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It seems like I'm always hearing horror stories from friends about how their cellular phone companies try to overcharge them, don't provide good customer service, etc.  I've only been with mine since last October and was fairly happy with my plan; when I traveled overseas in December and January, I added a temporary international roaming plan to my Blackberry so that calls within Thailand would be "local" and calls back to the States would be at a special rate.

When I returned home in mid-January, I made a special point to call my cellular company to make sure they took the international plan off the phone and put me back at my home plan.  My February bill seemed to reflect this change and all calls I made, even those to Tim in Thailand, were billed at the rate appropriate to the time of day I called.  When I checked my useage a few times last month on their website, it showed that my late night calls to Phuket were listed as "Night & Weekend" minutes and I wasn't being charged for them.  I thought I would phone customer service to see if this was a mistake; bad move on my part as not only did the March bill charge me for all those calls, it did so at the highest rate possible ($3.00 per minute) and did the same for all of my local and interstate calls as well.

You can imagine that this bill was astronomical and that it also was way past what I should have been charged.

I spent the better part of last Friday on the phone with customer service and each step truly felt like I was making progress towards some sort of resolution.  They admitted mistakes in billing, pulled up the specific contract that I agreed to on the date I signed up, checked into my payment history (always in full and before the due date), etc., etc.  The main result was that a significant chunk of my payment due was eliminated and I went ahead and paid the bill while I was on the phone with them.

I also asked if they had a less expensive plan for me that I could use while I was staying in Thailand for months at a time.  Their network doesn't cover Southeast Asia but they had a viable solution.  I would have to purchase a SIM card specifically for Thailand; this would be a pre-paid card with a local Thai mobile number and I could recharge it either by calling a customer service number or by purchasing a recharge card at any Thai 7-11.  My cellular provider has a branch specifically for this purpose and my call was forwarded to them.

The price of such a Thai SIM card was very reasonable but when I went to place an order I found out that these won't work with my Blackberry — something about triple- or quad-band and GMS versus GPRS.  It was basically Greek to me.  But then the CSR told me "no problem" — since I'd been such a good customer with their parent company (I suppose she had my case file on her computer and knew about the billing error) they would provide me with a new phone AT NO EXTRA CHARGE.

Of course, I thought that they'd send me some cheapo ugly phone they had in overstock or something.  How wrong I was...

The package just came from FedEx.  Inside was a large box holding a very small phone.  They send me one of the new Motorola V3 Black Razr's!!  Definitely a cool-looking phone and it seems to be loaded with features (the manual is the size of a paperback novel).  This is the phone that they "debuted" at the Oscars just last week.  I'm charging it right now and I'm looking forward to checking out what it can do (probably won't do e-mail as well as the Blackberry, however).

Not only was the new phone in the box but also two SIM cards — one is the Thailand-specific card with 600 baht initial credit and the other is a complimentary $30 SIM card for use in the U.S. prior to my trip (I can't activate the Thai number until I actually get to Thailand).  Plus, there's a Thai recharge card for another 500 baht.  Of course, the manual for the first SIM card is in Thai so I'll need to have Tim help me with that!

It's all very cool and way beyond the level of customer service I expected from my provider (I've been careful not to give their name away as I don't want to feel they "bought me off").  Of course, now I have two new phone numbers (one Thai, one for within U.S.) to give out.  And I'd just had new contact cards made to hand out to people... (guess I'll have to wait for one of the periodic "free business cards" promotions that land in my Inbox every once in a while).

Sometimes it does pay to call and point out mistakes....