Misery loves company, so they say. In the spirit of warning others about something before they get victimized, we love to spread word of failure. Because of the way cell phones are so near and dear to our hearts and because of the how failures on behalf of our wireless providers can really cause us to blow our gaskets, I haven't wasted any time calling out certain companies for their lousy customer service. Although things may have improved since I last wrote about the company, Nextel comes to mind as one of those outfits that I personally felt the need to warn others about. Twice. But all too often, when something goes right, you never hear about it. So with today being Friday and all, I though "why not end the week on a high note and pay a compliment for a job well done to my current wireless provider -- Verizon Wireless. True to their tagline, (We never stop working for you), Verizon Wireless kept working for me until my problem was resolved.
My saga began when I asked Microsoft if it was interested in furnishing me one of its newer Pocket PC phones -- AudioVox's XV6600 -- for testing and writeup. Microsoft agreed but said I'd have to provision the device with wireless service myself. The XV6600 is a CDMA-device (as opposed to GSM/GPRS devices such as those that are required for Cingular and T-Mobile's networks). The two major nationwide CDMA providers are Verizon Wireless and Sprint and of the two, Microsoft said the phone was set up to be provisioned by Verizon Wireless.
For starters, I have routinely recommended against the selection of wireless devices this way (pick the device first, and the provider second). The wireless providers are in charge of what devices they'll allow on their networks and when people ask me what device they should get, my first response is that you're first question should be what wireless provider should you go with. That's because the three most important criteria when getting a wireless handset (phone, or PDA/phone) are coverage, coverage, and coverage. I don't care how cool a device is. If it can't connect to the network from the places that you routinely go to, then you're won't be satisfied with your purchase.
In my case, Microsoft's recommendation that I go with Verizon Wireless was coincidental with the fact that I had already decided to switch to Verizon Wireless based on the fact that it had great coverage in most of the places I go and it has the strongest signal inside my house of all the major providers. I figured this out by asking my friends and trying their phones out from various locations.
When the device arrived in the mail, I called Verizon Wireless to say that I wanted to switch service from my existing phone to the XV6600. This required me to read a special code off the back of the device (the ESN number) over the phone to one of Verizon Wireless customer support representatives. We had a slight snafu in that I didn't realize they were expecting a string of hexidecimal digits and the string on the back of my device started with the characters "0X". The rep didn't know to tell me that he needed a hexidecimal number and I didn't automatically recognize that the the "0X" was actually a prefix that indicated the rest of the string of digits was a hexidecimal string (had it been the normally used "0x" prefix, I would have figured it out immediately, but the upper case X threw me off).
We weren't going anywhere until the rep had the right ESN number because the ESN number is essential to Verizon Wireless' ability to enable the handset over the air (through it's network). So the rep had to bump me up to someone more knowledgable about the device. Actually, I had to be bumped-up twice, each time requiring that the call be forwarded to another number. How many times have you been on the line with customer support for some company and been disconnected in the process of being bumped this way? Is there a hole that you punched through the wall where ever you were standing or sitting at the time because you felt that, after being on hold for 40 minutes, and then being on the line with the rep for another 40, that you were close to the finish line and now you'd have to start all over again? Today, I've been so trained by this common failure that when I get a customer rep on the line, I beg them to call me back in the event that we get disconnected. As a backup, I ask for their name and direct phone number too.
But, in Verizon Wireless' case, each time I was bumped, the customer service rep stayed with me until he or she was certain that I was going to be in touch with another human being next (not a interactive voice response system or dead air). The process of bumping invariably began with something "Mr. Berlind, OK, I have Alan on the line from Data Services, he's going to take you from here." Lavish praise. This is how it should always work.
The device that Microsoft sent me refused to cooperate. Over the telephone, the Verizon Wireless personnel were incredibly persistent (they never stopped working for me) in hopes of saving me a trip to the nearest service center (40 minutes away). Unfortuantely, it came to that. But, when I arrived at the store (the service desk was in the back), I was greeted at the door (yes, at the door) by a friendly face whose job was to do nothing but route people to the right place once inside the building. Thirty minutes later, I walked out the door and was making phone calls for the first time with the XV6600. But one thing we forgot to try (I was so excited when the phone actually completed a call that I ran out the door) was the connection to the Internet.
[Sidebar: One downside to CDMA devices is that you have to make a phone call to connect to the Internet. In other words, the device cannot simulataneously do data and voice like GSM/GPRS devices can do. This means that they're not really "always-on" devices. On the upside, the CDMA data networks from Sprint and Verizon Wireless have, in practice, so far proven to be much faster than their GPRS competitors].
Another disaster struck. When I got home and tried to browse the Web, I was asked for a user name and password. I called customer support again. The great customer service I received the first time was not a fluke. I received the same hand holding the second time as I did the first. Not only that, I got disconnected at one point and guess what? They called me right back. "Mr. Berlind, we lost you. Can we still try to fix you're problem?" Damn right you can, thank you very much. After exhausting all options (every permutation of a user ID and password you can think of), they asked me to bring it back to the service center and I did. I dropped the phone off and asked them to call me if and when they figured out how to get it working.
They never got it working. But what they did do is give me a number to call. Now, this is the part where I think the service center could have taken care of business but didn't. But even so, things worked out. They told me that the "data team" wanted to replace the device, but not before first trying a "hard" reset. They wanted my permission to do the hard reset since, for a PocketPC, a hard reset means loss of all data. How about that? They were worried about my data! I don't know who or how they made the decision to ask me first, but I was pleasantly suprised. Somewhere, I guessed, is some sort of knowledge management system that has big bold red text that says "CHECK WITH THE CUSTOMER BEFORE TRYING THIS LAST DITCH EFFORT!" Either that, or there are a few gurus that learned the hard way (perhaps I was benefitting at the expense of some previously burned customers). Still, no dice. This unit wasn't getting on the Internet.
"Mr. Berlind. We know you didn't buy the device from us (I explain to them that it was furnished to me by Microsoft). But in the next 48 to 72 hours, you'll be getting a replacement device in the mail." Just put that one in the Fedex envelope we're sending to you and send it back to us and let us know if you have any other problems."
I pinched myself. No, I wasn't dreaming. Now, I know that for every success story, there will be a bunch of bad ones. Mileage will vary. But for me, it went something like this: Bad luck. Rotten device. Great customer support. Verizon Wireless, you kept your word. You didn't stop working for me. Thanks.