Saturday, January 28, 2006

Sprint cell phone service fails

A problem started with my cell phone tonight. Since my cell is very important to my business, a problem with it is very disturbing.

Warning: This is going to be a long story, and I'm going to say some negative things about Sprint and their cell phone service, though I will probably be polite.

Around 9:45 pm, my cell phone rang. It was a wrong number, a girl trying to reach Matt. She called again. And again. And a fourth time. At some point she told me the number she was trying to call. I tried calling that number (another number in the 518 area code, starting with the same two digits, but otherwise different) from our home phone. My cell phone rang, indicating that a call was coming in from my home phone.

Between 9:45 and 11 I got about 10 phone calls for Matt, a few of which just went into my voicemail because by then I was calling Sprint customer service.

My call log shows I first dialed Sprint at 10:11 am. The short story is that I spent about 3 hours on the phone with Sprint, ending about 5-10 minutes ago as I type this, and the problem is still not resolved.

On my first call to customer service, I discussed the situation with a representative. She was not helpful and I asked to speak to her manager. She put me on hold, for 5-10 minutes, and then the phone went dead. She, or the system, hung up on me.

I called again. I had a similar conversation with the next rep. Instead of customer service, she put me through to technical support. I give her credit because she stayed on the line until I got through to tech support.

To be clear at this point, some of the Sprint employees I dealt with made a good effort. They either did not have the tools to deal with this problem, or did not have the training.

It should also be noted that the problem I'm having is actually the minor one. My phone still works and I still get calls intended for me. Our friend Matt, whose calls are being forwarded to me, is not getting any incoming calls. And while I initially thought Matt had mistakenly forwarded his calls to my number, apparently this is something Sprint did, not Matt.

Anyway, I got on the line with tech support. Keep in mind this is now the second level up of customer service I was dealing with. We'll go higher later.

This level of tech support was completely unhelpful. They were basically clueless as to what the problem was. They did offer to change my phone number, which is completely unacceptable. The rep was talking me through editing my phone's settings, but he obviously had the wrong manual, as my phone screen did not show what he was talking about. I spoke with his supervisor who was also not helpful.

The clueless rep, who again was making a good effort but just didn't have the right tools or training, offered to put me through to "Advanced Technical Support." Okay, so we're going to level three. He put me on hold to transfer me, and before he did so he said there would be some wait and apologized with such sincerity that I feared something unpleasant was coming. That was correct.

I don't know how long I waited, but it had to be at least a half-hour. Maybe more. I should mention here that during this process, our 11-month-old daughter woke up and would not go back to sleep. So I'm holding daughter, often in both arms, and holding our cordless home phone between my cheek and shoulder. For a long, long time. This was not comfortable. I was able to vary how I held the baby and the phone somewhat, but it wasn't easy. My daughter was fussy too.

As a brief aside, the baby seemed mesmerized for a while by a basketball game on ESPN. And weirdly, while watching a comedian on the Tonight Show, she seemed to be laughing at his jokes. Her giggles were right after the punch lines. Maybe I was hallucinating by this point.

Anyway, after a painfully long wait, I was connected to a rep with Advanced Technical Support (ATS). She was pleasant, and seemed to be trying her best. She did seem to have the right manual for my phone. And I got the general impression that she mostly knew what she was doing.

I should have mentioned earlier that one of the settings on my phone seems to be the problem. There's a setting on my phone (a Palm Treo 650) labelled "MIN". You enter the following code into the Phone app: ##551951#
When you hit the last #, the phone goes into a screen labeled "Activating Your Phone".

There are two entries that can be edited. One is "Mobile Number". That setting was correct. The next setting is called "MIN", and the number was the same as the phone number for our friend Matt. Aha! Or so you might think, but apparently you'd be wrong. The first Tech Support rep thought that what I was seeing as MIN should have read MSID. ATS rep said they're the same thing. I have no idea who's right. I'm betting on ATS rep, but maybe the answer's neither.

The ATS rep had me try something. I think I dialed *720, and then hit the dial (or send) button. This apparently disables all call forwarding, both from and to your phone. Then she wanted to test it, but said she couldn't dial his number because it was after 9 pm. After a brief conversation, I asked her ... "You're saying YOU can't call him, right?"
"Um, yes"
"But you can't stop me from calling him, right?"
"I guess I can't".
"Hold on"

So I tried Matt's number, from my wife's cell (since I'm on my landline and need to see if my cell rings - amazing that I've got 3 different phones - what a world). My phone rang, showing a call from my wife's cell.

So *720 didn't fix it.

For the next half hour or so, ATS rep tried a few different things. I don't know what she was doing. She said she was trying things and working with others around her, but nothing worked.

So now she was going to contact the "Help Desk". That would be level 4, as best I can figure it. So I'm on hold for a while as she's doing that. She comes back (we're almost at the end of the story, by the way), and tells me that she's submitted a "ticket" to the Help Desk, and they should be able to resolve the problem within 36 hours.

36 hours? She said it would probably be quicker, but she had to say 36 hours. Again, keep in mind that my only problem is a few extra calls. I'm still getting the calls intended for me. Poor Matt over there's getting nothing.

I questioned her about my MIN being the same as Matt's cell phone number. She said my MIN was correct. But isn't that an awfully big coincidence, I asked. I mean, the odds of two 10 digit numbers being the same - it's gotta be something like a billion to one.

That's pretty much the story. 3 hours in the hell of Sprint customer service.

If I didn't hate Verizon so much, I'd consider switching because their network and customer service are probably better. This is a tangent, but I've missed so much sleep I can miss a little more. My previous cell phone account was with Verizon Wireless. I switched to Sprint because I wanted the Treo 600. Also, Sprint was less money for more minutes, but the Treo was the big reason. When I switched, I had a billing dispute with Verizon. I offered to pay what I felt I owed ($300 out of the $470 they wanted). No deal. I refused to pay. I sent a few letters too.

They eventually put my account into collection. For many people this might have been disturbing. Since I'm a lawyer, I found it amusing. I'd get threatening calls from debt collectors. I'd laugh at them and tell them not to call again. Then the account would get passed to a new debt collection agency. I'd laugh and direct them not to call. Before the 4th debt collector called, I happened to have run my credit report (for no particular reason). I saw that Verizon had marked my account as "writeoff". That means they had no expectation of collecting. So when the 4th guy calls I laugh even harder and tell him I know that Verizon's written off the account. And don't call me again.

They still call once in a while. Last time my father-in-law picked up and he took a message. He was very concerned. The caller said this was very serious. Uh oh. I didn't know it was serious. :-)

So basically, Sprint is incompetent, and Verizon is evil. And there are no good choices out there.

Keep in mind that I was basically happy with both for most of the time I've been with them. And Verizon's customer service was usually good, except for the last billing problem. And Sprint's service works pretty darn well most of the time.

It's getting late. I guess I should go to bed. Poor Matt.


Anonymous said...

Hi there .. I have a very good idea of what you have posted here. I am one of those disgruntled sprint customers too. It's such a pain to deal with them. Anyway, I was searching for an attorney who can guide me on how to deal with Sprint, when I came across your blog. I mean, there should be some governing body overseeing the cellphone consumer problems, right. I just donno what institution or attorney to talk to. Any pointers from you would be greatly appreciated. Hope no one has to go through such ordeals with better rules from the government in place.

Unknown said...

I don't know what an attorney would do for someone who has problems with their cell phone company. Generally the amount involved in such a dispute is too small to be worth hiring an attorney. The fee would be more than the disputed amount. Maybe there are some class-action attorneys who do something like that, but I know very little about class actions.