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.