October 9, 2011

"If I were you, I'd go punch someone in the face."

Because poor people still like to occasionally have nice things, I tried to get an iPhone.

Because big, weaselly companies don't like to play fair with poor people, I did not in fact get one.

First, a little backstory. A couple of months ago, on the day I was leaving for a conference in Utah, my silly little purple Blackberry died dramatically, complete with heat and a delightful burning smell. I immediately took it to my local Sprint store and was met at the counter by a young man whom we will call Sprint Weasel Prime, since it is with him and his actions that our story really begins and ends.

This Blackberry was never a good one. I purchased it in a pinch after the failure of my previous phone, and its only real selling points were that it was cheap, and it was purple. And over the course of a year of use, it really only excelled at being purple. Still, its death was dramatic, taking out both the battery inside and a second battery installed by Weasel Prime. It was frankly the only impressive thing it had ever really done. Well-played, crappy purple Blackberry. Well-played.

Weasel Prime went in the back and checked inventory or played Angry Birds or whatever they do back there, and after a few minutes, he came back and informed me that the purple Blackberry could be neither repaired nor replaced. The only solution was a new phone, but WOO!, there was a different Blackberry that I could get for free, using my upgrade, which had been sitting unused for a couple of years. Given that my choices were apparently to do this or carry a broken, occasionally smoke-emitting purple phone, I went with this option, the only one I was presented with. Our transaction complete, I bade farewell to Sprint Weasel Prime and went phonefully on my way.

Fast-forward to last Friday, when I went online to pre-order the brand new iPhone, available for the first time from Sprint. According to the Apple site, it would cost me about two hundred bucks.

Except no. Apple redirected me to the Sprint site, where I was informed that the new iPhone would actually cost me a cool six hundred and fifty real, non-boardgame American dollars.

You know why, and I should have as well. It was because Weasel Prime used my upgrade to replace my crappy purple Blackberry with a slightly less crappy one. (To be fair, as an excited Weasel Prime had pointed out, it IS a flip phone, which I suppose is good if you frequently butt-dial or like to pretend you're Captain Kirk.) As a result, my only options for getting an iPhone were to sell a kidney on eBay or wait until June.

The customer service representative I spoke to on the phone was incredibly nice and understanding; let's call her Huggy Weasel. She admitted that Weasel Prime was completely wrong to say that using my upgrade was my only option.  Under my service agreement (for which I'm sure I pay a little something something every month), I was entitled to a replacement phone, either refurbished or a close equivalent model, albeit probably not purple, alas.  She went further, too, admitting that the company was 100% aware that many of their sales associates in their stores were doing the exact same thing, mostly to get existing customers out the door and free up some face time for new, revenue-generating customers. Sadly, she concluded, there was nothing she could do for me. I would have to go back to the store and get them to make it better somehow.

"If I were you, I'd go punch someone in the face," she suggested.

I went to the store, although I was admittedly hoping that some non-punching options might present themselves. Once I started talking to the guy we'll call Mule Weasel, I began to understand why Huggy Weasel recommended fisticuffs.

Mule Weasel did not budge. He did not even admit that using the upgrade the way it had been used was wrong. He presented an immovable wall formed in equal measure of bricks made of "I dont know" and "We can't do anything for you here". If there was one emotion visible on his face, it might be deep regret that my name wasn't Robert Go-Fuck-Yourself, because that was clearly what he wanted to say to me.

My favorite moment? When the original Weasel Prime lumbered over, listened to our conversation and said, with a little touch of hurt in his voice, "When I used that upgrade, you actually thanked me!"

"Well, if I'd known you were screwing me, do you think I would have thanked you?" I left shortly after that.

My final conversation with Sprint took place as soon as I got home. I called and spoke to a number of representatives. They probably don't warrant names here because the only thing they really did was escalate me up the chain. They didn't do so quickly; by the time I made it to the third rep, I felt like I was crawling up the side of Mount Doom, on a quest to throw my fancy flippy Captain Kirk Blackberry into the fires from whence it was forged.

The last time I was put on hold, it was for, and I kid you not, FORTY MINUTES. I think any time you're on hold for longer than five or ten minutes, you start wondering if the customer service representative is just hoping you'll lose hope and go away. So yeah. Forty minutes.

Finally, I found myself speaking to the Final Arbiter of Customer Service Issues Weasel. The Final Arbiter Weasel repeated my story back to me (with a few passive-aggressive "You claim"s thrown in) and then presented my options. They were as follows, in no particular order: I could 1) cheerfully pay $650 dollars for an iPhone, 2) cheerfully wait until June and use my miraculously regenerated upgrade to get an iPhone, or 3) break my contract and cheerfully pay the steep financial penalties for doing so. He also made it clear that I had three further options, which could be best expressed by replacing the word "cheerfully" with "grudgingly" in the first three options.

One thing I've learned over the years is that when you're on the phone with a customer service representative, you have one little piece of power, just one: they are almost never allowed to terminate a conversation until you agree to do so. They can put you on hold for forty minutes, they can present an implacable wall of NO, they can be condescending, and I suppose they could just sit there making little fart noises while you talk. But unless you swear at them, you can almost always say whatever you want for as long as you want and waste as much of their time as you feel like wasting. That's a free tip, kids. You just learned something!

To finally get me off the phone, the Final Arbiter Weasel offered to email the district manager for Weasel Prime's store and let him address it however he saw fit. And here's where my favorite conversation in this whole story took place.

Me: Can you copy me on that email so I can follow along?

Final Arbiter Weasel: No, I can't do that.

Me: Huh? You can't copy me on that email? Really? Why not?

Final Arbiter Weasel: Because... the email's going to contain proprietary Sprint information.

Me: What? Your email about my case is going to contain secret information? What could that possibly be?

Final Arbiter Weasel: Um, it's the how the email is formatted that's proprietary.

So there you go. Aside from this call that I'm never ever ever going to receive from the District Manager Weasel, I think that's about where things stand now and forever. I can either go away quietly, or not go away not quietly, but it's pretty clear that despite the admission of Sprint's own representative that the original action taken by Weasel Prime was inappropriate and unfair, the official stance of Sprint is "Tough titties, customer."

Now let me be very clear. I understand completely that this is a very First World problem. I know that families face big problems every day that are much more important than this. But you know what? We're one of those families. Just because ninety-five percent of my blog posts are about Schuyler and our neverending quest to help her live a meaningful life in the face of real tooth-and-claws unfairness doesn't mean that when people behave like tools, I'm going to say "Well, this certainly doesn't compare with worrying about seizures or Schuyler's education or her future or whether or not she's going to be eaten alive by this grand rough world, so no problem."

Actually, I think for special needs parents, the opposite may be true. We spend every day of our lives waging battles that we mostly expect to lose or at the very best fight to a draw. And by every day of our lives, I mean right up until the day we die, when our last thought on this earth may very well be "What will happen to her now?"

So speaking just for myself now, when I'm confronted by forces driven not by invisible, implacable monsters but instead by flesh and blood humans whose only power over me is in what fucking PHONE I can use, do you think I'm afraid? Do you think I'm likely to give up quickly, or at all, when I'm treated unfairly by a sales associate in an ugly golf shirt with a corporate logo printed on his moob?

Do you think I'm inclined to stop fighting that little fight even when it's pretty clear that I'm not going to win? When the only thing I can do to address my grievance is to do my best to convince as many others as possible not to do business with a company engaging in unfair practices? Do I quit because it's a small fight, in the shadow of my family's larger ones?

No, I'm really not so inclined. And if that makes me a dick in your weasel eyes, that's probably true. But I'm the dick that the world has made me. Well, mostly.

See you in June, Sprint.

-----

(Note: I would like to extend my deepest apologies to any weasels, ferrets, martens, ermines, minks, otters or stoats who may have been understandably insulted by my metaphorical representation of these particular employees and agents of the Sprint Nextel Corporation.)

"Dude.  Uncool."

46 comments:

Matilda said...

We did not have Sprint by choice. They bought Nextel (the only cell phone provider I'd describe myself as having been happy with, and of course Sprint ran them right into the ground). My spouse was reimbursed for some of the cost of his cell phone by the employer at the time. He was required to submit paper statements from Sprint, which they refused for some time to provide. Finally, they agreed that they could provide one at a time, so we would have to call back once a week for 12 weeks to ask for the printed statement.

cd0103 said...

Use twitter, FB, Google plus and use it loudly. Companies monitor,

emjaybee said...

You could always send this to Consumerist.com. They might also have advice for emails of bigger people up the chain that you could harass.

Merk said...

Yeah, Sprint......these are the guys that GAVE AWAY MY PHONE NUMBER and then told me they'd have to ask the new owner if he would MIND giving it back to me. You know, the number I'd had for over 6 years and had not given anyone permission to give away....much more to it, but suffice it to say that after being screwed around for three days (and given a "temprorary number" that apparently had belonged to a dry cleaner who'd gone out of business and had many unhappy customers - ask me how I know this) I pulled out the (total lie of a) "My husband's an attorney and we'd be happy to take this up in court" card and had my number back within the hour.

Yeah - Sprint can bite me.

And coincidentally, I'm now a very happy AT&T iphone customer. With my same number!! :)

Amanda said...

Want to know why I left Sprint? Because I went to return a cheapie phone that was TERRIBLE and was asked by the sales person "Well, what did you expect?" implying, of course, that I should have known it was going to be terrible because it was cheap. Um, thanks for your vote of confidence in your own product! My money and I are going to head to a different cell phone carrier now, thanks! Sorry you had to deal with the Sprint Weasels.

Lorne said...

Awesome-- every line. I've spent the last month battling with my phone company and feel your frustration. Make them hate you.

GB's Mom said...

Glad you apologized to the rodents. Sprint sucks.

Elizabeth said...

I had a remarkably similar situation happen to me when I had to replace a broken Blackberry -- but these rodents were from a Verizon store. I found it bewildering how inept and rude and young and stupid they were -- I felt, too, like Michael Douglas' character in "Falling Down" -- have you seen it? And I completely agree with your final paragraphs about measuring "normal" life aggravation against the usual shit. I'd go so far as to say that sometimes it's the "little stuff" that makes one sweat bullets when the "big stuff" happens nearly every day.

59686216-ce0b-11e0-8e11-000bcdcb8a73 said...

do like dooce... go on twitter and tell the tale.. have your followers spread it to their followers...

Katie said...

I think this is a problem with every cell phone company as I have had similar dealings with AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint. Sprint has actually been the least horrible but still pretty bad. Cell phone companies know that they have us and we are unlikely to go without our phones.

Melissa said...

Sometimes I think it depends on the store. I use one particular local Verizon outlet to purchase my phones and they have been great.

spherescamp said...

I spoke to a Verizon representative at a convention for people with hearing loss (about 2 months after suddenly losing enough hearing that I couldn't use my phone) to see if I could change my plan to something with preferably no voice minutes. You know, since I couldn't use them.

Their suggestion was that I go to my local Verizon store and tell them that I was dying and needed to be let out of my contract.

Hmm...lie about having a terminal illness to be able to get a new, more accessible cell phone plan. If that's not a surefire avenue for karma to drive a dump truck into my bedroom, I don't know what is.

Cell phone companies are overwhelmingly evil.

Naomi Eve said...

Grr and argh - that sounds utterly horrible, and Sprint customer service is clearly nonexistent. I've tweeted about it - I agree with previous poster, definite take it to social media (as you have done!) and let's see if suddenly they pull their heads out of their asses and offer real customer service :)

Erin said...

Wow. Consider me convinced. I will never use Sprint, and I'll tell my friends not to, too -- and why. It's pretty clear from the comments that yours is not a unique experience (unfortunately).

robyncz said...

I totally understand your frustration with Sprint. Absolutely and completely, I do. However, if you had the blackberry for long enough that your upgrade had been languishing for several years, why do you feel like the store was responsible for replacing it when it died? If it had a warranty of 90 days or a year or whatever, and the warranty had run out, then buying a new phone or replacing it with an upgrade were your options at the time, right? So where was the trickery? Or have misunderstood?

Rob Rummel-Hudson said...

As I said, I had the Blackberry for about a year, not several years. I didn't use the upgrade when I got it. That's why I'd had the upgrade sitting unused for several years, because the cheap Blackberry was replacing my previous dead phone, which I'd had for a couple of years and wasn't a bad phone at all. Not sure if that answers your question.

According to Sprint, the correct procedure would have been to replace it with a refurbished model if possible, and replace it with a new equivalent model if not. I have a service agreement that was completely ignored by the store representative.

Helena Zubkow said...

Rob, there is secret option number four - which of course, the cell phone companies will never tell you. You can buy almost any model of phone, brand new (but the best deals are usually gently used), on Craigslist for about a third of the retail price. As long as it's for Sprint, when you buy it, they have to transfer your service to the new phone whether or not you bought it from them. If you have a sim card, you don't even have to call them- you can just slip it in and you're good to go. It's how I've bought every nice phone (with the exception of my current one, which was a gift) I've ever had, and I've never had a problem or paid close to retail. Good luck! :)

robyncz said...

Aha! I had misunderstood about the age of the smoking blackberry.

The whole thing sucks.

The Information Security Guy said...

This is a solvable problem--you may not get 100% of what you want here, but you can force them into compromise. The call centers are a waste of time because they do not actually have any authority to fix most problems like this, but the calls show that you have tried to work with the company, which will go in your favor down the road. So the formula for success:

First file a complaint with the Better Business Bureau:

http://www.bbb.org/

Second file a complaint with the FCC:

http://esupport.fcc.gov/complaints.htm

Make sure the complaints are focused on the fact that company policy and/or FCC regs were not followed, show how they are benefiting financially by doing so (e.g. getting the full price of the phone and locking you into another 2 year contract.) If all goes well, you'll get a call from the executive complaint department (or something similar.) When talking with those guys, stick strongly to the divergence from company policy that you mentioned in the post and stay away from phrases like "I deserve this" and most importantly do not let them back you into that corner ("You think you deserve something for free?")

Heather said...

Some of these conversations remind me of the fight I had with our insurance company for my daughter's wheelchair. They covered the frame of the chair, but denied the WHEELS, seat cushion, foot rest, anti tip bars, seat belt, handles, and BRAKES. They told me that these were all "wheelchair accessories," which were not covered. :)

Rob Rummel-Hudson said...

Jesus Howard Christ, are you SERIOUS? That's all kinds of wrong.

Heather said...

Unfortunately, I'm serious. After a long fight, I did eventually get them to cover it all. However, they sent a letter stating that the items were, in fact, deniable, but that they would go ahead and cover them due to my daughter's "unique situation." I'm sure she's the only person in the world who needs wheels to use her chair!

Silvamac said...

Some things just fall right into the "well that sucked" category don't they?

Penny said...

Oh Sprint sucks. I say spread the word far and wide, use Twitter, FB and the like.
Weasels is right.

Jenna said...

I hate sprint, I remember when our 2 year contract ended with them how incredibly happy I was. Even cricket seemed like a joy because if their no contact.
Since then I have been with t-mobile who I loved and now with Verizon because my husband was with them and I joined his account.
Anyways - has it been more than 30 days? Don't you have a 30 day no matter the reason return policy? There should be. I wouldn't give up this fight either, you might noe be able to get an iphone out of it, but you should be able to get a nicer phone. I would keep trying. Sometimes it is nicer to fight these battles than having to worry about those big battles we face every day.

The Kish Family said...

I had problems when Sprint bought out Nextel. I bought new phones and my plan went up significantly. This was before I was into texting. I was billed $90 for 1 text that I didn't ask to receive. Anyway I filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau. Within days, a supervisor from thsir main office in Arkansas called me and gave me her direct line. She made everything right and encouraged me to call if I had any further problems, which I did for a couple months until it all got completely straightened out. She was super nice and very understanding.

Katy said...

Sounds like you've got some pretty good options listed here.

I had a sales rep try to "help" me in an AT&T store and make it WAY worse. A very nice sales rep ended up refunding me about $150. I was pretty happy with that, and have, in general, been impressed with AT&T's service.

Lise said...

Another option is to call customer service and tell the agent that you will be filing a complaint with the FCC. If Sprint is anything like the cell provider I used to work for, the agent will immediately escalate your call to a supervisor, and that person will work hard to solve your problem. Cell companies do NOT want to be reported to the FCC and will often try hard to placate a customer who threatens to do so.

Amanda said...

Timely! I am in a similar predicament with these ASSHOLES, I was a premiere customer, ended program, annual upgrade now stretched to 20 months...yada yada

BUT, hey, the iPhone is only $200. So we all thought...

Catrina said...

Sprint does have a 30 day ONE time exchange policy so you can try the phone before getting locked into it. They will do it once and I can't speak for the iPhone, but it used to be that it was good for whatever phone you wanted. I did it once when I wanted to get the new Palm Pre but it wasn't coming out for 2 weeks so I got a different phone and when the Pre came out, I switched it out.

Also, when I had trouble with Sprint online, I spoke to the store manager and was able to have all of my issues resolved without incident. Further, all the cell companies are the same. I have friends who have had the same or even worse problems with At&t and Verizon. I would say that I have stayed with Sprint for over 10 years because I have been able to get my issues resolved (even once when I was in the hospital and missed a 30 day trial period on a mobile wifi device). I can't say it's always been easy but I don't take NO easily. Also, it's much easier for people to say NO when you aren't face to face. Call the store and ask for the manager. If they are not in, find out when they will be and go in person. If you don't get it resolved, then explain that you will take it to the BBB, and FCC, and any others you can think of. But FIRST, unless they have made a very recent change in policy you have 30 days to change phones. Good luck, Rob!

Laurel said...

Rob, I keep on reading and re-reading your post and I keep on scratching my head because all the other commenters get it and I don't. You say, "... he came back and informed me that the purple Blackberry could be neither repaired nor replaced. The only solution was a new phone, but WOO!, there was a different Blackberry that I could get for free, using my upgrade, which had been sitting unused for a couple of years."

You say "using my upgrade," so you knew he was using your upgrade, I think? It doesn't sound like it was supposed to be a warranty replacement. Therefore it makes sense to me that you couldn't use your upgrade a couple months later. So what was it he did that was against company policy and deserves a punch in the face? This is not some passive aggressive way of saying you're wrong--I simply am puzzled and would like to be enlightened.

Rob Rummel-Hudson said...

It was eligible for replacement under the terms of my service agreement, but I only found this out later. He presented the upgrade as the only available option, which was not true.

Rob Rummel-Hudson said...

(I'll go in and add something to make it more clear.)

Stephen said...

I learned about 10 years ago that Sprint has a built-in up-yours attitude (and not only toward customers). This isn't to say their competition is blameless, but with Sprint the hits just keep on coming. If you have an alternative provider, bail in June. And do it noisily.

Amy said...

I had a different issue a few years back with Tmobile that was supposed to be resolved within "24-72 hours", but somehow stretched on for almost two weeks. Multiple calls to customer service were ineffective so I sent an email to the FCC and copied Tmobile. With in hours, my problem was solved.

Laurel said...

Thanks! I appreciate the clarification.

I had a brief flirtation with Sprint last year but found that reception was too poor at my house for me to use my phone. I did get them to cancel the contract under the 30-day return policy, but then they failed to *totally* cancel it and I still got billed the next month. I wouldn't mind having the couple hours I spent on the phone with their call centers back, that's for sure.

Now I'm with Verizon which I loathe for its habit of adding bloatware, pushing Bing, disallowing Google voice nav, and billing you in every possible way for every possible add-on. I think a former commenter may be right that every company is assy in some way. Not saying you shouldn't call them out on their behavior, though! I hope you get somewhere.

Sarah said...

Oh sweet Lord. This is the best and most hilarious thing I have read in, I don't know, forever. Seriously, I love you!

But sorry you had to battle these people. I can't recall an interaction I've ever had with Verizon that was not a soul-crushing experience.

Rob Rummel-Hudson said...

It's not even remotely over, turns out. I've got a followup post on deck, although the ending of that post (or even the necessity to post it at all) are in the hands of Sprint. I am relatively certain that they do not care in the least.

Amber said...

Somehow it reminds me of the hours I've spent on hold with health insurance costumer service while I try to get an appointment or piece of equipment approved.

But I totally get what you're saying here... we spend so much time fighting that we kind of expect the universe to give in a little now and then. I know that's my excuse for using our handicapped placard whenever we can. We kind of deserve the luxury!

giddy girlie said...

Two tricks should you ever need them:
1) most service contracts will let you "out" at no cost if you are moving to an area that they do not provide service to. There are lists of zipcodes, via Google, that if you tell your customer service person that you're moving to they will say "sorry, we don't service that area" and then you pretend you're bummed and they cancel your contract. Then, 2 days later walk into any store and start up a new account, get a new phone, etc.
2) go to a Radio Shack store. Those guys are authorized to handle any kind of phone upgrade, purchase, etc. (They cannot negotiate contract terms or handle billing disputes) and they have retail prices less than the provider stores (ATT/Sprint/Verizon) AND they have special deals AND they have coupons AND they kind of don't like the service companies, so they'll be a little subversive about how to get the best deal. I just upgraded to the iPhone 4 for $150 and if I would have wanted the 32GB 3GS it would have been free. The guy plotted out a whole chain of phone transferring so that everyone in our family could upgrade to the next iPhones (YES YOU CAN APPLY ANY UPGRADE ON A FAMILY ACCOUNT TO ANYONE) at NO COST.

Annie B. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Karyn said...

My first cell phone was with Sprint, and they were such assholes I dropped them as soon as my contract was over.

Good luck, Rob. You clearly are not alone.

Girlie said...

if you didn't speak to them already, call the regular sprint number and ask to speak with customer retention. It may take forever (I spent 3 hrs on the phone with them one time) but you should tell them you will take your service elsewhere unless they resolve the issue for you.

adavis said...

Russ.S.McGuire@Sprint.com

This is the email of the Vice President of Strategy for Sprint. It's pretty widely disseminated so I'm not sure how personal the response would be but hopefully emailing him might help.
I would've posted this sooner, but I just discovered your blog today!

stacy said...

See, this post proves what I have long suspected: customer phone calls are not recorded for quality assurance.

aimgrrrl said...

There's another way to get out of your contract: if they change the contract and you catch it. The basic concept is google-able. I was able to use it to switch from Verizon to AT&T a year or so ago. Good luck to you!