Grrr ... WiFi traveler woes (off-topic)

Starbucks needs to think carefully whether T-Mobile is a suitable partner for its Wi-Fi provision given the lack of thought the carrier gives to customer experience
Written by Phil Wainewright, Contributor

It is difficult enough coping with connectivity when traveling, without T-Mobile putting even more obstacles in your way. I think that Starbucks really needs to think carefully about whether T-Mobile is a suitable partner for its Wi-Fi provision given the lack of thought the carrier gives to customer experience.

Arriving in the US this week for the third time this year, I had a busy schedule lined up. Yesterday morning I needed to check email in between two appointments and so I found a Starbucks and booted up my PC to get online. Since I don't come to the States often enough to justify a continuous subscription this meant buying a day pass. But since I'd gone through all the hassle of setting up an account for the same purpose on my first visit of the year in March, I assumed I'd just be able to log in and make my purchase. I was wrong.

For some reason, I found that the T-Mobile system was not accepting my username and password combination. I checked the registration email in my inbox archive to make sure I was using the right username. Perhaps I was using the wrong password. I cycled through all my usual passwords, nervously conscious that I was doing so in plain text on an unsecured network connection. But what other option did I have?

Finally I realized that the T-Mobile registration process asks you for a 'secret answer' that means you can be issued a new password on-screen, so I selected the 'lost password' option, and here's the message that greeted me:

T-Mobile tells me my account is now closed

It reads:

"Your Account/Service status is closed. The option you selected is not available for Closed Accounts."

Yes, T-Mobile had closed my account after just four-and-a-half months of inactivity (I was last in the US at the beginning of May this year). I think that's extraordinarily insensitive to the needs of the occasional traveler — frankly, I'd say that four US visits in a year (which is what I'll be doing this year) is quite a lot and that the system ought to be designed to cater to the needs of people who come just once a year.

What's worse is that T-Mobile won't let me use the same username, even though it's closed the account, so I'm now having to think up a new username just for T-Mobile, which of course will be even more difficult for me to recall on my next visit, giving me even more grief when all I want to do is to buy one of their over-priced day passes.

Bearing in mind that T-Mobile's registration screen is stupid enough to ask you to fill in a total of four separate password and secret answer fields, all of which are blanked if the form refreshes because you missed a required field — which of course you inevitably do because you resent having to fill it out all over again anyway.

T-Mobile could remove all of this hassle and resentment at a stroke simply by introducing some kind of 'occasional visitor' account that allows me to buy, say, a 7-day pass for $40 — and which doesn't close down after a few months' inactivity.

I had a much better customer experience with Holiday Inn, which has been having problems with the in-room WiFi at its Golden Gate property, where I'm staying until moving over to the SaaScon conference hotel tomorrow [SaaScon disclosure]. When I arrived and found I couldn't get the advertised in-room WiFi, they immediately moved and upgraded me to a room where I could. Unfortunately the problem worsened last night but the front desk were apologetic and offered to cancel my prepaid reservation if I wanted to move to another hotel. In the end I decided to stay because I can always use the Starbucks next door when I need to get on the Web or check my email. But I can tell you that T-Mobile doesn't deserve the extra ten bucks my hotel's misfortune has earnt it today.

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