As the old song says, breaking up is hard to do. I thought that I was long past the time when breakups were a concern, but -- as I learned recently -- you're never too old to have your heart torn to pieces. Last month, I ended one of my longest relationships when I broke up with T-Mobile.
We've been together for a while, T-Mobile and I. We started dating back in the early 2000s: I was coming off an bad relationship with Sprint (S), which was doing me wrong with the raising prices/lowering quality two-step, and T-Mobile was on the market, aggressively trolling for new customers. When Sprint refused to replace a malfunctioning phone despite the expensive insurance policy that they had convinced me to purchase, I decided that our relationship had passed from neglectful to actively abusive. It was time to pull the plug.
I Just Called to Say I Love You
I had been eyeing T-Mobile for a while. Long before we began our courtship, I asked around and found that, despite a few rough edges, the company had a reputation for treating its customers well. Even better, its "Five Faves" promotion, which promised me unlimited free phone calls to my five favorite people, seemed too good to pass up. With Sprint passing into the rear-view, my decision was easy, and I joined up with T-Mobile.
Things weren't always smooth. Unlike some of the brighter, flashier companies, T-Mobile had limited coverage, and I soon learned that there were places in town where phone calls were impossible. Even so, I loved my new cell provider, warts and all. I got used to the occasional dropped call and rejoiced whenever the company managed to fill in yet another spot in its coverage.
As time went on, things just kept getting better; by the mid-2000s, T-Mobile and I were almost inseparable. When my girlfriend moved in, she joined my account; later, when my sister got tired of her abusive provider, we added her to the plan. She, like my now-wife and me, became a staunch T-Mobile fan.
Stand By Your Cell Provider
And T-Mobile stuck with us through thick and thin. When my sister was hospitalized with a life-threatening illness, we suddenly found ourselves constantly on the phone with friends, relatives and doctors. Facing a shocking $400 monthly bill, we called T-Mobile, which agreed to retroactively change our plan so that we weren't hit with tons of charges that we couldn't afford. Over the following months, as my sister moved in and out of the hospital, T-Mobile kept pace with our needs, shifting our plans and letting us add and remove our "faves" in order to keep our bills under control. Even in the toughest times, we knew that we could rely on them.
By now, my wife, my sister and I were all living in New York. T-Mobile still had its rough spots: Even in the city, there were places where our phones cut out, and we had to deal with the occasional dropped call. But with great customer service and reasonable prices, T-Mobile kept our relationship strong, and we were quick to tell our friends about how much we loved the cell company.
T-Mobile's Cheatin' Heart
But there were dark clouds on the horizon. In late March 2011, AT&T (T) announced plans to buy T-Mobile for $39 billion, a plan that would have made AT&T the biggest telecom provider in the United States. For us, this seemed like a mixed blessing: on the bright side, my wife had been eying iPhones for a while, but the fact that we weren't with AT&T had made using the sweet little gadgets an impossibility. Then again, we were pretty happy with our Android phones, and trading in T-Mobile's low prices and great customer service for one of Steve Jobs' slick beauties didn't seem like a great deal. When AT&T abandoned the plan in December 2011, we breathed a sigh of relief.
While the merger didn't go through, T-Mobile was still headed south. We had always prized their great customer service, particularly the ability to quickly get hold of a human being. But last fall, my wife called the company to ask about some plan changes, only to get dumped into an automated-calling maze that left her on the phone for an eternity before she gave up. Later, I discovered that T-Mobile had sharply cut staffing at many of its call centers and, in July 2011, closed off the option that made it possible for customers to directly contact an actual person.
Before this move, T-Mobile had the top-rated customer service in the business, but by summer 2011, it had dropped behind Verizon (VZ). And while the service went down, the prices crept up, as T-Mobile began charging more for our data plan. Needless to say, any attempts to discuss this with a human resulted in long waits and disappointment. This March, the company doubled down on its high price/low service plan with a decision to layoff 1,900 customer service employees while further raising prices for data. After a long, tough talk, my wife and I decided that the time had come to say goodbye to T-Mobile.
Here's a Quarter, Call Someone Who Cares
Since the breakup, we've moved on to Verizon. While my wife and I don't feel the same passion for our new cell provider, we've been pleased with Verizon's faster data downloads and slightly cheaper prices. The customer service is a lot better, and we also have a lot fewer dropped calls. My sister and her husband have also made the jump, and are also happy with their new provider.
Meanwhile, T-Mobile seems to be sticking with its decision to raise prices and decrease its workforce. They hit us with one last bill, a whopper that included all sorts of little fees and fines, some of which seemed questionable. When we got it, my wife and I talked for a couple of minutes about calling the company, arguing about the charges, and trying to get the price knocked down. Then we thought about spending an hour on the line, trying to get through to a human.
We decided to write the check and move on.
Bruce Watson is a senior features writer for DailyFinance. You can reach him by e-mail at email@example.com, or follow him on Twitter at@bruce1971