David vs Goliath Cell Phone Company

Okay, it’s not really a Goliath cell phone company….it’s really a
tiny one, but nw Iowa has no national cell phone service (Cingular is
currently chipping a toehold), so Midwest Wireless has been the only
option for some time. I’d like to think it’s the lack of competition
that has made them so smug, but we all know that most companies have
learned that they can throw up shields made of interactive websites and
call centers and claims that they are doing so to serve us better and
so guarantee that a customer cannot under any circumstances talk to
anyone with any power. And that’s what pissed me off.

I use a cell as my main phone, a practice I began 3 years ago in
Ohio. The phone I had was the technological equivalent of a railroad
spike — no fancy color screen, no camera, no games or podcasts or gps
or Swiss army knife corkscrew. This means that it was also as
dependable as a railroad spike — solid and unexciting and quietly
doing its job.

When I moved to Iowa, I blithely assumed that I would have no
problem continuing to use my cell as my main phone. I went down to MW
in July and bought a two-year contract. Flushed with my impending new
life as a college professor, I also bought a fancy flip-phone camera
that probably did even more things than that, but I hate reading
manuals and so only discovered the most obvious features.  And the most
obvious feature of that particular phone was the fact that it broke, as
in the screen remaining black, 2 weeks after the 30-day warranty was
up. I took it in and the nice girl at MW said it would have to be sent
to their repair shop and she gave me a loaner phone, a nice, dependable
railroad spike. Three weeks passed before I called the shop to wonder
where my fancy phone was. Oh, I was told, we couldn’t fix it, so we
sent it the manufacturer for repairs. It’ll be back in 4-6 weeks.

5 weeks later, I got a call that my phone was fixed and ready to be
picked up. I got it on a Thursday. By Sunday, the screen was black and
would not light up. I went back to the MW store and this is where
things got interesting.

I walked into the store, told them that my phone had broken AGAIN,
and asked for a new phone. "We can’t do that," I was informed, "as our
policy is only to repair, not replace." Ah, but policies can be
changed, I said. The nice girl, now a bit mulish, just looked at me.
"We can give you a loaner," she said, pulling out a railroad spike. But
now I was angry. I asked for a manager. Not here this week, I was told.
I asked for the phone number of the main office. We don’t give that
out, I was told. I asked for the mailing address of the main office,
thinking I would send a letter.* We can’t give that out, I was told,
but here’s the phone number for our customer service call center.

I left my phone for repairs, grabbed the replacement railroad spike
and the proffered card, and went out to my car. There, I called the
call center and got a very nice young man named John, who started out
by giving me the company line of helpful non-activity, but then, beaten
down by my fury and his own good nature, put me on hold to talk to a
manager. I was on hold a long time and when John came back on the line,
I was prepared to unhinge my jaw and swallow his head whole over the
phone line. Fortunately, his first words were "We have a solution for
you. When you get your phone back, if it isn’t fixed to your
satisfaction, we’ll give you a credit for the full price and you can
get a different phone."

Well, I got my phone back…sort of. They claimed that it couldn’t
be fixed and they were magnanimously giving me a new phone. A new phone
that was already out of the package. A new phone that had a call
history running back to September (this was late November). A new phone
that ate its batteries and then wouldn’t charge….In short, they gave
me some other smuck’s old phone and some poor old woman somewhere in
South Dakota is probably wondering why the screen on her "new" phone keeps going dark.

So I went back down to the store. I mowed over all
customer-service-handbook attempts to placate me and send my phone in
for more service by using my Plagiarism Voice** (I had, unfortunately,
had ample opportunity to employ my Plagiarism Voice earlier that week
at school). Finally, my blood haze cleared enough to allow me to
remember John, the nice call center guy. I asked the counter person to
look up the record of my call to John. And there she found it: a
mandate to credit my account for the price of the phone if I was not
happy with the replacement. What she didn’t find was anything stating
that I would have to upgrade my account to deserve this credit, which,
as anyone who has tangled with a cell phone company knows, is how they
manage to screw more money out of you under the guise of fixing your

So, not only did I get a new, different, dependable*** phone for
free, I got the price difference of $40 credited to my account. I
emerged victorious from the Three Month Phone War, and I dedicate my
victory to Loretta Schaechterle, hobbyist consumer advocate and

*You must understand that writing a letter is
no idle threat for a woman (and some men) of the Schaechterle family.
My mother, sisters, cousin, and I have brought companies to their knees
with masterpieces of seething politeness. My mother, the alphabitch
letter writer of us all, once complained about an unsatisfactory string
mop and received in return a new, better quality mop, a matching broom,
and a nearly space-age mop bucket with separate water compartments and
a little wringing-out gizmo.

**Used to address students who have
"accidentally" downloaded whole paragraphs of text and slipped them
into their papers with neither citation nor quotation marks. The Voice
combines an overtone of maternal disappointment and an undertone of
"you have fucked up and your fate is entirely dependent upon my
swiftly-ebbing goodwill."

***I know it’s dependable because I asked the
by-now-trembling sales assistant to recommend the most trouble-free
phone. She was happy to, as it meant that I and the Voice would not be
visiting anytime soon. The phone, by the way, is an upgraded railroad
spike — it’s a flip phone, but other than that, has no bells, no
whistles, and, I hope, no troubles.

One response »

  1. I don’t quite understand these things (let alone cell phones, having just gotten my first phone that doesn’t have an actual cord on it, attaching it to the base (what are they called again?))–but shouldn’t you have made this letter a link somehow to “Midwest Wireless” for the enlightenment of anyone who googles that company? Is that how it works? Or am I still a hopeless techno-saur?

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