Cell Phone Horror Story

Preface

Phone Support Lady Debbie: “You’ll have to call #4.”

The Wife: “I already called #4. They told me to call you.”

Debbie: “Ok, then you’ll have to call #3.”

Wife: “You are #3. We dialed #3 and got you.”

Debbie: “You did? Are you sure?”…

Getting a new cell phone has never been so much fun. Really, it’s been a blast.

(This story is brought to you by “Roy”. “Roy”, serving the cell phone buyer by way of colorful euphemisms since 1999. If you got “Roy”, good luck getting your toy.)

Background
For a while now, The Wife and I have been thinking about cell phones. Our T-Mobile plan, which hasn’t suited our lifestyle for about the past 4 months, was about to expire and our cell phones were dying. (The fact that we’d been using our cell phones as our only phones also became a problem, as I’ll later tell.) Since T-Mobile really didn’t have any plans we liked, and since we didn’t really feel like paying for a new cell phone, we started looking for a plans elsewhere.

I learned long ago that you usually get what you pay for. Cell phones are no exception. My old Samsung, while free from the carrier, was fading fast after only a year and a half of use. It had survived a good amount of abuse (abnormal use?), which is no small matter in my book. But the phone’s problems revolved mainly around the battery — which had never been good to begin with — and that plug thing at the bottom where you plug in the wall charger, which just wasn’t working any more. (In other words, these weren’t abuse related.) “This time,” we thought, “we’ll get a good phone, even if we have to pay a bit extra for it.”

Saturday, 28 January
After doing some research (pulling up old phone bills and spotting talk patterns), we decided that it would be best for us to stop using our cell phones as our only phones. While I was talking a grand total of about 1300 minutes a month (including nights and weekends), The Wife was racking up between 2,700 and 3,400 minutes a month. I guess that’s what happens when your wife isn’t working and you don’t have a home phone for her to use.

We called Vonage and set up an account with them. The process was pretty straight forward, but after the call I wished I had done the set up online. Vonage’s phone sales support is about as helpful as their Web page, and twice as annoying. In any case, our equipment was on its way. (It arrived on Friday, February 3rd.)

After that was done, we started to do some research into cell phone plans, looking around the Web, researching what the different carriers offered. It didn’t take long before we settled on Cingular as our next cell phone overlords. Yes, their plans would lock us into two years of alms and indentured servitude, but they offered the best options out there for our needs.

So what exactly led us to Cingular? First, we’ve heard it said too often, from too many un-affiliated sources in just about every part of the country, that the new Sprint/Nextel really really sucks, so we decided to not even explore that route. On the other hand, Verizon, while being known for having the best reception, was too inflexible and expensive for our needs. And then there was MetroPCS which, while super flexible and cheap, is only available in Florida, which means that whenever we traveled out of the state (often) we’d be pretty much screwed with bad reception and roaming fees. All this coupled with Cingular’s roll-over minutes and “free” time starting at 7pm, instead of 9pm, was what brought us to the Orange side of the force.

So Cingular it was, but instead of going through Cingular directly, we decided to go through an authorized dealer (InPhonic) which offered a number of niceties such as free cell phones, free Bluetooth earpieces, and even cash back on some models. (“You MAKE $XX!” is one of their marketing techniques. Cheap, but effective.) We’ve dealt with InPhonic before, when we first got our T-Mobile plans, and although not the best service we’d ever run across, they’ve never been bad.

After (fastidiously) picking our plan — a 2-phone line, shared Family Plan with 700 “Anytime” minutes, plus free nights (starting at 7pm) and weekends — and our free phones — a Sony Ericsson W600i “Walkman” and a Motorola V557 flip-phone — we called and put our order in.

(Actually, the original order had us ordering two V557’s. That’s because we couldn’t order two different types of phones at the time of order. We had to call the next day and specify that we wanted to switch one of the V557’s for the W600. In retrospect, this may have been the point at which our problems started.)

Side Note: It should be noted that one of the phones, The Wife’s, was going to port the phone number from her old T-Mobile phone, and that I was to get a brand new number. Having lived in Fort Lauderdale for almost two years now, I figured it was time to get rid of the “813” prefix on my phone.

For the next couple of days I waited with abated breath as my phone made its way from Maryland to Fort Lauderdale. (I checked the FedEx tracking page ever hour, on the hour. What can I say? I’m a techno-twit.) When the phone finally got there, I was elated. I could finally use my new, kick-butt phone and shed the old phone once and for all.

Until The Wife saw the phone.

Tuesday, 31 January
Since The Wife stays at home, she got the packages before I did. She called me at work to tell me the good news, as well as to say that she thinks she might have made a mistake in ordering the V557. She looked at my phone, looked at hers and – well there was no comparison.

Sure enough, by the time I got home from work, my wife had already made up her mind to return the V557 and get a W600. “No prob,” I told her. “We’ll just call them, tell them you’re interested in returning the old phone and that you want another.”

The Wife called the store, was on hold for about 10 minutes, and was then told to call one of two other numbers. (I’ll call these #2 and #3.) This was expected since she called the sales line and what we needed was an exchange. She called #2 and it immediately hung up on her. She called it again, and again it hung up. She called #3 and although someone answered (after another 15 minutes on hold), she was told she had to call another number (#4) for exchanges. She called #4. After 10 more minutes of holding, she was told to call #2. She told the person what happened with #2, then was told to call #3.

“We already called #3. They told us to call you.”

The person insisted that this was the number we had to call. The Wife finally gave in, hung up, and called #3 again. After another 10 minutes of holding, she finally got a hold of someone, Debbie.

Debbie: “You’ll have to call #4.”

Wife: “I already called #4. They told me to call you.”

Debbie: “Ok, then you’ll have to call #3.”

Wife: “You are #3. We dialed #3 and got you.”

Debbie: “You did? Are you sure?”

Wife: “Yes. Very.”

Debbie: “Ok, then tell you what: let’s see if I can get you to the right department.”

Wife: “Great, thanks.”

*On hold for another 5 minutes. She gets a new person.*

Donna: “Hello?”

Wife: “Yes, I was just transferred to you. I’m looking to trade in my cell phone.”

Donna: “Hmm… I wonder why they transferred you here? The number you need to call is #3.”

Wife: “I did call #3. And she transferred me to you.”

Donna: “Really? Did you try calling #2?”

Wife: “Yes. No answer.”

Donna: “What about #4?”

Wife: “YES! I called #1. #1 told me to call either #2 or #3. #2 was dead so I called #3. #3 told me to call #4. I called #4 and he told me to call #3. I called #3 who told me to call #4, then told me to call #3 — THE SAME NUMBER I HAD JUST DIALED! — and then she transferred me to you.”

Donna: “Wow. Let’s see what I can do for you.”

Wife: *whimpering* “Please don’t put me on hold…”

After a few minutes — and a lot of patience on the part of Donna — we finally got the right person: Roy.

The Wife told Roy what had happened and what we wanted to do. Roy told us that switching the phone wouldn’t be a problem. All he had to do was punch a couple of keys and the phone would be on the way. We’d be charged for the new phone, but would be refunded the money from the old phone as soon as they got it back. (They paid the postage, so sending the phone back wasn’t a problem.) Sure enough, it wasn’t 30 minutes before we looked at the bank account that we saw the $250 already taken out. Those guys were fast, at least when it came to collecting their money.

As for using the phone, Roy said we could go ahead and activate the phone account, use the old phone until the new phone got here, and when the new phone got here just swap out the SIM cards. “Alright!” I said. “Now we’re getting somewhere.” Unfortunately, we couldn’t activate the phone plan that night because we had an important prior engagement. “We’ll do it later,” we thought.

After getting back home, I checked our email and saw something I didn’t expect: a cancellation notice. Apparently, Roy had canceled either part or all of our order; we weren’t sure which.

The Wife was adamant. “Did they just cancel your phone?!” I can’t quote what The Wife said about them after that because I don’t use that type of language on this site. Normally, she doesn’t either, but this had already been such a special occasion…

“I’m calling them now,” I said. I called and got the “Our business hours are…” message no one wants to hear at a time like this. They closed at 11pm. It was already 11:30pm. We would have to wait to the next day.

Since we couldn’t talk to them, we started following every link within the email, trying to find out as much information as possible about what might have happened. We looked at our order status online and noticed the following:

Motorola V557 — Delivered
Sony Ericsson W600 — Delivered
Sony Ericsson W600 — Cancelled
Sony Ericsson W600 — Shipping

This was getting confusing. Were they expecting us to send the old W600 back and keep the new W600? That didn’t make any sense. No use asking now, though.

Wednesday, February 1
I called the store after I got home from work, and after a couple of calls, I was finally speaking to the “right” person, Gita. After explaining the situation to Gita, she verified that there was no cancellation of my phone, and that the email came from the system after Roy had tried some fancy finger-work with the system, failed, cancelled the order he was trying to put in, and put in our order using the standard methods.

“So my order wasn’t cancelled?” I asked.

“Nope.” Gita also informed us that The Wife was getting a new SIM card and that we couldn’t start using her service until the new phone was delivered.

“I thought we could just activate the V557 then swap out the SIM cards when the phone got here.”

“No, it’s just better to do it this way.” (We found out a few days later that no, it wasn’t.)

“Can I use mine?” I asked. I already had a phone number assigned to me and was excited to start using my new phone.

“Yes. You’ll just have to call Cingular and do the phone activation that way.”

“Great, thanks.” I hung up, took a breather, and called Cingular to activate my phone. I was in for a surprise.

“I’m sorry sir, but that phone number doesn’t seem to be associated with your plan.”

“What do you mean?”

“The phone number you gave us as the account’s primary number is there, and awaiting porting. But this plan doesn’t have another phone assigned to it. In fact, the phone number you gave me is associated to another person.”

I sighed. “Is there anything I can do?”

“Well, you can probably go to a Cingular store — not an authorized retailer, but an actual store — and have them move the number over to your account. You’ll need to provide at least two forms of picture ID and a receipt from the purchase. I’m sorry for the inconvenience.”

“Alright then, that’s what I’ll do. Thanks for all the help.”

The Cingular people had been some of the best support personnel I’d ever run across, so dealing with them was generally a pleasure. If I had to hold (half of the time I didn’t,) hold times were never too long.

I called the store again to see what I could do. Maybe, just maybe, I could have a brand new number assigned to me, something random, and I could just get the new number activated.

After the now routine calling and waiting, I finally got a hold of someone and explained the situation.

“Well sir, from what it looks like here, someone cancelled some part of your order — the phone you told me about — but it looks like they also cancelled your line. There’s no number associated with yours now.”

Damn you, Roy!, I thought. “Well can you add one? I mean, I don’t care if you change it and give me a new number, but I’d like to see if I could start using that phone.”

“Sorry, I can’t touch the account right, at least not until the primary phone number is activated.”

“Alright, thanks.” I hung up the phone and headed to the Cingular store. When we got there it was about 8:30pm — and they had just closed.

“Ok,” I told the wife through a heavy sigh, “we’ll be back here tomorrow.”

Thursday, February 2
According to the schedule, the new phone was already on its way. The delivery time was set to Saturday, but FedEx thought differently: their estimated delivery time was set for the following Tuesday at 4:30pm.

Joy.

We went to the Cingular store as soon as I got home from work. The news we got there weren’t any better.

“Well, unfortunately your account’s locked.”

“What do you mean?”

“It means… hmm…” The Cingular guy, Guinel, looked at his computer to make sure he understood what he was reading (the guy was nice, but apparently new). He called Juan, another employee over, to help out.

Juan continued where Guinel left off, “It looks like your account is locked for now. I can’t add a number to your account, not until the main number has been activated, and I can’t do that here. I’d have to call Cingular directly. I recommend you go ahead and do that.”

“But they told me to come to you. They told me you could see a couple of IDs and do these type of changes.”

“Not from here. Basically its visual confirmation for them, something they can’t do over the phone.”

“What if I port my wife’s number over, even though we won’t get the phone until Tuesday? I have the SIM and EIN information here.”

“If you had bought the phone from Cingular directly, I could help out. For now, it looks like you’ll have to call Cingular. As it is, I really can’t even touch your account. It’s locked.”

Crap.

I got home and called Cingular. As it turns out, the account was locked — as per InPhonic (I’m guessing Gita) — until the phone was delivered… on Tuesday. Even with the new SIM information on hand, it wouldn’t do us any good.

“Can I just give you the old SIM information and swap out the cards when the new phone gets here?” (We still had the Motorola V557. We could use that in the meantime, according Roy.)

“You should be able to, and normally you would, but your account is locked. I can’t touch it. Maybe you can call the store you got the phone from back and get the account unlocked.”

After I was done with Cingular I called InPhonic. After a (now unusually) short holding time, I got a chance to explain my situation to yet another person.

“The reason the phone is locked,” he explained, “is because it hasn’t gotten to you yet. For safety reasons, your phone won’t unlock until we get the confirmation that the phone has been delivered.”

“Well, what if I want you to activate the phone right now?”

“It’s for security reasons we don’t. Someone could conceivably open up the package and start using your phone if it wasn’t secured.”

My mind was racing. Damn it! Damn it! Damn it! I want to use my phone!, I thought. Still, resignedly I replied, “Yeah, makes sense. So basically what you’re telling me is that my phone can’t be activated until I get the number officially transferred to me, and I can’t get the number assigned until my wife’s phone is activated, and that phone can’t be activated until it gets here, right?”

“Right.”

“So what you’re saying is that I’m stuck until Tuesday, eh?”

“Right. I’m sorry, sir.”

“Yeah, thanks.”

And that was it. I couldn’t use my phone until the other phone got here.

Friday, February 3
The Vonage phone finally got to the house. After an hour attacking my network configuration like Sun Tzu, I was finally able to get the Vonage equipment ready for use. We finally had a home phone, which was good because we had been surviving with only one half-powered cell phone for the past couple of days.

(Side Note: My biggest issue in hooking up the Vonage equipment had to do with the default settings they use for the router they send. My network at home had an address of 192.168.1.[X], where the router was .1, and the range allowed [2-5] as the possible use options. The Vonage router came with a default address of 192.168.15.1, where the rest of the network would grab anything from 100 up, by default. Needless to say that 192.168.1.[2-5] != 192.168.15.1. After I figured this out, I simply replaced my old router with the Vonage router and everything started working as it should.)

Tuesday, February 7
The Wife called me at work at around 3:30pm that day bringing me news of the arrival. “Finally!” I cheered.

I got home that night at around 6. I asked The Wife to wait on the porting and activation; I wanted the pleasure getting this done once and for all. She was just happy to see a light at the end of the tunnel, one that wasn’t connected to a freight train.

I called Cingular at around 7pm to finally port The Wife’s number over from the old phone. “It’ll be done within an hour,” they said. “I hope you don’t mind.”

What I thought: Mind? An hour? Heh! Dude, if you only knew what we went through. An hour?! Ha! I laugh at your hour! What I said: “Not at all. Much faster than I expected, really.” I thanked the Cingular person and called the store to get the number assigned. Within 30 minutes — 25 of which were spent on hold in one form or another — my phone was ready for activation. (To be fair, it only took me about 5 minutes to reach a real person that time. The other 20 minutes were when the guy was actually doing whatever he has to do to get a phone number.)

“I had to get you a new phone number. Is that OK?”, said the heavily Indian-accented voice on the other line.

“Yes, fine. I don’t care what number I have, I just want to use the phone.” I figured that by now, there was no way they could screw up our order any further.

“Ok then,” he said, “you’re ready to go. Here’s your phone number…”

Finally it was time to get my phone activated. I called the Cingular phone number activation line and got my new phone number activated. The speed at which it happened surprised me. It took about a minute after he got my account information for him to say “you’re ready to go.” I just shut off the phone, turned it back on and — voila! We had signal.

It was about 8pm so I asked the Cingular person what the deal was with my wife’s phone, since it should’ve been active by now. “Hmm,” she said, “he said an hour? We usually tell people 24 hours.”

“Oh, that’s fine,” I told her. 24 hours? It almost didn’t matter, really; at least we were set up.

The Wife’s number didn’t get ported that night. I, on the other hand, had made almost 10 calls by 11pm. (Most of these were to my mom and consisted primarily of the phrase “Can you hear me now?”) This little misadventure was almost at an end.

Wednesday, February 8
I got a text message at around 11am that morning while I was at work. It was The Wife, declaring finally that her phone was working. I called her a couple of hours later to congratulate her.

“So when did you realize it was already ported?” I asked.

“Well,” she replied, “I called Cingular at about 10 asking why my phone number hadn’t yet been ported. The T-Mobile phone wasn’t getting a signal, and I wasn’t getting a signal to my new phone, either. Cingular told me the port had gone through. As it turns out, the store had left my old SIM card — the one from the V557 — as the one to which the phone number was now associated.”

“So what you’re telling me is that we waited for pretty much no reason? We could’ve had these last week?”

“Yeah.”

“Crap.”

“It was good I called too, though,” she continued. “[The store was] about to assign me a new phone number and assign my number to someone else. The guy at Cingular re-attached the number to my account and this SIM card.”

“Thank God. At least this is all over with.”

“Yeah. Now I have to call about that job interview…”

We closed off the conversation a few minutes later. The only thing left to do was to call T-Mobile and shut down my old “813” number and close off our account. Once done, I walked into my office happy in the knowledge that I could finally use my phone, The Wife could finally use hers, and that this whole ordeal was at an end.

Ending Thoughts
While I’ve never really had too many problems with InPhonic before, this time around it was almost a nightmare dealing with them. Sure, the people on the other end of the line were all very nice — even when I wasn’t — but it seems as if their training procedures need to be revised. While not necessarily the fault of the employees (except maybe Roy and Gita), a lot of procedural flaws were revealed which I hope they clean up in the months to come, or at least before I buy my next cell phone from them.

In contrast, I’ve got to tip my hat to Cingular’s support staff. They were courteous, knowledgeable, and quick. Although I don’t care to spend much time talking to them in the future (and if Cingular’s techs do their jobs well, I probably won’t), if I do, I know I’m not going to be let down. Kudos, Cingular.

Finally, the Sony Ericsson W600 is the coolest phone I’ve ever owned. While I plan to do a review of it in the near future (it’s a great phone, but certainly has its flaws), for now I’ll simply enjoy using it.