Good customer service isn’t always an oxymoron

I like to spread the word about good customer service. I swear, good customer service is becoming a paradox in this day and age, and the companies that still bother with it should be rewarded and their names should be shouted from the rooftops. Or something like that. I don’t necessarily like to write about bad customer service, because I know some companies suffer from having a bad apple or two working for the and that’s not necessarily their fault. But sometimes their practices are bad enough they need to be shared.

I have two stories of good customer service that resulted from bad customer service. Here is the first. I will share the other in another post.

My dad likes to buy “surprises” for Christmas gifts. In other words, things that not included on the Christmas list that my mother asks for in October of each year. So, instead of buying me the gadget I really, really needed for work or a sleeping bag like I’d really like, he and my mother’s big surprise Christmas gift this year was a new iPhone 3GS. To replace the $20 iPhone** that still worked mostly well. Which is cool, because I wasn’t going to spend the money on a phone I already had just to get a nicer version.

Any of you who’ve gotten an iPhone as a gift know that you don’t actually get an iPhone as a gift, you get an Apple gift card in the amount of an iPhone that’s not really supposed to be refundable. And those of you who got a previous incarnation of the iPhone know that you’re not going to be eligible for an upgrade to the newer iPhone anytime soon. Did Apple ask my father whether I already had an iPhone and then warn him it might cost more than $200 for me to get a new one? No. Bad practice Apple, and shame on you.

When I had the $20 iPhone activated in June, the AT&T rep told me he wouldn’t sign me to a 2-year contract that would require me to wait on an upgrade because I was bringing in a used phone rather than buying a new one. The notion behind the contract and restricting when you can upgrade your phone is that iPhones are way more expensive than $200 or whatever they charge you. They’re more like $700, but AT&T recoups the difference through fees over the life of your contract. That’s how you get free non iPhones too. It’s like buying a car with a loan. Fair enough, because who wants to pay $700 for a phone? Also makes sense why I didn’t need a contract, because my phone was used; I wasn’t taking any money away from AT&T because I wasn’t purchasing it from them.

So when I took my iPhone gift card to Apple, they said I wasn’t eligible for an upgrade and to go visit the AT&T store to see what the problem was. I visited the AT&T store, and they said I wasn’t eligible because I had way too much time left on my contract. The one I wasn’t supposed to have.

Did I have proof of being told I didn’t have a contract? No, of course not.*** Could I find the business card of the rep who told me these things? I did at one time, but it must have gotten lost in my move. Shame on me for those things. And shame on the AT&T rep for lying to me.

But the AT&T rep I was working with now (someone different) promised he’d ask the people who make decisions at AT&T for an exception to the rule after I explained to him everything that had happened. Two days later, he called me to tell me exception granted, come on in and I’d get my new iPhone 3GS. Sweet.

But first I had to exchange the not-supposed-to-be-refundable iPhone gift card at the Apple store. Which took talking to three employees there, looking up several incarnations of the receipt from the transaction and a phone call to my mother, whose credit card was responsible for the transaction. Trust me, the Apple people weren’t nearly as chipper and friendly about refunding an iPhone gift card as they were to sell me my MacBook a year ago.

Back to AT&T where they were happy to sell me a $200 iPhone 3GS with 2-year contract. Sell ME the phone, I said. Which means my mother had to reimburse me for my own Christmas gift. Reimburse me, that is, after I made two visits to Apple and three to AT&T over the course of a week.

The moral of this story is it was the cell phone company that did the right thing in the long run. I mean, I know the transaction meant AT&T benefit by another $200 phone sale and 2-year contract, so they weren’t purely helping me for my own benefit, but seriously, who would have expected a CELL PHONE COMPANY to do the right thing by granting me the exception when one of their reps lied to me about the contract situation?

**If you read that $20 iPhone post, you will see full disclosure that I don’t like Apple to begin with. That did not color my experience here. Apple could have done the right thing by warning my father about his purchase to begin with.

***Maybe I should have whipped out the $20 iPhone and shown them the $20 iPhone post at The MG for evidence.

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6 Responses to Good customer service isn’t always an oxymoron

  1. Allie says:

    I have to say, I've had pretty good experiences with AT&T overall. I'm glad this all got straightened out for you! But what a hassle!

  2. courtney says:

    Huh. That has got to be the first time I've heard a good customer service story about a cell phone company. However, I still refuse to go with AT&T because they bought Cingular and Cingular really pissed me off one time.

    The whole iPhone thing is far too complicated for me. I don't even have a "smart" phone, only a regular cell that makes calls and texts and that's it. I know that puts me square in the Stone Age.

  3. Bayjb says:

    Wow I have never heard a story like that about a cell phone company. I'm glad to hear it had a happy ending 🙂

  4. em says:

    Things like this completely overwhelm me. It's a damn phone, you know? Why do they have to make it so complicated! I hate it. I am glad it worked out for you in the end though. I have a blackberry and probably will never switch to iphone simply because of all the crazy risks and red tape involved somewhere along the way. I have a macbook pro and an ipod touch, ipod shuffle and good old fashioned ipod, so believe me – I favor mac's technologies to other companies. I just think maybe the iphone isn't worth the hassle when all I really want to be able to do is make a phone call and check my work email.

    That was a great gift from your dad, though! I love thoughtful parents.

  5. ck says:

    Dude- you should've sold the gift card and bought the sleeping bag! My step dad does the same thing- I asked for climbing rope one year and got a TV, something he thought was great. So I returned it (huge hassle) and bought the rope. Now I'm very specific in asking and he doesn't try surprises anymore.

  6. Sassy says:

    It's always nice to hear stories of good customer service. My cell phone company is amazing. It's not one of the big ones that you hear about (Verizon, AT&T, Spring) but they are leaps and bounds above them in service and customer service.

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