Sarah E. Mason
When Will We Be Loved (By Cell Phone Carriers)
Have you purchased a new cell phone in the last year? Of course you have. We all have. Were we crazy to think that in the dawn of the iPhone era we could own one piece of hardware for several years? Yup. I remember my grandmother complaining about how awesome pantyhose were before WWII. It all changed with the industrial revolution when manufacturers realized it was a lot more profitable to let em rip! The mobile makers agree with this practice but have taken it to its modern day level which includes partners in crime. Why not convince consumers they must upgrade their hardware every 8-12 months yet partner with cell carriers who will imprison said customers in two year contracts, rendering the upgrade impossible. Clever. Oh but wait! That's all gone now isn't it, the dreaded two year contract? Nope. Not really. Let's examine the fine print.
I just purchased a new phone, a Samsung Galaxy Note 4. Did I want it cause it's the latest and greatest, hell yeah! But more crucially, I did exhaustive research into what would be the best solution for my business and this was the answer. Could I have lived with my Samsung Galaxy S4? F*ck yeah. It's a smartphone. No matter how you slice it, we are spoiled shits for having that kinda power in our stupid unworthy hands. My contract was up with AT&T and I was thereby eligible for an upgrade. So I started shopping for a carrier.
I had been a T-Mobile customer for 12 years, signed up when they first launched in the U.S. in 2002. Honestly, were it not for the crappy coverage, I'd say they weren't all that bad. They were great in Europe but I'm no longer doing the road warrior routine so my priority is a reliable carrier for US coverage offering prices and plans I can afford. Thinking I might give T-Mobile another shot, their pricing is very competitive and it's been a few years maybe coverage has improved, I went into the Santa Monica store.
I walked in and it appeared that a group of camp counselors had hijacked the store and were taking orders. Not a one of the customer service reps was over 25. Okay, I'm not an ageist but, they were. Several of them flat out ignored me then one girl approached my friend (a young guy) and upon realizing it was me, (the middle aged bag) not him that she was to be serving, her smiley disposition turned into a pouty bitch smirk. She was so clearly uninterested in answering any of my questions . If rude were a cheer, she and her pom poms woulda shouted the roof off that store. I managed to get some bits of information out of her. Yes, there are no more two year contracts and they will buy you out of yours. You can get a 2GB data plan, unlimited text/phone, for $45 per month. Okay, cool. What's the catch? Wait for it...although there is no contract, you need to either buy the phone outright, (which in the case of the Note 4 is $800), or lease the phone from them, adding approximately $30 per month to the bill. Yuck.
Come to find out, all the carriers, though masking it under the guise of free to be you and me, do the exact same thing. You don't have to get a contract, but you do have to lease the phone. Lease a phone? When did a phone become a car? At the end of the day, you're looking at close to $100 (with taxes) or more to get a decent package with a brand new smartphone (of any value).
Conviently in Santa Monica, all the major cell providers have a store within a block from each other. So I played musical carriers for weeks, speaking to store reps, calling each of them, not only to get a better understanding of the pricing but to get a vibe for their customer service. AT&T was loosing me. I spoke to seven different reps across all their platforms, phone, web, store, and they each gave me a different story on when the Note 4 would arrive and what my plan options would be as an existing customer. Could I keep my same plan and my discount? Initially I was told (by four different reps) I could but when I got down to purchasing, everything changed.
Best Buy was offering a deal where you get a $200 gift card if you turn in your phone when purchasing a new Note 4 so I went to check it out. It was possibly the worst customer service experience of my consumer going life. But I guess I'm either dumb or a gluton for punishment cause I went back to Best Buy (at another location). Shockingly this time I had a really decent customer service rep who spent a lot of time with me and seemed to actually care about helping me find the right carrier. However, AT&T was a different story. After waiting for 20 minutes on hold (in Best Buy, don't they have special access to manufacturers?) the rep was incredibly rude and refused to honor the "deal" I'd been promised, in writing. I got so mad I hung up exclaiming, "I'm going to Verizon dammit!" That was short lived, Best Buy didn't have any Verizone Note 4s. In fact, they were all out of all of the carriers except AT&T. Ah ha jokes on me!
I've always been one of those people who, when my minds made up to get something, I want it RIGHT NOW. I was in Boston, about to get on a plane (it was the Watertown Best Buy), and I had wanted to purchase the phone in Massachusetts to save on the sales tax. So, combining those two factors, I decided to bite the bullet and stick with AT&T.
There were so many obstacles in getting this phone I started to wonder if the Note 4 and I were not meant to be. All of the obstacles were customer service oriented. With each carrier I experienced one of the four elements of bad customer service; Indifference, Rudeness, Ignorance and Laziness. I'm not sure which one of those are the worst.
Here's what I've concluded, if you're waiting for love from a mysterious cell phone carrier, wake up, it's never gonna happen. They all suck. None of them offer the complete package of price + customer service + coverage + plans. And why is that? Seriously how hard is it to cater to the consumer. They seem to be in a contest to see who can screw us more while making us believe we are getting the best deal. We are slaves to whatever they throw at us as long as we crave new toys and as long as manufacturers keep putting out new versions every six months. I truly believe, when picking the right carrier, it comes down to which of the four bad customer service elements you're willing to deal with the most.
This site has a comprehensive look at the plans and the 2014 ratings for best providers. It's slightly deceiving though because it doesn't account for the taxes (which we know are ridiculous) and the cost of leasing the phone. Don't be fooled, the no contract thing is all politics, which of course is all business. The masses are rioting about contracts, let them be free! Or rather let them think they're free. We're not. We're getting a bigger heap of Big Cell Phone's shit disguised in a shiney new package meant to momentarily pacify us. The day a carrier emerges that can deliver the perfect combination of plan, coverage and service, I'll jump ship immediately professing my undying loyalty. Until the next upgrade.
Update on this story (Nov. 3): I'm having problems with the phone. When I speak to people, after a few minutes the call quality gets really bad on their end and then they can't hear me. However, I can hear them. I called AT&T, they had no idea what to tell me, at least the teenage tech support rep I spoke to couldn't trouble shoot past his written instructions. But he did (probably mistakenly) tell me that in my specific area in Santa Monica AT&T's coverage is bad. It would have been great if they told me this several years ago when I chose AT&T as my mobile carrier. The rep offered for me to purchase a mini cell tower, for an additional charge, which would boost my reception. His sales pitch was to relate how he lives in the woods of Kentucky and with this mini cell tower, he's able to have cell coverage like everyone else. Hmm, well, I live smack in the middle of downtown Santa Monica, an industrial city. Not sure we're on the same parrallel here.
So, I have two choices, one, let them swap the phone out for me or two, go back to Best Buy and switch carriers. However, seems as though Samsung didn't deliver enough Note 4s to the US as nobody has any of them (Samsung Galaxy Release Date Problems Linger via GottaBeMobile). Best Buy, and even Amazon are experiencing stock issues.
Solution: Moving to Europe.