Lessons from T-Mobile on how to convert a Raving Fan into an Active Critic

I thought it was worth sharing this story, as I think it’s an example of how simple it is for a business can chuck the goodwill it’s built up with a customer down the drain. Or possibly I just wanted to exercise my modern consumer right to publically complain about how I’ve been treated by a large Corporation. Either way, here goes…

T-Mobile UK LogoI’ve been a customer of the UK Mobile Phone network T-Mobile for 6 years or more. Overall, they’ve given good service to me – with few causes for complaint – and I’ve actively shared this fact with people when asked by others.

My trusty old HTC HD2 has recently gone from being a reliable workhorse to being an unreliable mess that gets in the way of me being productive, so reluctantly it came time for me to upgrade my handset and agree a new 2-year monthly contract with T-Mobile.

I’d picked a Samsung Galaxy S2 handset to upgrade to, as it’s received stunning reviews. Unfortunately, the reviews are so stunning that there is apparently a worldwide stock shortage.

Seeking out the Samsung Galaxy S2

In the middle of May, I ‘phoned T-Mobile to check whether they had stock, and wasn’t surprised to hear that they didn’t. T-Mobile advised me to call back the following Friday when a new stock shipment may have arrived with them.

I ‘phoned T-Mobile again the following Friday and was told there was still no stock but that deliveries may be arriving for the following Tuesday.

I ‘phoned T-Mobile again on Tuesday, and was told there was still no stock – but I’d been placed on the back-order system and so I’d receive notification when there was stock. Minor point, but it would have been nice to have been offered this option when I first called – saving further ‘phone calls.

I ‘phoned a fortnight later, and was told there was still no stock and there was no need to keep ‘phoning T-Mobile to check whether there was – as soon as stock arrived I’d be notified.

Still waiting for delivery

Near the end of June I received an SMS message saying my order had been processed, and would be shipped to me soon.

A fortnight went by, and no delivery. So against T-Mobiles advice, I ‘phoned them to see what the delay was. A lovely lady called Gill answered.

“Did you not receive the delivery a fortnight ago?”. No, I’m afraid I hadn’t.

“Can I just confirm your address is <address>”. Erm, no – it isn’t.

“What is your address?”. The one you send the bills to each month.

Gill was hugely apologetic, and said she’d credit £10 to my account as a goodwill gesture. She understood how frustrating it was that they’d messed up, and she also added that the ‘phone would be in stock for Friday and therefore delivered to me on Monday. If there was any problems at all, she’d call me on Friday.

I confirmed with Gill that delivery would be Monday, if if there was any problems, she was working over the weekend and could call me. Affirmative.

I was pretty irritated that I’d missed out on stock due to a ridiculous administrative error on T-Mobile’s part, but Gill had empathised with me, and assured me all would be well. So I gave T-Mobile the benefit of the doubt.

Second time lucky?

Friday passed without a ‘phone call. That’s good news, no problems!

Monday lunchtime arrived, and with a sunny day outside – I was regretting I’d have to spend it staying at home awaiting a delivery. So, despite Gill’s assurances, I thought I’d give T-Mobile a call just to be sure the delivery was on it’s way.

I spoke to a colleague of Gill’s who told me that the stock of Samsung Galaxy S2’s expected on Friday hadn’t arrived, and so I wouldn’t be receiving delivery today. T-Mobile were experiencing huge stock delays due to the demand for the ‘phone and that it was the same everywhere else.

I understood the stock shortages, but I was assured delivery after T-Mobile’s last mix-up, right? I didn’t even bother to ask why I wasn’t called on Friday as agreed to explain this delay or that I’d have regretted spending the rest of the day in the house waiting for a delivery that wouldn’t arrive.

So I asked for my PAC code, to transfer my number to another provider.

I was unceremoniously put on hold, and a few minutes later told that they’d found stock of a Samsung Galaxy S2 and could have it delivered to me tomorrow.

You found stock… how?

Perplexed how they’d found stock when I threatened to leave, when minutes earlier there had been none – I’m afraid to say I didn’t have any faith that said stock would actually be delivered as promised.

So I explained that unfortunately, as I’d been let down by T-Mobile twice already in assurances of delivery, that I’d have to insist on the PAC code.

In rather aggressive salesman fashion, I was then told that I’d not find a better offer elsewhere and that nobody else had stock of this ‘phone either. Plus, I did realise that if I refused this deal now, I couldn’t be offered it again?

I’m not sure what I was more irritated about – the fact that he’d not bothered to address my “You’ve already let me down twice” statement, that he’d insult my intelligence saying I’d not get a better deal elsewhere, or that I was suddenly being offered an ultimatum to try to force my hand.

It’s not about the money

I told him that I’d already found a better deal, and they had stock.

“I don’t think you have” he went on. “Nobody can beat £25 per month”. Grrr.

I explained that actually, T-Mobile had offered me a £35 per month renewal deal when I’d ‘phoned in May – not £25 per month as he suggested. “No, you’re mistaken. You get a £10 per month discount on that £35 per month tariff”.

That had surely not been communicated to me when I called to renew. I even checked my written notes to confirm this.

It’s at this stage that I lost *all* confidence in the ability to come renew with T-Mobile. They could have offered me a £35 per month contract with a £45 per month discount, and I’d not have bought it.

I went on to explain that I would have loved to have stayed thanks to the years of good service, but T-Mobile had let me down so much here that I’d lost faith in their ability to deliver, and that I hoped he understood my situation, but could I have the PAC Code please.

He didn’t take this last attempt to elicit an apology or any empathy with my situation. I was given the PAC code, and then the line went dead without any goodbye’s or apologies. I’m guessing he wasn’t pleased with the outcome of our conversation, and let me tell you that he’s not alone in that respect.

Looking at the mistakes made

I’m not sure where to start with how many lessons can be learnt from this debacle, but the biggest mistake he made was to not empathise with my situation. If he’d had apologised unreservedly for T-Mobile letting me down not once, but twice, and told me how he understood the frustration it caused on my part – I may have been more receptive to any remedial actions he then offered. But he didn’t – he assumed I was only interested in the cost of the contract, not the service.

If he told me that there wasn’t any stock, but that as I’d been let down so badly that he had moved mountains to find a unit to ship to me next day – I may have bought it. As it was, he told me there was no stock, and then when I said I was leaving, he suddenly found stock. I’m assuming there wasn’t stock for upgrades, but there was stock for new sales and about-to-be-lost sales like me.

If he told me that he was sorry for the confusion, clearly they hadn’t communicated this to me, but they *really* wanted to keep my business and so had come up with a £25/month deal, not the £35/month I had thought I’d been offered – I may have forgiven that mis-communication. But he didn’t, he told me I was mistaken and that I wouldn’t find a better deal.


Add all these things together, and I’ve gone from being someone who would speak well of T-Mobile, to someone who will actively warn others off their service as untrustworthy and condescending.

From my perspective, I wasn’t comparing T-Mobile with another network on price at any time, and there was no question of me moving my contract elsewhere.

The bottom line is, throughout this back and forth all I really wanted was to be acknowledged – for T-Mobile to acknowledge that I was frustrated, that they’d let me down, that I was important to them. But they missed out the apology phase and went straight to trying to “fix” the issue. There’s a lesson to be learnt from that.


  • iPhone, Android or Windows Phone? My Mobile Phone Experiment « TubbBlog2011-07-18 11:29:52

    [...] who read my recent rant blog on the shoddy treatment I received from UK Mobile network T-Mobile, or has been following my frustrations via Twitter on how Talkmobile couldn’t even take my order [...]

  • tubblog2011-07-12 16:46:38

    Harry - thanks for the comment, appreciate you taking the time to give me feedback. I'm familiar with the process you mention about hammering out a good deal by threatening to cancel, so you make a good point when you mention it's not surprising the Call Rep acted in the way he did. I always sort of regret posting those types of blogs (pointing out people's shortcomings) because with hindsight, I always figure out a way I could have handled the situation better. In this situation, it may have been better that I should have politely ended the call and then ringing back to speak to another Customer Services operative, one who was more customer focused. I know T-Mobile aren't bad across the board, but they'd made a series of clangers and then the person who had the chance to smooth things over wasn't best suited for the job. Lessons learned!

  • Harry Falkenmire2011-07-12 15:19:08

    To be fair, they are call center reps (not exactly your Mensa applicant's vocation of choice) and everyone knows carriers have a "cancellations" department which is actually a "we have the power to do almost anything to keep you" department. Dozens of frugality bloggers have been telling the general public for years the easiest way to get good deals is to threaten to cancel then negotiate with the guys you got through to. The difference between that hypothetical and the above is that you took great issue with the lack of customer service (fair enough; you and many others seem to this to be a, if not THE cornerstone attribute of professionalism) whereas others (pragmatics?) would have been very easily wooed by the sudden appearance of an SGS2 and discount on their contract. To each their own :)

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