Irrational Encounters With The Modern World

Signal

T-Mobile, Truly Mannerless.

I wrote a letter of complaint to T-Mobile, and was then given conflicting information about how to send it to them. Eventually, when my email bounced back and they confirmed that they have no public email address, I printed my letter and sent it via Royal Mail. I also posted it on here, and linked them to it via Twitter. I disputed the amount they requested from me to settle my account, and listed the errors they had made along the way.

T-Mob DMs

They must have read both entries as published here, because they then “direct messaged” me again, this time asking that I confirm a few personal details. I did so, and they linked me to a generic page on their website, here.

T-Mob help

I had already submitted my complaint, using the address that had been provided during one of many phone calls. This information was too little, too late, and I had also taken the time to write a separate and serious missive to the company’s CEO. His name was easy to find, firstly by using a well-known search engine, and verified by calling their head office on 01707 315000. The girl on the switchboard helpfully spelled his name for me too, and you can read about Olaf Swantee’s career on their site.

Two weeks passed, largely without incident. I enquired why they had checked my identity prior to supplying a publicly-accessible link, and they apologised for wasting my time. That is genuinely what they said. I have taken a fair few screen-grabs of all this back-and-forth chat with them. In the words of Chris Morris, here is “proof, if proof be need be.”

T-Mob dealt with

I decided against picking them up on their use of the words “dealt with”, and how that could be easily misconstrued if I was in the mood to prolong the fight. The implication of that phrase is that I am some sort of pest, Perhaps I was.

Today, it is a full two weeks since we last conversed on Twitter. It is four weeks since I spoke to anybody on the phone. According to my Twitter messages, it is seventy-five days since I queried whether or not they had correctly terminated my contract, without charge. This afternoon, somebody with a north-east English accent phoned me. He asked my name, and began discussing details of my complaint. No further identity checks were undertaken, a breach in protocol that would not be tolerated in any of the call centres where I have worked.

His tone was insincere, as he offered an apology that was as empty as the rest of his conversation. He was willing to waive the small charge that had been applied, for issuing my PAC code that let me leave them. I told him he could waive the rest as well, and that I had written to the CEO. He wanted to know if I had addressed my letter to just “The CEO” or if I had put his name. I told him that I had addressed it personally, although what difference it makes was not clear to me. In truth, I forgot Olaf Swantee’s name at this point, and even his nationality, mistakenly referring to him as “the Danish guy.”

The man on the phone pursued his scripted line of defence. It seemed to centre around the outstanding balance, of about twenty pounds, being “such a small sum” that it “seems a shame to mark your credit file with it.” The implication appeared to be that I should have saved myself some hassle by just paying a fee that I do not believe I am liable for, Frankly, my credit file is already marked, and twenty quid and the involvement of T-Mobile’s appointed debt collectors is unlikely to change much either way. I have bigger creditors to contend with.

To him, repeating himself in the absence of any meaningful debate, it was still “a shame” to have that on my credit file. As for it being “such a small sum”, it certainly is a small sum when your company took in revenue of nearly six-billion pounds last year. I would almost suggest that they should take the hit, rather than me. In fact, I did suggest that. I demanded it and refused to pay.

He persevered with his rebuttal. I suddenly remembered an article that I had been sent last week, from somebody who had read these blogs. He wrote of his own experience, and somewhere in there or on some other social media site, I had noticed that EE was being investigated by the BBC’s consumer affairs programme. I brought this into play.

“I heard you were featured on Watchdog this week.”

His answer astounded me. “Every big company is on Watchdog at some point.”

“Aye, fair play. Don’t let it bother you.”

That ended our discussion. As a “gesture of goodwill”, my remaining balance was wiped clean. Given the seventy-five days of mistakes, phone calls, letters, misinformation, and poor communication, I could have asked for more and maybe should have. They got off pretty damned lightly, for all of the inconvenience they have caused. Thinking about it now, they referred me to a debt collector, smeared my credit history, and then instantly wrote the debt off when I asked them to – while simultaneously implying that it was my fault for not paying them directly.  If I really owed them that money then they put up very little resistance, all told.

To recap, T-Mobile’s shop staff admitted that their coverage is very poor in the Greater Glasgow area. Their customer service department agreed that this lack of service provision was a breach of the contract I have with them. Due to this, they released me from my contract approximately ten months early, and without financial penalty. Having then taken two goes to supply the correct PAC code, they billed me for it – a charge which was not mentioned when I asked for the full terms and conditions to be explained to me in advance. This was the charge that I disputed.

it took me two-and-a-half-months, several hours of phone calls and even more hours of writing letters, but I finally got there. If you can be bothered persevering, persevere. If you have the option to not sign up to an EE contract, take it. Sign up to almost anyone else instead.

Big Olaf has not replied to me yet. I was far more formal when I addressed him, which makes for less entertaining reading. Therefore, I have not posted that letter here. However, if he sends me any kind of reply, I will be sure to publish it for all to see. In the meantime, you can write to him too. If everyone tells him how awful his company is, he will have to take note.

T-mobile envelope

His address is: Olaf Swantee (CEO), EE Head Office, Hatfield Business Park, Hatfield Avenue, Hatfield, Hertfordshire, AL10 9BW.

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T-Mobile, Triggering Misery.

Account Number [redacted]

Dear T-Mobile/EE/Everything Everywhere,

I wish to complain about the service you almost provided while I was contracted to you, and the nightmarish circumstances you created when I tried to leave your shoddy excuse for a network provider.

Since T-Mobile merged with Orange to become EE, your signal is more accurately described less as Everything Everywhere and more as Nothing Anywhere. I complained about this lack of service on two or three different occasions in the past few months (via your 150 phone service – “press every number under the sun, and once you have a blister on your finger your call will eventually be answered by someone who is unable to help meaningfully.”)

I grew tired of being asked if I had an alternate number you could contact me on. I only have one phone, as it did not occur to me that your service would be so dreadful. Had it, I would have been sure to take out a second contract with another phone company, in order that you could reach me on it when my signal disappeared – as it frequently did, often in the middle of calls to you. I could invoice you for plasters purchased to cover my blistered number-pressing fingers, but I chose to waive those fees rather than speak to further incompetent members of staff.

I use the word “incompetent” advisedly.

It was confirmed in your Glasgow store that much of Greater Glasgow is suffering from poor coverage just now, as you are dismantling masts. Your shop monkey tried to take the edge off it by sympathising “even we don’t get much signal.” This was little comfort, as you may gather, and while I appreciated his attempt to sympathise it was sorely lacking.

To cut a long story short – the full version is a work-in-progress that will appear on my blog, in two or maybe three parts, with accompanying times, dates, and screen-grabs – after a dozen calls to you it was agreed that you would give me two options. Firstly, I could accept a fifteen percent discount, applied monthly until the end of my contract. My monthly bill never rose higher than twenty-five pounds, and I had zero signal to speak of. You would charge me (at most) £3.75 less per month, in return for which I could continue to suffer your appalling “service” for nearly another year? What a bargain! How about no.

Alternatively, you would release me from my contract early, having checked your systems and discovered that – yes indeed – Glasgow, the biggest city in Scotland and third biggest city in the UK, is not particularly well served by your network. That sounded far more appealing, given that you could not supply any kind of time-frame as to when your masts might actually begin working properly again. I was quickly given a PAC code, which I asked to be repeated to me as I knew how very difficult it had been to speak to somebody capable of issuing it, and I wrote it down.

At this time, having wasted three hours of my Saturday night trying to get enough signal to call you, and having been passed from department to department, I asked about the terms and conditions of transferring my number. It was explained to me, patiently enough as I made myself very aware of your procedures, that my PAC code (read and repeated for confirmation again) would be active for thirty days, and that my contract would not end until I used it. Failure to use it would see my contract remain unchanged. This seemed reasonably straightforward, and I made sure to equip myself with (I believed) all of the facts during this phonecall.

A week later, I found myself in Northern England. I went there deliberately, so it was no great surprise to find myself there. It was equally unsurprising to discover that your service/signal/network/coverage is just as bad down there. As I was there for seven days, armed with the PAC code that I had jotted down phonetically, and confirmed phonetically twice, I called into the shop of a nearby rival. Within an hour I had chosen a new phone and payment plan, agreed to their terms, and left jubilant that finally I would be able to receive calls as they were made. Hell, I could even send texts and browse online – all of the fundamental basics that you should have been supplying as contracted.

This other company informed me that my number would transfer within a few hours, maybe a few days. Four days later, I had to contact them to find out why my number had not been transferred to my new phone. The answer? You had given me an incorrect PAC code. I was condemned to keeping my old phone to hand for a longer period, until I would get back to Glasgow.

In the meantime – and really, bonus points for being utterly useless here – since being given my (evidently wrong) PAC code, you had begun sending me texts thanking me for signing up to T-Mobile. I received texts telling me all about your wonderful company which I had just left due to you not providing the service you were legally obliged to.

Once I returned home, I was met with written confirmation of my PAC code. It was different to the one I had been given verbally, and thus was not so much confirmation as new information. I duly gave it to my new supplier, who was able to use it and transfer my number accordingly. Shortly afterwards, I was able to use my existing number with my new phone, and for a brief spell all was right with the world. Then you spoiled it, as your ineptitude suggested you would.

I was sent a final bill, which contained a load of figures that seemed unwarranted. Rather than waste further hours of my life trying to contact you, and heartily sick of your inability to function anything like competently, I ignored it. I guessed that, if it was important, you would contact me again, and you did.

This time, in bold letters at the top of the page, you announced that I had an overdue balance. My account had now been disconnected from the T-Mobile network, you said, and followed “for your service to be restored, please pay the amount in full stated at the top of this letter.”

The quoted sentence is important. I did not want my service, such as it was, to be restored – and so I did not pay you any money. I did not trust you to not try and reconnect me, since – until this juncture – there was no acion on your part that instilled confidence in me.

You wrote to me again, three weeks later, an identical letter (save for the amount asked for) which opened the same way. Again, as I have no desire for you to restore my service, I did not pay “the amount stated at the top of this letter.” That said, as my hand had healed somewhat, I was willing to risk new blisters. I dialled your customer service number, and pressed all of the required keys to talk to one of your employees. She was very helpful, inasmuch as she was thoroughly unhelpful.

She went through my final bill, breaking it into its component parts. It includes a “notice period charge”, and she explained that it is the fee charged for providing me with a PAC code. I suggested I should be given a discount, since I was provided with an incorrect code and thus inconvenienced. In truth, I told her outright that I dispute that amount as at no point – during the conversation whereby I decided to leave T-Mobile – was I informed that I would be charged for doing so. It had been a lengthy conversation, given that I received my PAC code and confirmed it, while asking for all of the relevant information regarding the issuing and use of the code, and I am sure you can go back and listen to it for quality and training purposes.

I asked this new staff member for an email address, so that I could put this complaint in writing. Unbelievably, she told me that T-Mobile do not communicate by email, and I countered by asking which century you are operating in. Her argument, weak as it was, is that you prefer all complaints to be in writing and sent by post, so that you can keep them all in one place. As much as I refuse to undermine my argument by resorting to cursing, this sounds like complete bullshit.

She seemed to suggest that, rather than have my complaint sent quickly and directly, to be stored in as many locations as you wish to copy it to, making it instantly and easily retrievable, you would prefer that I type it, print it, affix a stamp, and entrust it to the Royal Mail. Perhaps your internal servers are as dubious as your network coverage? This is the only reason I can imagine which would necessitate the involvement of a postman to resolve this. Unless you have suddenly elected to support and reinvigorate the flagging reliance on their centuries-old infrastructure.

Once I thanked the girl for her assistance, having jotted down the postal address she furnished me with, I did as all modern-day endurers of appalling service do, and went online to register my disdain for your company. While there, connected to the internet by a rival company who manage to fulfil that contracted duty, I decided to find a number for your head office. I had hardly begun browsing your terrible website before a box popped up, inviting me to chat to someone. Here we go! I asked for an email address to make my complaint and – incredibly – it was immediately forthcoming, without hesitation.

tmobile

Why is it, then, that your advisors disagree on the methods of communication open to your customers? I resent being misinformed by the telephone advisor, only to be given the correct information online minutes later and without fuss.

Now, with the tools necessary to document my subjection to your poor standards and inconsistent policies, I could begin writing. I took my time, admittedly, since this is a lengthy complaint and one I wished to word well. The telephone advisor had said that she would make a note on my account, saying that I had called in and planned to discuss the amount you claim I owe. I was under the impression, perhaps misguidedly, that I had bought myself time to compose a letter worthy of all the hassle and stress you have caused me.

Today, 7th September, I received a letter from [redacted] Debt Recovery Limited. You can guess the rest, I am sure, but my account has been passed to them. The next step is that I need to contact them and explain that I am in dispute with you, regarding the amount allegedly owed. I look forward to that chat, it gives me buckets of joy repeating the same thing to so many of your employees and associates.

I propose an alternate solution.

You can immediately waive the £[redacted] “Notice Period Charge”;
You can also dismiss the outstanding amount*, in lieu of the hassle and inconvenience of addressing your repeated failings and inconsistencies;
You can re-word the opening of your standard letter, so that it does not suggest that payment of final bills will result in reconnection to your service. I am prepared to give this advice free of charge, and shall not charge a consultant’s fee for recommending it.

You will note that I have appended an asterisk(*) after mentioning the outstanding amount. Here is why:

A letter from T-Mobile, dated 02/08/13, gives the outstanding balance as £[redacted].
My final bill, dated July ’13, and a letter dated 23/08/13, both give the outstanding balance as £redacted].
This letter from [redacted] Debt Recovery Ltd claims that the balance due is £[redacted].

Prior to having spoken to them, I would expect you to clarify how much you believe me to owe your company. Although it is a moot point, as I stand by my request that you write off the amount in full and with immediate effect.

You are the worst telecommunications company I have ever encountered, unable to justify your existence or provide even the most basic of services. Not only is your network and signal provision a joke, but your staff repeatedly fail to corroborate the most fundamental information. Instead of chasing me for your mistakes, your finances would be better spent on improving your national systems and in administering training.

I anticipate a full response to this letter. Unlike you, I accept emails – although you may use Royal Mail if doing so truly is an altruistic act on your part. At the very least, I demand an explanation for your continued failings throughout this troublesome episode, and I would like it in writing (typed or joined-up) that I no longer owe you any money.

Thank you for making me waste another few hours of my life documenting all of this, yet again.

Yours insincerely (apart from the bit about waiving any amount outstanding, I am entirely sincere about that),

[me]


Helping Those Who Help Themselves

I have recently joined a new mobile network, my third this year. They offered cheap and unlimited internet access for my laptop, for a reasonable price. As ever with these things, though, there were a few teething issues.

I have put my new SIM card into my old phone, which is now permanently connected to the computer. I use it as a modem, sharing my signal with the laptop through a process known as “tethering.” I did this before, but having now unlocked my phone and joined another network, I am finally permitted to. Being acceptable under the terms of my contract, I phoned the company’s technical support line to get some help understanding why it was giving me problems. To her credit, the girl I spoke to was able to guide me through the process, and she sent me a text for future reference.

As I read it, this message tells me that to get help using my phone as a modem, I need to go online using my phone as a modem. A lovely paradox, and a fittingly absurd entry for this blog.

three tetheringAbove: “To get help with tethering, tether your phone to your computer.”

 

 


Crossing Pedestrians At Pedestrian Crossings.

It is fortunate that the UK does not have the same legislation as the US when it comes to the “crime” of jaywalking.

In Glasgow especially, traffic lights are provided more as a decoration, or as a suggestion, rather than as a mandatory crossing point. Crowds of people will cross the main city centre roads, regardless of traffic volume or colour of light. It is made very easy to position yourself in such a way that you have people to either side of you.

This is a useful tactic, independently recognised and adopted by some of my friends, that ensures if a car does plough into the swathe of pedestrians at least someone else will take the brunt of the impact.

Although I still have, somewhere, in some forgotten box, the badge signifying my membership of The Tufty Club, it seems this was not covered in the road safety advice doled out to schoolchildren in the early eighties:

 

It is such a common occurrence, and sight, to see people crossing using their own judgement that if it were to be made illegal they would be as well to just wall Glasgow in – given the size of a prison that would be required.

Any time I am with friends who shy away from crossing at undesignated points, or with traffic approaching, I tell them “they’re not allowed to knock you down.” This stems from something I was told once.

I was at a crossroads in the north of the city – where Cambridge Street meets Renfrew Street – and was, using my judgement and then-firm knowledge of the sequence of light changes (I studied in the area), awaiting the green man.

Over the street, a jakey (a young local with a taste for tracksuits and – gauging from his demeanour – tonic wine, cheap cider, and narcotics) began crossing towards me.

A bus turned the corner, narrowly missing him as he refused to let it impede his progress. As it passed he looked at me and confidently told me, with a swagger and in that infamous nasal whine adopted by those of his ilk, “They’re no’ allowed tae knock ye doon, mate. They’re no’ allowed tae knock ye doon.”

I admired his faith. I wouldn’t trust Glasgow’s bus drivers to not knock me down.

As one of my friends later said, when I related the story, in his head the law beats physics.

That was at least six years ago now. To this day, if anyone questions my judgement in darting across streets or in walking halfway across roads and waiting for further traffic to pass before completing my journey, and it has happened twice in the past fortnight, I tell them the same thing: they’re no’ allowed tae knock ye doon.

Strange how a chance encounter can leave such an impression.

 

 


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.