The customer is in charge: T-Mobile issues an apology (and my money back)

The customer is in charge: T-Mobile issues an apology (and my money back)

Summary: On Wednesday, in response to my publication of a recording of a call that took place between me and a customer service rep named Rudy at T-Mobile, Cornell Cunningham, senior manger of customer care at T-Mobile, phoned me to say he was appalled at Rudy's aggressiveness and the tone and that T-Mobile would be issuing me a refund for failed hot spot service (what I wanted in the first place).

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TOPICS: Mobility
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On Wednesday, in response to my publication of a recording of a call that took place between me and a customer service rep named Rudy at T-Mobile, Cornell Cunningham, senior manger of customer care at T-Mobile, phoned me to say he was appalled at Rudy's aggressiveness and the tone and that T-Mobile would be issuing me a refund for failed hot spot service (what I wanted in the first place). He also asked me if I wouldn't mind following up with a post indicating that T-Mobile had contacted me to make good on the situation.  I told Cunningham that if he put what he just told me in writing, that I would follow up by publishing his letter here, on this blog.  That letter arrived by email this morning.  Here's the full text (sans Cunningham's contact info):

From: Cunningham, Cornel
Sent: Friday, July 21, 2006 11:10 AM
To: David Berlind
Subject: Follow-up to our Conversation

David, thank you for bringing to our attention your experience with T-Mobile HotSpot service.  We strive to provide our customers with the highest level of support, and we apologize that your needs were not met.  While we were unable to identify any network issue that might have caused the problem, we were able to confirm that you were logged on to HotSpot for only a very short time and had only minimal data access; therefore, we are processing a refund of $9.99 to your credit card for the charges incurred. 

In addition, while the HotSpot network appears to be working properly at SFO, we are dispatching a field service technician to the airport to troubleshoot the situation you reported.  

We apologize for any inconvenience this matter has caused you.

Sincerely,

Cornel Cunningham
Sr. Manager-Technical Care

While the letter isn't as forthcoming about Cunningham's assessment of the call's content as he was with me on the phone, I believe from Cunningham's tone on the phone on both Wednesday and earlier this morning that he was sincere about making the situation better (although I wonder, as I would with any company and not just T-Mobile, whether a recording like mine would have merited the same level of attention if it didn't turn up on a site with the sort of reach that ZDNet has). 

At this point, I think I'd be willing to give T-Mobile another chance (even though I said in my original post that the wireless carrier lost a potential customer for good).  Not just because they made my situation better.  But because I think the company has learned a lesson about how quickly any bullying of its customers can make headlines and what it must do in terms of being more customer friendly to avoid that from happening again.  AOL and Comcast are two other companies that recently learned this lesson the hard way. In fact, these instances should be lessons to all companies. Thanks in part to the read/write nature of the Web, your customers are truly in charge of your future.  How prepared you are for that reality is entirely up to you.

But just in case you don't think it can happen to you, here's an invitation to ZDNet's readers.  If you feel you're being treated unreasonably by your technology provider, write to me at david.berlind@cnet.com. Perhaps we change a few minds together.

Topic: Mobility

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47 comments
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  • Good news ...

    .... but I agree with your assessment that the visibility of your post is what did the trick -- plain old damage control on the part of a customer service manager whose job it is to care while Rudy might just as well have been talking to you from Bangalore.

    I wonder David, whether or not you would have just as quickly accepted the original offer of a free Day Pass in lieu of a refund had 'Rudy' been more forecoming with that suggestion from the start.

    And I wonder if Rudy was on the defense because he knew up-front that he was being recorded. (Which, of course, you had to tell him!)

    None of this matters except that a complementary Day Pass from T-Mobile costs them a great deal less than having to process a refund and therefore may be part of the standard policy (Rudy's behavior aside.)

    For many customers, such a policy is not unreasonable. Still, if the customer insists, Rudy's manager should have been able to authorize a refund if Rudy was not.
    M Wagner
  • The real problem...

    The real problem was that Rudy was very poorly trained in several areas. His manner was boorish and pushy, he knew little about actual networking, and his focus seemed to be on "no refunds, ever".

    I don't blame Rudy though, I blame his manager. In customer service, you have to have constant peer evaluation, training, and hands on management to have a smooth running organization that makes customers happy.

    The really sad thing is that a good customer service rep could have given you the exact same thing in a different manner and probably had you thanking them for how well you were treated.
    Sxooter_z
    • I totally agree

      Where I work, which will remain nameless, I am monitored daily and have small training sessions on different areas. The company also monitors other areas to be sure that we are being as help full, quick and empathetic with our customers as possible. In the short not even 3 wks that I have working on the floor with this company, I cant even tell you the numerous times the customers, sales store reps and agents have told me that I am the nicest most helpful rep in the company that they have ever talked too. And the my friends is what you want to hear.
      whtchutlknbout
  • Better Luck Than Me

    Early on I bought 300 min at $50 from T-Mobile. I rarely used them. After about a year and a half I had used 100 min. They then changed their rules and said all time had to be used in 90 days from purchase. I asked for a prorated refund since that wasn't the terms I bought them under. I was basicly told too bad. They no longer even sell that plan but I told their rep at the time it would be a cold day before I ever bought from a company that would do that.
    You're right, you had better luck than the average Joe.
    compudave
  • Would that I could send you an e mail

    but a) not exactly technology related and
    b) can't send e mails from work. Don't know why I have permission to use this but can't send e mails. Here is what I posted to another thread:
    Crappy f&*^%*g Cingular!

    They just flipping disconnected my service! I made my payment in full a week ago and they disconnected me! My payment wasn't even due until this coming up Monday! Their idea of customer service sucks eggs! When I asked what the heck had happened the lady put me on hold for over 20 minutes! Then she had the AUDACITY to tell me that the payment hadn't posted yet (which is crap because I have a print out from my prepaid visa to prove it went through) and that they had had system issues at the moment and they were very sorry for the inconvienience but because my payment hadn't posted yet (keep in mind that it wasn't due until the 24th- THIS F*****G MONDAY!) that they couldn't turn it back on until I made another payment since my minutes had expired. WTF? I asked for a supervisor. I got a lady that told me the same thing. But she also told me that they would credit the extra payment to my account and that I wouldn't have to pay ANYTHING next month. The fact that they did this AT ALL is C-R-A-P!. So I said this: your systems had an issue so my phone got shut off. My payment isn't due until Monday and I already paid it (I'm not buying that the payment didn't post yet, if it posted to my card then it sure as hell posted to them) but you can't activate it again until I make another payment? I said that I wanted to stop my service with them and they said sure, if I wanted to pay the 500$ fee to opt out early. Grrrr... two more months of this s**t to go. I asked them how on EARTH did they think that thye could get away with this? And they said that in their NEW terms of use that came out within the past week that it states that if service is disconnected for whatever reason that Cingular will require a full months payment in order to reactivate. I told them that I had no signed, nor seen any such terms of use. And THEN I was flat out TOLD that it didn't matter that because I had made a payment that I accepted them. I made my payment over the freaking phone and not on a paper bill! I told them that they needed to turn my phone back on because payment wasn't due until Monday and that the payment had already been made! I told them that even IF I had agreed to those terms (which again I hadn't!) that they had already received a full months payment in advance because the bill due date had not yet passed. They said that according to their records that it had not yet posted so therefor it did not exist. I said that my card company (and that I could fax them the proof) had given me proof that payment had been made TO THEM and I could give them the reference number! They said that it was completely out of their hands and that they could not reactivate it without a full months payment in advance. THAT IS SUCH CRAP! This cannot be legal!
    Shelendrea
    • It's not legal

      Contact the Consumer Complaints division of your local or State Attorney General's office.

      You've paid them for services they're not providing. And, they've discontinued service without valid reason. Both instances could land them in deep, hot water.
      Dr. John
  • T-Mobile wouldn't be that nice to the Average Joe!

    I have had T-Mobile for a year and a half. About a year ago, I began experiencing dropped calls. It seems like the T-Mobile network cuts me off on long distance after about 10 minutes from home. My husband's phone too. I have spent more time than I care to recall with T-Mobile reps who tell me that it is not their system and that it is my phone, despite the fact that I use it at work all the time and have never been disconnected. One T-Mobile rep actually told me that it happens to her "all the time" too and that is just the way the service is. Don't even get me started about the credits promised that I never got, the late fees I have paid while on automated billing and the free charger and headset that I was supposed to receive.

    I have given up on T-Mobile and now I am looking for another carrier. Unfortunately, my options are a little limited in Oklahoma City.

    I think that unless you are a big shot techie with wide readership, you are out of luck with T-Mobile. Not even sexy Zeta-Jones can make this company worth keeping around.
    astone@...
    • totally agree and...

      ...would like to add that like you, I have experienced numerous customer service issues with various commpanies, who just sh*t on the average joe.

      The bottom line is, until liability is introduced for bad behavior (I just recently received a document outlining a class action suit against Cingular in which they settled), they will continue down this road.

      Bottom line is most call center employees are flat ouut trained to turn customers away, until certain key words are spoken-- at which point they belly up.

      Case in point: this article. T-Mobile can't have this kind of bad publicity, so they ponied up.

      Think they'd do that for any of us? I doubt it. Same is true of most customer service organizations involving half functional products.

      Which brings me to my last point: until customers learn to stop paying for half-baked services that don't always work as expected; or services where carriers are allowed to advertise something the service doesn't deliver most of the time, then those of us who DO KNOW the difference will be screwed by the ignorance of the general public! Couple of examples:

      - like cell phone service that drops! remember when AT&T used to credit you for every dropped call automatically?
      - like 3Mbps download on Bellsouth DSL, when in fact the only time to get that speed is between 12a - 4a;
      kckn4fun
  • Not just ZDNet

    Note that your original post was linked by The Consumerist (sorry if the link doesn't work, given ZDNet's forums inability to consistently show links correctly, cut and paste it if it doesn't):

    http://www.consumerist.com/consumer/telephony/tmobile-hotspot-wham-bam-but-no-thanks-188260.php

    This site in particular has been getting spectacular results in companies making about-faces and actually satisfying their customers. Consumers are finally getting their voices heard, whether it's the guy with the Comcast repairman asleep on his couch, the guy trying to cancel AOL or even your own T-Mobile experience.
    tic swayback
  • ethics???

    I respectfully (and I mean that sincerely) suggest that accepting the refund without requiring that T-Mobile make a similar refund to those of us who have been participating in this thread, raises an ethical issue you may not have considered.

    Please bear with me while I try to make my point without making it sound like an ad hoc flame.

    I'm sure you recognize that until someone at T-Mobile realized they had been placed under the very hot spotlight of your column AND (important to my point that "and") your recent experience was supported by the postings in the comment thread of virtually identical experiences - until then, there was no action. I think it is reasonable to believe that if your column in general did not enjoy the readership and had we readers not demonstrated with our postings that we actually do read it and that we have almost identical complaints, the response from T-Mobile would not have been any different than what you got the first time around - and no different from the dismissive response suffered by the rest of us who lack your bully pulpit.

    We provide the readership that gave the weight to your column. I respectfully suggest (there it is again) that we too deserve the same refund because without us, you would not have gotten yours.

    Therefore, I am asking that you go back to Mr. T-Mobile, present him with our claims and ask they we get the same consideration. At the very least (speaking as a former weekly syndicated newspaper columnist) I am handing you another column in the form of his response to this suggestion - and we all know what a column idea is worth to a columnist facing the next deadline.

    I greatly appreciate what you have done so far in exposing this situation. You now have an opportunity to finish the job on behalf of your readers.
    buffyslayer
    • Hilarious

      You're kidding, right?

      Let's grow up a little here, folks.
      anythingbutmine0
  • The Lesson Learned

    David,

    The Lesson learned from your story is that if you have an "audience" you can get service. As another reader has pointed out; if you were just "Joe" they probably would not have bothered to call you.

    The real lesson is that in Telecom, and other industries, the uneven power of the company and the consumer just leaves the consumer cheated. In the last dozen years I have run into this phenomena more and more; "they" know that you really are not going to sue them, "they" know that you are not going to the police, and if you do you will just be laughed at, "they" know that you probably are not going to get a gun and go on a rampage, and if you do, you will not get past security to the decision makers, just the "Rudy" level, "they" know that for $10 it is not worth your time.

    Thanks David for publishing this, but how do the other 300 million of us get "justice," or at least "service" from dozens of other corporations.
    jmusto@...
    • You do have an audience

      David is not alone in being able to reach many eyes. The blogosphere creates that opportunity for anyone. Go check out:
      http://www.consumerist.com

      And you'll see the many squeaky wheels that are getting greased.
      tic swayback
    • I also find that MONEY works.

      I just toss my weight around with how much money I have and spend and that give me their respect. Money talks! :-)
      nomorems
  • Credit Card Chargeback

    If they didn't provide their service, then call up your credit card company for a chargeback. That's a quick, easy solution which takes 5 minutes and you don't have to fight anyone over it.
    Vicissidude
    • So true!

      and best of all: It even works towards those companies that do not even have a complaints or customer service dept.

      A subscription that is 'uncancellable', goods not delivered or very different from how it was described and depicted? No problem I've gotten my money back without problems.

      No company that uses creditcard payments to sell their stuff dares make a stink towards the card company that 'physically provides' their income.
      Beejaybee
    • Issuing bank is key here.

      You are absolutely correct that disputing a charge is a great way to reclaim the power in this kind of transaction. I used to help investigate disputed charges internally for a call center with a fortune 500 corp. In one case we had a UPS proof of delivery with signature, and call notes the day later from the customer wanting help installing it. However, he denied ordering or receiving it and eventually won his case. What I learned through many such cases is the strenght of the customer's case mattered much less than the willingness of the issuing bank to go to bat for them. It really matters very little if your card says Visa or MC, but the bank does matter.

      The thing is, the issuing bank can only loose money if they deny the dispute and you refuse to pay it. If they choose to believe you, the merchant has two choices; pay up voluntarily or have the merchant bank remove the funds directly from their visa/mc bank account via the CC processor, with an added fee thrown in to the merchant for the experience.
      enduser_z
  • totally agree and...

    ...would like to add that like you, I have experienced numerous customer service issues with various commpanies, who just sh*t on the average joe.

    The bottom line is, until liability is introduced for bad behavior (I just recently received a document outlining a class action suit against Cingular in which they settled), they will continue down this road.

    Bottom line is most call center employees are flat ouut trained to turn customers away, until certain key words are spoken-- at which point they belly up.

    Case in point: this article. T-Mobile can't have this kind of bad publicity, so they ponied up.

    Think they'd do that for any of us? I doubt it. Same is true of most customer service organizations involving half functional products.

    Which brings me to my last point: until customers learn to stop paying for half-baked services that don't always work as expected; or services where carriers are allowed to advertise something the service doesn't deliver most of the time, then those of us who DO KNOW the difference will be screwed by the ignorance of the general public! Couple of examples:

    - like cell phone service that drops! remember when AT&T used to credit you for every dropped call automatically?
    - like 3Mbps download on Bellsouth DSL, when in fact the only time to get that speed is between 12a - 4a;
    kckn4fun
    • **ignore this post: it posted in the wrong place***

      nt
      kckn4fun
  • Shame

    Rudy.. Hello!!! Would you have done anything at all if this wasn?t all over the Internet? And, what did you do after things hit the wind? Issue a reluctant apology and a refund for the time. To compensate for, and prove that you REALLY are apologizing to the customer for the abuse from your employee----you should have at least offered some additional usage credit... say around 25 hours (5 hours for each 5 minutes on the phone).
    In my opinion, anything less than that is bolderflush.
    rgoeken@...