Blast from the past: Three Dot Gone

I’m happy to announce I’ve found the full document which covered my issues with the ‘Three’ phone company way back in 2004. I post it here for posterity, and as a terrifying warning of what to expect when you mix bad hardware with bad software, or even just simply because I’m a vindictive bitch who’ll get her kicks any way she can.

ps. Just noticed I wrote I’d never go the fully integrated camera-phone-pda thing after my experiences with the Motorola A920 (‘A’ for Arse). I think an Apple device gives one pause for thought on how nice electronics can actually be, and my fully-fledged godphone (or Jesusphone to its friends) has healed my broken heart. Thanks Steve, with big smoochy kisses!

Three months of crap

My last mobile phone was one of those handy-dandy 3g telephones. It’s gone now, and I am a far happier person for it.

I am going to state now that this story is long, involved and does not have a happy ending for the technology offered by the ‘3’ company. It has a happy ending for me because I went back to tried and tested technology and won’t be going the fully integrated-pda-camera-3g-phone route while there is breath still in my body.

The story begins 3 days before a wedding when I was to do something for some very good friends, the Guru and the teacher. The guru is my friend who is an Uber Geek. The teacher is someone who makes 8 year olds cry for a living.

My task for the wedding was twofold: I was to pick up a cake (No big deal) then I was to take the cake to Melbourne zoo where my friends were to be married. Easy. That was until my existing telephone died on me. No phone, no way to contact with the guy inside the zoo who had to open the gates to let me in.

I’d thought of upgrading my palm and mobile to an integrated 3 phone for some time; and the one I had in mind was the Motorola A920. My Palm IIIc was getting slightly temperamental and the call rate for the 3 phones was better than average. I took the plunge.

The Albatross

Problems began immediately.

Over the 3 months I posessed this waste of plastic known to some as a mobile telephone, I experienced:

Connection problems – on days 1 to 2 because the system hadn’t picked up that I’d taken posession of the phone, and the rest of the time because the network intermittently didn’t like connecting incoming or outgoing calls.

Crash problems – where a known bug in the Motorola software – not mentioned on the day I’d purchased the phone – would completely shut down the windows box to which it was connected during and at the conclusion of a data synchronisation, no warnings, nothing. The computer screen would just go blank and the machine would start up like the Reset button had been pressed. The work around was – laughably – ‘don’t do anything while the system is synchronising’; the old ‘don’t do that then’ solution. A fix was ‘…confidently expected any day now’.

Outlook calendar problems – where the calendar events would be reset to occur on different days to those they were originally set up.

Spontaneous restart – where the phone would go through a restart sequence up to 15 times a day for no apparent reason. I eventually had to turn the thing off because the unbearably loud startup tune was keeping me awake at night. Yes, LOUD. Loud when there was complete silence around, nonexistent when any sort of background noise occurred anywhere in the general vicinity. Go figure.

Billing problems – where I had set up my bill one way and was being billed another, regardless of how many times I was told by the support staff that the problem had been rectified.

The 3 company is able to offer such good call rates because they contract their call centres off-shore. In India. I didn’t know this when I made my first complaints, and in my initial conversations with them about the phone, was surprised to get several Indian people in a row answering the calls. I asked where they were. They told me. The penny dropped.

No slight against the Indian people as a whole, but the ones employed by the 3 company in their call centres had no idea. Every month I would call at least once a month about these problems, and every month I would be told the problems had been fixed. In addition, the ones that were trying their best to help were being thwarted by the obviously non-functional software which handled the systems. I hope to hell that they’re not using the software I’m currently employed to write documentation for, because if they are, both companies are in trouble.

After 3 months of problems, culmunating on Christmas eve, I demanded I be released from the contract. I was sick to death of being told things were fixed when they were not. I first made this demand at the Chadstone branch where, that fateful Friday in September, I had signed contracts with the company. There I was told the customer service people had the power to sell phones and sign people up, but none to handle complaints on any matter whatsoever. So I found a telephone and made another call to Customer Service and demanded to be put in contact with a supervisor. I was told by the man that the supervisor could not give me any more help than he had. I insisted. The supervisor, after listening to me for a while, put me onto a local (read, located in Australia) customer support representative.

After a tense discussion, that included the terms ‘Telecommunications Ombudsman’, and ‘Breach of Contract’, the support person said that the company would replace the obviously defective handset. They would send a new one out and the old one should be sent back.

There was a small problem though.

‘Really?’ I thought. How unexpected.

She explained that normally it would only take a couple of days to send out a new phone. The problem was one of timing. This part of the complaint was taking place just after Christmas, therefore it would take a little longer to fulfill the new agreement since the technical people were all on holiday. I would receive the new phone within 10 days

20 days later, I emailed the company this letter, then called them again and spoke with someone else. She had had obviously read the call history on the account and was prepared to accept that the service was – to put it politely – unacceptable. She agreed with my point of view and stated that I would be released from the contract with no questions asked. A courier bag would be sent and all I had to do was to place the phone and any other gear I had received into it, seal it up and send it back to them. It would all, after 3 months of argument, be over.

Except, to add comedy to the farce, the courier bag didn’t turn up. When I called again to ask where it was, I was assured one would be sent out that day. The next day I received two bags. Amusing coincidence or simple incompetence? You be the judge. A courier was called to pick the bag up. The courier didn’t turn up. The courier was called again and finally, magically, the bag disappeared.

I thought it bright to do some posterior covering at this stage and called again to request written confirmation that the contract had indeed been cancelled. I was informed, by an irriated customer support person, that they didn’t issue such documents under any circumstances. The tone implied I should be glad they’d released me from the contract, that they’d done me a favour and I should stop calling.

The End. Or so I thought.

The next month I received another bill. The bill contained information to indicate that my service was still continuing and that my balance had been adjusted in the wrong way yet again. A smiling cartoon character stated that all was well.

I called local customer service again and was told that the very next bill would be a zero balance and would state that the contract had been terminated.

I seem to recall that the March bill was in fact a zero balance. Well, they finally got something right.

PS. I have two friends who are still with them though. They own the NEC flip phone that has a known error in it where it disconnects from the network without warning the user. This bug will be fixed Any Day Now. Promise!

But wait, you also get…

Three story so-far:

After 3 months of gross stupidity, culmunating in the return of the telephone and release from the 24 month contract I signed, I went on a holiday to the UK to recover from the horror of dealing with the Three telecommunications company.

But when I returned, I found there was a sequel to the horror.

Now read on…

Three story continues

For those of you who read my adventures in telecommunications page, you will be pleased to know that there has been a second volume of gross incompetence created Just This Evening.

I dropped past my old home today and picked up a bucketfull of mail and a few items of general amusement (including a rather lovely pressy from my good friend – and new American – Jo).

Amongst this mail were three letters from the wonderfully efficient Three telecommunications company.

I was understandably surprised to still be receiving mail from the company, since – to cut a long story short – I gave their pox-ridden Motorola A920 phone back to them at the end of January.

But mail I was receiving; mail that stated that there were still charges being incurred on the account, but that since the account was in credit, I shouldn’t pay anything.

Thanks for that guys. There I was thinking I’d have to pay my hard earned dollars for a service that I have neither had the facility nor the ability to use in approximately 5 months. I’ve been overseas you see and Three does not – to my knowledge – roam over in the UK.

Moving on however, I called the highly efficient Three Care customer service number (henceforth referred to as Three Scare). After 10 minutes of waiting, a rather nice Indian lady (see three.gone) got on the line and asked me what my number was.

I explained that it wasn’t likely to work since the number had been ported to another provider in January, but I gave it anyway just on the off-chance that it would work.

Silly me.

After a few minutes thrashing around with the system (I really hope it’s not the one created by my former employer in Cambridge), I was informed that the number wasn’t on the system. I resisted the urge to say something appropriate; the poor girl was having a hard enough time as it was.

For another few minutes we chatted and I eventually asked if I could get something in writing to tell me the pain of dealing with this mightily incompetent company was in fact over.

I was put on hold.

Then the lady came back, read out a tracking number, took my home phone number and told me that someone would contact me about this matter. I’m still waiting for the call.

The Final Fucking Straw (part three of an ongoing story)

I should have known better. Another bill turned up at my old address this month. This one is $83.35 in credit, an increase of $16.67 on last month.

Funnily enough, it has occurred to me that the $16.67 is in fact the exact figure that was supposed to be deducted from my account each month.

I’ll ask you to cast your mind back to the first part of this saga. When I bought the telephone, there was a rather nice $500 credit offered to anyone that ported their numer from another mobile company. I made various enquiries, and asked that this credit be distributed across the life of the contract: 24 months.500 divided by 24 is $20. However, after finding out that the full amount of each bill was being deducted from the $500, I was assured on several occasions that the remainder of said credit would be distributed across the life of the contract. The sum that would be deducted from each remaining bill was – approximately – $16.

So, they’ve got something right at last.

Well, almost right. The $16 should be getting deducted, not added.

And of course, it’s a little late to be getting something right, when I don’t actually own a telephone with the company anymore.

But I’ll ignore this for the moment, and continue this latest chapter of incompetence.

I called the company on their customer service line once again. I waited to be answered while having jaunty hip and Now music played at me. Then a nice Indian woman came on the line and asked me my telephone number. I told her my number (0413 606 997) and then said she wouldn’t find it in her system. She checked. I was right.

She tried to help me, but I wasn’t having a bar of it. I asked to be put onto a supervisor. I will note that I have tried very very hard not to lay blame at the feet of the customer service people in India. Simple statistics would indicate that I can’t be running into an idiot each time I call up. I am firmly laying blame for the constant problems at the foot of the systems that the Three company is using for their billing.

I will also state again that I really hope the systems are not those created by a company I worked for in Cambridge, UK, who create a ‘best-of-breed’ billing system used by many telecommunications companies worldwide.

More hold music later, I was finally speaking with a supervisor. She told me that she understood I was having severe difficulties. I confirmed this was the case, but restrained myself from saying ‘No, I really just enjoy stalking Three customer service people. The Indian accents are a real turn-on’.

Moving on.

She assured me that the bills would stop coming. I informed her that I’d heard this story before. Repeat for 10 minutes. I said I wanted written assurances from the Three company that it would stop billing me, and remove me from their systems. She said that she couldn’t do that. Repeat for the same 10 minutes.

My contention during this discussion was that the Three systems were obviously faulty and that at any time they could start charging me. Since I have no intention of paying for a service that I have neither the facility nor the inclination to use, the likelyhood that Three accounts would send my details to a credit collection agency are rather high in this event. I do not wish to have a bad credit rating levied against me because of the Three company’s gross incompetence.

In the end she asked if I would mind being put on hold while she found out if the written assurance could be sent out. After a further 5 minutes on hold, she came back.

She couldn’t give me a written assurance.

What she could do however would be to send out a document that contained a complete history of all of my complaints to Three since day one.

However, and there’s always a ‘however’, I had to send a letter to Three ‘authorising’ this document to be sent out. She gave me a fax number to send the letter to.

Then, ten minutes later, she called back. The number she had given me was incorrect. She gave me another number.

I wrote the letter, with the help of my good friend The Teacher, and faxed it to the second number.

And guess what? The number didn’t pick up. After several attempts to send the fax we gave up.

Then something even more bizarre happened. We received a call from a person at the number. It turned out the number was a voice number for the Orange telecommunications company, and had nothing whatsoever to do with the Three company (other than, of course, the two companies being owned by Hutchison Telecommunications of Australia).

So, to summarise, the Three customer service people had given me the number for another company to send the fax to. The conspiracy theorist in me thinks that this could have been a way for Three to ‘lose’ the fax. The realist in me says it’s just another example of the company’s obvious lack of any sort of clue.

The next morning I sent the fax to the original number. It seemed to go through. But just to make sure, I contacted Three Customer Service again. We went around in circles for a while about who I was and what the problem was, and the gentleman tried a different tack. He took the details of the latest bill. This was – supposedly – because the billing systems there were offline. I wonder if they exist at all?

I was assured once again that the problem would be solved. I was assured that someone would be contacting me. I was assured that … blah, blah, blah.

I made it really clear that I had no issues with the gentleman in question, but I said I’d heard it all before and that there was no joy any of the 15 plus times I’d been told these things in the past.

They have until COB 23rd July 2004 before I call in the dogs of the Telecommunications ombudsman. We shall see what transpires over the next week.

The story so-far:

This is the letter I ended up sending the company Three in January to ask where the hell the replacement phone had gotten to.

Good morning.

I am writing to complain in the strongest possible way about the total lack of service being given by your company.

My problems are many, but the icing on the cake at the moment is the fact that after 5 months you STILL can’t get the billing right.

When I signed up with your illustrious company, I requested the $400 credit (for transferring my mobile number to Three) be provided over the life of the contract (24 months). I was assured on the day that this was indeed the case. I was assured the day after too, when I had to take the phone back because it didn’t work. I was assured the next month when I complained to your Indian service staff that the bill wasn’t set up properly. I was assured also in December. I was also assured by service staff, a manager and a complaints person 11 days ago when I had finally complained that the telephone was no longer suitable for the purpose for which it was bought (ie. as a telephone and PDA). For your information, the telephone won’t receive calls, intermittently turns itself off and on and completely screws up appointments (evidenced by the fact that it started beeping at me on Saturday morning about an appointment that was due to occur on Thursday afternoon).

The telephone is in the back of my desk drawer at the moment and will not be retrieved.

If you managed to get this far, you will possibly realise that I am NOT AT ALL HAPPY.

I was also assured by the complaints department who I was transferred to over a week ago that a replacement telephone would be sent to me within 10 days and that this was the only way I might be able to either get a working telephone or released from the contract. This has yet to appear.

I would appreciate your getting back to me today about this matter. Suffice it to say that you won’t be able to do so on my mobile because it’s in the drawer. You can do this via the email address stated below or by calling me on +61 3 9999 9999.

This is the last time I intend communicating with you about what is laughably called your service. The next communication will be via legal means through a solicitor or the telecommunications ombudsman.

Sincerely,

Lisa Sinclair.

The story so-far:

This is the letter I ended up sending the company Three in response to nine months of incompetence.

Dear Sir or Madam,

Your customer records will no-doubt indicate I have contacted the Three Company on several occasions since January 2004. Following a telephone conversation with a Three Customer Supervisor today, July 16th, I have been requested to formally document the ongoing problems I have been experiencing.

As your customer records will indicate, my contract with the Three Company ceased in January 2004. This was after long and protracted discussions over a period of three months concerning:

  • functional difficulties with the Motorola A920 telephone, and
  • constant billing issues.

It was agreed that I would be released from my contract, and that I would return the telephone. I duly returned said telephone by courier envelope.

However, I am still receiving tax invoices some 6 months after the telephone was returned. This is difficult to understand since:

  • I do not possess a telephone with the Three Company, having already returned it,
  • My mobile number – 0413 606 997 – was ported to Virgin in January 2004 as part of the contract termination agreement, and
  • I was outside the country and therefore unable to access any Three Australia services

On my return to Australia in June, I contacted Three Customer Service to request information as to why I was still receiving bills. I was assured – once again – that the billing issues would cease and that there would be no more correspondence from the Three Company. I was also informed I would be contacted about the matter. However, this contact did not occur and I am still receiving correspondence. Please refer to customer reference 170170 for further information.

Point in fact: another tax invoice from the Three Company arrived in the mail just this week. This was rather interesting as I was under the impression that the problem had been resolved and that I would not be receiving any further bills. I once again spoke with a Three Customer Service Representative. She – like all the other representatives – agreed that there was a problem.

I feel that this dispute has gone on long enough. As of today, July 16th, I have demanded formalised documentation that states clearly that the Three Company will:

  • no longer send documentation of any kind to my address,
  • cease and desist all billing within the Three Company systems under my name and under my terminated account number.

If I do not receive this documentation, together with a list of the complaints to date, by COB 23 July 2004, I will be advising the Telecommunications Ombudsman of these difficulties. Furthermore, I will also be considering legal advice and may choose to contact the media about this matter.

Sincerely,

Lisa Sinclair

PS. I was contacted 20 minutes after my conversation with your Three Customer Service Supervisor, and was told that the original fax number I had been given was incorrect, and I was given a new number, 07 38362754. However, after 5 separate attempts to send this fax to, a number provided by your Three Customer Supervisor, it turned out to be a direct voice line to Orange Customer service. Once again, I ask myself how things could get so massively screwed up? The answer of course is that I should have known

The story so-far:

This is the letter I wanted to send to the company Three in response to nine months of incompetence.

Dear Sir, Madam or Fuckwit

Re: The Final Fucking Straw!

It is with no surprise that I am having to contact your moronic company for the fiftieth time in 9 months with regard to yet another problem that adds to the existing list of gross incompetence that I have so-far encountered. Quite frankly I’m getting sick to death of having to call your customer service staff up at least once a month to ask them what the hell is going on with my telephone or the billing. This could have been a positive relationship, but the jury is back and has given a Guilty verdict. The charge was – of course – terrible service, appaling telephones and network coverage that was equivalent to covering an amputated leg with a bandaid.

Once again I have been forced to threaten the involvement of a third party before you actually start paying attention. In this case, the dogs of the Telecommunications Ombudsman will be tearing down your doors unless you do exactly what I am going to ask.

But before we get to my demands, I will – for the sake of completeness – give a brief run-down of the history of this dispute. I hope you’re sitting comfortably, because this is a story that makes the adventures of Odysseus look like a quick run down the driveway to grab the junk mail.

The first issue was that the telephone would not link up to the network as promised. You are the first company I have come across that has had difficulty with this apparently simple procedure. Telstra, Vodafone, Optus, Orange and Virgin had no problems with this task. Why did you screw it up? How hard can it be to change something like a phone number over to another network? For a supposedly brand new, third generation network, I would have thought apparently simple things like this would not be a problem. I’d be inclined to remove the ‘h’ and substitute a ‘U’ for the ‘i’ in the word ‘third’, which would result in the network being named according to what it actually is. That was an insult by the way.

Back to the story however.

The next problem was a doozy. Now, I’ll state for the record that I am not a Microsoft fan. Their software is buggy and prone to crashing in the same way as a blind man behind the wheel of a road train in rush hour traffic. THEY DON’T NEED ANY MORE HELP FROM YOU!

I present exhibit ‘B’. Defective software that crashes computers when used.

The Motorola telephone that I purchased had a function that meant that the data could be synchronised with the data on a computer. That means that the telephone and the computer records end up the same. Of course, being the sort of person I am, I expected this to actually work. Silly me.

I found out later that the fact the computer crashed – that is, turned itself off and on again with no regard for anything that happened to be open at the time – was a ‘known issue’. This meant that whenever anyone with that type of telephone synchronised their data, they ran the very real risk of losing lots of work without any warnings, or pauses; just a black screen and then the Microsoft windows logo appears on the screen. It would have been nice to know this before buying the telephone!

If this wasn’t enough, I had to fight to get information about this issue. I ended up at one of your stores who knew nothing about it. They called technical services, chatted for 10 minutes before putting me on to explain the situation. Then the tech-head on the other end needed to have the it explained three times before confidently announcing that the problem was a known issue and that they were waiting for Motorola to come up with a fix. Brilliant! Another huge leap for customer service from the Three company. Later in the overall dispute, I also found out that the calendar functions were totally screwed up by using this software. A case in point was being reminded of a Friday afternoon meeting on Saturday morning. What? Meanwhile, nobody was being told of these issues were they? You kept selling these pox-ridden telephones without warning your customers of the potential for disaster if they actually dared to use the functions that were advertised!

And then there were the billing issues. I took advantage of the $500 credit for porting my telephone number to your network. When I signed the contract, I asked that this credit be distributed across the 2 years I was under contract. This meant that I would have to pay $20 less on each bill.

And this got screwed up too. Of course, I complained and was told it would be fixed. And I complained the next month and was told it would be fixed then as well. I began to consider the possibility that I was being deceived.

The next problem I had was that the telephone started turning itself off. Then it would turn itself on again. This repeated 15 times in a 10 minute period over Christmas 2003 before I finally pulled the battery off of the device in order to shut it the hell up. I’ll note for the record that I hate Christmas on general terms. The defective telephone did not improve my mood.

Further calls to your customer service staff revealed more stupidity. I must ask whether you specifically requested morons during your recruitment drive, because you seem to have hired at least a third of the world population of idiots. I repeated my problems again. I was put on hold. I repeated the problems to someone else, and to someone else after that. Is it too much to ask that you provide some way that your staff can record issues so that they can be passed onto others? I understand that you’ve got your customer service department in India to reduce costs, but you’ve got to give them something other than an etch-a-sketch to work with! I’ve heard of cutting costs, but this is ridiculous!

And then I was told you would send me a new telephone out to replace the obviously terminally defective one that I owned. Funny how it didn’t turn up though. Given our past rocky relationship with promises kept (or in this case, not), I wasn’t surprised.

Finally in January 2004, I spoke to one of your customer service people – located handily in the same country as I was – who agreed that the service and the telephone were not up to any meaningful and/or dictionary definition of the word ‘standard’. In order to finally be rid of the Motorola A920 telephone (I’m sure now that the ‘a’ stands for ‘Albatross’), and be released from the remainder of the contract, all I had to do was to send the telephone back in a courier envelope. The customer service representative said she would put an envelope in the mail that day.

And then, surprise, surprise, the envelope didn’t turn up. I wondered if I should do some research and find out I’d angered the god of telecommunications, because my problems were becoming biblical in proportion. I felt like Jobe being tested by God. Every time I looked over my shoulder I wished I hadn’t.

After a brief call another envelope was sent out. Of course, then first envelope turned up as well!

So I returned the phone and ported my number to Virgin. And all was good; Virgin Just Worked. There’s a message there if you care to look for it.

Of course, I should have known better than to count my blessings. The vengeful god of telecommuncations threw another thunderbolt in my direction.

It was the bills again. Always the bills.

The problem was that bills kept coming. Sure, the quantities on the bills decreased, ending at zero in March, but then I received a bill in April, May, June and July. To date I have $84 credit on an account that should not exist, for a telephone I no longer own, and with a company that has not in any way redeemed itself in the anals of customer service, and which is at the top of the same list that One-Tel was just before people started asking pointed questions about its service. If there was an Oscar for worst performance, the Three Company would be a multiple award winner and would go down in history as having won more than The Lord of the Rings!

Why am I still receiving bills I ask myself? Surely you’ve gotten the message that I don’t want to talk to you anymore. This is the telecommunications equivalent of stalking. Constant harassment from you will not make me like you. No matter how hard you try, this relationship is over, consigned to the dustbin of partnerships. I can’t even say I have fond memories of the good times, because, quite frankly, THERE WERE NONE!

And now to my final demand. You will no-doubt be happy to know that I have no intention of contacting your company ever again.

No, if you insist on sending me bills for a service I cannot use, the next contact you will be receiving will be from the Telecommunications Ombudsman, closely followed by the cruddiest tabloid television current affairs show I can find, or my lawyers; whichever can get to the telephones first.

Because, after 9 months of this, I am completely at a loss to understand how I can convince you just to go away. I don’t want to speak to you. I don’t want to hear from you. I have no interest in the Three network, or any Third generation telecommunications. I use public telephones rather than mobile telephones these days! See what you’ve done? I’m now telecommunications phobic thanks to our relationship!

Please, just take the hint and go away.

No means NO!

Yours in revulsion,

etcetera…

Author: gotheek

Sometime writer, full time human.