Fun With Cell Phones

There is one industry which has consistently been a poor performer as far as customer service is concerned: the cell phone industry. I have had my ups and downs with various providers. Mostly it has nothing to do with the quality of actual cell phone service. The majority of it has to do with the way they treat their customers.

The best cell phone coverage and customer service I have ever had was our cell phones in Mexico. We used Telcel as pre-pay customers and did not have a monthly bill or contract. If you were a casual cell phone user, it was actually cheaper to buy pre-pay credit than to have a contract or a monthly plan. For heavy users it made more sense, but not for anything we ever used the cell phones for. Because we were pre-pay users I never had to deal with their customer service.

My experience in Argentina has been disappointing as far as customer service goes. The actual cell coverage and ability to make phone calls has been as expected, but the customer service has been pretty typical of the industry.

I signed up for a monthly plan in October with Movistar. This is not a contract, so if I decide to drop at any time I am able to do so. They have no hooks in me to make me stick with them. This is the situation in which a cell phone company should bend over backwards to treat their customers right. I have two other major carriers I can sign up with if Movistar does not make me happy.

Since October I got a bill in November the day after they were going to cut off my service for non-payment. Fortunately, they sent me a text message alerting me to the fact that I needed to pay my bill. Since that bill I have not gotten any bills sent to my house. I have only received the text message telling me to pay my bill within 3 days or they will cut off my service. Each month I contact them and ask them to send me a bill to my house. They check the address every time to confirm they have it correct. However, it never arrives.

Last month they said they would send December, January and February bills to me within 15 days. Never arrived. This month they said they will send January, February and March bill to me within 10 days. We will see what happens, but I don’t have much hope. Interestingly, the landlord’s phone bill arrives at our house with the exact same address as our bill. So we know that the problem is not that they cannot find the house to deliver it.

I want to pay my bill. What I don’t want is to be hounded with a text message every month which says that I have to pay within 3 days or they will cut me off. It makes me feel like a bad customer. I use the paper bill as a reminder that the bill is due.

That brings me to yesterday.

I went to the Movistar office to talk with someone face to face. Up to this point I have talked on the phone a few times, but mostly chatted with a customer service rep via Twitter each month I have had a problem. I thought going to the office would give me a chance to see a real person and show them that I am an honest guy who really does want to pay their bill.

The gate keeper at the Movistar office door told me that I could consult my bill on their computer terminal since I have not received a bill in the mail. I told her I was not interested in looking at a computer screen. She then sent me to a receptionist who printed out a copy of my bill. After explaining to him that I was more interested in fixing the problem than just getting a new printout of the bill, he told me to pick up one of the courtesy phones to talk with a representative. I explained to him that I have trouble communicating over the phone since Spanish is not my native language. Even though there are 20 customer service representatives standing around in the same room we were in, they were not able to talk to me because they only deal with signing up for new plans or for changing plans. Their job was not to fix billing problems.

So I took the newly printed bill and asked him what window I needed to visit to pay my bill. He told me I could not pay my bill there at the Movistar office. I had to go to a kiosk around the corner to take care of it.

I spent an hour to go downtown to the office in which the man printed out a bill for me (which I could have done from their website) and then could not pay the bill while I was there. I accomplished nothing in the whole process other than getting my blood pressure up.

I am paid up for another month. But if Movistar cares to keep getting my money each month they are going to have to shape up between now and next month. Argentina has recently implemented number portability. I can walk across the street to another provider and get set up with them. I am sure they would be glad to have my business.

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