Tiny cell phone crack exposes far larger flaw in system

Consuming Interests

February 06, 2007|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,Sun Columnist

The way Morris Tropper sees it, the "T" in T-Mobile stands for Trouble.

After failing to see the need to own a cell phone for years, the 48-year-old information technology specialist finally broke down at his wife's urging and purchased a Motorola V188 flip phone in May. Within four months, however, Tropper noticed a small fracture in the front screen of the phone that quickly spread into a much bigger, longer crack.

"The phone was never dropped or mishandled, and it bothered me since I didn't know how it happened," said Tropper of Pikesville. "I did research on the Internet and found numerous articles and letters from people attesting to the fact that this crack is a `well-known issue' with the Motorola V188. I went to a local T-Mobile store on Sept. 4 armed with printouts from the Internet [as] proof as to how the phone just cracked on its own."

Little did Tropper know that within a matter of days that diabolical crack would widen to expose a degree of customer service ineptitude at T-Mobile that rivals the Three Stooges - minus all the nyuk-nyuk-nyuks.

After Tropper explained his problem to a clerk, who told him that T-Mobile would not replace the phone, a store manager came to his rescue and said yes, T-Mobile would replace it. All Tropper had to do was wait for a new phone in the mail, send back the old one and make sure his next bill didn't charge him for the new phone.

Easy enough. When the new phone came, however, Tropper discovered that it did not include a shipping label to send back the old phone. So, undeterred, he went back to the store and a salesperson told him they would ship the phone back for him.

Now if all the complaints that came through here ended that well, I'd be out of a job. Fortunately for me, the T-Mobile Follies were just beginning.

In December, Tropper received a T-Mobile bill with a $109.20 charge identified as a "restocking fee." He immediately called customer service. A rep told him the phone was never received at the T-Mobile warehouse. After 45 minutes explaining the situation to the rep, Tropper was told he would receive a call back the next day after his story was confirmed with the local T-Mobile store.

No one called the next day.

Over the next few days, Tropper called customer service more times than he can remember. Each time, he would spend 30-plus minutes recounting his story to another T-Mobile agent. Getting nowhere fast, he even trudged back to the store only to be told that his old phone was "definitely" shipped back.

Being a smart consumer, Tropper called the next day and talked to the original store manager, who promised to check and call him back. No one called ... for days. He returned to the store. This time, the same manager told him the phone was "never shipped" but that he would send the phone personally.

Weeks went by, and lo and behold on Jan. 11, T-Mobile sent Tropper a text message to inform him that his phone service would be terminated soon because of an outstanding balance. To top it off, the telecom company charged Tropper an extra $20 because an automatic payment request to his credit card was denied for the contested restocking fee.

Every time Tropper went back to the store, the manager would tell him the phone had been shipped. Every time he called customer service, they would tell him they never received it.

Even when the store manager provided him a tracking number and UPS verification that the package was delivered and signed for at the T-Mobile warehouse, customer service reps only gave him more excuses: The phone wasn't there. They had to find the phone in the warehouse. He should have waited for a shipping label. He shouldn't have given the local store his phone. A team of T-Mobile agents were researching his claim. A flying saucer filled with aliens made off with his phone.

I kid only with that last one.

The point is, Tropper called and visited T-Mobile more than a dozen times to fix this problem on his own. It all made him want to stomp on his T-Mobile phone a couple hundred times.

"I am not an unreasonable person, but I feel that it is unbelievable that any company would treat anyone like this," Tropper said. "I feel that T-Mobile truly doesn't understand how someone feels going through something like this and constantly talking to deaf ears while trying to get things settled."

When I called T-Mobile recently to nudge them, I was told by a media spokesman that while they would do everything in their power to help Tropper, T-Mobile would not discuss his complaint with the press for privacy reasons. Tropper said he explicitly authorized the company to discuss his case with me, but the company did not respond - even after I called again last week for a response. So we'll have to take Tropper's word.

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