Monday, 26 September 2011

WINDmobile: The saga

I got a bill in the email from WIND today. I would like to say I am surprised but I am not. You might want to read my reasons why I left WIND before going further.

As far as I am concerned I ended my relationship with WIND on September 13th when I sent them this email (some personal identifying data has been redacted)

I have been on hold for a "cancellation agent" for half an hour. That is beyond unacceptable. Indeed if the customer service agent I had been speaking to had not said "I am going to transfer you and wait on line with you until the cancellation agent answers" I would have hung up sooner. Instead I heard the same tune and the recorded voice promising a "real person" would answer in a minute over and over again. In all that time I heard nothing further from the customer service agent. I assume he was forced to answer other calls and could not wait with me.

My account number is xxxxxxxxx

My phone number was xxxxxxxx

Stephen Rees
xxxxxxxx Highway
Richmond BC
V7x xxx

On Friday of last week I unlocked my phone. Since then the SIM card for WIND will NOT connect to your service. I have therefore gone to a new, more competitive service provider.

The customer service agent told me that my account shows a balance owing of 50c. However, your payment system cannot accept payments under $1.

That, it seems to me, is your problem not mine. I think that a company that expects its customers to go out of their way to make payments in cash is out of touch with current reality. If you had paypal, for instance, I could settle easily. If your on line system for credit cards actually worked - or if the agent could have said either that the amount would be waived as a gesture of good will, or some acceptable payment method suggested, then we would not have an issue.

[here I inserted a link to my previous blog post]

I would also commend the customer service agent for being the first WIND employee who actually tried to win back my business. Sadly, he was too late and had nothing to offer that I wanted. The interminable delay that was imposed on me because I wanted to close my account settles the matter for me. I would not come back to you now even if you paid me to.

When I tried calling WIND's customer service number today on my cell phone I was first cut off, then found that my phone dialler could not select any of the options on their system. So I had to call them on a land line.

When I got through, the customer service agent confirmed that they had a record of my previous conversation, and the email I have quoted above. Note here that they have never replied to that email. She insisted that I had not closed my account since I did not stay on the line after being kept on hold to speak to the "customer loyalty department". She also said that she did not have the ability to cancel my account either. I explained that I was using a land line at work, and that I could not tie up that one while on hold to speak to someone who COULD cancel my account. After some asperity on my part, I suggested that she write down my new cell phone number and ask the cancellation agent to call me on that, since I cannot use their system on my cell (as described above). She agreed that she could ask them to call me. That was an hour ago. I have yet to hear from them, so I decided to start writing this blog post.

As things stand at the moment, I have a cell phone that is incapable of calling the WIND system - even if I put back their SIM card. I am being required to pay for a month of service on this phone that I have not used on their system. Since I have been unable to talk to a cancellation agent, billing will continue until I can. But now I am simply waiting for them to call me.

UPDATE September 27

I had a call today from Kathy at WINDMobile. She said "this should have been handled better. I will take care of it for you." She then "took it off the air" and closed the account, confirming that it now shows a zero balance. She also said "I apologize" and hoped that they would have an opportunity to better in future.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Book Review: Lonely Planet's 1000 Ultimate Sights

Did you see the Bucket List?

"Two terminally ill men escape from a cancer ward and head off on a road trip with a wish list of to-dos before they die."

They have a list of places one of them wants to see before he "kicks the bucket". It helps that the other one is very rich and has no other way to spend his money. Jack Nicholson revels in such roles - not dissimilar to Melvin Udal, for instance.

Lonely Planet publishes the sort of guide books that appeal to me, since if you use one you do not necessarily end up at the same sights as every other tourist. For instance, one of the things I like to do in a new city is seek out local beer - preferably microbrewery stuff or even brew pubs. That and LP is why we ended up one lunchtime in a biker bar in San Francisco - close to downtown but far from the ordinary.

Bike rack Zeitgeist

They have sent me a pdf of a new venture - and also a hard copy - which is I suppose a way of helping you to chose your own bucket list. It is a lavish production but not something you would stuff in your bag to take on a trip. More something to leaf through on a cold evening when there is nothing on tv. The photography is stunning and the quality of reproduction excellent. For each one of the 1,000 sites there is a 100 words summary - and some basic info on how to get there - usually a URL. They are grouped into categories "Greatest Wildlife Spectacles" for instance. Of my personal favourites "Most Interesting Subway Stations" - Baker Street is their first choice (been there) and Montreal (yup) - for its art.

Baker Street - Underground Station

And, of course, even though they have a thousand "ultimates" I expect we will all be in disagreement with some of their choices. I went to Washington but the National Cathedral was not on my list of things to see - they chose it because it has Darth Vader gargoyle! But then think of all those tourists who go to the Louvre because they have read the Da Vinci Code. By the way the only other site in the American capital they mention is the Renoir painting "Luncheon of the Boating Party" at the Phillips Collection. Drat, missed that too.

The index, by the way works as most indeces do by page number, even though each of Sights is numbered sequentially.

Most Iconic Trees mentions nowhere in Canada - much less Cathedral Grove, BC - but of course Sherwood Forest is in there (cross that one off) and California Redwoods get mentioned. Done that too.

Canada does get some mentions: Niagara Falls (been there many times) Green Gables, polar bears in Churchill, Burgess Shale in BC (I have been trying to get there for a while - forest fires stopped me last time) and Drumheller, CN Tower (check). Of Vancouver - nothing at all. Not prettiest baseball field, or greenest city or (of course) most liveable city. I guess we have nothing ultimate to offer - so perhaps we are not world class after all.

Not many people will be able to claim all1,000 but it was intriguing in my first flip through how many I had seen - and also the number that were already on my own bucket list. But mine is much shorter, more eclectic (I think) and more affordable. For instance the upper falls in Cypress Falls Park - this is the lower one, and the lack of a good guide at the time meant we missed the upper one.

A bigger splash

UPDATE Well I had one of those cold evenings so i checked out the Ultimate Sights in Paris - and initially I was impressed that 17 were listed - 18 if you count Versailles. But then I looked at them and found that some appear more than once and some categories are of dubious value. First up the cemetery at Pere Lachaise. That was the first place I visited the first time I went to Paris - but simply because it was the closest to the apartment where I was staying and the 20th arrondissement has not much else to offer. The self same cemetery appears three times "Most Romantic Spots" (tomb of Abelard and Heloise) best music pilgrimage sights (Jim Morrison's grave) and Best Places of Rest. Actually, it does get mentioned in Lonely Planet's Paris guide as the world's most visited cemetery. I just don't get off on graveyards - or gaols.

Most Notorious Prisons: Conciergerie
Best Underground Sights: Catacombs
Art Nouveau Icons: m├ętro entrances (though only one is completely original)
Most Unusual Stadia: Hippodrome d'Auteuil
The Opera (twice)
Tastiest Gourmet Sights: Food Hall Bon Marche
Mona Lisa
Sacre Coeur (Notre Dame doesn't make "most amazing cathedral or church, nor does Chartres, or Salisbury for that matter)
Greatest Bookshops: Shakespeare & Co (Foyle's in London doesn't get in either). Maybe Shakespeare rates as an English bookshop in France - though even those are not as rare as they were once.

Well, you get the idea. Of course the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe are in there.

Targetted ad misses

The screenshot above was taken from my computer this morning. It appeared at the top of the Guardian's web page - but you won't see it if you click the link. You will see something else. You will get to an article which talks about what the Guardian hoped to achieve. The ad gets inserted into a space and is supposed to reflect who you are, where you live and what you buy. It is the technology that has made companies like Google extremely wealthy. These ads are actually from Rogers Digital Media (I know that since a banner from them replaced the one above). I do not know what technology Rogers is using, but it is not very good at doing its job. I have complained about this before when, having bought a cruise holiday, I then got bombarded by ads for Celebrity cruises - at the time before I had had the cruise but when my willingness to buy another one was at its lowest.

I hate the big banks. RBC is no better or worse than any of them. But mostly my french is nothing like as good as it was when I was 14 years old. And Google translate means I no longer worry about that. Ads I usually ignore anyway - ads in french are no worse than ads on tv with the sound muted (as long as the tv does not automatically insert subtitles when you hit the mute button). Anyway the Guardian got a bit of revenue for my page view and the RBC got screwed so that's alright, isn't it?


Monday, 12 September 2011

Mobilicity - teething troubles

On Friday I went to the mall and paid off my WINDmobile bill. I asked the young man to unlock my phone. He declined and said the only way to do that is to call 611. While I was at the mall I checked out the competition. The young woman at Koodoo admitted they were really Telus (end of conversation) and the salesman at Wireless Wave gave me a lot of rather misleading information. I think he really wanted to sell me a phone. He said that there are some outlets in Richmond that will unlock phones for $20, but the practice was "illegal". While there may be such outlets, the illegality seems to me to be unlikely. You can, of course, find out how to unlock phones on the internet.

In any event I could find no better deal currently than Mobilicity's "back to school" offer of $25 for unlimited local calling, text and data. It's that last one that wins me over - since the availability of open wifi seems to have declined very steeply in recent weeks. With WIND I was able to tether my smart phone to my MacBook - but I ran up a data bill very quickly that way. Convenient but expensive.

I visited the nearest Mobilicity store at No 2 Road and Blundell - and while they were willing to unlock my phone it turned out they didn't know how to do it either. So I called 611 and got the unlock code from WIND. They wanted the phone's serial number and to get that you enter *#06# on the phone key pad. That enables them to calculate an unlock code which is of limited validity.

I then walked over to Starbucks for a nice cup of tea, a table with a 110v outlet nearby and (of course) free wifi. So to save you looking up how to unlock a WINDmobile Nokia 5230 smartphone here is the process in 4 easy steps

1. Turn off the phone

2. Remove the SIM card (to do that the battery has to come out too, but you put that back before the next step).

3. Turn on the phone. Since it does not have a SIM card it will not connect

4. Using the phone keypad enter the following #pw+[the unlock code from WIND]+1#

note: do not enter the square brackets. Since you do not have a p or a w on your keypad use the * key

tap *** for P, **** for W and ** for +

The letters and symbols will appear on the screen. If they appear as **** delete (using the C key at bottom right of the pad) and do it again. Once entered correctly the message "SIM Restriction off" will appear. I was a bit surprised that after I had done this, putting the SIM card back did not re-establish a WIND connection. I had not at that time cancelled my account, so it seems that unlocking the phone did that automatically.

So now I had to get a new account somewhere and Mobilicity was closest. They set me me up for the $25 a month deal plus $20 for a new SIM card. The phone worked for voice and text - and they left it at that. I should have stayed and checked some more but I was now running late, so I left. I later determined that the smartphone would not do email or the web. I got the message "Packet data connection not available".

Now, when the phone was connected to the Mobilicity network for the first time, it spent a while sending and receiving text messages which were supposed to reset many things: including the home page of the web browser and so on. I assume that the staff at the store thought that these set up signals would turn my unlocked phone into a replica of the Nokia 5230 model that they sell. That certainly seemed to be the intention - looking at the messages I got on it. But once again I had to spend time talking to someone at a call centre. For Mobilicity this is *611 - and I had to enter the correct WAP information into the phone set up menus manually. Then I had to remove the SIM card and battery and leave the phone like that for five minutes, so that when I reconnected it would reset and a new signal be sent to it.

So now I have internet connectivity and can do email and web on the small screen. Good. By the way, the browser web home page is still WINDmobile! However, talking to Mobilicity support provided all the necessary information about how to change that - and the web page and passwords needed.

What took longer was to tether the Nokia to my MacBook. A call to *611 gave me some information, but not enough to establish a connection initially. Mobilicity does not "support" tethering - because it requires expertise that they think only Nokia or maybe Apple can supply. Indeed, the only way I established tethering in the first place was by using information from the Nokia support web pages (three different ones). I had, foolishly (it seems) assumed that the same settings would work for Mobilicity since none of them were site specific - like a web addresses. But by thinking through what I had done to get web access, the changes I had to make to the Macs connection settings were straightforward. Leave the telephone number as *99# and enter the identity and password as advised by Mobilicity for web access. I took a little while to get this sorted, but it works now.

Friday, 9 September 2011

WINDMobile - I'm leaving

I tried to email them from their webpage. It doesn't work. No surprise there I called them. The person at the other end (after the usual "two minute" wait that always takes much longer) doesn't know who I am from call display, yet I am calling 611 from the phone they supplied.

For several months recently, their web page - and their phone system - has been rejecting my credit cards. It never accepted Amex (of course) but usually if VISA was rejected Mastercard would work. Now even that has stopped. They think it may be because the address record they have for me differs from the one the credit card company has. Of course, the fact that I pay for many other things by credit card on line - and on sites in more than one country I might add (all three cards work faultlessly on sites in the UK and US as well as Canada) does not influence them. Besides, there is only one address. The only possible glitch might be that since I live in a town house some people put the unit number first, ahead of the street address, others afterwards. Every other system seems to cope with that. Not WINDmobile's, apparently. They have been aware of the problem for months - but they just blame the customer. So much easier than coding a web page properly.

They also once had the temerity to insist over the phone that I visit one of their booths in mall and pay by cash! As though my credit was no good!

I was really pleased when WIND came to Canada - and cheered when they won the case about "foreign ownership". Something to do with Egyptian banks. I don't care. I wanted an outbreak of real competition in a market dominated by three players (Telus, Rogers and Bell) and their surrogates - all those other names like FIDO conceal the fact that they are owned by one of the big three. WIND doesn't want a three year contract. Or any contract come to that. It rates are really competitive. You can change your plan for a $20 fee anytime you want to, if your calling pattern changes.

But then there are the inevitable glitches a new entrant to the market is bound to trip up on. In Greater Vancouver, WIND home coverage does not extend to Delta. If I go shopping in Tsawwassen, I get a text message welcoming me to the US - and the roaming charge that goes with that. Oddly, when I first went to San Francisco, my phone worked. It didn't in New York. But everyone recognizes that there will be slip ups, and they were simply helping me to defeat the risk that my phone would get snitched and used to run up a huge bill with overseas calls. Quite a common problem apparently. And easily prevented by putting a password on your phone if you think that is a good idea. Depends if you like to actually answer calls, I think.

Recently my data bill at WIND has risen - because more and more people are protecting their wifi networks, which cuts down on the opportunity for causal use of the laptop away from home. But also because using the smart phone is an easy way to locate a Car2GO. Just not a cheap way. I was seriously thinking about their latest unlimited voice, text and data for $29 a month offer (for 12 months then rises to $45). But if they cannot make it easy to pay my bill - and refuse to accept any responsibility for the problem they are well aware of - then why would I stay with them?

In any relationship based on buying a service, the customer who has a choice to switch service providers needs to feel wanted. It costs eight times more to win a new customer than retain an existing one. And existing customers are reluctant to make a fuss and put up with the inconvenience of switching. But there is a limit and I just passed mine. I am now researching the competition.