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    How To Lose a Customer

    I was an nTelos customer since before there even was an nTelos, back when they were still CFS. They were my first cell phone provider before cell phones were common. They’ve never had the greatest service, but they have been reliable enough in my area, and they give a 10% discount to UVA employees, so I stuck around. This weekend, however, nTelos lost me as a customer, and all due to a policy that strikes me as irredeemably stupid.

    I’ve had the same phone for several years, but it was recently experiencing some technical issues. I brought it in to the local nTelos store to see if I could get it serviced, but my model is no longer manufactured. I could purchase a refurbished model for about $35, but I looked at some of their newer phones and decided it was time to upgrade. The sales clerk was quite agreeable and cheerfully answered all of my questions, so I selected a phone and sat down to fill out the paperwork. The clerk looked up my account, saw that everything was in order, then asked me for an ID.

    “Why?”, I asked.

    “It’s just our policy,” she replied. “I guess we need to make sure you are who you say you are.”

    Fair enough. I pulled out my UVA employee ID and handed it to her. It has my name and picture on it.

    “Umm…do you have a driver’s license?”, she asked.

    “Why?”, I countered.

    “Because we need a state-issued ID.”

    “That is a state-issued ID,” I offered. “See, University of Virginia. That’s a state agency. I’m a state employee.”

    “I don’t think we can take this. Don’t you have a driver’s license?”, she asked again.

    “Why do I need a license to drive a car in order to upgrade my phone?”, I quizzed.

    “We just need a state-issued ID…”

    [update: and they wanted to photocopy my ID, something I neglected to mention when this was originally posted]

    It went on like this for awhile. She checked with her manager, then came back and said they couldn’t take the UVA ID. When I asked why again, she gave me the worst possible response:

    “Because our auditors don’t allow it…”

    Oh, man. If you ever want a lecture from me, ask me my feelings about g*d-d*mned auditors making policy decisions. I asked to speak to her manager. She led me to his office, where he shook me hand and introduced himself as Robert.

    “Nice to meet you, Robert, but do you have some ID?”

    He smiled weakly, then pointed to a certificate on the wall.

    “Seriously,” I retorted. “I need to see your driver’s license.”

    He ignored me and asked what my problem was. I explained that I had been an nTelos customer for about ten years, all I wanted to do was upgrade my phone, and I didn’t understand why I needed a license to drive a car in order to do that.

    Robert explained that it was just their policy, and actually showed me a disciplinary letter that he had received from, you guessed it, the auditors, for not getting sufficient IDs.

    “I don’t understand the problem,” he said. “You’re already a customer, we already have all your information.”

    “But that’s just the point,” I explained. “You do already have all my information. You know where I live, you know my bank account, you even know who I call on my phone. Why do you need to know whether I’m licensed to drive a car?. I’m the customer. I’m right. You fix it!”

    “It’s just our policy,” he offered. “You’d have to show your license if you were buying alcohol or a firearm…”

    “But I’m not buying alcohol or firearms!”, I exploded. “I don’t need a license to buy a phone! I can walk into 7-Eleven and buy a phone! Is this some post-911 thing…?!?”

    (Yes, I know I sound like a raving lunatic, but I am so tired of living in a neocon world…)

    “It’s just our policy,” was all he could offer. “We need a valid state-issued ID such as a driver’s license or a passport…”

    “Or you won’t sell me a new phone?”

    “No,” said Robert.

    So I left. I drove up the street to Cingular and found the very phone I wanted. I also explained that I am a paranoid nut and the only ID I was willing to show them was my UVA ID. No problem. With my UVA ID, I was able to open a brand-new Cingular account and purchase the phone that I wanted. Yes, I did have to type in my social security number (ugh, don’t get me started!), but the clerk turned his back while I entered it into the system and he assured me that I could use a self-generated PIN number in the future.

    The transaction complete, I drove back to nTelos and explained that they had lost a customer. Robert seemed a little stunned that I both could and would open another account so easily, and he did get a little defensive. I couldn’t really blame him for that. I explained that I came back not to be in his face about it, but because I wanted him to tell his bosses that nTelos was losing customers due to a policy that even he couldn’t explain.

    “Seriously,” I offered. “Don’t let the auditors tell you what to do. You’re the one out here dealing with customers all day. Put your foot down. Tell them that if a policy doesn’t make sense, then lose it, or you’ll just lose more customers.” Instead of taking a swing at me, he actually nodded in agreement. I wished him well, offered that it had been a pleasure doing business for the last ten years, and I left.

    One detail that I have yet to mention in all of this is that my ten-year-old daughter was with me for every step in this escapade, from the moment I first walked into the nTelos store, to my meeting with Robert, to my purchase of the Cingular phone. When we left nTelos for the last time and got back in the car (in case you’re wondering, the answer is yes, I do have a driver’s license), I asked her if she thought I was a complete madman.

    “You always told me to fight for the little things, Daddy, before they become big things. I would have done the same thing.”

    That was the right answer.

    29 responses to “How To Lose a Customer”

    1. Jim Duncan says:

      Coincidentally, I was doing an exchange at Bed, Bath and Beyond in Cville today. I lost the receipt, but they did it anyway. When doing the exchange, she asked for my ID. I asked her why. She referred to the manager who gave a similar answer to the nTelos guy – to make sure that the store is not fabricating fake returns. He offered to waive the requirement, when I accepted. As a result, I will return to that store.

    2. […] McCord, a long-time nTelos customer, tried to upgrade his phone there the other day. nTelos wouldn’t let him buy a new phone without seeing his driver’s license. The store manager was unable to explain why, so Sean left, drove to Cingular, and now he’s […]

    3. IamDaMan says:

      dude, this isn’t the Patriot Act. It can take you 2 seconds to pull out a driver license. Yet, you the customer felt like your rights were given up. And now you have wasted gas going down to another store. Who cares if a store ask for your driver license? If you ain’t got anything to hide just wipe it out.

    4. R. Lang says:

      Thanks for standing your ground.

    5. I read your story and then was very interested to see that in order to post a comment i had to enter both my name and my email address. It seems to me that is a little extreme just to comment on your post. I do agree with you that you should not have had to show your drivers license since the UVA picture ID should have been sufficient. I also think that the manager lacks something or he would have accepted your ID.

    6. semi says:

      To IamDaMan, if that is your real name…

      I walked into the nTelos store fully intending to keep my business with them. What drove me out was not only their “policy”, but primarily their utter inability to explain their policy. “Show us your driver’s license or you can’t buy a phone.” What complete and utter nonsense!

      As for the “wasted gas” driving to the Cingular store about one-quarter of a mile away… Dude, seriously, is that your only point? Would it make a difference to you if I had walked (which I could easily have done if it weren’t raining and I didn’t have my ten-year-old with me)?

      “If you ain’t got anything to hide just wipe it out…” Hmm, interesting if twisted logic. Very Bush-like.

    7. IamDaMan says:

      Sorry, this isn’t my real name and no i didn’t vote for Bush. I work retail when I went to school. And believe me, customers are the worst when they think ‘customers are always right’ because 98% of the time they ain’t. If you felt offended because they wanted to make sure it was you buying that phone, it is your god given right to walk out. And it is my god given right on this blog, unless you edit me, to tell you that it ‘who cares’! Again, if you have nothing to hide, why does it bother you that this store wants to make sure it is you buying the phone. It isn’t like they were asking for a SSN, blood type, and sexual orientation. They were asking for a picture ID from the DMV. I would worry if they would make a photo copy of it or even worst take it from you.

      But if making this blog makes you feel better and you have to show the injust of the evil phone companies, then all power to you.

    8. semi says:

      I worked retail for ten years, so I have a great deal of sympathy for store clerks. I even apologized to the original salesperson for being so adamant, but I also felt it important to take a stand. In fact, they did want to photocopy my driver’s license…!

      As for the Bush comment, I apologize, that was a bit out of line. Looking back, I think you probably meant to write “whip it out“, not “wipe it out“, so I hope you can understand my confusion.

      And no, I won’t edit you unless you use foul language…

    9. IamDaMan says:

      Well, if they wanted to photocopy your license, then HECK YEA, get the f’ out of there. I don’t believe you mention that. If so, then I must have not read it.

    10. I frequently ask “Why” when faced with the same situation. But I haven’t yet stood my ground like you did. I salute your principals, and more importantly, your willingness to stick to them.


    11. semi says:

      “Francis Bacon” wrote:

      I read your story and then was very interested to see that in order to post a comment i had to enter both my name and my email address. It seems to me that is a little extreme just to comment on your post…

      Hmm, you don’t actually call me hypocritical, but you make a fine point. Asking for email is really just meant to be an anti-spam step, but I can concede your point. I will change that requirement. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

    12. Curious says:

      Can you please explain your policy on not exposing your driver’s license?

    13. Jack says:

      We left Ntelos last year after 6 years because they suck…I can think of 50 better reasons than this not to use them.

    14. semi says:

      “Curious” wrote:

      Can you please explain your policy on not exposing your driver’s license?

      Who, me? I don’t have a policy. I’m not a business; I’m just a guy. And really, it was just more of an impulse. I didn’t walk into the store with the intent of giving anyone a hard time. I went in to buy a phone, but I was flummoxed as to why I should show that I had a license to drive a car, or that I had a valid passport. As I said in my article, I could walk into my local 7-Eleven and buy a phone without giving them that information, so why should nTelos care…? Because they couldn’t explain, I took my business elsewhere.

    15. too short says:

      life is way too short to waste this much energy because someone asked to see an ID you have with info they already have. nTelos sucks so badly in every area that, as Jack said, there’s plenty of other rerasons to leave them. Excuse me while I go back to my que to find out why I couldn’t make or recieve calls in NYC this weekend on my nTelos piece of crap.

    16. Happy NTELOS User says:

      Mr. McCord:
      I am not a representative of NTELOS; however, I feel you may have missed a few important facts about your purchase at the wireless store. What you didn’t mention was that you were not just purchasing a phone, you were upgrading your phone, so therefore you were signing a contract. State/gov IDs although not full proof are much harder to replicate and tamper with that a simple employee ID card that many companies now a days use. Your employee ID is not a state/gov issued ID and shouldn’t be accepted as a form of ID for credit to purchase new service or renew current services. It is ashame that the manager/rep did not understand the company procedures enough to explain to you the very reason you feared showing your DL is the very reason they were asking for the ID. I think if some stole your employee ID and used your identification to start up service at a local carrier, you would be more upset than the simple fact the carrier was trying to protect you. Both the rep and manager should have been able to explain these reason just as I am now to you. What I would recommend to you is that you go to the local DMV and get an identification card. This is a state issued ID and can be used to run credit and for identification when signing contracts ect. I know I would have turned you away the same way the store did and actually been more suspicious of the reason you wanted to hide your ID. As far as the increase in discount from Cingular to NTELOS. Most Cingular plans are more expensive than plans at NTELOS, so therefore to compare your discount, please don’t forget to do the simple math in what you may or may not be really saving. So next time you give someone a hard time about protecting your identity–just remember why they are asking.

    17. semi says:

      Happy NTELOS User — Thank you for the thoughtful and intelligent response. Just to clarify: I didn’t fear showing my driver’s license, I just found it curious and annoying, especially when nobody could offer a cogent explanation. Your points notwithstanding, I still fail to see how having a license to drive a car has anything to do with purchasing a phone. At no time did I feel that nTelos was trying to protect my identity; rather, the clear message I received was that the only reason they wanted to photocopy my license was because that’s what their auditors told them to do. How utterly stupid.

      According to the DMV website, Virginia only offers state ID cards to residents who do not have a driver’s license, so that doesn’t really solve anything. Also, as I pointed out, Cingular happily accepted my UVA ID to start a new account. They got my business because they were more courteous and understanding.

    18. Curious says:

      After reading the points Happy NTELOS User made and your unwillingness to even accept those very reasonable explanations it can only suffice to say that you have your blinders on and have a personal belief against showing your driver’s license for whatever reason. In which case, I feel bad for the poor guys at NTELOS that felt your wrath. Although they were unable to reason with you and explain the policy as is their job, I do not believe it would have made a difference even if they did explain it to you. You have a problem with the policy, the lack of explanation is your momentary excuse and your shifting of blame to the employees of NTELOS. Hopefully everything works out with Cingular.

    19. semi says:

      Curious wrote:

      …you have your blinders on and have a personal belief against showing your driver’s license for whatever reason.

      Well, no. If I was pulled over by a state trooper while driving my car, I would quite readily brandish my driver’s license. If I were fishing on public lands, I would readily brandish my fishing license. Since one does not need a license to use a phone, however, I still fail to see why one needs to show a license.

      Of course, I am being flip. What nTelos needed was a proper ID, just to make sure I wasn’t some bum off the street. However, all of my information was in their system. They could have asked me my address, my home phone, my wife’s name, the last number I called, or any number of things. The picture ID that I did show them, issued by an agency of Virginia, has my full name and a picture of my ugly face. It should have sufficed, and did for Cingular.

      But what was most astonishing to me was that not only could the manager not explain the policy, but that he was willing to let me simply walk out the store and go to another company rather than take a minute to call the home office for either a better explanation of the policy or, preferably, permission to make an exception. Was I being unreasonable? Yeah, maybe a little. But so was he, and he lost my business.

    20. uberxy says:

      I fail to see the point of your outrage and subsequent blog describing it. I think you are setting a poor example for your child by going off over nothing.

    21. Blanco Nino says:

      i would have showed them my id, but i wouldn’t let them photocopy it. true, you don’t have to be able to drive a car to buy a phone, but a DL is the de facto ID for a majority of americans now, and they’re getting harder and harder to fake. how would you feel if somebody intercepted your cingular bill, got your info, went into their store and activated a new phone on your account, all b/c they didn’t bother to check his ID? i think you overreacted personally, but then, i buy all my new cellphones on ebay and activate them myself so i don’t have to deal w/ the stores and their b.s. at all.

    22. […] I received a call from Don Gibson, Director of Sales for nTelos. He had read my blog entry detailing my odd episode with an nTelos retail manager that ultimately drove me to the competition. […]

    23. […] You have to register if you earn an income. You have to register to drive a car. (And apparently, you need a driver’s license to buy a phone). You have to register to teach. You have to register to sell food. You have to register to add an […]

    24. Hollow Boy says:

      He already was a customer, he was not opening a new account. He was right to stand his ground.
      The only items where ID is required to buy are alcohol,tobacco, and firearms. Like he said, he could have bought a phone at 7/11, no problem. Would have only had to show ID if paying with a personal check.
      We have entirely too much snooping into our personal lives going on as it is, between government, corporations,the media, etc.

    25. uberxy says:

      When you ask for new service or a new phone at a cell store, you are really asking for credit. That one cent phone costs money, and needs to come out of your next 12 payments. And yes, you may have signed up for the $12.99 42 free minute plan, but for all the cell company knows, you may run up a bill of thousands of dollars in the next 30 days. So all the clerk wanted to do, as the clerk was instructed to do, was to run a credit check on you. You need a social security number to do that, not business photo id (as useless as your high school yearbook picture). And you might say, well, I pay my $12.99 to the cell company every month and have been a great customer. Could be true, and could be true concurrently that you haven’t paid your mortgage in the last six months. It’s the kind of thing retail credit extenders like to know, and it makes perfect sense to me. Cell companies have huge fraudulent losses every month, and a quick credit check is about all they can do to help prevent it without upsetting customers; or at least, most customers.

    26. I am a NTELOS retail manager, somewhere down the line from Don Gibson actually. The way I have understood it is, the legal aspect of a ‘contract’ is a new relationship from date x to date x. If a court were to get involved, any previous contract is null and void and only the existing contract is what they look at. So if the ID were attached to a previous contract and not the current one, the idea that I’m already an existing customer is out the window.

      In other words, the legal aspect doesn’t have a designation between “new service” and “upgrading service”. BTW, this is proved as none of our contracts say new line of service.

      When we have promos (rebates and such) that require a contract, all of them specifically say, “requires a new 2-year contract”, however this is not excluding upgrades as they are seen in the aspect of new as well.



    27. blahblah says:

      I have been in cell phone industry for 8 yrs now from about high school up until college. It has always always been a requirement to show ID period, we have to make sure you are who you say you are and must make a copy of your photo ID point blank period, that copy goes over to corporate along with all your paperwork and sometimes if the information doesnt match we will get audited or the customer will have to go through an identity review in order to prove the identity or the contract is also considered as being null and void if it ever becomes a legal issue. Every single time you sign up with a brand new provider where a 2 year contract is required YOU WILL ALWAYS HAVE TO PROVIDE YOU SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER TO CHECK CREDIT. yes you are really checking your credit to get service, and based on your credit history you will either have a low or high deposit. Excellent credit means absolutely no deposit. sorry its been that way for years. Its nothing new, its to protect the customer and the actual provider if the customer did in fact want to make a legal issue about signing their contract and or paperwork, the ID is an agreement that you accept the terms and conditions AND you were the person there on that day to sign the paperwork. sorry

    28. LSNT says:

      I just upgraded a phone through the Sprint.com website. It did not require ID, but i did have to log in with a username and password. So, i entered into a contract (two-year), without showing ID.

    29. Store manager says:

      I actually work for Ntelos as a Store manager (different store). I can shed a little more light on the situation. There are two points in taking a copy of the photo ID. One, and most important is SOX compliance with the federal gov’t. Two, we keep records of the contracts to prove that the customer that signed the contract was in fact the same person who owns the account, you’re signature is also on most state issued ID. Also, if any custoemr disputes siging a contract we can simply produce the signed copy with ID to show that it was done properly. From an Ntelos standpoint, equifax, our perferred credit agency, requires your state ID number in order to run your credit. Its very ture the manager should have been able to tell you the finer points on why it was required, but his concern is not to lose his job over very high audit standards. I assure you this is a very real possibility.

      As for renewing from the website, retailer will mail a copy of the contract with the handset and expect it signed and returned with ID. Generally if this is not done they will bill the total cost of the handset…not the same as the contract cost. Same goes for over the phone, with the addition of recorded conversation. Basically, it boils down to the company protecting itself from fraud, which unfortunately we see frequently. Examples would be sons with similar names…i.e. jr, II, III, or husbands and wives getting call records to see who the other is cheating with. The fact is this is the world we live in, like it or not we helped create the atmosphere of distrust and information gathering. It is all in an effort to protect identity and prevent fraud, pity that we all can’t understand that.

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