Illustration by Timothy R. Butler/Stable Diffusion

T-Mobile's Hard Work to Lose a Customer

By Timothy R. Butler | Posted at 12:17 PM

T-Mobile managed to do what a massive rebrand and years of advertising couldn’t do. They’ve managed to make the thought of dealing with my cable company, Spectrum, seem appealing.

I wrote this spring about the end of my nearly two decades with AT&T for cellular service. Sheer mismanagement of their network and horrible customer service covering for the same sent me looking for a new cell phone company. I blame much of that saga on the company’s unsuccessful, and since undone, mergers with TimeWarner and DirecTV. Those left Ma Bell desperate to squeeze cash from its remaining customer base.

I arrived at T-Mobile admiring them. Their “uncarrier” promotions have done much to shake up the industry. Helping others onto T-Mobile the last few years, I’d been impressed with technical support that had short hold times and eager-to-help agents located in the United States.

My initial jump to T-Mobile met my expectations. I spoke via chat with a helpful agent who offered a fantastic deal and the “Carrier Freedom” rebate to pay off my existing phone’s remaining installments. Reactivating my iPhone on T-Mobile went smoothly.

All was well. Except it wasn’t.

My April column shared the experience up to then, which included not receiving the said “Carrier Freedom” rebate and a $10/month overcharge that multiple agents confirmed shouldn’t be there, but only after I waded through erroneous explanations of why it was there.

In that April piece, I wrote: “Please do not think me too much of a cynic if I’ll only believe [everything has been corrected] once a few correct bills pass through my hands.” The old quip goes, “Just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get me;” likewise, just because the phone company says the issue is fixed, doesn’t mean it is.

(Dennis E. Powell can attest to that amply.)

My April wrangling yielded credits for the first few months of overage charges along with the promise of a fix to the issue. My June followup — because my cynicism was well placed — included the same promise of a resolution, but only half the needed credit to cover the continued overcharges.

Today’s rematch was even worse. The cheerful T-Mobile agent “Precious S.” confirmed she could see I’d been overcharged $10/month yet again the past three months. The solution, my agent said, was to upgrade to a new “Go5G” plan, which was “approximately” $1 more per month than what I was originally supposed to pay.

Allegedly, my promotion, which was issued in November, was only eligible to be applied to a plan that didn’t exist until a couple of months ago. It must be some sort of time travel paradox.

As a principle, the idea of paying anything more than the number I have down in writing (and every single T-Mobile agent I spoke or wrote with acknowledged is what the company promised) roils me. Having lost countless hours to this battle, though, I can take a $1/month roiling. My time is worth something.

I prepared to concede defeat as long as they gave back the last three months of overcharges. Precious excitedly offered me a $20 credit to make up for those because T-Mobile “loves” me. I’m not an accountant, but last I checked $20 is less than — follow me on a napkin if this is too much math — $10 x 3 months = $30.

They love me, but they don’t love me, apparently. Pointing out this gap in “love,” and noting that I had an offer from Spectrum Mobile for cheaper service than even my correct bill at T-Mobile, Precious handed me over to her manager Scott.

Scott looked over the account and likewise came to the conclusion I needed to be moved to the new Go5G and happily shared that I could now have the privilege of paying a mere six dollars more than I had been promised.

When I said paying more than the price I had in writing wasn’t terribly agreeable, he alleged the difference was Apple TV+. According to Scott, I’d accepted T-Mobile’s Apple TV+ subscription offer that was free for six months and now I was being charged for its continuation.

This was untrue of my plan, which includes the said streamer on an ongoing basis. Scott’s claim did not match what my bill reported and didn’t match what any other agent had come up with while investigating my billing issues, either. Yet Scott, my “#Magenta_Jedi for today” was insistent: if I did not believe him, he said, I should check at the T-Mobile store.

The fact that the T-Mobile site, including a press release about their plans, contradicted Scott finally led him to relent. After I offered the evidence, magically the price was back to $1 over the promised price. Precisely where Precious had me an hour or so earlier, but with my $20 credit now shrunk to $10. Full reimbursement for mistakes is not part of “love” for T-Mobile Jedi.

Scott insisted T-Mobile had made multiple “exceptions” for me (refunding their billing errors is an “exception” in their terminology apparently) and not only was that all they could do, but giving me back just a portion of what they had overcharged me showed they deeply valued me as a customer.

I finally filed a report with the FCC for the second time in a year, my earlier one for AT&T now joined with a T-Mobile one, for deceptive billing practices. When I shared I was preparing to send that, Scott relented and promised two credits: a $10 one and a $20 one.

I remained, as in April, cynical, so I wrote those promised credits down in the report but went ahead and filed the FCC report.

Cynicism with these companies is well warranted. In my T-Mobile account today, only $20 of the $30 in promised credit was there, and the messed up plan remained unchanged.

Maybe it is the corporate mandated cheerful, “I’m your buddy” style of communication that makes the all too familiar bait-and-switch mistreating of customers and refusal to make errors genuinely right all the more maddening. There’s a dissonance when over-the-top friendliness is the veneer for typical big corporation deceptive practices.

Which is how, in ways it could never have accomplished on its own, suddenly my cable company looks a whole lot better to deal with. I think it might be high time to take up that Spectrum Mobile offer, which is cheaper and on the gold standard Verizon network.

Sure, Spectrum treats its customers with disdain like all of its peers. At least it doesn’t claim to “love” me while it does so.

Timothy R. Butler is Editor-in-Chief of Open for Business. He also serves as a pastor at Little Hills Church and FaithTree Christian Fellowship.

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