In a mature market, a good customer experience should be key, right? Not for Movistar!

For the last two and a half weeks I have been trying to buy a new Smartphone, locked to a carrier. When I say trying, I really do mean trying. The following post describes, in reasonable (too much??) detail, the things that have happened to me in that period. It is so long, because a lot has happened … sorry. Besides my personal dissatisfaction with the whole purchase process and the need to get it off my chest, I think it illustrates rather well what can happen to you when you deal with such a large mobile phone operator. The complete lack of commitment to the client is flagrant. In a rather mature mobile phone market, the customer experience is key. You have to keep your clients satisfied… I have been in a shop 3 times with about 300 euros in my pocket willing to sign me up for a 2 to 2,5 year contract and it has been impossible. Keep reading if you want to know the details.

For the international reader, please note that Movistar, my current operator, is the mobile brand of the incumbent provider Telefónica. Movistar has a market share of some 50%.


When all this started, we had no contractual obligations with any operator; i.e. we were free to go whenever and wherever we wanted. I have an unlocked Nokia E71, and I enjoy it quite a lot. However, my wife’s phone was getting old and I fancied changing phones, and so we came to an agreement that I would buy a new phone and she’d get mine. Since that decision, I have given a lot of thought about which smartphone to buy. I was sort of split between the new iPhone, the Nokia N97 and the HTC Magic. Eventually, I figured I wanted to try the iPhone experience. Coincidentally, I had received a few weeks before that a promotional SMS from my mobile operator, Movistar, stating that they would give me an additional 12.000 points if I upgraded my phone before the end of June. Those 12k points together with the 18k points I had, would allow me to get an iPhone for some 300 euros. I thought that was quite acceptable, so wanted to go ahead with that.

First try

Firstly, I figured it would make sense to call the Loyalty Programme (Programa de Puntos), as the message stated, to see how to make use of the offer. As is normal, you first get connected to a computer so that you can select options to specify your query. Mine was always “other…” and “other…”. Eventually I ended up talking to an operator. I explained her about my intentions and asked how I should proceed. Firstly, she denied I had received the message. A bit surprised, I emphasised I had the message in my inbox and I read it out loud to her. Then she said, she didn’t have anything registered on her screen that indicated that I had received that message. I couldn’t do much else than read the message again. Eventually, after insisting, she told me how to proceed. I had to go into the shop, select the brand and model of the phone I wanted, and call the Loyalty Programme again so that they could send me the promo code to use in order to get the phone. I asked her with which department I was talking, and it seems that the computer simply put me through to the generic Customer Service department (609). As a side note, after all the calls that you can read about below, I get the feeling the Loyalty Programme doesn’t actually have any operators.

In any case, my wife and I hopped into the car to pick up an iPhone. I wanted the flagship store experience, so we went into Madrid (I live outside of the city). Traffic was fine and in 30 minutes we were in the store. We waited in the queue and eventually “Mario” attended us. He showed us the iPhone they have on display and explained all the things I had already read about on the web site. I told him the model and data plan we wanted, and informed him that we needed to call the Loyalty Programme so that they could send us the necessary code to make use of the offer they had sent me. I showed him the SMS, and he was quick to inform me that I shouldn’t make too much of that. That offer is being sent to a lot of people, but generally you can’t make any use of it (!), he explained. I didn’t say anything and just got on the phone.

We called the Loyalty Programme, and eventually we ended up speaking to an operator. Here the unbelievable story begins. In first instance, we explain our situation and ask them to send the necessary promo code. Without detailing everything for you, let me just say that we were passed from one department to another, having to explain our story over and over again, as nobody could help us. After probably about 30 to 45 minutes (!), someone from a department that has nothing to do with the Loyalty Programme (she was from Order Management), a lady – sympathetic to our situation – tried to send us the promo code. We explained more that 4 times that it was for the new iPhone 3GS as the conditions she was specifying did not fit what I had read on the Internet. We thought she had eventually understood, but once we received the message the code was for the iPhone 3G. It was of course impossible to localise this lady or her department in order to rectify the promo message. So we started calling and explaining again. We were passed from department to department, and explained repeatedly our now even longer story. Another 30 minutes passed with no result. Eventually, I asked Mario for the shop Manager.

We informed her of our situation and that we had been in the shop for about an hour and a half and that we were trying to make use of an offer from Movistar. I emphasised how frustrating the experience had been and that we were wondering whether she could help out, respecting the offer that was sent to us. I figured that someone had to take responsability for the situation and that in a Flagship store she could pull some levers to make things happen. Well, she basically laughed at us and told us that it was not her responsability and that she could do nothing.

I was getting a little upset with the situation, by then. Up until that moment, it was a matter of getting Movistar to accept the offer they made us. It was just ridiculous that they were getting away with not respecting it. Eventually, after talking with my wife, we figured that the additional 40 euro discount was not worth all this hassle. So we told Mario that we would forget about the offer and that we would get the iPhone at the normal price with the points I had. It goes without saying that they didn’t have it in the colour I wanted, but at that point I couldn’t really care about that anymore. So, Mario went ahead to process the sale. At a certain point in the process, he looked at me and said that he couldn’t complete the sale. Something in the system was conflicting with what I tried to purchase. He was not exactly looking at solving the problem. After about two and a half hours in the shop, I was fed up, so I told him that we were leaving and that we’d switch to Vodafone. No protest from Mario.

Switching to Vodafone

Switching to Vodafone was terribly simple. They have the HTC Magic in exclusivity, and the deal they offered was good. I simply gave all the details over the phone, and the operator would make things happen. What a smooth experience.

I was well aware that Movistar would call us to make us a counter offer to stay with them. I told my wife, that if they called her that the conditions were simple: I wouldn’t pay more than half of what the phone would have costed me the day we were in the shop. If they could accept that, then we’d stay with them. I was willing to accept this for the iPhone 3GS and the Nokia N97.

The first time they called, my wife explained what had happened to us and that we were willing to stay with Movistar, but that they would need to offer us the iPhone 3GS for half the price. Instead they offered her the iPhone 3G for free. When she insisted she was not interested in the iPhone 3G, the operator said she couldn’t do anything about that and simply hung up on her.

I was quite surprised by this reaction, and figured I’d give them a ring in the afternoon to see what had happened. I ended up speaking with a person a bit more willing to “negotiate”. She explained quite clearly that she could offer absolutely no deals with the iPhone 3GS.  Though a bit of a shame, we eventually made an acceptable deal with the Nokia N97. In return for the deal, I would sign a 30-month contract!

Cashing in on the offer

In order to make use of that offer for the N97, we had to send a fax in which we stated that we wanted to cancel the switch. We sent this fax on Friday, July 3rd. The next Monday we received a message at 10am stating that the switch was cancelled. According to the operator I spoke to on Friday, after that message from Monday morning, in a maximum of 48 hours we would receive a message with a code we could use to pick up the new phone. After 48 hours there was no message. When I called, they told me that I should leave a window from 48 to 72 hours. After 72 hours, there was still no message. I called again, and then they told me I should expect to receive a message 72 hours after they processed internally the cancellation of the switch, which was 8pm on Monday. And indeed, 71½ hours after the internal cancellation (at 7:30pm), I received the message!

That same evening, we went to three Movistar shops in my town. None of them had the Nokia N97. So we went to Madrid, to the flagship store, again. As expected, there they still had stock of the N97. We were first attended by Karolina, a friendly and pro-active shop assistant. She went to get the phone and got behind the PC terminal to process the sale.

I was so near to closing that unpleasant chapter with Movistar, but then system gave another problem. I had contracted a flat rate data plan on my mobile phone line and the offer included one as well. Instead of making the transaction easier, it makes it more difficult. Thankfully, Karolina got on the phone and cancelled the flat rate data plan I had, so that she could sign me up for the same one included in my offer. Apparantly, it takes some time for this to register in the system… some 15 minutes, according to Karolina. It was 9:30pm by then. We walked around the shop for another 15 minutes and then went up to the counter again. Jorge attended us now. He tried to help us for around 15 minutes until the shop closed at 10pm. No luck. He told us to come back tomorrow after 4pm and ask for him or Karolina. It should be sorted out by then.

The day after, I returned to the shop and Karolina helped me out. She tried again, but it still wasn’t working. She called to see what happened. The party on the other end of the line told her that something was wrong, and that they would open a ticket. Normally, they solve them pretty quickly… in a week!! Karoline, desperate as well to help me out, but not able, told me that the best she could do was have Jorge call me when the problem is solved, so that I can go back to the shop for the 4th time.

Today, 2 and a half weeks later, I still have my money in my pocket, and am free to go where I want after having tried to buy a phone 3 times. If, and when, the call from Jorge reaches me, perhaps the offer they made me has already expired (it expires this Friday). Possibly I could call again, for the 10th time and I’d have to explain my story, again, so that they perhaps make me the same offer. However, I’ll be honest with you, I am so terribly unhappy with the whole experience, that I don’t whether I’d stay with Movistar even if they gave me the phone for free. It is particularly the feeling that I have to sign up for 2 years that makes me feel very uncomfortable.

I’ll let you know what happens…


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