Friday, February 27, 2004

"I Can't Hear You Now" (or, "Yet Another Long Story About How I Was Wronged By A Customer Service Representative") (or, "Maybe It's Me")

Though I know this is completely unrealistic, I often feel like I've worked enough customer service jobs to have earned some kind of secret handshake, or a code to punch into the phone, to let the support person I'm dealing with know that I've been there, that I understand, that I might even bring her cookies.

Of course, when I work these gigs myself I have the unending capacity to be a complete bitch, but I like to think I have a way of sharing my tone with my coworkers while hiding it from the customers. Still, the sarcasm and judgment lurking behind my smile may have screwed up my karma for good.

Last winter I got rid of my home phone, since all I ever really used it for was dialing into the Internet, and I got broadband and increased the minutes on my cell. I did this secure in the knowledge that my cell phone was more or less trouble-free. I often had a signal when no one around me did, and it had been the only number I ever gave out since I moved in 2001.

Last spring, I dropped my trusty Motorola StarTac on the floor of Port Authority and it broke in half. So I spent 12 hours without any kind of phone service (which is just a weird feeling) and then went to my nearest Verizon store the next morning. They no longer made the simple StarTac, and since my cell is my only phone and I'd always had Motorolas, I opted for the top-of-the-line by them, a T720. It was, I think the only Motorola Verizon had at the time. It was far too expensive, and did all kinds of things I didn't need at all, but it's an important piece of equipment in my life and I didn't want to take a chance with another brand or a cheapo model.

I quickly got hooked on the many options available for ringtones (when my boyfriend calls, the Knight Rider theme plays; one high-maintenance friend gets Patsy Cline's "Crazy"), and discovered that being able to check my email was handy when I was away from a computer for a long day. But as a phone, this thing sucked. I often had a hard time hearing the people I was talking to, even if I had complete silence around me. I became one of those screaming cell phone users I always complain about, as if raising my voice would make them louder. More troubling was the frequent lack of a signal in my apartment. Not very useful in the event of an emergency, and excruciatingly frustrating when trying to order take-out. Last but not least, the battery seemed to last about 15 minutes. Again, a real problem when it's my only phone. When I'm working, I'm on my phone a lot, even when I'm out and about, and what good does it do me if it craps out halfway through the day?

So one day in December I happened to be near the big Verizon store on 34th Street, and I stopped in with the intention of replacing my phone, before another dropped call sent me over the edge. A salesperson asked how he could help me, and I said, "I hate my phone and I'd like to get a new one."

He asked for my phone number, punched some stuff into his computer, and said "Well, sir, I understand that you hate your phone, but do you know that if you wait until March 12 you can get $100 off a new one?" Why no, I didn't know that! I guess they give you a deal after a year or whatever. What good customer service! The salesman was trying to save me money! It was terribly refreshing, and I decided I could handle three more months if it meant an free phone (since the model I wanted cost less than $100). I thanked the nice man and left, confirming that date on the way out, and jotting it on my to-do list.

Fast forward to last Monday. I was doing my taxes, and since my phone is a partial business expense, I had to look up the original purchase date and price of the hateful T720. And it turns out I bought it on May 12. This made sense when I thought about it, but what didn't make sense was that I'd get a $100 rebate on my ten-month anniversary. It seemed pretty conceivable that I could have misheard March instead of May, so, still totally uncranky, I called customer service to double-check.

I didn't mis-hear it. I do in fact get a discount if I buy a new phone after March 12. 2005!

Which means that for the past three months I've been wanting desperately to throw my phone out the window, and all that's kept me from doing so has been the knowledge that if I'm just a little bit patient I can get the new one for free, which would make me feel better about how crappy the super-expensive one had turned out to be. Patience comes hard for me anyway, and waiting 'til 2005 does not qualify as being "a little bit patient," it qualifies as being a fucking saint.

But I remained remarkably crank-free. I'd been prepared to spend some money in December, and now I was actually more solvent, with a paying job and a tax refund on the way. Also since December, Consumer Reports had put out an issue on cell phones, and I confirmed that staying with Verizon was a good idea, and that the phone I wanted was indeed the best choice: A Motorola v60s, a model basically in between my old reliable phone and my new hateful one; No fancy rings or email or photos, but also no backlit color screen to hog the battery, and a speakerphone, which might be useful anyway, but also implied that volume wouldn't be an issue.

So back I went to the store on 34th Street, armed with a printout of the v60 from their website so I could say "Give me this" and avoid being hassled by salespeople.

And this is when I got cranky.

The v60s was no longer available. It had, apparently, come out in December, and for some reason was only around for a limited time. In other words, I could have bought it in December, when I tried to buy it, but I couldn't now. So much for avoiding the salesman, who tried to talk me into an LG VX4400 color phone. I explained that I didn't want a color phone, because I didn't want to have to rely on a backlight. He assured me that the T720 had a crappy battery and the LG did not, so there was no reason to worry. He told me he used to use Motorolas but now used this model he was showing me, and I couldn't tell if that was bullshit or not. And since a year ago they'd been pushing the T720 with all their might, I wasn't feeling very trusting. I thanked him and left, phoneless.

At work I went back to the website, where the v60s was clearly still for sale. But I could only buy it from them if I were a new customer, buying a calling plan as well. As an existing customer, I could only "upgrade," and the phone wasn't in my list of options as it was technically a downgrade. I called them, and had two separate reps swear to me that the phone was no longer in stock anywhere, and they didn't know why it was still on the site. They also both told me they'd heard many complaints about the T720, and that people were speaking very highly of the 4400. So either it was the truth or it was a very well-rehearsed, nation-wide company line.

So the next day between shows I went back to the store. And here's where I got really cranky.

At the 34th Street Verizon store, you deal with salespeople out front who then send you to the back with a little slip of paper to another counter where they get and activate your phone. Armed once again with my printout, I was very quick out front. Not so much in the back. The woman in front of me was utterly baffled by everything about her new purchase, and there was only one clerk on duty. It was 5:30, when most people are presumably on their way home and not in a rush, but of course I was on my dinner break and had to get back to work. Twenty minutes later, it was finally my turn. The guy out front had apparently not done something in his computer to allow the woman in back to access my account. And he was no longer at his desk. So he had to be tracked down. Meanwhile, my clerk chatted with her coworker who was counting out her register, and being hit on by the hateful salesman I had dealt with the day before -- who I noticed did not have the phone I was buying on his belt.

We finally found Vladimir (really) after ten minutes, and the woman (who, I have to admit, was nice enough) was able to get my phone. Only my phone wasn't in stock. Apparently, there's no connection between the computers in front and the storeroom in back. So the phone everyone's trying to sell you may or may not actually be available for sale. Which I guess would have been fine if I hadn't had to wait half an hour to find that out. Vlad quickly called another store not too far away to see if they had any. They did, and he asked them to put it on hold for me.

"So, what can you give me for all the time I just wasted?" I asked Free headset, battery, something?"
"We don't do that," said Vlad.
"Well then maybe you should find a way to check inventory before you waste people's time," I snarled, and I left.

I hopped on the subway and went one stop to the other store, where I told the first salesperson I saw that someone from 34th Street had called and there should be a phone set aside for me.

"Do you know which phone?"
"An LG 4400."
"We're out of those."
"No you're not. This guy called not ten minutes ago and was told you had them and you'd put one aside. I watched him do it."
"Well, that's impossible, 'cause I know for a fact that we don't have any more."

I was out of words, even vulgar ones. I glared at the salesman, turned on my heel and headed for the door.

He called after me: "Well do you want to let me check before you start throwing the attitude around?"
"If you have to check, you shouldn't say that you know things for a fact, now should you??"

Of course I'd been right. This store takes care of everything at a single counter; I'll have to remember that next time I need something from them, but now was painfully awkward while I waited for the man I'd just bitched out to activate my phone, renew my contract, and whatever else he did that took fifteen minutes. I explained to him, in a half-hearted attempt at an apology, that I'd wasted a lot of time at the other branch, and I was frustrated. He didn't seem to care. Then I reminded myself that he was the one who had been totally inappropriate and given me wildly wrong information. That he worked for the company to which I give a good chunk of money every month, and to which I was shelling out a good bit more now.

So then I felt self-righteous and awkward.

In the end, it was almost worth all the hassle. I'm quite happy with my new toy. Unlike the Motorola, it lets you set the brightness on the backlight, so I can have it at a reasonable level that doesn't outshine the sun. I get a good signal in my apartment, and I can hear very well. The controls are intuitive, and they do fun things with speed dials (in as much as speed dials can ever be fun). I sprung for the "extended battery," which cost almost as much as the phone after rebate, and makes it a little chunky, but I have yet to get it down below the half-full mark, and I can use the one that came with the phone as a backup. I wound up not having time for them to transfer my phonebook at the store (Verizon inexplicably refuses to use sim cards or Bluetooth, but they've recently started charging $10 to work some kind of magic on your memory), but I found the process of putting in the numbers manually oddly calming.

Hm, an 8-page post about my cell phone. I guess I wasn't kidding the other day about the unpostable garbage. When I started this post I was much angrier about the way I'd been treated by the various salespeople! But new toys make everything better and I calmed down considerably before I had time to wrap up the story. I also read this, and I realize it could have been much much worse!

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