I have had a hate/hate relationship with Nextel ever since I was in charge of a 50-phone account at My Former Company. Nextel hates me. I hate them. It's symbiotic.
It was very distressing to me a few years ago when Nextel announced plans to merge with Sprint, my cellphone carrier. I'd always received excellent customer service from Sprint and I was sure that the insidious apathy and flat-out mean-spiritedness that I'd encountered in my dealings with Nextel would eventually taint the alabaster halls of Sprint.
They got tainted, alright. Tainted with stupidity.
After the merger, Brett bought a new phone and wanted to swap his cell service onto the new phone. This was a procedure I'd performed literally hundreds of time in my stint as the Nextel Administrator for My Former Company. It was either very easy or very time consuming, depending on the experience level of the Nextel rep that answered the call. But, Brett had never had any problems swapping service through Sprint, so he was confident it would only take a few minutes.
In order to avoid being bothered by pesky customers like us who would just call and want stuff, the newly formed Sprint/Nextel cleverly changed their customer service number. Not only did they change it, but they kept the new one carefully hidden. It wasn't on any of our bills, nor was it on the website. We were kind of at a loss until Brett remembered that he could use a Sprint phone to get directly to customer service by dialing *611. (Or something like that. I can't remember what the code was exactly.) Knowing he would have to power the old phone and the new phone off for the swap, Brett wisely made this call using my cellphone.
It worked. He was connected with Anton, a highly-trained Sprint/Nextel customer service representative.
From the other room, I could hear Brett giving Anton the serial numbers and SIM codes from the old and new phone. Standard procedure, I thought. Then, I could hear Brett disagreeing with Anton and re-explaining what he wanted to do. More disagreeing, then more patient explaining. Then came louder disagreeing and less-than-patient explaining along with a hearty dose of frustration. I couldn't hear exactly what was going on, but Brett was obviously not getting his point across.
Because Brett had to leave soon, I offered to take over the call for him. He threw the phone at me and said, "Good luck getting that moron to understand a simple swap."
"It can't be that bad," I thought. "Maybe the guy just doesn't understand English very well. I've talked to a lot of people that I've had a hard time understanding, so I'm sure sometimes they feel the same way. I'll just try a little harder."
From Anton's first words, I could tell that he was as relieved to be rid of Brett as Brett was to be rid of him. I could not, however, detect anything in his speech that would indicate that English was not his primary language.
A: Phew. Okay, ma'am. Your husband said he would like to swap his service onto the new phone. I can assist you with that. Are you calling from a landline or a cellphone?
Me: I'm calling from a cellphone, but it's not the one we are going to be swapping.
A: Well, ma'am you're going to need to power off the phones, so I need you to call back from a landline.
Me: No, really. This is a totally different phone, totally different number. This phone I'm calling from won't be affected at all. But I have the old phone and the new phone both powered off, right now. Do you want me to turn them on?
A: I can't perform the swap if you are on a cellphone. I need you to call from a landline.
Me: Okaaaaaay. Why? What's going to happen if you try to swap the phones right now?
A: We'll get disconnected. I need the numbers from the back of the phone, behind the battery. The phone won't still work with the battery out, now will it?
Me: I'm not going to take the battery out of the phone I'm talking on. I would think I'd have to take it out of the phones involved in the swap, right?
A: No ma'am. All the batteries will have to be removed.
We went back and forth like this for about 10 minutes. When I realized that I wasn't going to convince him to change his mind, I gave up.
Me: Okay. I'll call back on a landline. Will you give me the number? It wasn't on the bill or on your website, so I don't know how to get back to you.
A: You don't need to speak with me personally. Any representative can help you. Just make sure to call back on a landline.
Me: I know I don't need to speak with you directly. But I don't have any customer service number to call. Do you have the 800-number for customer service?
A: You just call the same number you called before.
Me: Well, I used my cellphone to get to you. I just dialed *611.
A: You'll need to use a landline.
Me: That's my point. I can't dial *611 on a landline and get to customer service. What is the number I should call?
A: *exasperated* Just use your landline to call the same number.
Me: *more exasperated* No, that won't work. You need to give the number that should I dial.
A: The same one as you dialed before.
Me: Listen, the number I dialed was *611. If I dial that from my landline, it won't work. Give me a different number!
A: Um, I'm not understanding the problem here. You don't have a landline? Well, you might want to go to a neighbor's house then.
Me: *deep breath* Okay. Try to picture this. I'm walking to my home phone, my landline, my non-cellphone. I pick it up. I hear a dial tone. My pointer finger is poised, ready to dial. What number should I press on my telephone?
A: The same number as before.
Me: *another deep breath* Okay. The first number I pushed before was *, then 6, then 1, then another 1. Picture me pushing those numbers on my landline phone. Now what I hear on the other end of the phone is "doo Doo DOO! The number you dialed is not valid. Please check the number and try your call again." I CAN'T DIAL *611 ON THE LANDLINE AND REACH SPRINT/NEXTEL OR ANYONE ELSE! IT WON'T WORK!
A: Ahhh, of course not. You need to call the customer service number.
Me: YES! Ex-actly! Now tell me... what is the customer service number?
A: What do you mean? It's the same number. You're going to need to hang up and call back from a landline. Do you want me to hang up first? Is that what you are saying?
Me: No! If you hang up, I will never be able to call back on a landline, because I don't know what number to call! You must have a 800-number for customer service, yes?
A: Yes, of course. That's the number to call you need to call from your landline.
Me: Please, please, please... tell me what that number, that number that starts with 1-800, that number that will connect me with customer service from my landline, tell me what it is. I beg you. Please.
I don't know why, all of a sudden, Anton figured out what I was talking about. But, bless his poor idiotic heart, the lightbulb finally went on.
A: So, you don't have the customer service number? I think you do, otherwise you wouldn't have been able to call mein the first place. But, okay, let me get it for you again.
The ironic thing is that the number was something stupid like 800-GO-NEXTEL. If I had invested the 40 minutes I spent talking to Anton into dialing random numbers from my landline, I probably could have figured it out. Actually, the ironic thing is that Anton had to go look it up when, essentially, it is his phone number. Actually, the ironic thing is that it was probably all a practical joke and the mystery people who "monitor calls for quality assurance" were probably busting a gut. Actually, the ironic thing is that Anton probably won $5 for each minute he kept me on the phone.
Anton, I want my cut of that money, jerk.