Irrational Encounters With The Modern World

T-Mobile And Their One Competent Staff Member.

My phone had become like the disillusioned partner in a long-term relationship, and no longer responded to being touched.

This was the second time it had done this, and it had already been sent off for “repair” once. I managed to find a way around most of the basic functions, aided by lots of aggressive swearing, but eventually conceded defeat and took it in to a shop to gauge their reaction. It was recommended that I upgrade, and then – as my phone was still under warranty – send the existing one away for repair once the new one arrived. I was wary of committing to another two years with T-Mobile, as they have the worst signal coverage I have ever encountered. It frequently dips in and out while in the centre of Glasgow, and sitting at home I can watch the bars of the signal and the 3G flash in and out from full, to nothing, and everything in between, with such frequency that it’s in danger of triggering epilepsy. I’m not even epileptic.

Once home, I phoned up and on the third attempt managed to coerce the unresponsive touch screen into allowing me to press for one of the numbered options. After twenty minutes waiting in a queue that would (it told me) keep me waiting ten, I finally spoke to a relatively helpful chap, who guided me through the upgrade process (this being my first upgrade – I had my first contract from 2001 until 2010 inclusive). It was arranged that the phone would come on Monday, delivered by their “preferred courier.”

Monday came and went, I sat in all day. No phone. On Tuesday I phoned up, and was given the Royal Mail tracking number for the package, and an empty apology for the inconvenience. I phoned Royal Mail’s voice recognition service, which can’t detect the difference between F and S when read aloud, and certainly couldn’t process the loud and aggrieved “FFS” that I gave it on my fourth call. On the Thursday, T-Mobile told me that it was unheard of for a phone to have taken this long to be delivered, and that they’d look into it and definitely call me back to let me know what was happening. They never have. Having spent three full days in the house, and with important errands I could put off no longer, I gave up and went out. On the Friday, I decided I’d had enough, and went into their Argyle Street branch, ready to pick a fight and determined not to leave without a new phone.

I was served by someone who had just emerged from the stockroom, and asked immediately to speak to the manager. “Speaking,” he said, and a glance down at his store ID badge confirmed this. He quickly dialled customer services from the store phone, my mobile now being unable or unwilling to offer up push-button options, and after hanging up and redialling several times and with exasperated sighs, he eventually handed me the cordless handset and told me I’d get to speak to someone. I waited, and waited, and waited, listening to the fading-in and -out of whatever pop tunes they’ve licensed, replayed in the manner of a dodgy FM reception. Eventually, a real human woman came on, and I patiently explained the situation.

Her response was predictable: they couldn’t stop the phone because it was in transit; they couldn’t track it beyond what I’d already discovered (on their website, it was revealed that it entered Royal Mail’s system on the Sunday); they couldn’t allow me to take a phone out the store that day, as the other phone may yet come; Royal Mail wouldn’t acknowledge it was lost until 16 days had passed, so I had ten days to wait before they’d even consider investigating; and, if they let me have a phone from the store then if the original phone turned up then I’d “have two phones.” I said I didn’t want two phones, I just wanted one, that worked, and if the other arrived they could have it back – and if they didn’t get it back, they know where I live to come knocking.

If it arrived while I was out, I’d have to wait forty-eight hours before making the fifty-minute round-trip on foot to pick it up from the local Delivery Office. Instead, I told her she could liaise with Royal Mail in her own time, could arrange to drive and pick up the missing phone from them at her leisure if she wanted, I didn’t care – I just wanted to leave the store with the new phone I’d wasted days waiting in for. After being put on hold for the third time, she finally came back and agreed to my polite but firm demand: I could take a phone from the store that day.

The manager, whose name I wish I could remember, but who has a bald/shaved head and a Northern English accent, was extremely helpful, finding the phone in stock and setting it all up (as far as I requested). he checked some system details with his colleague, who jokingly told me “He’s just the cleaner.” “I might be the cleaner, but I do the rotas,” retorted the manager with tongue in cheek, eliciting a humble apology. I asked him if he’d just found that “Manager” badge while sweeping up, and as I was leaving (after forty minutes in-store) told him that – for a cleaner – he was good enough that he should be manager.

As he advised me, never upgrade your phone by post – the box has a big picture on the front of it to let the unscrupulous mail worker know exactly what he can expect should he choose to pocket it. And, having worked for Royal Mail in a temporary capacity, it does seem very much like they are doing away with long-term staff in favour of short-term, unchecked agency temps. This might help facilitate privatisation, but it also seems like the Mail is a lot less secure these days.

The signal on my new phone is equally ropey, and non-existent in the hallway between my bedroom and living room, but at least – in a world of callcentres, press-button options, “please hold”s, empty promises to phone you back, “company policies”, and faceless Customer Care Assistants – I’ve encountered the most friendly, helpful, good-humoured, and unpatronising staff member working in any mobile phone shop I’ve been in. And the missing phone never did turn up at my door.

[Update:] There’s a helpful girl in their Sauchiehall Street branch too – she looked at my unresponsive phone and said “I don’t know how to put this politely, but your phone is goosed.” I told her that was quite polite. It’s away for repair now. I just wish this cheery, but unforced, open helpfulness was more prevalent, both throughout their company, and in society as a whole.

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