Hanging on the phone

It all starts with a few weeks off. I’ve got a rare bit of time to relax out of my usual routine (which from March onwards has never been much of one anyway).

I tried to do nothing. But there seems to be a whole host of admin tasks, household maintenance and things I usually put off to deal with. They range from important to insignificant, everything from organising the accounts for my consultancy business to replacing the batteries in my kitchen scales. It’s like whack-a-mole. Every time I think I’m done, a new task pops up.

One task has taken a frustrating amount of time and gone round in a perfect circle: getting a new mobile phone. I’d had my phone for a few years and it was starting to slow down, throwing glitches and not working with my new headphones. Time to upgrade, I thought. It will be fun to get a new phone, I thought. How naive!

I was reconsidering my phone usage. I have 168 apps on my phone. Some of these are useful, some not. With working from home and the events of this year, I found my phone almost permanently clutched in my hand. What if there was a message from family or a friend, a vital human connection, or some devastating news update or a new law I needed to not break? Better keep the phone with me.

This led to predictably unhealthy habits. I would wake up, scrolling the news and Twitter as I tried to motivate myself to get up. This is akin to tipping a bucket over your head, when the contents could include anything whatsoever. I might see a story about Goats being available to hire for Zoom calls or refugees drowning in the sea. Obviously there would be a lot of sickness, political chaos and death. I’d then slouch to the bathroom and try not to think about any of it.

It remains to be seen what all this digital information will do our brains, but my theory is a little piece of each story I see is lodged somewhere. It might emerge when I least expect it, in a fevered nightmare or as a fear that’s impossible to rationalise. I need to filter it somehow.

So my solution was to get a smaller phone. I can’t rely on willpower obviously, but if I got a phone with a smaller screen I thought maybe I’d use it for phoning and texts, saving reading for the bigger screen on my laptop. This may be optimistic but worth a try.

I decided to go for a package deal including the new smaller iPhone and a monthly contract. You don’t pay for the phone upfront that way, but spread the payments over 24 months. I’m sceptical about finance deals in general, but in this case it seemed reasonable. I ordered a package with data, unlimited minutes and text. You can see from the screen below that every tariff includes unlimited minutes and it’s the amount of data that determines how expensive it gets.

The tariffs are described as freestyle and easy to change month by month, so I chose a lower data amount thinking I could always adjust it. The phone arrived the next day, in perfect working order.

But there was a problem. On making my first call, I found I’d already exceeded my monthly allowance. Further investigation showed I was on a data-only package, meaning calls and texts cost extra. I can’t even find this on the website so have no idea how it happened.

I called Customer Services (luckily free from my new phone) and that’s where it all went downhill. Call centres understaffed mean 30-40 minutes listening to hold music before I spoke to someone. They explained they would need to send a new phone through the post and I should return the old one. This made little sense since the phone was fine, but apparently the phone itself somehow linked to the tarriff. I thought I’d need a new SIM card at most but that was the only thing I had to keep. Another call was required to clarify the process further.

I was still hazy on what would happen next but a delivery driver arrived at my doorstep two days later with a new phone I hastily erased my data from the old one, packaged it back up and gave it to him. I once again set up the new phone and tried to make calls. They were still incurring extra charges so I still couldn’t call people.

This time I used the Customer Services text message option, supposedly more convenient. I texted my query. A response cheerily informed me that they would not be responding immediately so I could get on with my day (?) Responses could take up to 24 hours. A day later, my query was picked up and after an hour of texting, a support ticket was raised that could take 48 hours to resolve.

Two days later, the problem remained and no further responses came from Customer Services. I’d now had about a week without being able to make calls, ironically only being able to use the Internet data. I’d had enough and made a complaint, before cancelling the deal under the 14 day consumer protection rule.

So I sent the phone back a second time and had to have a Live Chat with the previous network I’d been using, to ask if I could return as their customer! ‘I am loyal’, I pointed out, ‘if we overlook the last week which was a blip’. Don’t try to use your sense of humour over Live Chat.

An hour, 3 different members of staff on the chat and lots of security questions later, I’m back to my old contract with my old phone. I vaguely do still want to get a new one, but need to recoup my energy first.

So that’s the time off used effectively. I did get a lot of ideas for how telecoms providers can improve and look forward to deploying this knowledge in future consultancy work.

For now, I’m back on my phone and every second not hanging on through the hold music or on Live Chat is a blessing.

Leave a Reply