Dealing With Mobile Network Carrier

By: Tim Trice

Yesterday, I wrote about dealing with your cellular carrier, in particular, customer service representatives. I gave you some suggestions and hints on how to identify what type of rep your speaking with and how to handle that rep. Today, I want to focus on what you can do to better increase your chances of success at getting your carrier to resolve your problem for good.

If you own a cell phone, and chances are you do, you've had to contact a customer service rep at some point. It may have been to find out your minute usage or your balance. Or you may have voiced concerns over charges on your account. Regardless of your reason for calling, it is always valid and you should never feel like your wasting time. But, there are other methods.

Shortcut Keys

Every major cellular carrier (Sprint, TMobile, Cingular, Verizon Wireless) has "shortcut keys" to give you quick access to the information you need. These shortcut keys can usually be found in your contract. But you may also find them online. If you can't, then call customer service and ask them.

Shortcut keys start with either the star (*) key or the pound (#) key. For instance, with Sprint, you can dial *2 to quickly reach customer service. *3 allows you to make a payment without talking to a rep. For Verizon Wireless, you can dial #BAL to aquire your balance or #MIN to find out your usage. These shortcut keys are extremely useful and help you get right to the point without wasting time.

Online Account

Did you know you can practically do anything to your account online? You can, of course, make a payment and find out your minute usage. But, you can also add data packages in some cases and quite often add text or pix message packages. Never recieve your last bill? Most carriers will allow you to view the most recent 12 invoices.

One thing to note about using online accounts, though. First, you cannot change your calling plan in many states, especially if it requires a contract extension. If you are allowed to change your calling plan, you must either go into the store or wait for the new contract to arrive in the mail before the change takes place.

Also, be extremely weary of making payments online. If you select the wrong link or mark the wrong choice on the payment form, you could be signing up for automatic payment. This can cause major problems when it's time to make the next payment, especially with your bank (I learned the hard way several months ago).

If you make any changes to your account, do it when you have uninterrupted attention to devote. Read every detail! I had too many calls as a rep from customers who didn't understand what they were doing. If you have questions, do not continue. Just call customer service and let them help you. It's their job.

Now, the key stuff:

So, you got your last bill. You didn't open it right away because you weren't nervous. Your sure you stayed under your minutes. You didn't change calling plans. You know everything is fine. A couple of weeks later, you dial #PMT or go online to make that payment and discover your balance was twice as much as it usually is. What happened? You call up customer service, irate, demanding answers (and, typically, credit). You want justice.

This is, of course, a typical scenario in the rep's world. Most all calls are related to billing issues. This is typically what has happened:



  • You went over your minute allowance: Do you know your bill cycle date? If not, remember it. It's the first day prior to the date printed on your invoice. In other words, if your invoice has a date of March 15, your bill cycle date is the 14th of every month. This is not when your minutes start over, but when they end. You don't start over until 12:00a.m. the morning of the 15th. I cannot even begin to guess how many times this was the problem with overage charges. Always remember if you have a 450-minute-plan, for example, you can use up to 450 minutes until the bill cycle date. The next day, you start fresh again.So what do you do if you went over your minutes? Well, it varies. Most carriers give their customer service reps a little bit of leeway, a.k.a. credit, to give to customers. And it varies by each individual calling center. Direct calling centers may be capable of giving you up to $100 credit towards your invoice (not to exceed the amount of overages, of course). Indirect, or outsourced calling centers, may have as little as $25 to $50 to offer customers.But, this doesn't mean they're going to give you all the money back, either. If its your first time going over and it wasn't by much, many decent reps will remind you how to aquire your balance and issue a "courtesy credit". They'll advise you to always know your minute usage, as you will not be credited again should it occur a second time.If you habitually go over your minutes and have already been given a credit, expect reluctancy if not down right denial. And the rep is right in this instance. If you are going over your minutes constantly, you need a better plan. Let me give you an example why: Verizon offers a 450-minute and 900-minute individual plan. The 450 plan costs $39.99. The 900 costs $59.99, a difference of $20. Sounds like a bit when you want to save money. You stick to the 450 minute plan and feel good. But, you go over your minutes. Not by much, just fifty. Guess what? That's overage charges of $22.50 ($0.45 per minute). You're paying nearly the same price for 900 minutes but you're only getting 500! Also, remember in some cases, price plan changes will extend your contract. And, if it doesn't, be weary of losing special promotions you may be elligible for at a later time.


  • You changed price plans, but lost a text message package: Believe it or not, this occurs quite a bit, especially int the stores (direct and indirect). The rep your speaking with didn't recognize you had a 100-text-message package and didn't carry it over when they made your price plan change. In some cases, the package no longer exists. So, not only did you lose it, but you can't get it back!This can be overcome, provided you can show some proof. Proof may not be necessary if the rep is convinced you should have retained the package or, even better, is just in a good mood. If you went to a store and know the person you spoke with, it's best to see that person again. Yes, many store lines are very long and the wait can be aggravating. But what must be done must be done! The rep can be your friend if you are courteous. But if you are irate, do not be surprised if the rep refuses to help simply out of spite. They have. I've known them!In most cases, all of your text charges will be credited back. It can get a little tricky to know how much will be credited. Reps and carriers get specific with this. If you changed your price plan in the middle of your billing cycle, they'll do the math to figure out if you went over your prorated allowance before AND after the change! But, typically, all will be credited back unless you made the change. This goes back to what I spoke of earlier about paying attention when you make changes online. If you drop your package from 500 messages to 100 messages and went over by 100, you might get anywhere between 10% and 50% credited back, but not all of it. It is in this instance the rep is thinking, though not saying aloud, that you made the mistake, and you will pay for it.


  • You accessed the internet: Didn't think you could do it on your phone? In all likelihood, you can. Not every phone is internet capable. You can find out in your users guide if yours is or not. This happens quite a bit, though. It's not just towards the Blackberry or Palm users, either (though, the most frequency occurs with the PDA or MDA). You have a data package but you're only allowed a certain usage...say 25mb or 50mb. But, you still went over! Just as your service is not stopped when you go over your minutes, it is not stopped when you go over your data usage (keep in mind, also, that with some carriers and price plans, sending picture or video messages goes towards data usage unless you have a picture or video message plan). These charge can get outrageous. Verizon, at one time, charged $0.015 per kilobyte of overage. Doesn't sound like much, does it? An average email may be 15kb. A mobile website may approach 100kb. A picture may be 200kb. A video can be 300kb plus! It'll add up. Trust me!Even if you don't have a data plan, if your phone is capable, you will be charged the standard rate for the data transfer. In many cases, I'm sorry to inform you, this won't be credited back. You might get a rep who, again, if you are nice, will feel condolences and give you some, if not all of it credited back. However, if the rep says no, rest assured the supervisor will say no, as well. Why? It takes several steps to send picture and video messages and to access the internet. Especially when accessing the internet, most phones will warn you that you are going online and will give you the option to back out. You can use the old excuse that your child got a hold of your phone or you lent it to a friend. But the typicaly fire-back response is: It's still your responsibility!




The main thing to recognize regarding credits is that reps will generally be rather lenient towards issuing them IF they feel it is warranted AND you are polite. Being rude will only get you denied. You can ask to speak to a supervisor, but I promise you in most cases, the supervisor will still offer you less than what the rep would have offered you had you been more courteous.

How can you avoid some of this mess? Many carriers do offer blocks for certian features; in particular, data access and text/picture messaging. You have to specifically request it. Once these blocks are on, you should not be allowed to access those features. If you are, then all of the funds will be credited back. Be aware, though. As with losing your text message package or whatever when you change a price plan, you could lose your blocks as well! This has occured on a number of occassions. It can cause undue problems and hassle, but if the rep sees it was a client-side error (they're fault), then it will be credited back onto your account. However, I have also seem some cases where someone called in to request it be removed. A month later, the account holder calls stating they never wanted it removed. Well, either someone can access your account online, they know your password and called in pretending to be you, or you authorized them on the account to make such decisions. You still might get a credit. But don't expect a full refund.

The last thing I'd like to mention is to stop using the "I'll cancel my service if I don't get my credit!" It's old and unbelievable. Even better is when you threaten to sue or, best of all, find the rep and "kick your butt!" This only brings laughter and doesn't resolve anything. If you feel like the rep is being unresponsive, ask for a supervisor. As I mentioned in Dealing With Your Cellular Carrier - Part 1, the rep may have their hands tied. They many want to help you, but they can't. Their hands are tied. Supervisor's have broader range. Use the supervisor as your ally, if necessary. If it is the cellular company's fault, they will make amends. They must! You're the customer. It costs them more to replace than it does to satisfy you! However, if everyone you speak to is unable to help, understand that something happened. And, as much as you may not want to admit it, it could very well have been your fault!

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