Wednesday, April 22, 2009

How To Lose A Loyal Customer: T-Mobile Edition

I've been a T-Mobile customer for about three years. Mostly, I've been very happy with them. In August, however, I'll be going elsewhere.

Fourteen months ago, I asked them for a new monthly tariff because my original contract had been up for a few months, and so I'd paid off the original handset, and shouldn't be paying any extra every month for it.

Technically this a new contract, so I would be tied in for 18 months, which takes me to mid-August this year. I don't mind this all that much. Them's the rules. I agreed to 18 months at the outset.

Also, as most of the people who read this probably already know, in three and a half weeks I will be going to Tanzania to volunteer for the Hoja Project, and I'll be there for three months (taking me to mid-August).

I thought it would make sense that I ask T-Mobile to suspend my contract for three months. I was sure they wouldn't mind if I simply moved the last three months of my contract. After all, I'm a loyal customer, surely they'd want to keep me happy and paying them money.

I spoke to a lovely girl whose name I didn't catch, who tried her best to help me, but was unable to. She told me that unless I was going away with the Armed Forces (who can suspend their contracts for £3 a month), I couldn't suspend my contract within the initial 18 months.

I explained that I would be back, and I'd be only too happy to still complete 18 months, and that I'd like to remain their customer beyond this period. I didn't want to just suspend my contract indefinitely. She understood. She said it was a perfectly reasonable request, but that there was no way she could do that on the system.

I'd just have to keep paying for my phone while I was in Africa.

So I told her that was ridiculous (not her fault of course, I never had a go at her personally), so I'd end my contract with them when the time came in mid-August. She obligingly followed this through, and my business with T-Mobile will end there. I'll find another network upon my return to the UK.

And then I thought, no.

No, that's ridiculous.

There must be a way.

Surely they don't want to lose a customer. That can't be right. I'll email them.

And so I emailed them. And I played the "unpaid-charity-work" card quite heavily:

Hello.

I called earlier today with a problem you couldn't help me with. As a result of this I will be leaving T Mobile when my contract ends in August. Which is a shame, because I've been with you for 3 years, and I hadn't had any serious problems until now.

I'm going to volunteer on this project - http://www.hojaproject.org - and will be out of the country from 18 May until 14 August.

This is an extremely important part of my life and I plan to go out there regularly in the future.

However, you will not suspend my account for 3 months for the period I will be away, because I am within my 18 month contract (which did not include a new phone when it started).

I'm happy to see out 18 months with you, and more, I only ask that it is temporarily postponed while I go and do something important to me. If you are unable to comply with this reasonable request, then I won’t be able to be your customer any longer, for I am extremely likely to find myself in the same position within another 18 months (it's a project I helped set up in my friend's village, and so I have a very strong attachment to it and shall certainly return again).

It’s such a huge disappointment to find you so inflexible. I do hope we can work something out.

Phil

I asked them to respond by phone.

I received this response by email:

Thanks for letting me know you'd like to cancel your account Phil.

I appreciate the time you have taken to email me, however, we do not have any way of suspending your line without you paying for it.

I'm sorry to see that you wish to leave T-Mobile Phil, though I do understand its because we cannot suspend you line for the 3 months you need.

There are two ways to close down your T-Mobile phone which I will explain for you Phil.

Although we hope you don't, the first option is to give us one months notice to cancel your account. The phone will run as normal for one month then at the end of this period, your T-Mobile number will be lost and then we'll send you a final bill confirming this.

The second method, is to request you PAC. This is a code which once given to your new network, will transfer your T-Mobile number to your new provider in 2 working days, and by doing this it will also close your line the very same day.

You can get in touch by calling 150 from your T-Mobile phone or 0845 412 5000 from a landline (calls are charged at local rates if you're a BT customer, but if you're with another provider it may cost a bit more so do check). We're here every day from 8.30am to 10pm.

Thanks again for contacting me Phil, and I'm pleased I've been able to help, I do hope you'll reconsider your decision to leave us.

If you have any further questions please feel free to contact me again.

Kind regards.

Brian Gillan
LoyaltyTeam
T-Mobile

I was confused and shocked for two reasons.

The first is that they really don't seem to care that they're going to lose my business. They have given me step-by-step instructions of how to get lost. They have made no attempt whatsoever to persuade me to stay. Surely there must be some trick they can play to keep me, even if I have to pay for those three months? New phone at a cheaper rate, discount for the three months after I return, something, anything.

Yet, they haven't lifted a finger.

The second reason is the bit that I've highlighted in bold. It's actually quite insulting: I'm pleased I've been able to help.

No, Brian, you have not helped. Perhaps you want to look the word "help" up in the dictionary and see what it really means. What you have done is "replied" or "responded". It's not the same thing.

I think I might ring them again and see if they can offer me some alternative to the suspension of my account. They're not actually trying to get rid of me, surely?

BrainDump 1.0: New Toys, Needles and Nearly New Sales

I've got quite a few little things I want to write about today, so I'll keep each bit short and sweet, and you can skip the stuff you're not interested in.

Last week I bought a video camera to take out to Tanzania with me, for filming stories about people Hoja have helped in the community.

It's a JVC GZ-MG505EK, which sounds a bit of a mouthful really, so I'll just call it Gaz. As ever, I bought it in Jacobs Camera Shop on New Oxford Street (opposite the more common Jessops), with a very good deal indeed.

Jacobs are my favourite camera shop in London (or anywhere else, for that matter), for always being extremely helpful, knowledgeable, and for somehow always selling me things for much less than they're worth.

Gaz is a bit of an old model - it's not made any more - and the shop wanted to get rid. It's normally worth about £730 but I picked up the very last one on the shelf for a paltry £250. So having gone in with the intention of spending about £250-£350 on something that would do a passable job, I came out with something much better, at the bottom end of my budget.

I was rather pleased. I've already bought a 4-hour battery for it on eBay for £18 (it would have been £115 direct from JVC). Next up, I need to buy a netbook to go with it.

More preparations for Tanzania: I've had quite a few injections already. Last week was the turn of Hepatitis B and my first Rabies jab, then yesterday I had my second Rabies Jab, Meningitis, and Cholera (which you have to drink - I was pleased to discover it tastes no worse than soluble paracetamol).

In two weeks I go back to have my third and final Rabies, and my second and final Cholera drink. I also need to sort out my anti-malarials, although I'm tempted to take the few Doxycycline I have left with me, and then buy the rest in Iringa - it will be much cheaper that way.

Unfortunately, I am well up-to-date with all my free-on-the-NHS innoculations, and it is only those you have to pay for that I need. And at an average of about £40 a pop, seven vaccinations are not cheap.

The costs of going back to Africa are really adding up.

Yesterday when I went to the Nomad clinic, the nurse hadn't got there yet, so I went on a wander around the Turnpike Lane area. I went in charity clothing store Traid, which I'd never visited before.

I bought a couple of shirts in there (always better than cotton t-shirts in hot sticky Africa), and also had a look at their noticeboard. It turns out they have previously donated significant sums to SPW, the charity with whom I originally went to Tanzania.

In more SPW news, I'll be marshalling at their triathlon in Hyde Park this coming Sunday. If anyone fancies sponsoring some of my Advocates for Action friends, you can do so at justgiving.com/advocates4action. More volunteer helpers on the day would also be appreciated, so if anyone happens to fancy it, let me know and I'll pass you on.

Last weekend I went up to Edinburgh to visit my sister, her partner, and their delightful baby boy. I had three whole days up there, and it was great fun.

I had made a book about a man, his dog and a robot for my nephew's first birthday and this was the first chance I had to give it to him (he's over 13 months now). The book (and the felt dog in particular) was not only a hit with my nephew, but also my sister's friend's son.

My nephew, who has never crawled, is also getting pretty good on his two feet, and he spent much of Saturday afternoon walking 8 or 9 paces happily back and forth between his dad and me.

The highlight of the weekend, however, was possibly the Nearly New Sale on at their local church. Before it even started, there were rumours of the vicar pinching some of the best baby items for her two dogs, a controversial move, given her position.

It was all carried out with such military efficiency. All helpers wore a yellow sash, tea and cakes were sold along the line before it opened, and then at 11am the long queue was allowed to enter in a controlled fashion, stamps on the back of the hand to indicate who had donated to the fund (whatever the fund was for).

Once past the entry point, of course, it was a massive free-for-all. Mothers elbowed each other out of the way as I made a beeline for the small room at the back where the stairgates were gathered (this was my task for the morning).

First we had to queue to get into the stairgate room, as it was already so busy. It was agonising as I could see others carrying around gates they had picked up. Would there be any left for me? Once inside I picked out a couple of different options, and then tried to carry them away for analysis by the parents.

Alas, I was not allowed to leave the room with the unpaid-for item, and I was stopped by one of the Yellow Sashers, who demanded cruelly and politely that I remain where I was.

Later, around the 12-18 month clothing table, I saw a distraught husband approach his wife.

"Women keep pushing me out of the way!" he complained desperately.

"I know! I can't get to anything first!" agreed his wife.

I was glad to hear I wasn't the only debutante at this event.

Last night I went to the Lucky Soul gig at the Camden Barfly. Having been a teacher most of the time I've lived in London, I don't get out to see bands nearly as much as I'd like, so I was rather excited. And not at all disappointed by the end.

The first support we only saw the last couple of songs, but he was a fairly run-of-the-mill singer-songwriter. Talented, sounded lovely, and couldn't really fault him at all, but I've seen a lot of that. I like to be surprised by something new. His name is Nick Evans, and his MySpace is well worth checking out.

The second support was Theoretical Girl, and I was really looking forward to her as one of my friends is a bit of a fan, and her Myspace sounded great. I was even more enthusiastic when she stepped onto stage, and introduced her geekily-entitled backing band, The Equations.

Only two Equations were there, the third was the dummer, but he'd run off to play in his dad's band instead that evening, so they were using a backing track for his part. The two present looked like they'd stepped out of separate time machines - the girl in leggings, a blue and white stripy top, yellow cardigan and with an angular bright red guitar - the boy with Art Garfunkel hair, shirt and brown tank top, playing the bass.

Theoretical Girl was utterly delightful and charming on stage, and her music was great, although it was very slightly lacking in oomph. This may have been because her drummer was missing, so I'm willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. Well worth checking out.

Then, of course, the main act came on. Lucky Soul. And they were brilliant, only marred by the tallest man ever to wear a British Lions rugby shirt, who gradually backed into me over the course of the gig. Towards the end I pointed to him that there was a big box someone had put behind me (in the middle of the room), and I couldn't move back any further. Sadly he didn't take the hint.

Lucky Soul made it all okay though. Particularly with Lips Are Unhappy. Shake. Shake. Shake shake shimmy shimmy.

Here's their MySpace.

Lastly, you may remember I had a good moan about Earth Hour not long ago. Well, today is Earth Day. And it's rather more focused. Here's their site.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Lies, Damn Lies, and Newspapers

After my last post, I thought I'd turn my attention to the more traditional media.

Yesterday I decided to add some of my less favourite news sites to my Google Reader. My reasoning is that I'd feel more confident criticising newspapers I don't agree with if I actually know what they're saying.

I think that too many people routinely slag off papers like the Mail and Express without ever actually reading them, in much the same way that too many Mail and Express readers denounce whole communities of people without ever actually meeting any of them. (See what I did there? I deliberately slagged off Mail and Express readers without any evidential basis.)

In fact I think that many of the tabloids are such easy targets that we all forget that the broadsheets have their own agendas too. The tabloids are often so obviously ridiculous that a child of four could critically demolish their publication.

The first Sun story I came across through Google Reader yesterday was about a 99p bikini, clearly and simply an excuse to put up a picture of an attractive model. It must be very difficult to take the Sun seriously when it is so blatantly voyeuristic.

The Mail is seen as rather more threatening by many, but while its headlines are often so detached from the real story, it is still easy to pick apart. About a month ago, they ran the headline Muslim PC sues after workmates 'laughed at his beard', something any sane person would obviously decry as 'political correctness gone mad' ... until you read the first paragraph and realise that the headline neglected to mention that they also called him a "fucking Paki".

This week's Saturday Guardian, however, annoyed me in a less obvious way. As I often do, I read Ben Goldacre's excellent Bad Science column, and was not surprised to see him take apart some badly implemented research on schoolchildren's knowledge of the Holocaust.

(The article is well worth a full read, but the upshot is that children were asked about the Holocaust before they learned about it at age 14, and then pilloried for not knowing the correct answers. This 'research' went on to be used to attack schools and teachers in the mainstream media, while other legitimate research went unnoticed.)

Funny, then, that in the exact same newspaper, towards the back page in the What We've Learned This Week section, that Lucy Mangan listed the statistic Nine out of 10 British children don't play outdoors regularly.

Now, this is a statistic that I couldn't possibly say isn't true, mainly because there is no citation or reference of any kind, so I couldn't possibly verify it either. The sentence simply stands on its own as fact without any justification for is publication.

I don't even know what it means. What does "regularly" mean? Every day? Every other day? Once a week? How old are these children that were surveyed? Where do they live? In the country, or the city? How many children were surveyed, were they a large enough group and representative of "British children"?

What's more, what does "playing outdoors" mean? Does the school playground count (surely not, if they're saying 9 out of 10)? What about some structured out of school club, is that okay? Or does it have to be that they go out of their house of their own accord to play within their own friendship group?

What does the person who carried out the research hope to prove by it, and when was the question asked? If this is some research carried out in January, then I'd suggest that no, not that many children would play out regularly. January's a cold month, I don't blame them.

Because this statistic was printed in the Guardian, I'm sure a lot fewer people would be skeptical of this statistic than if it had appeared in the Mail or Express. So, despite being such a dodgy claim, it would doubtless have been pointed out at many breakfast tables over the last few days as "yet another example of Broken Britain".

And this worries me.