[This is something of an open letter to the folks in T-Mobile's marketing department, and I hope an opportunity for others in this forum to lend their voices to this issue as well. Yes, I realize this is not a T-Mobile-exclusive issue, but I feel that consumers' concerns should be heard and not simply dismissed because "every carrier has this issue." Your input is welcome.]
To whom it may concern:
I have been a loyal T-Mobile customer since the early 2000s. I was a high school student studying American Sign Language, where I was introduced to the Deaf Community. In an era of still primarily flip phones, all of my new friends used the Sidekick phones to communicate for the QWERTY keyboard and ease of texting; before long, I had convinced my parents to let me switch from the family's Cingular/AT&T plan to T-Mobile so that I, too, could have a Sidekick to more easily message my Deaf & Hard-Of-Hearing friends. I have been with T-Mobile ever since, and eventually convinced my parents to switch, too.
I am now 30 and have my own T-Mobile plan with my partner, who switched from his previous carrier to join me. We are the only members of our household. Both of my parents are on their own T-Mobile plan, we have no intention of having children, and we have no other family members or friends for whom we would have any reason to add a line to our T-Mobile service. As it is, we have four lines: two for our phones, two for our smart watches. We give T-Mobile a significant amount of our business, and have spoken highly of the service to others. Being that my partner is French, when we go visit his hometown overseas, we have always had excellent service on our T-Mobile plans, and we have been sure to let our friends and colleagues know that this carrier offers that benefit to those who travel often. I work at an airport with hundreds of colleagues who travel regularly on our flight benefits; my recommendation in this regard has been responsible for more than a few new customers for the company.
However, the time has come where I no longer have any real incentive to support T-Mobile. The "Un-Carrier" has become every bit as bad as its competition. Why do I say this? Well, the benefit of doing away with 24-month contracts has now been outweighed by the outrageous cost of new devices, when only new customers (or those adding new lines of service) receive the BOGO offers and the discounts for purchasing. I never thought I would long for the days of 2-year-contracts, when I could actually afford a new phone (and not just the crummy basic models) just by signing up for another 24 months of service! Now, T-Mobile has followed the other carriers into a bizarre new business model in which ONLY new business is encouraged. Sure, there are supposedly trade-in discounts, but for our 2-year-old Samsung phones we would only receive $200 a piece, and that's if they were in perfect condition. That's barely enough to put a dent in the price of the current version of the same devices. My own phone was pickpocketed in February, and I was lucky enough to be given the device I'm using by a family member, or else I would be in an even worse predicament of having had to buy something new sooner. Now, with two cracked screens leaving glass splinters in our fingertips, my partner and I both really desperately need to upgrade.
Again, I completely acknowledge that other carriers operate on much the same business model and have similar restrictions. But isn't T-Mobile's whole thing that they are different, that they are more customer-friendly? Why, then, am I offered SIGNIFICANTLY more incentive to switch to another carrier than to stay with the company I've been loyal to for over a decade? I've priced it out, and even with the slightly higher cost of Verizon service, I am literally saving money by switching to them for 2 years if I intend to purchase the same phones. I don't want to do that, but for the first time, I'm actually speaking to their representatives and leaning towards making that switch. If I stay with T-Mobile, I would have to pay an additional $45 a month for a new line (for which I have no phone and absolutely no use) to receive the same offer on a new device. Why can I not simply opt to be contractually bound for another 24-month period and receive the same deal? I would actively prefer contracts at this point. With the cost of new devices SOARING past where they were when carriers first put the kibosh on free phone upgrades every year or two, it is financially more logical to switch carriers every year instead.
And that's just silly, isn't it? A customer who wants to stay with the company should be given SOME reason to. T-Mobile Tuesdays - with the discount code coupons we never ever use, and the occasional RedBox code for $3 off that we do from time to time - is not enough. A brand new customer off the streets is treated enormously better than a customer loyal for over a decade... and I'm not even grandfathered into a significantly lower rate or anything. Sure, I absolutely have (and will probably take) the option to go with another mobile service provider and save well over $1,000 immediately. I am well aware that I could keep my mouth shut and do exactly that. I am also aware I could just go with a lower-quality device, but either way I'm still spending a good chunk out of pocket. However, I don't find either of those options to be sufficient: I want someone involved in T-Mobile's marketing to take a hard look and realize this is happening across the board. People are leaving because there is literally NO reason to stay. Customer retention should NOT be a dying art. New customers are NOT the only thing of value. If you can entice people who only stay for a year or two before switching back to the next deal, having given away a $1,000 free phone, is that really worth it? At the same time, would you not prefer to have a longtime customer's money for one device and give them the second one free to earn their loyalty and continue profiting from their plan for another decade of business? One free device seems like a drop in the bucket when you consider what the company stands to earn longterm.
I don't intend to upgrade my phone every 2 years, but I will stay with T-Mobile if I know I can at least have SOME benefit on the new models when it does come time for me to consider upgrading. As it stands, any device 2 years or older has virtually no trade-in value and therefore no benefit when it comes time to upgrade, particularly if it's not in mint condition. There absolutely needs to be an option for the BOGO deals to be extended to existing customers who meet certain requirements, such as committing to a 24-month contract (or, at least, having to pay back the "free" device cost if service is terminated before 24 months, same as new customers), having an account in good standing, or even adding a small additional service (i.e. advanced caller ID) for a year. Give us some reason not to transfer our business to a company who will take our money and in exchange, give us more value and savings for at least the two years until that free phone is paid off. After that time, who knows? Perhaps you'll re-earn some customers, but more likely you've left people like me with a sour taste in our mouths. Decent mobile phones are simply too expensive these days for the average Joe customer to consider staying with T-Mobile if they are actually interested in the best technology.
So I challenge T-Mobile to become the Un-Carrier again. I challenge the team of experts to find an option - any option! - for existing customers to benefit. Trade-ins clearly aren't an option for everyone, and if you'd give someone new off the street a dramatically better deal than you'd give a customer who has been investing in your company for well over a decade, then I maintain that that customer deserves an equal shake. It's just good customer service. Instead of just driving new sales and pushing for more and more and more money, why don't you try being a company people actually WANT to do business with again?
Just a thought. I would absolutely love to be contacted by a manager who is able to address this issue and improve customer retention practices, but this policy should be changed across the board, for everyone. It's time. Meanwhile, if you continue to take no strides towards securing my business, I'll head over to Verizon where I can actually afford to spend money on a new device.