Does T-Mobile hate old people? My Dad thinks so. T-Mobile is my parents’ cell phone provider, or at least it used to be until they got a letter informing them that for their “convenience” their bill would now be available on line. If they wished to continue getting a paper bill they could do so for additional monthly charge of $3.95. T-Mobile sent this letter to a man who comes from a generation where $3.95 bought you some land, a house, and a horse; and you got back change.
T-Mobile sent this letter to a man who’s retired, living on fixed income, and has nothing but time on his hands to fight the good fight. When McDonald’s did away with their “Senior” coffee my Dad brow beat the manager so badly that my Dad gets free coffee now whether he wants it or not.
I won’t say that my Dad tilts at windmills. That would imply that his causes are fruitless. Oh no, he gets what he aims for, as is he quick to point out with a twinkle is eye whenever he looks at my Mom. When it comes to getting better customer service my Dad won’t hesitate to sweetly, but methodically work his way up the food chain until he gets someone to do the right thing, which — coincidentally — is to make a decision in his favor. My Dad is a customer service superhero with a jauntily-cocked hat instead of a cape.
When Time Warner blithely tacked on yet another extra monthly charge (the disturbingly familiar $3.95) to his already astronomical cable bill, my Dad made a phone call. In that grand, expansive, long-suffering story telling style that only older folks seem to have, my Dad pointed out many things including the fact that he’d been with the company so long, they should be paying him for his years of loyalty. When he was done, his bill had been cut by one third, with no corresponding cut in service.
Clearly McDonald’s and Time Warner had not forewarned T-Mobile.
I’m sure they’ve gotten away with strong-arming customers into giving up paper or paying the price under the guise of going green, but they didn’t take into account seniors who may or may not be computer savvy, but who would definitely resent being forced into printing out their own bills because they read every page with the meticulousness of an IRS auditor. Let’s face it, if you’re with T-Mobile — as opposed to say Verizon — you’re not exactly ballin’ on the cell phone front. You’re one step up from a no-credit-check, pre-paid plan, so every penny counts.
T-Mobile didn’t take into account my Dad.
Ironically, my Dad, who for years has been My Tech Guy, is not a cell phone guy. He doesn’t have a smart phone because he doesn’t want one. He doesn’t take pictures and to paraphrase the lead character in the movie Machete: “Daddy don’t text.”
“I just want a phone to say ‘hello and goodbye,’” he says. And I guess that would be true if my Dad actually remembered to turn his cell phone on. And when it is on, he doesn’t answer it because he doesn’t hear it ringing. Most of my calls to my Dad go straight to his voicemail. He's got messages on there from 2008. I know that because I called him back then to say Obama won the election, and he never got it.
So now, when my Dad goes out I just remind him to turn his cell phone off. And if by some random chance his phone is on and he does answer it, I tell him to hang up and not call me back. It’s possible I’d have better luck reaching my Dad by calling a pay phone he just happened to be walking by. He’ll answer those. Don’t ask me why. I guess he knows I’m trying to call him.
All this to say that the ultimate trump card a customer has is the ability and the willingness to walk away. And although my Dad played the “shame-on-you-for-hatin’-on-old-people card,” and got T-Mobile to continue paper billing without a fee, my Dad still took his business elsewhere.
There are a plethora of services now — AARP chief among them — that offers a low, fixed-rate, feature-deficit device that appeals to folks who don’t want a phone smarter than they are. One of my favorite jokes in my stand-up comedy show is:
“My Dad has that cell phone that they only make for old people. It only has three numbers on it: 9-1-1.”
I only wish this phone was smart enough to turn itself on. Pay phones, like my Dad, are old, rare, and precious.