This blog post goes out to Heather from T-Mobile.
To tell this story fully, you really have to start at the beginning. Rewind to June 29, 2007. Around that time, Sarah and I were celebrating our anniversary at a conference for Christians for Biblical Equality. June 29th was also the day that Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone at the annual Macworld convention. And the cell phone marketplace wouldn’t be the same since. Suffice it to say that Steve and his marketing wizards at Apple gave me the worst case of tech-lust I’ve had in forever.
But I soon found that the best salve for covetous engineering widgetry was something as banal as a competing cell phone contract. You see, Sarah and I were with T-Mobile. The iPhone was exclusively available only with AT&T. As per usual, cell phone companies have always been “dumb pipes”, content to lock their users into long contracts selling them airtime on crappy cell phones. But this isn’t the space to hash out the finer points of just how anti-consumer all the cell phone companies are 1. Needless to say, we were stuck in our contract for a while and were not about to break it at risk of paying an “early termination fee” (ETF) of +$200.
Off and on, I’d looked at conniving ways of breaking the contract, trying to exploit loopholes in the wording. For instance, did you know that if they raise your rates, you are entitled to leave your contract within 30 days, even if those increases might not affect you personally? 2 I tried that angle with T-Mobile but didn’t make the month cutoff time.
Another less successful tactic is the “squeaky wheel” approach. You basically have to be the constant complainer and hope you get passed up the chain of command until finally they cut the chains of contract. But in our case, we actually had a legitimate complaint. Our service was very poor and getting worse. We’ve been getting dropped calls on a regular basis.
A third way of quitting early is to transfer your contract to someone else. I elected for this method, enlisting the help of Craigslist and three other specific websites that claim to help you do just this. After about 3 weeks, I finally got a nibble through Craigslist. I talked to the guy on the phone. He was at first really confused and maybe a little suspicious. I offered to sweeten the deal, by giving him my cell phones and a hot bribery check for $50, both a better deal for me than paying the ETF. So tonight, I finally met him in person, me with my bag of old T-Mobile phones, he with his raised eyebrows. But alas it was not to be; T-Mobile denied the transfer outright because his credit score was too low.
So now it was time for Plan B – Squeaky Wheel. After returning from the failed account transfer attempt, Sarah pep-talked me up and I had a belly full of fire and a head full of steam. I called T-Mobile and argued our case assertively, but politely. I made it past the first round and was passed to an Account Representative. Round 2, I started with a big upper cut and body blow. They moved me quickly up the chain to an Activation Specialist. I came out kicking and they moved me up yet again… to Heather.
Heather reminded me immediately of Chuck Carter. If you don’t already listen to This American Life (TAL), you need to. TAL is a great little piece of radio documentary, sometimes sad, sometimes funny. This one episode, #253: The Middle of Nowhere 3, has a great story about a woman who fought her telephone company for months trying to waive an outrageous bill. It’s both hilarious and soul-crushing. Well, near the end of the story, she finally is transferred to an Account Representative named Chuck Carter.
Chuck Carter is like a seasoned suicide hotline worker. He’s empathetic. He knows her pain. He validates her frustrations. He reassures her. That everything. Is going. To be alright.
Tonight, I’m reeling as if from a dream. I’m incredulous, because tonight I met my Chuck Carter. And his name is Heather. Tonight Heather consoled me, and talked me down from the edge of cell phone despair. She promised to make all this silly contract obligation stuff just go away. And the EFT nonsense? That was just poppycock, she tells me. Pretend it never happened, she twinkles on the other side of the phone, way over there in T-Mobileland.
So wherever you are, Heather, deep in the bureaucratic bowels of the T-Mobile behemoth, we thank you. My wife thanks you. My baby thanks you. I thank you. And most of all… my iPhone thanks you 4.