It had been coming a while. The break up. Love had been lost a long time ago. Probably during the first pregnancy actually, when I was holed up in a hospital prison for five days with no access to 3G and barely able to send ‘look at my newborn!’ texts.
And it had been a long love affair. A few years at least. Three had pursued me with a snazzy phone and a low tariff and unlimited access to the tinernet. What was a blogger not to love?
Well the no reception for one thing. That was a bummer.
We live along the coast, in what seems to be a reception black hole. My husband had already switched from O2 a few years back due to the amount of dropped calls he was experiencing in the house. So that left him with the options of Three, Meteor or Vodafone.
As I was on Three, he went with that, and sure we’d a grand old time with our free texts and calls to each other. We got on with our mobile lives, our faces aglow, night after night – surfing our piped in WIFI, always on our phones but never really on the network. Imessages went through WIFI. WhatsApp buzzed and rattled. Calls were made on FaceTime. We survived the ‘normal’ dropped calls on the Three network and complained about difficulties we had sending messages to people who weren’t on Iphones. It wasn’t such a big deal. Until, well then it was.
In 2015 I decided to upgrade. I went from a trusty iphone 5 to an iphone 5s and with my upgrade came a downgrade – in service. At first we thought it was the phone and a few trips back to the shop later, a replacement was gratefully received. The same problem persisted though – I had little to no reception in the house, having previously had shaky, but at least some coverage.
My husband also noticed a deterioration in service, but we carried on regardless, as (aforementioned) we were mostly using Imessaging and spent all our time on WIFI in the house. I began to use the house phone for any call I needed to make, knowing it was putting up that bill by at least €20 a month, but not having any choice.
(It was around this time that Three merged with O2 and took on a bazillion new customers. I’ve no idea if that’s what caused our issues, or if it was my new handset or what. Whatever happened, we were barely able to use our phones in the house).
The major problems were when it came to some family and friends who were on android, or like many of our mothers, ancient blocks of Nokia bricks. I could not send those users a message or make a call if I was in our bedroom or our kitchen. Places where you tend to spend a lot of time. Missed calls would come through hours later. The most regular dial tone people heard when they called my mobile at home was my voicemail. People stopped trying me on it and just rang the house phone instead.
I did get on to Three about it. Twice. They said it was an issue with the handset and I could go through some rigourous process of sending the phone back three separate times for repair, and they would see if they could fix it. Yes I would have to stand in the phone shop queue for up to 45 minutes each time to drop off the phone as had been my previous experiences. No I wouldn’t have a replacement phone during the ten working days when they would be trying to fix it each time. The best outcome in this case would be a replacement handset which I had already received. And I couldn’t face any of it, not while trying to mind a one year old.
So I got on with it. We put up with the shit service and we just laughed when people said they couldn’t reach us. “Oh yeah,” we sniggered. “That’s Three for you.”
Making the decision to leave
I can’t remember what changed. I don’t know why I went for almost a year barely being able to use my phone to deciding one day to call up and begin the process of ending my contract. It might have been because I was pregnant again and my three hour hospital visits were too boring without being able to use my phone. It might have been because I had another hospital stay coming up and I couldn’t bear the thoughts of being cut off from my husband and daughter. Whatever it was in July of 2016, I bit the bullet and decided to call Customer Care, tell them my issues and wait for them to say, ah grand, we see that we’re not providing service there. That’s no problem, let’s call it all off at the end of the month will we and go our separate ways. No bother.
That’s what I wanted to happen.
That isn’t what happened.
Here is what happened.
(Pull up a chair and put your comfy slippers on. This is a long one.)
Part One: Attempting to leave
- Breezily call up Three (from my landline) on a Friday, make my complaint, tell them I want to end my contract. Explain that I have made previous attempts to resolve the issues to no avail and I now wish to move to a phone provider that can provide a service in my house.
- Person is very nice on the phone.
- Explains that ‘tech team’ will have to monitor the phone coverage on my phone so that they can confirm there is an issue.
- Agree that over the next few days ‘tech team’ will monitor my phone and I’ll receive a call on Monday from them as an update.
- Nice person on the phone hints to me that I’ll need to have at least 20 dropped calls for them to release me, but 15 might do it. He tells me this in a whisper.
Wonder if tech team are very mean and stand behind customer care agents with big sticks.
Backing up my complaint
Because I’m now on a mission, I decide to do my own bit of monitoring and start taking screen shots of the times I have ‘No Service’ on my phone. As this is pretty much any time I’m in my house, there’s a lot of shots to take, so I snap a few and send them in by Twitter to the customer care team and say – here’s a spread – see I have no coverage. Twitter person is also very nice but informs me ‘tech team’ need more time to monitor my phone. They aren’t going to call me on Monday now but on Wednesday instead. I tell nice Twitter person that I think four days should be enough time to monitor my phone and give out a bit but look forward to Wednesday when I think (bahahahahahahaha) that they may release me from my contract.
Wednesday of Woe
Receive a voicemail (obviously because Three can’t call my phone because I have no coverage) from an engineer who tells me THERE IS NO ISSUE WITH MY SERVICE.
Six days of their monitoring has shown – no issues at all.
Flabbergasted, I call back Customer Care back. I listen to them dutifully rattle off what ‘tech team’ have told them and they say their hands are tied. There weren’t enough dropped calls to prove my bad service.
I explain that I had No Service on my phone to make any calls to drop. I say – I am talking to you right now on my landline because I cannot use my mobile phone to call you. I say – call me right now and you won’t get through because I have NO F***ING SERVICE!
But tech team says no.
Tech team have the power. And the big sticks.
In my naievity I presumed when tech team were monitoring my coverage – they could actually see what I could see – the signal to my phone. I thought – it’ll be obvious that I have no coverage, because they’ll be able to see the wavelengths of whatever comes from the big mobile tower masts in the sky.
Well no, they use your calls and texts to monitor your coverage. So if you’re not making any or not receiving any, they’re not going to find an issue with your service.
Lesson number one: when going through the monitoring service with Three, make millions of calls and texts and get all your friends to call you. Take a note of all these times. This was my rookie error number one. Nobody ever called my phone these days – 1) because it’s not very fashionable any more – hello – Snapchat and 2) because they knew they wouldn’t get through.
After 45 minutes of lots of ragey Nicci on the phone, Three say they will look at my coverage retrospectively and see if they can gather enough evidence to allow me to cancel my contract. The guy at the end of the phone really does sound like he wants to help, but my faith is beginning to wane. I don’t trust ‘tech team’. This is all their fault.
Part Two: Going nowhere Fast
Hear back from Three. Their modus operandi is to send me a text and then I call them back from my landline. This is because they fail everytime they try to connect to call me.
The news isn’t good. The retrospective checking hasn’t worked. Three are still happy that they are providing an adequate phone service to me. I insist on speaking to a supervisor. I refuse to get off the line until finally, despite their attempts to thwart me I am eventually put through to a man called Tom.
Tom is not as nice as the younger customer care team. His voice is not as bright. I think Tech Team may have broken him. He sounds weary. And it’s harder to shout at Tom because he sounds like a school principal.
Tom takes me through some steps to try and get coverage on my phone.
It doesn’t work.
He sounds exasperated like me.
He insists that the only way to move forward is for further monitoring to be carried out. I argue that this has already happened. He says I was monitored for ‘usage’ not ‘coverage’. I finally agree to further monitoring of my ‘coverage’ because it seems like the only way are going to move forward. And I want to move forward. I’m as weary Tom.
He indicates they will be able to do retrospectively with the information I’ve already given and will call back later.
A few hours later, while out and about I receive a text to call Three. Naively, again, I think they’re calling to give me some news. I get through to a nice woman who says calmly, again, that there is insufficient data and we are no further on in my complaint. I tell her I’m about to walk into my house and that the coverage will likely drop. I give her my landline number to call me back on.
I walk into my house.
Call Three straight back.
It’s one minute past seven.
‘Thank you for calling Three. Our offices are now closed. Please call back from 8am or visit our website for more information.”
Laugh hysterically. And possibly manically.
Lesson number two: when going through the monitoring service with Three, ask them to note that they are monitoring your phone for ‘coverage’ not ‘usage’. It may be a load of nonsense, but at least they can’t fob you off with it later.
Part Three: Bringing in the Big Guns
I’d heard about ComReg – the Commission for Communications Regulation – getting involved in cases like mine from a few people, with successful outcomes and I knew that it was now time to engage. I went through their website and downloaded the complaints form. I put everything down that I’d been through so far.
“As you can understand I am extremely frustrated with what I have gone through today. I have made a series of complaints through the correct channels, allowed the monitoring as requested by Three, provided exacts times and dates of when the issues occurred, sent in photographic evidence through Twitter, went through the steps with a supervisor to try and resolve the issue and have come out at the end of the day, no better off, only being told, again, that tech can find no issues and my proof is not enough.”
Receive a response from ComReg to say that I must allow Three 10 working days to respond to my complaint. They cannot force the company to release me from my contract.
Ten more days of no phone coverage and Nicci rage.
The battle continues.
Lesson number three: when you’ve gone through all the correct channels with your mobile phone provider and are still getting no satisfaction, make your complaint to ComReg as it will take ten further working days before anything can be progressed.
Part Four: Repeating the Process
Because there’s going to be a ten day gap before ComReg can do anything I decide to go ahead with the second batch of monitoring with Three. I now know how the system works. They need 20 hours of phone data to monitor. I know I must attempt to use the phone in those 20 hours so that it shows up on their magic tech team monitoring screens.
I get out a notebook and pen and over the next number of days make tons of phantom calls (because they can’t reach anyone) and take note. I get my friends to call me and I make note of these. (Obviously I message them on Facebook to arrange, how else would I get in contact with them?) I write messages that will never be sent. Not for the of trying though.
I get the 20 hours in.
I produce a report.
I am on this.
I am so getting out of this contract, this time.
Part Five: Three Step Up Their Game
Present report to Three. I’ve worked hard on it – I have produced the evidence.
They say tech team will be in touch.
I know now that this means that tech team are polishing their big barky sticks.
Part Six: Tech Wins for Now
Take a call from Three while at work.
“Did you have WIFI activated while making these calls?” asks Mr. Tech Team.
Yes, I say. Why wouldn’t I? I have no reception or 3G in my house, the only thing that keeps my phone active is WIFI in my house.
“Ah. Evidence no good. We need to monitor 3G. We require 20 further hours of monitoring for phone and 20 separate hours of 3G monitoring.”
They need 40 more hours of phone monitoring. It’s already taken me two weeks to get this far.
Dumbstruck, I ask why switching 3G off was never mentioned before this?
Mr. Tech Team shrugs and pats his stick.
Work out that it’s going to take another three weeks or so to gather this extra monitoring shite they’re requesting due to the limited hours I actually spend in my house and that during this time, I will be completely cut off from the world as I’m not allowed use WIFI on my phone.
Go home and update my complaint with ComReg. They respond to say they are now going to move things forward. They say they expect it will be resolved in 10 days.
I don’t know what to think anymore.
Lesson number four: make sure to switch your WIFI off when monitoring your coverage to prove your service issues. They need to see how 3G is performing to check coverage issues.
Part Seven: Victory
Nine days later. I am still monitoring like a mad woman. Receive an email from Jessica in Three. I scan through it – there’s a big load of waffle about how there is no fault in my area, that ‘sites on the area were operating to optimum level’. Yeah right, tell that to my neighbour who hangs out the front window every day shouting down the phone too.
And right at the very end is the golden line:
I can confirm that I have waived the remaining commitment on your account.
I blink at it for a minute before taking it in. They’re letting me go. I’m free.
Thank you thank you thank you ComReg.
Everything was pretty plain sailing once I’d been given the official green light to feck off.
As soon as I got myself over to another network, I was up and running in a day or two. I paid what I owed on my contract with Three and that was that.
It only took a month, a series of long blood boiling phonecalls, involving a state body and holding my nerve.
You can do it too!
If you’ve read till the end of this thesis then hopefully my story shows what you might expect to go through when getting out of your Three phone contract legitimately. This post is not aimed at at someone who wants to skip a bill or get a new phone elsewhere – this is for genuine customers like myself who had real problems and were stonewalled at every turn by the company, when reporting a genuine service issue.
Every day I see my friends and colleagues go up against telecommunications companies and battle to be heard, to cancel services they never added, to try and address billing problems, to solve the smallest of issues that become so difficult to deal with that it’s sometimes easier to let them run, rather than call up and face the gauntlet of ‘tech team’ or whoever else is holding the big shiny stick.
Whatever you do, do not just stop your direct debit to the company involved. I was so tempted to do this, but you are legally bound by contract and they are entitled to the full amount remaining on your contract should you do this. Depending on how long you’ve left, this could run into hundreds if not thousands of euros.
I’ve now happily moved to Vodafone and while I’m paying a bit more I now have the joy of making a call in my bedroom and staying there while chatting.
What a miracle.
It’s almost what mobile phones were invented for in the first place.
Have you experienced anything similar while trying to address a service issue with your mobile phone company? I’d love to hear your experience.