So I've not blogged in a while, but my recent experience with a major mobile provider was so astonishingly bad that I feel compelled to write about my experiences. (Executive summary: never do business with T-mobile again!)
I had some friends out from Russia back in November, and they wanted to purchase an iPhone 5s for their son as a birthday gift. Sadly, we couldn't get unlocked ones from the Apple Store at the time, because they simply lacked inventory.
So we went to the local T-mobile store here on San Marcos Blvd (San Marcos, CA.) I knew that they were offering phones for full-price (not subsidized), and it seemed like a possible way for them to get a phone. Tiffany was the customer service agent that "assisted" us. She looked like she was probably barely out of high school, but anyway she seemed pleased to help us make a purchase. I asked her no fewer than three times whether the phone was unlocked, and was assured that, yes, the phone was unlocked and would work fine with Russian GSM operators. I was told that in order for T-mobile to sell us the phone, we had to purchase a 1-month prepaid plan for $50, and a $10 sim card. While I was little annoyed at this, I understood that this was their prerogative, and the cost of wanting to buy the device "right now" and not being able to wait 2 weeks for Apple to ship one. (My friends had less than a week left in California at this time.) We were buying the phone outright, so it seemed like there ought to be no reason for the device to have a carrier lock on it.
So, of course, the phone was not unlocked. It didn't work at all when it got to Russia. Clearly Tiffany didn't have a clue about the product she sold us. I guess I shouldn't have been too surprised. But we had put down $760 in cash for a device that now didn't work. Worst of all, I was embarrassed, as was my friend, when his son got what was essentially a lemon for his birthday gift.
I was pretty upset, and went back to the store. Tiffany was there, and apologized. She offered to pay up to $25 for me to use a third party service to unlock the phone since "it was her fault". Of course, the third party service stopped offering this for iPhones, and their cost for iPhone 5's was over $100 when they were offering it.
I tried to get T-mobile to unlock the phone. I waited in the store for a manager for about 2 hours, but Tiffany finally got upset and called the police to get me to leave the store after I indicated that I preferred to wait on the premises for a manager. I left the store premises, unhappy, but resolved to deal with this through the corporate office.
I went home, and called T-mobile customer service. It turns out that T-mobile store is really a 3rd party company, even though they wear T-mobile shirts, and exclusively offer T-mobile products. (More on that later.)
I spent quite a few hours on the phone with T-mobile. Somewhere in the process, the customer service people called Tiffany, whereupon she immediately reversed her story, claiming she had informed me that the phone was locked. This was just the first of a number of false and misleading statements that were made to me by T-mobile or its affiliates. I spent several hours on the phone that day. At the end of the call, I was told that T-mobile would unlock my phone only after at least 40 days had passed from the date of activation. The person at corporate assured me that if I would just wait the 40 days, then I'd be able to get the phone unlocked. Since the phone was already in Russia, I figured it would take at least that long to send it back and send a replacement from another carrier.
Oh one other thing. During that first call, I discovered that Tiffany had actually taken the $50 prepaid plan we purchased, and kept it for herself or her friends. We didn't figure that out until T-mobile customer service told me that I didn't have a plan at all. Nice little scam. While dishonest, I would not have begrudged the action had the phone actually worked. Of course it didn't.
(During all this, on several different occasions, T-mobile customer service personnel tried to refer me to the same 3rd party unlocking service. Because hey, if T-mobile can't get its own phones unlocked, maybe their customers should pay some shady third party service to get it done for them. But it turns out that whatever backdoor deal that service had previously doesn't work anymore, because they've stopped doing it for Apple phones.)
So we waited 40 days.
And then we called to have the phone unlocked.
And T-mobile refused again. This time I was told that I needed to have $50.01 or more, not just $50 on the plan. After a few more hours on the phone and escalation up through a few levels of their management chain, they credited my account for $0.20, and then resubmitted the unlock request. I was guaranteed that the phone would be unlocked.
Two days later, T-mobile denied the unlock request.
At this point, I was informed that the phone had to have T-mobile activity on it within 7 days of the unlock request. This was simply not going to happen. The phone was in Russia! I complained, and I spent quite a few more hours on the phone with T-mobile. It seems like the folks who control the unlocking process of their phones have nothing to do with the people who answer their customer service lines, nor those people's bosses, nor those people's bosses. Astonishing!
At this point I had spent over a dozen hours trying to get T-mobile to unlock the darned thing. T-mobile had got their money from me already, and had done pretty much everything possible to upset me. The amount of money T-mobile spent dealing on the phone with me, trying to enforce a stupid policy, which wouldn't have been necessary if they had just admitted their mistake and fixed it (which would have cost them nothing whatsoever) is astonishing. Talk about penny-wise and pound foolish.
At that time, T-mobile told me that I would be able to return the other phone, provided I got it back from Russia. They agreed to this even though the usual 14 days "buyer's remorse" window had passed.
So at this point, I went and purchased a phone from Verizon (and paid a $50 premium because I was at BestBuy instead of the Apple store and the Verizon store wouldn't sell the phone unless it was part of a plan), and I sent it to Russia with my step-son, who was going their for Christmas. That phone did work, and my step-son exchanged the T-mobile phone for it, bringing the T-mobile phone back.
The next day, I went to return the phone at the store where I bought it. Sadly, Tiffany was there. So was her manager, Erica.
After spending about an hour at the store trying to return it, they agreed to take it back, minus a $50 restocking fee. And as I paid cash, I had to provide my checking account information so they could do a deposit for me, which would take a few days. I got a paper showing that they were sending me a refund, but nothing indicating the account number. (Turns out it took a few calls from Erica -- who claimed to be the store manager and probably was about 10 minutes older than Tiffany -- the next day, since she apparently had no clue what she was doing and needed to get two separate pieces of information that she failed to collect while I was in the story.)
I did spend a bunch of time with customer service on the phone -- a few more hours I guess, trying to get that last $50. At this point it was just a matter of principle. I resented the whole thing, and I wanted as much of my money back as possible. The customer service person tried to make it right, but because the store (Hit Mobile is the company apparently) is separate from T-mobile, the store's decision was final. The store manager (Erica) refused to refund the stocking fee, and there was nothing T-mobile could do about it. To their credit, they did offer me a $50 service credit if I was inclined to keep an account with them. Needless to say, I have no interest in ever being a T-mobile customer, so I thanked them and declined... indicating that I'd prefer to have funds back in cash. (Nobody ever mentioned the restocking fee; on the contrary I was told I'd receive the full purchase price less the $60 service plan and SIM card. Again, story and reality don't match at T-mobile.)
I did eventually get $650 credited back to my account.
So, I was out $110, plus the extra $50, plus the 13+ hours of my time, plus the embarrassment and long turnaround time to get the replacement out to Russia. All because T-mobile wouldn't fix a mistake they made, even though numerous people at that company recognized that it was clearly the Right Thing To Do.
Turns out that Verizon iPhones are all unlocked. And I'm already a Verizon customer. I was thinking about T-mobile's plans -- some of them are attractive on paper, and potentially could have saved me money relative the rather premium prices I pay for Verizon. Needless to say, I will not be changing my provider any time soon. In spite of the high prices, I've always been dealt with honestly and fairly, and I've been happy with the service I've gotten at Verizon.
If for some reason, you decide to get a T-mobile phone, please, please avoid the store located on San Marcos Blvd. In fact, I urge you to verify that the store is owned by T-mobile corporation. Its my belief that I might have had more satisfactory results had I been dealing with just a single entity. That said, numerous people at T-mobile corporate lied to me and made false promises.
I feel so strongly about this, that I'm happy to have spent the hour or so writing up my terrible experiences with them. I hope that I save someone else these painful experiences. I won't be unhappy if it also costs T-mobile many potential customers.
For the record, I also think it should be illegal to sell a carrier locked device without clearly indicating this is so as part of the transaction. The practice of carrier locking devices makes sense when the cost of the device is being subsidized by the carrier as part of a service plan. But it should be possible to purchase the device outright and remove any such lock. T-mobile's practices here are a disservice to their customers, and their partners. The handset manufacturers should apply pressure to them to get them to change their policy here.