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Front Porch: Smartphone comes with some dumb service reps

Thu., June 21, 2012

I didn’t cry, but I wanted to scream. And I really, really wanted to stamp my feet and maybe throw something – preferably a cellphone.

Three hours at a Costco phone kiosk can have that effect on anyone.

All I wanted was a new phone. My carrier offered me a free upgrade to a fancy-schmancy smartphone, so last Saturday I confidently headed out to Costco to pick it up.

For tax purposes I wanted to separate my account from my husband’s. Matthew, the helpful cellphone salesman, assured me a quick call to customer service would take care of that.

Of course, that was before we realized customer service for this particular provider had been outsourced to a country far, far away.

Matthew dialed the number on my current phone and handed it to me while he went to fetch my new one.

What happened next was like something out of a “Saturday Night Live” skit, or one of those hidden camera shows. A woman answered my call, but I couldn’t understand a word she said. Not only did she have a heavy accent, but she was a fast talker. Her greeting rushed past me like a locomotive.

When she paused, I explained that I wanted a new account in my name and that my husband’s account could stay the same. “No problem,” she said, “but first I must check with Derek to make sure that’s OK.”

At least I think that’s what she said. Once again her torrent of words left me unsure of how to reply.

I took a few deep breaths while she called my husband, Derek, at home to get his permission. Minutes ticked by. Matthew returned with my shiny new phone and we waited and waited. Finally, she returned to the line. “Hello, Bindy, are you there?” she asked. (She insisted my name was Bindy.)

When I assured her I was still on the line, she unleashed another flood of words, out of which I fished, “All done. You are fine.” Or she might have said, “You are fun. Have some wine.”

Either way, I thanked her and hung up.

However, when Matthew tried to pull up my account on his computer, he found nothing. That “helpful” representative had deleted my account entirely.

Matthew shook his head. “Have you ever thought about changing providers?”

I shook my head. I wanted my free phone.

Once again he dialed customer service for me. He explained the previous representative had deleted my account. “No problem,” said our new friend. “I will fix everything.”

More time passed. I wished I’d eaten breakfast. I wished the free sample ladies were located next to the phone kiosk. I wished I could call someone to complain about my plight.

Finally, the fellow returned to the line and assured us that the misunderstanding had been taken care of. Matthew pulled up my account. The provider had given me Derek’s phone number and placed my number on my husband’s account.

I’m afraid Matthew and I may have said a few bad words. I may have stamped my foot once or twice. We discussed heading over to the liquor aisle before making a third customer service call, but I explained that I’d missed breakfast and lunch, and I hoped to make it home before dinner.

Grimacing, Matthew dialed. Once again he launched into the full explanation of the errors that had occurred over the past two hours.

“We can fix that. No problem!” said customer service representative No. 3. Another phone call to Derek. More questions for me. God help couples who get divorced while on a family plan.

While on hold for the umpteenth time Matthew asked, “Are you sure you want to stay with this carrier?” He looked wistfully at the colorful brochures advertising other service providers.

By then, I didn’t even want a cellphone. I just wanted to go home. But I couldn’t. I was marooned in customer service hell. Happy Costco shoppers streamed around me while I waited for rescue on my island of technological misery.

At last, the gentleman returned from whatever he’d been doing for the half hour I’d been on hold. “Is fixed,” he said. “Is all fine, now.”

I growled. “If it isn’t fixed I am breaking up with this company forever.”

“No, ma’am,” he said. “Is fixed. No need to break up.”

I didn’t reply. I handed my phone back to Matthew and waited. He punched some keys on his computer and then – I swear his eyes got misty. “You’re there,” he breathed. “Your account is there with your number and everything!”

We quickly completed the transaction and handed over my new phone. “Uh, do you want me to show you how to use this?” he asked. I sensed his fear. I felt his dread.

“That’s OK,” I replied. “I think you’ve done enough.”

His relief was palpable.

So now I have a phone that I don’t know how to use. I’ve been told by those in the know that it’s a good phone – a first-class smartphone, in fact.

I can only hope it’s smarter than my carrier’s customer service representatives.

Contact Cindy Hval at Her previous columns are available online at columnists. Follow her on Twitter at https://!/cindyhval

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