September 24, 2010

T-Mobile Tells Existing Customers to Take a Hike

Greetings. T-Mobile -- way back in the number four position among U.S. cellular carriers -- has been bleeding customers and revenue. There's always rumors of various potential mergers involving the firm, mostly generally problematic given technology differences with potential suitors.

So one would think that T-Mobile puts a very high priority on retaining existing customers.

That assumption would be seriously mistaken.

In fact, it almost seems that T-Mobile is making a concerted effort to push their most loyal customers into the waiting arms of their larger competitors -- an attitude that can only increase the probability of T-M's ultimate demise, and a further reduction in effective cellular competition in this country.

I've been with T-M for the last two years, having left AT&T after transitioning with the latter through a series of incarnations (L.A. Cellular, AT&T Wireless, Cingular, and finally AT&T again).

At the time, my main reason for the switch was to get early access to the first Android phone (the G1) for development purposes. And (as you might guess) I had been increasingly dissatisfied with AT&T's service for a variety of other reasons -- making that jump an even easier decision.

Over these 24 months since the switch, I've been comparatively satisfied with T-M. Coverage isn't great in my home location at the very edge of L.A. -- the phone tends to bobble there between 3G and EDGE. But it's overall been quite acceptable and improving -- and in most areas around town the coverage is just fine.

So I thought that timing was particularly fortuitous when several events all came together. My two-year T-M contract is about to expire. T-M has apparently deployed their very high speed HSDPA+ network here in L.A. And (starting today) T-M is taking orders for their new G2 phone -- apparently a branded HTC "Vision" -- and the first of their phones to support HSDPA+ speeds (also including a physical keyboard, which I consider imperative given my e-mail volumes).

The G2 has some other attractive features as well, including the fact that it's reportedly a straightforward Android Froyo, Google Experience device, without any of the funky layered-on carrier-provided interfaces that are appearing on so many new Android phones these days. And even though my intention would be to quickly root the phone and install CyanogenMod (as I've done with my G1), a clean starting point has much to recommend it.

My old G1 has been getting very long in the tooth and increasingly flaky from a functional standpoint. A decent cell-phone is not a luxury for me -- there's just no other way for me to keep up and at least maintain the potential for finding new work -- a high priority.

Time to talk to T-Mobile.

The front line customer care folks were friendly and assured me that a wonderful deal could be made given my "valued customer" status -- but that the T-M retention group would have to authorize anything specific. Nice conversation.

The T-Mobile retention group was like meeting customer care's evil twin. The connection was low and muddy and sounded like a very poor VoIP connection. Without meaning any offense, I'll note that the retention rep's accent was so strong that I had a great deal of difficulty understanding him, and I had to repeat myself several times for him to understand me.

Not a great beginning.

It got worse. The retention rep claimed that he wasn't actually authorized to do much of anything that front line reps couldn't do. Perhaps he could avoid my being charged the extra $5/month that my existing data plan had been increased since my contract initiation -- but that's all.

And as for the G2 -- he quoted me a price even higher than that on the T-Mobile Web site for new customers, and even that required a notorious mail-in rebate. When I mentioned to him that Radio Shack and Best Buy had announced pricing (almost certainly for completely new contract subscribers only) somewhere between $50 to $150 less on the phone (via "instant" rebates -- no mail-in delays required) -- the T-M retention rep's suggestion (in no uncertain terms) was that I find some other company to do business with other than T-Mobile.

Oh-Kay... I get the picture. The obvious solution would be to take his sage advice. Yet I really don't want to return to the overloaded AT&T data network, and I have other technical reasons for preferring GSM-HSDPA(+) to Verizon or Sprint's current mobile environments.

But my own cellular situation aside, I find T-Mobile's professed attitude toward their existing long-term customers to be inexplicable -- and perhaps suggestive of a repressed death wish -- or at least seemingly perverse business sensibilities -- on the part of parent company Deutsche Telekom.

That's sad to see from any major firm, and does not well serve their subscribers, their stockholders, nor the community of telecommunications users at large.


Posted by Lauren at September 24, 2010 12:10 PM | Permalink
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