Tuesday, 08 March, 2005

Troubles with Sprint's tech support

When I got involved in the Amateur Radio Emergency Services (ARES) group, I gave them my mobile phone number and subscribed to the group's paging system. They send out text messages to notify us of meetings, and in an emergency they'll use the text messaging system as the first round of the call tree. With a single email, our Emergency Coordinator can send a text message to every member who's subscribed to the system.

I got the meeting notification messages for about a month. Then they stopped. I didn't even notice until the EC called me one day and asked why I wasn't responding to my text messages. I poked around on Sprint's Web site to see if I could figure out why it won't work. No dice. But I did learn something interesting. When I asked the Web application to send me my password, it worked. But when I used their online messaging tools to send myself a test message, I got nothing. So I called customer service.

10:37 AM - I pressed *2 on my phone and hit the "talk" button. An automated system answered, of course. But then I got a surprise. The voice said that it had to update my service automatically. "Strange," I thought. The voice kept me informed of progress, and in under a minute I heard "The update is complete." I learned later, when talking to Dominic in Technical Support (see below) that it was a Preferred Roaming List update--something that all phones get from time to time.

10:39 AM - I was transferred to an automated voice response system that asked me what I needed help on. I said "text messaging." Three seconds of silence later the voice said "Okay. Let me get someone to help you with that." I guess it doesn't understand text messaging.

10:40 AM - Judy in Customer Service was friendly enough. But when I told her that I was having trouble sending text messages to my phone, she gave me the telephone equivalent of a blank stare. The line really was quiet enough to hear a pin drop. Finally: "Ummmm, I'm sorry, but I don't know about that. Let me get a technical specialist for you."

10:41 AM - John at technical support had no earthly idea what I was talking about. He couldn't seem to understand that I was trying to send myself a text message as a test, so that I could tell others how to do it. We went 'round and 'round until I said "if you were going to send me a text message from an email program, what address would you use?" Man, I love blank stares. He took my phone number, confirmed my password, and put me on hold at 10:44.

10:56 AM - "Hello, sir. Sorry about the wait." Whoever he was, he didn't give his name. This guy confirmed that I should be sending my messages to phone-number@messaging.sprintpcs.com. I told him that I've tried that repeatedly, but I wasn't receiving them. He mentioned something about setting up an account for me and also that my "old" phone (it's only 3 years old!) wasn't ideal for the task. He said that when I hung up I'd be able to receive text messages, and to call back on the land line if not.

10:58 AM - Phone call finished.

11:15 AM - Figuring 15 minutes was long enough to make sure that they made any required configuration changes, I tried to send myself a message. 10 minutes later I still hadn't received it. By now I'd wasted almost an entire hour.

11:42 AM - The Sprint PCS store is only a couple of miles from the office, so I thought I'd go down there and maybe they could help me with the problem.

11:51 AM - Kyle met me at the front of the store, right after the receptionist took my name and said that I was next. Kyle took me to his workstation, got my information, took my phone and said that the in-store technicians were going to look at it. I tried to explain to him that the phone receives some messages, but he insisted that the techs had to look at the phone. "It will be about 10 minutes."

12:15 PM - Kyle returned with my phone. "They couldn't figure it out, either. You need to call technical support." Oh, great. I had an errand to run, so I put off the call until I got back to the office.

12:20 PM - I also needed to stop at Home Depot during lunch for parts to repair a leaking faucet. For the first time ever, I managed to get through the self checkout without having to involve the cashier. Usually the thing tells me that I have too much or not enough in the bag. I'm still not convinced that the self checkout saves time in the average case, but it certainly was quick for me this time.

1:09 PM - Back at the office. I dialed the super-secret Technical Support number that Kyle from the Sprint PCS store gave me. Kimberly answered, sounding bored out of her mind. I hope I didn't disturb her nap. She took my information and put me on hold.

1:12 PM - "Sir, are you calling from your PCS phone?" No, I wasn't. On hold again.

1:16 PM - "Sir, when you receive your messages, do you log on to the Web to receive them?" "No, they come to my phone." "Okay, just a moment."

1:20 PM - According to Kimberly, my phone uses a service called Wireless Web to get and send messages, but Sprint doesn't offer that service anymore. I asked her why, if that's the case, I can receive the password notification message that Sprint's Web site sent to me a few hours ago. Kimberly couldn't explain that.

Kimberly did inform me that I'm eligible for a free upgrade to a PCS Vision phone since I've had my service with them for at least 18 months. I don't think she understood that I don't view the offered phone an upgrade. The offered phone is not a PalmOS device--just your basic camera phone.

After hanging up, I pondered what Kimberly told me and decided that she doesn't know what she's talking about.  I never used the Wireless Web service. I never had to log in to the Web in order to get my text messages. I decided to call Technical Support again and talk to somebody who can explain what changed with the service and why I can receive some messages but not others.

1:40 PM - Called the super secret Technical Support line again.

1:44 PM - Disconnected.

1:45 PM - Called back. Put on hold.

1:46 PM - Dominic answered. He sounded bright, alert, and friendly, so I calmly explained my problem. Dominic listened and when I'd completed he said the magic words: "Do you mind helping me with a little troubleshooting?" I probably would have kissed the guy if he'd been standing in front of me. 10 minutes later, after trying this and that, he found the problem. For some reason text messaging had been blocked on my number. The system wouldn't let him un-block it, so now there's a trouble ticket with my name and phone number on it floating around in Sprint's Technical Support database. They'll get to it in a week or less, according to Dominic. He asked me to call back on Friday.

It only took four phone calls (about an hour and 20 minutes), five phone support people, and a trip to the SprintPCS store to learn that the reason I couldn't receive text messages is because that feature is mysteriously blocked on my number. And companies wonder why we laugh at their idea of customer service.

Sprint's Web site hasn't improved since the time I tried to get help on it back in 2001. It's still geared towards selling plan upgrades and solving billing problems. When you get beyond "my battery died, where do I get a new one," the Web site is worthless. I find it inconceivable that I wasn't able to tell by looking at my account on MyPCS that text messaging was disabled.

To Dominic, the Technical Support representative who calmly listened to my problem and did his job: thank you. Your example is one that all others should follow. To Sprint: most of your customer support people are incompetent, and you need to fix your damned Web site.