two) collection notices? My co-workers tell me that I should lodge a complaint with the FCC on the basis of “unfair” and fraudulent business practices. Having heard all the bullshit over the last 20 months or so, I am quite inclined to do so. And though I dont want to bring the "R" word or "D" word here, but hey, after all the talk of desi dudes in customer service, I am wondering what would an American do in this scenario, given that not much news/information of this kind comes out in public. Hmmm...