At Sprint, Nothing's SIMple

Allison and her husband wanted to reduce the amount of minutes they’re signed up for on their Sprint-Nextel cellphone plan. While that was a hassle in of itself and Allison ended up getting a phone with another company, the fun really begins once “”Insert SIM” started flashing on her husband’s phone (which is on the Nextel network, which uses SIM cards). Sprint seemed convinced that the SIM card had been reported as lost or stolen and couldn’t be activated. This was very bad as it was her husband’s business line. What followed were a series of 45+ minute call time waits, disconnected customer service calls, fruitless visits to the store, conflicting and confusing information given by different customer service reps and tech support personnel. During the fracas, her husband lost one customer who hadn’t been able to reach him during the outage. Over 100 days into the reign of new Sprint CEO Dan Hesse and shennanigans like the following story are still happening. Oh Danny-boy, are one of the “nukes” you have planned for revamping Sprint aimed at customer service?

My husband and I share a cell phone plan through Nextel (Sprint). My contract expired in July 2007, but my husband’s contract remains through July 2008. In early February, I called to reduce our plan because we were not taking advantage of all we were paying for. I was told by a customer service agent that because I was out of contract that I would need to sign a new, 2 year contract just to reduce our plan, even though my husband is the primary account holder and was still under contract.

Frustrated with their lack of service on numerous counts, I decided to cancel my phone altogether and then reduce my husband’s plan (all within my rights, according to customer service). Upon calling to cancel in late February, I was told that the information I was given about not being able to reduce my plan was wrong and that I could make changes at any time. However, at this point, I had already obtained service elsewhere. So, my phone was disconnected as of March 11, as I requested.

Fast forward to March 20 . My husband’s phone “magically” appeared with a message saying “Insert SIM.” After calling technical support, we were instructed to take the phone to the local service dealer for further instruction. At the local Nextel store, I was told that we had a bad SIM card and we would need to purchase one for $35, since we did not have insurance. (By the way – no one ever told me insurance was needed for the SIM card.) I had the idea of using the SIM card tied to my recently disconnected account since I no longer had any need for it. The technicians in the store told me that “Sure, you can do that.” They instructed me to call the technical support line to get assistance in re-activating the SIM for my husband’s phone.

And so begins the nightmare. I called tech support, where I explained my story and was put on hold numerous times, only to finally be told that my SIM card had been placed in “lost or stolen” and couldn’t be activated. This was impossible, as I had been using this card through March 11, at which time my phone was disconnected by Nextel (Sprint). When I disputed the “lost or stolen” status, I was placed on hold again, where I actually got disconnected from the call after almost 45 minutes.

I called tech support again, where I explained my story for a second time. After an hour or so of being put on hold and answering more questions, I was finally told that the SIM card was tied to my old account and they would have to put in a request for a release in order to activate it on my husbands phone. The technician put in this request and instructed me to call back on [Easter] Sunday, as it would take 48 hours for the release to happen.

On Sunday, I called back, using the 800 number given to me by the technician. To my dismay, we had to go through the entire story again, where we were once again told that my SIM was in “lost or stolen.” Even after explaining what we were told Friday, it seemed as if the technician was just giving me “canned” answers and wasn’t really listening to what I was saying. We were shuffled through their system, where we spent more time on hold than we did pleading our case.

At one point, the technician asked me if I had ever filed a claim on my old phone, which I had. I told him that I had filed an insurance claim over two years ago, but only on the phone, not the SIM. I explained that I had been using this SIM card successfully from the time I opened my account in April 2003 until it’s disconnection on March 11, 2008. At no point had there ever been a claim of “lost or stolen” on my SIM card. He put me on hold again, to return to tell me that since I had filed a claim on this SIM that it had been permanently put in “lost or stolen.” I was VERY frustrated at this point, since it was obvious I wasn’t being listened to. I complained to him and expressed my frustration at not being listened to. At this point, the conversation had been going on for almost two hours – on Easter Sunday. I was put on hold again where, you guessed it, I was magically disconnected again.

After being disconnected again, and after spending nearly five hours on the phone with Nextel (Sprint), I decided to take my phone into the retail store the next day, where maybe someone else would have better luck.

Thankfully, the individuals in the store were sympathetic to my situation and they actually listened to what I had to say. They took my information with instructions to call me as soon as something was solved. At 4pm, I received a call from the local store telling me that they were just not going to release this SIM from lost or stolen and there was nothing they could do. Extremely frustrated, I explained that it was completely unfair for me to have to buy another SIM when I had one that could work. I felt like they were preventing this from working to profit from this situation by making me purchase another card. The CSR offered to try “one more” supervisor before she gave up, and I insisted that she exhaust every effort to make this right.

After an hour, she called me back to tell me that the SIM card was NOT in “lost or stolen,” but was tied to my old account and would have to be released from my old account in order to be activated on my husband’s account and that it would take 3-5 days for this process to complete. THIS IS THE SAME THING THEY WERE SUPPOSED TO DO ON FRIDAY! Now we were looking at being without our phone for up to 5 more days, which would have been more than a week total. This is my husband’s business line, and we had already lost one customer who had been unable to reach us due to the downtime of the phone. The CSR let me know that the only way to eliminate this downtime was by – get this – purchasing a new SIM card ($35 + tax) or purchasing a new phone (and signing a 2 year contract).

To shorten the story, I ended up purchasing a SIM card. I came very close to getting a new phone, but I decided to put my frustrations aside and make the right decision as a consumer, which was to NOT reward a company with such CRAPPY customer service. I said all along that I wouldn’t buy another SIM card, and I still think they should have given me one for all I went through, but at least I only have to wait until July to be rid of the Nextel by Sprint nightmare. Never, at any time, did I hear an apology or a “What can we do to make you happy?” It’s so obvious that the consumer does not matter.

To put the “icing-on-the-cake,” when my husband checked his long overdue voice mails, there was a message from Sprint, letting us know that the SIM card had been released and we were now free to use it. Oh, the irony!

-Allison, Disgruntled Sprint Customer until July 2008

Comments

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  1. zero_o says:

    I thought SIM cards were only on GSM phones?

  2. Parting says:

    Just ask to credit 35$+tax for the SIM card, since it’s obviously company’s fault.

  3. Sounds like buying another non-sprint branded phone was the problem.

  4. thekicker says:

    SIM cards on Sprint? Did I miss something? It sounds like the husband is using a phone that’s not supposed to work on Sprint.

  5. zero_o says:

    It sounds like the wrong phone was purchased, Sprint/Nextel and Verizon phones are CDMA and they don’t use SIM Cards (AT&T and T-Mobile do). I’m confused.

  6. ced91071 says:

    Nextel phones use SIM cards also but they are incompatible with GSM SIM cards due to the IDEN network.

  7. ced91071 says:

    Sprint is CDMA & Nextel is IDEN (SIM cards).

  8. scoobydoo says:

    Nextel phones use SIM cards.

  9. Ah Nextel uses simcards, Same thing happened to my Iphone when the 2nd firmware upgrade came out, “Insert sim” popped up for no reason. i ended up having to go to the apple store Make a appointment and come back the next day. After swapping two more Iphones and conference calls with ATT they finally gave up and told me I had to make a new account. Yeah I feel your pain.

    Off topic but a good question, If Apple products are so easy to use and trouble free why is the “Genius bar” always jam packed and require a reservation?

  10. Ben Popken says:

    @thekicker: @zero_o: It’s a Nextel phone. Nextel uses SIM cards.

  11. davebg5 says:

    Contrast this w/my recent experience w/Verizon wireless.

    I tore my achilles and was going to be working from home for a couple of weeks. This meant I’d be dialing in for numerous calls on my cell phone and that I would easily exceed my monthly minutes.

    One quick call to Verizon CS and they switched me to an unlimited plan. Once I was back in the office, another quick call to go back to my original plan. All along the way the CS agents confirmed repeatedly that I would not be renewing my contract and carefully explained how the rates would be pro-rated and appear on my bill. Furthermore, when I called the second time to revert to my original plan the CS rep made sure to calculate how many minutes I would have (pro-rated) for the duration of my current billing cycle…just to make sure I wouldn’t get caught short, which would have defeated the purpose of switcing in the first place.

    All in all, a great CS experience. This is why I pay higher rates and forgoe the New Hotness in cell phones (*cough* iPhone *cough*) to stay w/Verizon.

  12. howie_in_az says:

    @davebg5: … but you could unlock the iPhone and use it on Verizon’s network…

  13. alulim says:

    It sounds like it was a legacy Nextel or iDen device. They still use sim cards. I’m a little confused tho, your sim card went bad, the problem was diagnosed immediately. You were too cheap to buy a new card and fix the problem, which you ultimately did. How much money did your “thriftiness” cost your husband?

  14. Devidence says:

    I’ve had my share of fights with Verizon, but I won’t get into that. I wouldn’t sought out an higher level sprint 800 number before getting that deep into this problem. Emails and alternate customer service lines are pretty easy to find online. You shouldn’t have to do that, but hey. Calling the main line repeatedly makes you start over many times.

  15. Devidence says:

    *would’ve

  16. rickhamilton620 says:

    @howie_in_az: Not really, the iPhone is GSM only.

  17. acknight says:

    @howie_in_az:

    Good luck with making a GSM (iPhone) work on a CDMA (Verizon) network…

  18. Allison4 says:

    Posting on my behalf here -

    @alulim: Yes, I was too “cheap” to buy the SIM card, especially when there was a better option. Only when Sprint refused to help me did I finally give in and buy one. I had no choice.

    @Devidence: I am brand new to Consumerist and ironically, this happened to me a few days after I found this site. I am now aware of the alternate customer service lines and know what to do should something like this happen in the future.

  19. QuantumRiff says:

    I looked into combining accounts with my fiancee to save money. We each pay about $40/month for 450 minutes. They told us we would have to get a family plan. So the nearest they could do was to charge us $70/month for 700 minutes. (200 minutes less, and saving $10/month, plus a small “fee” to convert the accounts), Totally not worth it. To get the next higher one, we would have to pay $80/or so a month, and get 1100 minutes. We left pissed that there was no real savings for having multiple phone lines.

  20. oakie says:

    @alulim: werd.

    buy the damn sim, use phone, get old sim sorted out, request credit for their mismanagement of the situation.

    by the end of the story, i seriously wanted to choke the writer for being such a retarded bitch, functioning purely on principle and not neurons. sounds like her “big beef” with her first cancellation skewed her ability to think logically in resolving the situation in a more advantageous way.

    and trying to use the negative outcome of her hardheadedness to try and stimulate sympathy from the readers… i sure hope you Consumerist readers arent stupid enough to fall for it.

  21. oakie says:

    @howie_in_az: please, dont ever post in a tech related article ever again. just sit in the back of the class and dont raise your hand to speak until a Best Buy or Wal-Mart article shows up.

  22. Buran says:

    @alulim: I assume not wanting to change phone numbers had something to do with it. But that’s just my guess.

  23. BugMeNot2 says:

    Sorry, this made me laugh: “My husband’s phone “magically” appeared with a message..”

    I know what she was trying to say, but this makes it sound like the phone just appeared in front of him/them. He’s sitting on the john when all of a sudden *POOF* his phone appears in a cloud of smoke, hovering inches from his face.

    @Buran:

    Had she just bought the new SIM in the first place, he still would’ve kept his number. It was just a SIM swap.

    And really, just scanning the article again, I count up 2.75 hours she says she spent dealing with this, not even considering all the other time that was actually running around, rather than phone time. That right there puts her at ~$12.75 an hour, or, if you want to figure in the 2 hours on Easter as holiday pay, ~$9.33 an hour. My time is worth considerably more to me than that. By the time you add in the unaccounted for time (such as the trips to the Sprint store, etc.) by trying to save $35, she gave away several times that in man-hours. Not a good trade-off in my book.

  24. Allison4 says:

    @alulim – Call me cheap, but yes, I did not want to purchase another SIM card, especially since I had one from my old account that should have worked.

    @Devidence – I have only been a consumerist reader for a few weeks. Ironically, this happened to me shortly afterwards. Thanks to this site, I now know there are ways to get the alternate customer service lines.

    @oakie – I am not a “retarded bitch.” I did not have a beef with Sprint over the initial call. It was relevant to the story to show that the extra SIM card I had on hand was legitimate. I don’t want sympathy. Just wanted to share my story. How would YOU have handled this?

  25. kc2idf says:

    @zero_o:

    I thought SIM cards were only on GSM phones?

    GSM and iDEN. As such, NEXTEL phones have SIM cards, while Sprint phones (CDMA) do not.

  26. Buran says:

    @BugMeNot2: Okay, does look like I misread the story a bit. But, I can see her point — why be out some money that you shouldn’t be out just because Sprint’s notoriously bad service can’t get its act together? I’ve filed complaints and chargebacks and fought hard for less money than that — to some it becomes about the principle (I don’t let mail fraud just happen and do nothing, for example) and less about the actual charge.

    So I don’t think it’s so bad to not want to allow someone to profit off bad service.

  27. Invisobel says:

    I’m just entertained by “To shorten the story,….” at the end of the two page story. I love when people tell you an hour long story and then say at the end “Well to make a long story short…”

    I know it’s not relevant, just funny to me.

  28. chiieddy says:

    A horrible customer experience for sure, but I have to wonder why he couldn’t call in and check his voicemail? You don’t HAVE to do it from the phone.

  29. deepsprint says:

    Getting a incorrect “lost or stolen” flag removed from a sim card removed should take no more than a 10 minute call with a competent agent. In the out-sourced call centers Sprint uses they get paid by the call, not the quality of the outcome despite the lip-service to resolving the issue. So these call centers have very little incentive to invest in training their employees and every incentive to churn the calls quickly which is why there is no much transferring and passing the buck.

    Try threatening to cancel to get escalated to Retention where the training is generally a lot better. Talk to the rep to see if they know how to fix the problem. If they don’t, ask to be escalated to their supervisor. If that doesn’t work, hang up and call back and shop for a better rep.

    Sadly, considering the value of a customer’s time, you might just be better off buying a new sim card and writing off the old one.

  30. GearheadGeek says:

    Yes, former Nextel customers have a hard time of it, they’re the minority of Sprint’s customers, all that… but the couple in the article should have just bitten the bullet and gotten a new SIM if it’s the man’s business number. Write off the $35 on your taxes as a cost of doing business and move on, try to get a credit based on that expense if you can squeeze it out of Sprint later but don’t lose business by being unreachable. It’s important to run your own business better than Sprint is running theirs.

  31. Nadrojj says:

    It is not as easy as you think to get a SIM card off the lost or stolen unit list. Usually there is some kind of mistake on their end by either putting it on the lost or stolen list when it should go on the de-act list, or vice-versa. Most of the time it’s just better to purchase a new sim card, since sim cards are tied to accounts. When you make a claim on a phone through the third party insurance the sim gets filed as lost or stolen also. I know this because I work for a Sprint/Nextel Authorized repair center and I see nightmares like this happen all the time.

    Your best bet was to just buy the sim card for 35 dollars then call up retentions tell them what went down and they would have credited your account for 35.00 on your next bill.

  32. dextrone says:

    SIM cards are not even worth 1$ and I doubt that it takes 34$ to activate it….

    They almost give away the sim cards in the UK (and I’ve seen several free sim card promos, for the prepaid plans).

    So if the SIM card is almost worthless, should they really charge 34$ for the activation?

  33. GearheadGeek says:

    @dextrone: It’s just customer abuse. Especially since Nextel knows that a huge fraction of its customers are business users hooked on the walkie-talkie wierdness. Fewer people will see it as an activation fee if they call it a charge for the SIM card itself.

  34. Smegzor says:

    This story is just silly and I stopped reading when her husband lost a customer. Ok so maybe she can save $35 on a new card, but what is the value of losing a customer? I’m willing to bet its more than $35.

    There are some things that are worth fighting for, but in this particular case, buy another SIM card stupid!

  35. kretara says:

    My brother was a long time Nextel RF tech. He really liked his job, even though he admitted that Nextel had some serious issues.
    Once Sprint took over, he told me everything changed dramatically. Most of the RF techs in the State were laid off and a majority of the cell tower techs were laid off. Quality of call monitoring was no longer a priority and the checking for issues with reception/dropping calls was also no longer a priority.
    He recently left Sprint because he was just sick of having to bow to corporate decisions to continue to lower standards and quality.

  36. Allison4 says:

    @ Smegzor – I don’t understand why the story was “silly.” I don’t know how else to tell it. Their customer service is completely inept and I was simply sharing my experience. I didn’t get into all the details, but the two days we were without service were on the weekend and we were promised the SIM would be active on [Easter] Sunday. Almost none of our business is conducted on the weekend, so we took the risk of the other SIM card being activated like Sprint told us it would be. On Monday, I was in the store buying a new SIM.

    I thought this website was the “CONSUMERist.” Many of you here are picking me apart because of the way I handled this situation, but the point is – it shouldn’t ever have to be this way.

  37. greed_is_good says:

    I gotta tell you, Allison4, that you won a pyrrhic victory, defined as “A victory achieved at great or excessive cost”. Yep, you really showed those poor slobs at the Sprint Toll-Free number who the boss was. I tried calling General Motors toll-free number to convince them that I shouldn’t have to buy a new water pump for my new Chevy when I had a perfectly good one sitting around somewhere from an old Oldsmobile that I sold. Yep. It was the company’s fault that your husband’s phone broke, it was the company’s fault that they have the audacity to charge you for a replacement part and make it all go away on the spot, it was the company’s fault that you lost business because you didn’t bother to check your voice mail from any phone in the world for free, and it was the company’s fault that you cancelled in the first place. Yep. NOTHING is your fault, nosiree. You, madam, are a genius. Me? Whenever I have a broken arm, I just call my health provider’s toll-free number because I expect them to know more than the doctors do. Same with my lawn care, I just call 800-TRUEGREEN. Yep, I have all the faith in toll-free numbers. All the faith in the world. Hey look….pigs are flying by.

  38. topeka says:

    Sprint customers are calling in about messed up bills for the Simply Everything Plan. Customers are choosing to go back to old plans or leave Sprint for a competitor. Sprint still continues to treat customers and employees badly. Bad employees still exist from the top to bottom.

  39. joant says:

    Tried to switch plans from 1500 minutes to 700. So after about 30 minutes on hold and another 30 minutes explaining what I wanted (and for some strange reason, why), they switched me.

    Then I got my bill for both the 1500 plan and the 700. Minutes credited to account, no money refunded.

  40. prescott says:

    Sprnt is called “the big, yellow mess”.

  41. Anonymous says:

    Let me just say WOW. No, SIM cards are not covered under the insurance program. Like all other technologies, SIM cards do go bad eventually. You even said it yourself that you had the SIM card for 5 years. I’m going to guess that your husbands SIM card was about as old as that. SHIT HAPPENS, GET OVER IT. Like it or not, SIM cards aren’t cheap, even for Sprint/Nextel.