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Customer Service Woes resolved with Twitter. Part 1: T-Mobile, Germany

I have to say that I am a bit disappointed in customer service, on both sides of the Atlantic. Although I’m not sure I can call the North American issue, “customer service”—but more on that in a day or two.

Meanwhile I have happy news to report: my iPhone 3G is, finally, unlocked.

Unfortunately it wasn’t as straightforward as it should have been—and I can’t tell if it’s because the customer support staff is poorly trained or, generally speaking, incompetent.

T-Mobile made me wait until the actual second anniversary date of my initial contract before I could call in and get it unlocked—except my initial encounter, after this date, was with a woman who told me that I could unlock the phone by going to a special T-Mobile website where I could unlock it by myself – so, while still on the phone with this woman, I went to the website and tried to select the iPhone from the dropdown menu on that page.

It wasn’t there.

After pointing this out to the woman, she put me on hold for a few minutes, came back and asked me for my IMEI number—then told me to wait 48 hours before connecting my iPhone 3G and, after that, it would be unlocked.

This was, I might note, Monday, October 11.

Wednesday I tried the phone and it was still locked—so I decided to wait a couple of days—and just about the moment I was about to try again, I got an SMS from T-Mobile. My number had just been submitted to Apple and that I should wait 48 before connecting my phone to iTunes and then it would be unlocked.

In other words, I was lied to on Monday, October, 11, 2010, by a T-Mobile representative: She did not, in fact, instantly transmit my information to Apple, instead she, and T-Mobile, waited four days to actually do this—and the truth was uncovered by an SMS.

I decided to wait a few days—connected to my iTunes, and nothing happened. So I called, only this time to reach representatives who told me that right now Apple is trying to process a lot of unlock requests and that it might take two or three weeks to accomplished.

Given that I doubt there’s any human interaction with individual iPhone unlock requests at Apple, this sounded like bullshit.

So I tweeted about it, mentioning @Telekom_hilft in the Tweet.

Not too long later I was communicating with Deutsche Telekom’s help staff via email, and after getting a strange suggestion of restoring my iPhone 3G from scratch with a SIM card from a competitor, it would be unlocked—so today I trundled off to the office today with my laptop and borrowed a friend’s SIM Card from a competing company and restored my phone.

I was rewarded with a wonderful message on iTunes:

It’s a bit frustrating that it took complaining on Twitter to get a satisfactory solution out of the company. I can’t imagine that I was the first person with this kind of problem, or even if I was, telling me that it would take Apple two or three weeks to deal with a backlog of unlocking requests seems a bit unreasonable.

The end result is that I’m happy-but it took me longer than it should have.

This means that the next time I go to the States I can actually plug in my T-Mobile USA SIM.

Telekom is getting money out of me on both sides of the Atlantic.

9 comments to Customer Service Woes resolved with Twitter. Part 1: T-Mobile, Germany

  • You could have asked someone who’s done this before… 🙂

    I would say that the customer service deficit is 100% on the side of Apple. They’re the ones that make the process of unlocking the phone so opaque. And yes, the only way to get the unlock code from Apple is to restore over iTunes with a competitor’s SIM.

    • I can’t assign 100% of the deficit to Apple–from what you’ve said, I’ll assign 66.66% of the deficit to Apple. However if the problem really is that well known, then T-Mobile customer service representatives should be able to tell me that this is the problem instead of coming up with some bullshit about it taking 2 or 3 weeks to unlock because Apple is really busy right now. Therefore I’ll assign the rest of the blame to T-Mobile.

  • It’s not really a problem, it’s Apple’s goofy way of thinking. If the phone is re-activated with a valid SIM, the phone sees no reason to ask iTunes if an unlock code is available, because in Apple’s view, you already have a valid SIM, you don’t need the code. And Apple knows your needs better than you do. 🙂

    I was going to write a blog post about how to unlock an iPhone with T-Mobile in Germany, because I’ve explained it privately at least 5 times, but then I never did.

    • Do you know if this problem exists in the US as well? Is the only way an AT&T customer able to unlock their iPhone is to find a T-Mobile USA SIM card?! (Given that those are the only two GSM/UMTS carriers in the USA.)

      Meanwhile, I am puzzled about why Apple is rumored to build an iPhone compatible with Verizon. I’ve never considered Verizon to be a viable telephone company given that their phones can’t roam across borders easily. As long as one had a tri-band phone, AT&T (or Cingular as I remember them) and T-Mobile phones roam into Europe without any problems. To me, Verizon cellular service is for people who never leave the United States.

      • And still, since this is a known problem with Apple, T-Mobile’s customer service staff should know this solution. It’s not like the Apple iPhone just burst onto the market last week and that T-Mobile just started supporting them at the same time. The iPhone has been out in Germany, and exclusively with T-Mobile, since November 2007!

      • The situation does not exist in the US because AT&T will not unlock an iPhone, even if it’s out of contract.

        The only reason T-Mobile unlocks their iPhones in Germany is that the law requires all phones to be unlocked after 2 years.

        • I withdraw 80% of my complaints about T-Mobile, and unlocking, although most of that is thanks to the German government.

  • I was just about to mention that – as a US T-Mobile customer you can’t get an iPhone at all, so I believe your end of the stick wasn’t that short after all. But on the other hand, this is a very interesting loop hole to get an iPhone in the US on providers other than AT&T. Is there any restriction how long you can use the phone with the Tmo SIM? What if you cancel the German Tmo account?

    Now, as US Tmo customer since 7 years or so, I am not crying too much. I just hug and cuddle my beloved Samsung Galaxy 🙂

    • You should, in theory, be able to bring any unlocked GSM phone into the US and use it on any GSM network by putting in a GSM SIM card from an American GSM provider.

      In everyday terms that means that you can use an unlocked phone with either AT&T or T-Mobile USA. The other major networks in the United States (Verizon and Sprint) do not use this technology.

      However, in practical terms, in my experience if you ask AT&T Wireless to buy just a SIM card, they have no clue what you are talking about, or if they do, they are unwilling to do so. T-Mobile USA, on the other hand, is more than happy to do so. I actually have a T-Mobile USA SIM card that I popped into and out of my phone as needed–before I got the iPhone 3G, which was locked to T-Mobile Germany. At that point I needed a separate GSM phone for the US.

      Right now I have an unlocked iPhone 3G (which has a T-Mobile Germany pay-as-you-go SIM in it), and a locked iPhone 4 (which is locked to T-Mobile Germany). I plan on putting my T-Mobile USA SIM in my 3G the next time I go to the states.

      Meanwhile starting this week you can buy, outright, iPhone 4s from Apple in Germany. These phones can be used anywhere in the world and are not locked. Unlocked iPhones are also sold in the UK, among other places.