Tough Love From A Current T-Mobile Retention Rep

Taking a break from our whirl of ex-cellphone reps revenging themselves on their former employers, here’s a current T-mobile retention rep telling you how to handle the cancellation call, as well as a perspective on their thought processes.

You might be put off by the underlying condescending tone, but retention reps usually have an hyper-developed sense of their own power. Probably because they do wield a great deal of power when you’re trying to cancel your cellphone contract, and as he says, the relationship you build with him in the first two-minutes will make all the difference between a pleasant and a fractious parting with your cellphone company…

(Photo: gordasm)

Hi guys. I’m a CURRENT retention rep for T-Mobile USA. Here’s some tips for your readers on how to handle the cancellation call – and some inside tips on our thought processes.

Be Patient. We’re doing our job. – Face it folks, we want to talk to you about as much as you want to talk to us. If you genuinely want to end your service, then we’ll take care of you. Just like you though, we do have requirements for our job that we must perform to keep it. I know you don’t care at that point if I can save you money with a preferred plan. I know you don’t want a new phone and contract from us. Just humor us for an extra 30 seconds and let us make our offer as is required so we can move on to taking care of your cancel request. Our goal is to have you squared away within 8 minutes of answering. Often times sooner – 480 seconds is a target for average resolution time. Those eight minutes will be a lot more pleasant if you…

Be friendly and courteous. – I know there are a handful of reps out there that for whatever reason are just (insert expletive here). Most of us though are in this job because we like what we do. I personally took this job because I like talking to people and solving problems. Those skills took me out of the general queues and into retention and high-value queues. Do whatever with the gen reps. When you’re talking to a Customer Loyalty rep, though, your courtesy and conversation while we’re doing you’ve requested will be appreciated and reflected back ten-fold. This will also go a long way to help you…

Get the best deal. – So you don’t really want to cancel, but you, like countess others, understand the game. Threaten to cancel, get transferred to me, and get that POS RAZR for 29.99 shipped instead of 49.99 after rebate. This works great if you’re fully qualified (11 or more months since previous 12 month contract phone purchase or 22 months since 2 yr contract phone purchase and on a 39.99 rate plan or higher for an equal or greater number of months since same purchase – but months suspended for no pay don’t count as months towards upgrade) But if you’re not fully qualified, you don’t get the rebate for the RAZR, so the gen price is 99.99. My price is 79.99. If we’ve got good rapport going, I won’t even mention that 79.99 price to you. I can change order forms in about two clicks of a mouse and get it for you at 29.99 if I’m feeling frisky (albeit against policy, and I’m usually not going to ask my coach to violate policy) and if you’re treating me right. I’m not Monty Hall. This isn’t Let’s Make a Deal. Your kindness to me, and the relationship we build in the first 2 minutes of the call is going to determine if I am willing to sacrifice my policy compliance to keep you as a customer. I will do anything I can possibly do for you if you will understand that there are limits to what I can do, and if you will try to…

Understand the system. – When we give you a handset price, that’s our price. We cannot override that. We cannot adjust handset costs. We cannot issue credits to offset handset costs. It is simply not an option. If you don’t like the price, simply say no thank you. Don’t ask for free service. Can’t do that either. Once upon a time we had a 6th month free offer. That’s gone. Code is unrecognized now. We CAN however often times set you up on grandfathered features. For example, you want a fat messaging package on your 2 line family plan. 19.95 per month for unlimited messaging for families is right up your alley. If you’re renewing a contract, I’ll add it (or even change your existing feature) with the old FTMSG999 code and hook you up at half price. I can work the system that way. I can’t make the system give something free. Also understand that the fact that you’ve been with us since it was Arial/Voicestream/Powertel/Western Wireless is wonderful in our eyes. We truly do appreciate that loyalty. We also understand it’s been 3 years since you last got a phone, and you need a new one. But please understand that you reached maximum discount eligibility 2 years and a month ago, and you’re not entitled to anything different because you didn’t take advantage of that eligibility yet. You’ll still get a better deal than a new customer, and most of us will toss in whatever perks we can to you for that loyalty. Speaking of credits…

Adjustment guidelines. – The hard and fast rule in retention is that if you’ve been with us less than 10 months, the most credit we can give by policy is 50% of your monthly charges. After ten months, we can offer up to 100%. Doesn’t mean you’ll get that much (See tip #2), but that’s the cap. If it’s a situation where an adjustment is my only save strategy, here’s my steps. Let’s say that you get over to me because you gave a trigger statement to a gen rep since you were charged a $100 out of warranty fee for water damage on an exchanged handset. (bonus tip: triggers include asking contract end date, mentioning canceling service, mentioning another provider’s offer – all this will get you transferred to me if your line has been active greater than 10 months) First off, I’d listen to you tell me all about how you never dropped it in water (while you fail to realize that leaving it on the shelf in the bath while you take your steaming morning shower also induces water damage indicators) and how you will not pay the fee, and if we don’t take it off, you’ll cancel. Great. Makes no difference to me. So don’t pay it. You’ll be canceled soon enough anyway, and it won’t count against my numbers. While you’re telling me how inept the manufacturer’s return center is at diagnosing water damage on devices they specialize in, I’m looking first at your service start date, your contract details, then your payment history (to garner the total amount of your cash we deposited), and finally your adjustment history. So say you’ve been with us 38 months. In those 38 months, you’ve paid us 1600 dollars with an additional $400 in adjustments. So that means in just over 3 years, we’ve paid 25% of your bills for you in adjustments. Guess what percentage of your monthly charges I’m going to offer you? You guessed it – 25%. Now that may go higher, remember, I can go as high as 100%. That’s where tip #2 again kicks in. But regardless, the only way you’re getting a credit higher than one month’s service is in a re-rate situation where you went over your minutes, and agree to a new contract for a new plan in exchange for crediting overage less cost difference between old and new plans. And since we’re on the topic of plans…

Ask for a preferred plan. – So your new plan isn’t working out anymore. Don’t settle for what’s on the website. Don’t settle for what the gen rep gatekeeper tells you about. Talk to retention. Just mention “cancel” to the IVR. We’ve got a handful of unadvertised, current plans. A popular example is 1000 minutes, free nights and weekends for $39.99. What’s the catch for saving 120 bucks a year over the regular offering? In this case, we sign you up for 2 more years. Only want one year? Take 800 minutes instead for the same price – and get 200 more minutes than the standard plan at that price point. And along those lines…

Don’t fear the contract. – If you just signed a two year contract 6 months ago, all a 2 year contract does is add 6 months to the end. A one year in the same scenario doesn’t change anything. If you’re out of contract, every special offer I throw your way is going to have a contract attached. If the contract is the deal breaker, the one and only thing I’ll do out of the ordinary for you is change you to a current advertised plan and waive the contract. I’ll do that to save your line(s), but apart from that, I’ll cut my losses and cancel as you wish.

Finally, Do your homework before you call. – Don’t insult my intelligence and ask me to give you a Sidekick for free cause Sprint will. Don’t tell me that AT&T is going to give you a thousand minute family plan and two new blackberries and BIS service for 49.99 a month with no contract. My response to that nonsense? “Wow! What a great deal Mr. Beayesser! Are you porting your T-Mobile number to AT&T? No? Well then let me tell you some basic information about cancellation as I prepare to cancel your account.” If you’re going to bluff, be aware that it may just be called.

Why is it this way?– The relationship/rapport aspect is based on the fact that a) it’s common decency and b)it’s the basis for about half of our quality score. We get good scores, we get bigger bonuses, more advancement opportunities, etc. Your job gives you one, maybe 2 performance reviews a year. Mine gives me 11 each month. Handset pricing: I don’t know who sets the prices. All I know is that my order form tells me the price based on your personal account history. We simply have no way of lowering the price beyond a maximum lowest cost. Adjustment policy: T-Mobile is a business. We don’t make money by giving money away. I damn sure don’t like T-Mobile giving my money to anyone else, and I’m not going to do the same with theirs. If it’s an invalid charge, we will credit it without fail. However if you used the service, you owe the bill. Contracts: Simple. It sweetens my pot. I get an above average hourly wage, a quarterly performance bonus based on quality scores and call resolution time. I also get two monthly bonuses. I get 400 bucks if I come in contact with a minimum number of subscribers (not accounts, but rather actual active lines) who are still active 30 days after my contact with them. For each additional 25 subscribers, I get another 25 bucks, no limit. Could you put an extra $1000 to use a month? Yeah, me too. The other monthly bonus gives me $2.50 for the first 60 contracts I set for customers in the 11th (or 22d) month of contract or later. After the first 60, it’s $4 each. 200 contracts a month = $710. So yeah, it’s worth it for me to “save” you. But, coming full circle now, if you just want to cancel, let me make my one offer so I can move along, get you on with your day, and get on to my next customer with 5 lines, all out of contract, wanting to get some new Nokias.



Edit Your Comment

  1. winnabago says:

    This is way too carefully written to be from “some rep”. Smells fresh from a marketing department. Perhaps it is an internal memo, or something like that?

  2. dawime says:

    I love it how retention @ t-mobile wont give you a written confirmation of what your contract extension is. I had a line which I was assured was being put in to a 1 year contract, and voila! Five months later, calling about another incident, I find out that it was put on a two year contract (I guess those codes are really easy to switch up). When asking to have a written confirmation (email, mail, etc) that the extension is being done for the time the rep says it is, tough luck – Its against policy to do so.

  3. SmoovyG says:

    “Don’t insult my intelligence and ask me to give you a Sidekick for free cause Sprint will. “

    It may not be a Blackberry, but I recently got Sprint to give me a free Katana and my wife a free Razr, plus a $50 credit towards some bluetooth headsets and I didn’t even have to twist arms to do it. And this was on top of a 15% drop in my monthly bill.

    • Anonymous says:

      @SmoovyG: i think the point is tmobile is the exclusive dealer of sidekick and also because sprint is CDMA not gsm. just being friendly and explaining it nothing more (:

  4. I don’t know winnabego… it sounds like it’s written from someone still working at a retention center and they are trying to walk the line of giving us information while making their job easier and not lose their job by giving too much away.

    The fast summary of this seems to be “Don’t be an assclown to retention reps and they might help you.”

  5. ChiSoxFan says:

    All in all this seems to me like a pretty well thought out and level headed article. I have been with T-Mobile (then VoiceStream) for over 6 years now and couldn’t be happier. My wife and I have a great plan with some nice phones. I have also had nothing but positive experience with their phone support. You never have to hold long and the people are generally very helpful. I might sound like a shill here but can’t recommend them enough.

  6. 5yearwinter says:

    I had $39.99, 1000 minutes a month, free nights and weekends when I was with Tmobile- it was advertised at my local store. I guess that’s changed?

    In any case, I liked the article. Well written, definitely sounds like it came from someone who deals with irate customers all day long.

  7. Jory says:

    I’m with T-Mobile. I like everything but the reception.


  8. ChiSoxFan says:

    One other note on T-Mobile. I was going to send the long winded story to Consumerist for Above and Beyond but got lazy. A few weeks ago I was having problems with my SDA which was about a year old. I called in to do a handset exchange where they send you a replacement for free within warranty period. They guy told me that my warranty had just expired.

    He put me on hold and came back to say that he could do two things for me. 1. Make an exception and do the exchange anyways or 2. Send me out a brand new T-Mobile Dash for FREE that would carry a new 1-year warranty. Plus I didn’t even need to extend my contract. All I had to pay for was $10 for shipping and I got a brand new phone for nothing. The phone they sent me is going for $200-300 with contract right now. Incredible.

  9. lindyman77 says:

    @AngrySicilian: I agree Angry… I think this is legit and it shows that there are some very decent, intelligent people working behind the line. Thanks for the tips.

  10. Vinny says:

    How about this, Mr. Retention expert:


    Seriously. Why should “I want to cancel, thanks, bye.” have to take 8 minutes?

    This is what got AOL screwed. It should never take 21 minutes to cancel anything (as it did with me) and it should never “average” 8 minutes to say “I don’t want my account, please cancel it.”

    Jesus Christ. Have we become so complacent that we think that’s okay?

    Winnabago is spot on. This is way too carefully crafted to be just some average shlub. I see a ghosting attempt or an astroturfing attempt plain and simple.

  11. detrop says:

    This was helpful but I don’t know how much actual insight it gives. While reading it I realized my tmobile contract was up this month so I called tmobile to see what they would say and they made the offers cited in this letter pretty much verbatim. If I sign up for 2 more years, I get my choice of the razr for $29.99 or 1000 minutes for the price of my current 600 minute plan. 1 more year, I get the razr for $79.99 or 800 minutes for the price of my current plan. These offers were made without any pulling of teeth whatsoever.

  12. MeOhMy says:

    @SmoovyG: The reason saying Sprint offered you a free Sidekick is insulting is becuase Sprint does not sell the Sidekick!

  13. MrFalcon says:

    Well, coming from someone who has worked through retention several times for several friends (Sprint, anyway) this sounds legit to me! Whoever wrote this just seems to have written it from the “insider” perspective, and it is all pretty much the same info you’ll get from any of the phone boards. I know it is frustrating to have to wait when you want to cancel, but these departments are there to try to fix the issues at hand. Sometimes they can, sometimes they can’t, but you still need to treat them with respect.

    Good article, nicely written, I’m sure it will help many!

  14. kerry says:

    @MrFalcon: I agree, I don’t think it’s ridiculous to talk to a retention person for a few minutes before they cancel, simply because I like that a company wants to keep my business. When I canceled my account with Cingular the retention rep listened to why I wanted to leave, then made a genuine effort to find an alternative that would keep me with Cingular. I wasn’t offended at her effort, and it didn’t feel like she was pressuring me into staying. I parted with them on good terms, and would go back to them if they had a plan or piece of equipment I liked better than what I have now. This isn’t like AOL, they really can offer you something better than what you have to keep you around, to the benefit of everyone, and if you don’t want what they have to offer they’ll cancel you without a fight.

  15. John Stracke says:



    Because it’s New York City? You’ve got urban canyons, you’ve got N+1 people trying to use the bandwidth, and you’ve got Unions From Hell driving up the cost of installing cell towers.

    (And, yeah, I appreciate what unions do for workers. I’m a professional, with no union; but the early union movement brought us worker’s comp, health insurance, and unemployment insurance. But a lot of current unions have degenerated into rent-seeking behavior.)

  16. William Mize says:

    I’m a Sprint customer, but I think this is one of the best written entries in a while.
    Coherent, thoughtful, intelligent, segues very well, gives you what you need without making anyone out to be the asshat even though with each phone call the opportunity exists for the customer and/or the rep to be one.

    And no mention of WalMart Nazi shirts, which is a definite bonus in my eyes.

  17. John Stracke says:


    Why should “I want to cancel, thanks, bye.” have to take 8 minutes?

    He said that was the average, and that average includes people who negotiate for a better offer after all. He said that making the initial offer takes only 30 seconds; if you’re not interested, he’ll stop.

    30 seconds for him to make you an offer seems reasonable to me. After all, you saying “cancel my service” doesn’t tell him why. If you’re angry because a T-Mobile rep threw a hammer pie in your sister’s face, then, yeah, you’re not going to listen; but if you just found a better deal at Cingular, then maybe he can negotiate with you.

  18. royal72 says:

    1. Be Patient. We’re doing our job.
    Patience is going through the p.o.s. voice automated system that never understands what you say, no matter how clear you speak. Patience is being asked no less than twice, usually three to four times for you information. Patience is waiting for you to finish reading the script in front of you, that you couldn’t give a fuck about and almost being able to hear you thinking, “fucking hell, i gotta get another job.”

    2. Be friendly and courteous.
    I am always friendly and courteous, but when my patience has somewhat abated (see part 1 above), I may become a little snappier. So if I don’t say “sorry, please, and thank you” every tenth word like you’ve been trained to do, by your marketing/public relations dept, don’t take it personally.

    3. Get the best deal.
    Why do you think I’m canceling in the first place? To get a better deal.

    4. Understand the system.
    The system is simple, keep people content, so they keep giving you their money. People are too lazy and/or misinformed just enough to stop them from doing anything different.

    5. Adjustment guidelines.
    Otherwise known as bullshit (see number 3).

    6. Ask for a preferred plan.
    So let me get this straight. You won’t offer the plan that really works for me and saves me the most money from the outset. Yet if I want to cancel, you magically tailor a plan just for me so I can keep paying YOU money… say it with me people, “bullshit!”

    7. Don’t fear the contract.
    [I’m gonna need taller boots at the rate of this b.s.] You know damn well why we fear contracts! The reason companies have contracts, is they have a hard time keeping their customers happy and retaining their business.

    8. Finally, Do your homework before you call.
    Homework?! Already done, you [bleep]… see number 3! We already have one waiting at another company. Hence, the only thing were gonna ask for is a ludicrous deal just to give it a shot.

    9. Why is it this way?
    It’s this way, because companies hire a ton of lawyers, accountants, and statisticians. It’s about making .09 cents more per customer to boost the numbers, so you executives can cash in their billions in stock options and retire.

    All we are to you, our “friendly” neighborhood t-mobile rep, is a number. You couldn’t give a shit about making me happy. You said it yourself, the only reason you plaster on the “friendly” smile is to make more money. The sooner you can shuffle me on my way, the sooner you can make more commission off the next person on hold… so say it with me one more time my friends, “BULLSHIT!”

  19. dwarf74 says:

    Good article. I used to be on the phones myself, and I’d like to echo what he said about courtesy. In all of my previous phone jobs, you can damn well believe that I went above & beyond the baseline for customers who were decent, reasonable, and treated me like a human being.

  20. dwarf74 says:

    royal72 – I’m going to make a guess out of thin air here, but I’m going to assume you’ve never worked at retail or customer service before.

    Call it a hunch.

  21. tkdga says:

    This is a great article. Whether it was written by an actual “insider” or not, it still contains some great information. Just replace “T-Mobile” with your current carrier and you got yourself a guide to get the best deal from your carrier or at least get to cancel as quickly as possible.

  22. Terminixsux says:

    A long time ago, 2 years maybe,I was canceling service with AT&T. I explained that I didn’t want any new plan or anything, just wanted to cancel the service, as I barely used it. The rep listened politely,m and then proceeded to pitch me on all sorts of new deals.That’s when I became irate. He then tried to tell me I’d have to pay through the end of the month. I tols him,”NO way, prorate the month to today, or I’ll be calling the FCC.” After that, everything went smoothly. The moral of the story is that if CSRs want consumers to be nice when we call, they need to listen to what we are saying and respond appropriately.

  23. Jae says:

    As a current CSR (for an unrelated company) I do everything I can to help you if you’re polite and understanding. If you’re a raving lunatic and demand everything goes your way or ELSE, expect me to only do the bare minimum and NOT mention anything I could do to expedite the situation.

  24. dwarf74 says:

    Terminixsux – I agree, and in my position I had the latitude to do just that. However, in many companies – and I have little doubt cell phones are among them – reps are counted down for failing to make their required pitches even if you tell them you’re not interested.

    Most reps in that situation will make a judgement call – piss someone off vs. get disciplined at work or counted down on a review. Much like anyone who works according to someone else’s rules, they’ll usually side with following company procedures – whether or not ir’s really better service or helpful in any way.

  25. humphrmi says:

    The first problem here is, the CSR is basically saying “Hey, just treat me decently and I’ll treat you decently”, and then goes on to propose that that means sitting through his spiel. Hate to say it dude, but respect != having to listen to your spiel. If I ask nicely and respectfully to cancel, that’s what *I* expect back.

    The basic problem is not his, though. There should be first-line CSR’s who are capable of identifying and fieding those “I’m going to threaten to quit in order to get the best deal” callers. Or there should be a separate group for “retention” and “cancellation”. Who knows. But for better or worse, mobile companies lump the deal chasers together with the people who actually want to cancel, and that’s a mistake.

    A mistake that Mr. Secret CSR needs to take up with his employer, not the customers. Sorry.

  26. Plaid Rabbit says:

    @ChiSoxFan: I totally feel you. My wife and I have the same praise to sing of T-Mobile, going on 3 years here with service. I’ve had service from everyone else on the market except Verizon, and I couldn’t be happier.

    Oh, and as a former CSR myself, this doesn’t look fake – it looks like something I could have written about a year ago.

  27. royal72 says:

    @dwarf74 yes i have and being in the printing industry now, customer service is very important. maybe it’s not the norm, but around here we go with a few simple principles. first and foremost is honesty. if you can get a significantly lower price somewhere else, i’m the first to say go for it. if it’s a matter of matching a price by a few dollars, were happy to do that as well… anyway, the whole point is that it’s a relationship where both parties need each other equally and the relationship ensues accordingly.

    pulling the sympathy card, because the company you work for routinely screws people off and you’re the one who gets to hear it, just doesn’t cut it.

  28. Vinny says:

    @John Stracke: Not buyin’ it. Yeah it’s an average, which means most calls do take 8 minutes. If you think about it, people are calling to cancel. The average call should be 1 minute. 8 minutes means there are a hell of a lot of calls that go way over that.

  29. Modano says:

    I wonder what the T-Mobile retention person will say when I cancel with “I want an iPhone.”

  30. Helvetian says:

    T-Mobile is usually good, but I wish they would show your contract expiration on the web site like other carriers do.

  31. warchild says:

    @Vinny: Actually, if you think about it, most people know that if they tell a company they want to cancel or return their product, the company will then offer a better solution to keep your business. Yes, a good portion of people calling into retention departments have some cancel intent, but theres only a small portion of those people who are dedicated to canceling. Most are willing to listen to what the CSR has to say because it could benefit them. What this CSR is simply suggesting is that if you want a better deal, you can call retention and listen to what they have to say to get that deal. If you are adamant about canceling your service, I am sure they will be more than happy to do that for you as well. Not everyone is an asshat and treats retention CSRs like shit.

  32. SteveXo says:

    @warchild: What Vinny is saying is, why waste everyone’s time and patience by waiting until they are ready to cancel to offer them the deal? It’s a tough call because obviously the company doesn’t want to offer a cheaper option if you are perfectly happy to pay the more expensive price. But if you think about it from a consumer standpoint, wouldn’t you want the company you are dealing with to be honest with you from the start and give you the genuine best deal they can?

    This goes more towards the philosophy you hold as a business. Think of it as the difference between car dealers who pad the price so that they can appear to be discounting the car for you versus the dealer who puts the “no-haggle” price on the window because that’s the absolute lowest they are willing to go.

  33. mileselliott says:

    I went online to LETSTALK.COM and got a Motorola V180 (Jabra headset included), for free with a $l00.00 mail-in rebate and a Samsung T629 for free with a $50.00 mail-in rebate, both with free Fed-X shipping in 2 days…on a 2 year service contract with T-Mobile. I had been a customer of T-Mobile for the previous year and when my contract was up, I wanted to upgrade my phone as well as service. The best deal T-Mobile would give me on the Samsung T629 was $149.00! Thanks but no thanks. A new customer gets all the perks. But, beware if you are a “valued” customer of T-Mobile!

  34. rushenee says:

    Have been a t mobile customer since 2000. Had several phones and two phone lines. Never had a problem getting a rebate. This year upgraded to a family plan and got our 3 kids phones, too, Sent in rebates for the phones, all in the same envelope, and only one was approved. Form letters for the other two were sent to us saying we didn’t have the cardboard box stickers for them.

    Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. If they got one, they got them all.

    After fretting and fuming for about a week I went to the internet to do some “research”. Found many, many sites that talked about rebate fraud and the tactics that were being used to stall, then deny rebates.

    Got good and mad until I ran into this letter. I read it closely and tried to determine how it could help me get my rebates.

    I bypassed the rebate folks and went straight to a t-mobile rep. I told her that I was sorry that she had to take my call, and that I knew she wasn’t the person to blame, but I needed to cancel my service because an employee in the t mobile family insulted my intelligence and I couldn’t allow myself to continue business with a company that treated me like I was stupid.

    Calmly I told her about the rebate letters and said I was sorry I had to go through all of this because not only were the 5 of us happy with t mobile all along, I had extended family on the plan, too. I never once raised my voice.

    I was promised that she would forward a request for a credit to my account to her boss within 24 hours and she assured me that it would be approved.

    In the end I didn’t need to cancel my account, and 24 hours later the $100 credit showed up on my bill.

    I am grateful that I found this letter. It was worth $100 to me.