I confess: As a busy couple that’s on the go, my wife and I are part of the ever-growing “family” of cell phone users in America.
In fact, you could say we’re on the rebound, having just completed a drawn-out and nasty divorce with our previous carrier, which we’ll call Sprin-Tel.
While those un-initiated with the endless phone conversations and broken promises involved with effecting such a separation may think “divorce” is a strong term, my opinion is the opposite. I’m sure anyone who has shared our circumstances would agree.
Our story began with my wife and I purchasing a one-year contract with Sprin-Tel in early 2004 that included free phones.
However, we soon learned the phones had been billed to our account and we were expected to pay for them.
Were we expecting that old-fashioned concept known as customer service at that point? I don’t know if we were that naive. In any event, it wasn’t what we got: Instead, we talked to an endless array of bored representatives who were not authorized to help us in any way, but were doubtlessly instructed to ramble on until we got bored or lost patience with them, at which point they could disconnect us.
In any event, the phones were cheap and we were otherwise satisfied, at least until we decided to switch carriers in August, when we were brusquely informed any change of carrier would violate our two-year agreement, incurring on us over $300 in early termination fees.
My wife and I responded that we only agreed to a one-year contract, but Sprin-Tel disagreed, presenting our “free phones” as proof we signed two-year contracts.
That being the case, the company referred us to the vendor, who was more helpful. It turned out the employee who wrote our contract had been fired for pulling similar scams, and the vendor faxed our contract over to regional management and explained the circumstances.
At this point, we were making progress: Unlike the previous experiences, the regional manager actually gave us a NAME and a DIRECT NUMBER — two key pieces of information for humans trying to transact business larger than a burger with fries.
Anyway, that rep with a name and number took my wife’s information and promised to call back the next day.
Well, she didn’t. In fact, it’s December and we still haven’t heard from her.
In the meantime, we called the corporate Sprin-Tel number and told them our story.
Adding to their previously established M.O., they endlessly spouted the refrain that we signed a contract and that we’d have to work out our problems with the regional manager — even though it was their central offices that would assess its hefty fee if we tried to leave before things were resolved.
Of course, that MENSA candidate wouldn’t give out his name or a direct number, saying there was a P.O. box address I could send any complaints to.
Coming from a company that does lively business in portable e-mail, it looked as if maybe this outfit wasn’t that keen on reading my complaints about their customer service policies …
Instead, we contacted the Better Business Bureau and three months later we received a response stapled to a brief letter from the Executive Services Department of Sprin-Tel.
Within that mealy-mouthed corporate missive, our story and documentation were finally acknowledged, alongside a word of appreciation to the bureau for correctly interpreting information that had long been in Sprin-Tel’s possession.
The masterpiece was wrapped up with the standard expressions of regret that fall just short of an apology for any inconvenience their “customer retention” policies had caused us.
With this dreadful experience behind us, my wife and I look back at those many hours thus wasted with some regrets of our own, hence the term, “divorce.”
While it’s the best modern description of “customer service” experiences, the gruesome reality is perhaps best cast in the classical sense: With images of the mythological Greek king Sisyphus, who was doomed to hoist a massive boulder up a mountain each day, only to have it roll back down when he reached the top.
To people who read such things, it’s considered the ultimate expression of wasted labor that goes on for enternity, since Sisyphus was being punished in Tartarus, which was the Greek version of Hell.
Although it may be hyperbole to compare that with those hours wasted receiving passive-aggressive harassment over the phone, it is fair postulate that getting out of our fraudulent contract without the help of the Better Business Bureau would have been a true “labor of Sisyphus.”