Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Loyalty Is As Loyalty Does--or does not

I never thought I'd see the day. Three months into the switch, this used-to-be-dedicated-to-Verizon gal is now a happy Sprint believer. I'd been with Verizon since 1995, back when they were Ameritech. Happy with customer service and connectivity, I was one of those Verizon evangelists, singing their praises to hapless "other brand" no-bar folks around me as I blabbedy-blabbed away, cell phone to ear.

I know.  I KNOW.  Sprint takes a bad wrap when it comes to customer service.  Consumer Reports recently (and again) gave them the dreaded solid black circle for "issue resolved."  I did not make this move lightly or without trepidation, and in fact fought against it.  I worked with Verizon for nearly a year to fix an ongoing issue at the main off-site location where I hide to write.  I called and begged Verizon not to force me to leave them.  Seriously.  Called - and - begged.  "Just fix my issue.  That's all it will take.  PLEASE!  You've always been so good!"

From what I'd been told, when Verizon signed the deal to take over many of the Alltel areas, they stopped using Sprint towers--at least in the area where I was on Roaming services.  That's when things went bad.  Real bad.  Incoming calls no longer triggered the ring.  Dropped calls became the usual.  I had no bars.  My Blackberry Storm flipped between types of service.  I'd find out an hour after someone called me that I had a message.  I spent more time redialing disconnects than talking.  And on and on the headaches went.

I can't even guess how many times I called Verizon customer service--oftentimes ending up disconnected.  Because they're good, they called me back.  They were sympathetic.  Stick with us, they said.  Things will change when we're done with the transition in that particular area.  So I stuck, and I stuck.  They kindly gave me minutes for all my dropped calls, which I used making more dropped calls. 

But when the Alltel to Verizon transition was finally complete, the service was no better.  Months later, it still wasn't.  I asked point blank if there was anything (please, oh please!) on the horizon that could eventually make my situation better.  The answer was, "Honestly, no."  They continued to repeat that I was in a "fringe area."  Funny, I said for the forty billioneth time, that I didn't have this same "fringe" problem when you used Sprint towers to roam.

Then one day I heard myself say that last sentence.  Doink!

I chatted with a couple happy Sprint neighbors.  They claimed they even talked "all the way up the hill" without dropping a call, something never possible for me.  "Hey, Verizon," I said during my next call, "Sprint seems to be kicking your connectivity butt in this area."  Verizon suggested I buy a $200 signal booster.  "Do I just plug it in?" I asked.  No.  But all I'd need was a broadband connection to make it work.


A few months previous to their suggestion, in order to end my hate affair with dial-up (the only thing available),  I'd purchased a Sprint broadband card, which, remarkably, worked without fail.  How crazy would it be to pay Verizon $200 for a signal booster, which I would have to use through my Sprint broadband service?

Time to rethink your brand loyalty, Charlene.  What have I got here?  Neighbors who stay connected on Sprint, Verizon that used to work when roaming on Sprint towers, and a Sprint broadband card that doesn't fail.  I said to my husband, who was tired of hearing me yell about dropped calls, "My brand loyalty is not serving us well." 

I visited a corporate Sprint store near my writing location and spoke with a representative.  I laid my cards on the table.  "I don't want to leave Verizon."  He smiled, said I had thirty days to give the Sprint service a try.  What the heck.  I went with an HTC Hero phone (love, love, LOVE it!), used a temporary number for those 30 days and kept my Verizon service--just in case.  Within two days, I was hooked.

I admit I had concerns that Sprint wouldn't work as well when I returned to my home base area of Chicagoland.  But I needn't have worried.  They rocked it as well as Verizon.  I got hubby a new phone (not as fancy as mine, but free after rebate and he can still make use of the GPS navigation etc.) and we ported our numbers. So far, I have absolutely no complaints.  In fact, I raved about their service so much that a friend up north made the switch too and is as happy as I am.  He also went with the HTC Hero. 

In terms of pricing, I believe Sprint is the better deal.  Hubby and I get a lot of bang for our buck. We are on the Everything Data Family - with Any Mobile, Anytime(SM) plan, 1500 minutes.  GPS navigation, unlimited messaging,  free calls to any cell phone using any service, Sprint TV and radio, free nights and weekends with better hours than Verizon ...  All this for $129.00 a month.  I love my phone.  Connections are great.  The Wi-Fi works swell.  I never thought I could love something more than my Blackberry, but I am now an Android believer.  And apps ... Oh, the APPS!  During the Olympics, I even downloaded a cowbell app.  I could shake my phone and ring a cowbell with the best of them.  (See, you're not the only ones who can do all this stuff, iPhone folks!)   I can flip a coin, level a two-by-four, read a book and play Poke-a-Mole! 

But the bottom line is that Sprint is doing for me what Verizon could not:  they are keeping me connected in an area where I spend a good deal of time.  Does this mean I'm mad at Verizon?  Absolutely not.  Who knows, maybe one day I'll want to go back.  But for now I'm a happy little traveler with a question for you:  is your brand loyalty serving you well? 

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

In like a lion. Out like a lamb. Here like a toothache.

Joe Brancatelli of  is my most reliable and diligent travel guru.  Not only is his industry coverage accurate, he often predicts and reports travel breakdowns before they happen.

Want to receive urgent up-to-the-nanosecond news bulletins before it's even reported on TV?  (How does he do it?!)  Subscribe to, then hit the trails knowing Joe’s on the job.

Joe’s expertise saves me from making booking errors, and occasionally makes me rethink my attitude—which is a good thing.  But there is more to Joe.

He shares his spotlight with trusted professionals who write about travel gadgets, worldwide hotels, golf courses, restaurants, bars …  (FULL DISCLOSURE: He advertises this blog, which, compared to the rest of his posse, is Travel Lite.)  He is a film buff, music lover, fine diner and a quirky curmudgeon with a soft heart.  I relish the receipt of his Friday Brancatelli File email newsletter because he covers all this and more.

But last Friday, the Joester ticked me off.

Following important facts and speculations about the then pending British Airways strike, and after pointing to his astute article on the airlines’ resistance to upcoming regulations (in which he used the word gobsmacked), AND after sharing critical info in the "Steals and Deals" section of Tactical Traveler, he announced he was getting to the “really important stuff.”  Huh? What could be more important than all of that?  Then I read his next sentence.

“Great first day of March Madness, eh?”


Yes, Joe. It is March.  And I am mad.  About one thing: March Madness.

“Who doesn’t love upsets by underdogs and double overtime games?” he asks.  I sense the dreamy lilt of true love in his voice.

Me,  Joe.  ME!

Yes, I almost always root for the underdogs.  But I never watch basketball.  Never.  I am MAD in March because my husband doesn’t share my disdain of the sport.  “Gads, George! Isn’t this the last game YET?”

George stares at me.  Blinks.  Rotates one eye back to the TV. Draws a deep breath and begins rattling of a string of endless numbers.  “They start with say 64 teams, then play down to thirty-two, then to the Sweet Sixteen...”  The color guys are screaming.  George stops talking to watch.  I do not look at the TV.  I hear gym shoe squeaks, whistles, gym shoe squeaks, a backboard bang, the hubbub regarding a fake fall to the floor. Time out. “Then,” George says, resuming his fast-talking rundown while keeping one eye on the TV (heaven forbid he miss a drip of their profuse sweat, enough sweat to fill the court for water polo), “it’s down to the Elite Eight, on to the Final Four to the …”

I interrupt.  “Just tell me where we are in all this ‘excitement.’”

He turns his head my way.  “You don’t want to know.”

It’s not just George. Travel during March is a nightmare. Every bar in every airport, every TV in every hotel lobby, every radio in every cab. Basketball.  Seatmates rustle the newspaper, frantically folding and refolding, reading every word about every game likely already watched. And sometimes, they want to talk about it.

"I hate basketball," I say, delivering a preemptive shut down.

But now, it's Joe in my inbox, talking basketball--in a travel newsletter.

Point, shoot, bounce the ball, point, shoot, (yawn), run, gym shoe squeak, whistle, run, gym shoe squeak, louder gym shoe squeak, fake fall to the floor, GYM SHOE SQUEAK.  ANOTHER WHISTLE.  BOUNCING  BALLS.  PEOPLE SCREAMING.  FAKE—FAKE, FAKE, FAKE--FALL TO THE FLOOR!!!!!!!!!!!!

“Truly compelling stuff,” Joe writes.

Oh, yeah.  Compelling.

March MADNESS indeed.