In my work hours, I live and breathe Silicon Valley. A lot of the time, it feels like I’m living in the future. Not so when dealing with the phenomenal world of SIM unlocking, though.
On 18 June last year, I purchased an Apple iPhone 6+ in the UK, knowing that I would soon be moving to the US. Why pay the premium for an UK phone, over just waiting a few months and then buying it in the US? I wasn’t sure what the SIM unlocking situation would be in the US. In the UK, it’s a lot simpler: You go into a shop, you buy a phone, and it’s unlocked. Use any SIM card you want.
I moved to the US, but after a while, my phone developed a fault (apparently, the iPhone 6+ isn’t particularly reliable), and on May 25th, I went to the Apple store to replace it. They did. I wasn’t able to restore my settings and apps from my backup, but that’s by the by; after 5–6 hours of syncing and copying and setting everything up, I was back in business.
Until mid-July, when my new (presumably reconditioned) phone also stopped working. Back to the Apple store I go. New phone again. And again, the backup didn’t restore properly. So that’s another 5–6 hours out the window. Except this time, something weird happened
The replacement phone
As the Genius in the Apple store activated my phone, a message popped up saying that I had to pick my mobile phone carrier, and that the phone would be permanently locked to the new carrier.
“Uhm; this doesn’t look right,” I told the Apple Genius. “My previous phone was unlocked, this one should be, too.”
“Oh, yeah… Don’t worry about that, I can see here that your phone is unlocked.” he said.
“But… It says ‘permanently’?” I asked, just to make sure. “I’m pretty sure my previous replacement didn’t have this as an issue.”
“No, no, that’s just a curiosity. Don’t worry. And if something happens, you can come back in and we’ll fix it for you.” he said.
So, stupidly, I took his word for it.
Today, 6 weeks later, I need to use my UK SIM card to get an One Time Password (OTP) for a banking transaction. But as soon as I insert my UK SIM card…
You guessed it, a message popped up stating that my SIM card was locked.
So I call Apple, and I explain the situation. They think that there may be a way of fixing this, which involves… Wiping everything, resetting the the phone to factory settings, then restoring from a backup, this time with the UK SIM card inserted into the phone.
I tell them that I’d really rather not spend another 5–6 hours doing a backup/restore of my phone, that I’ve already been through this whole process twice, and that this was Apple’s mistake to fix.
The other interesting thing to point out here is that i have a Retina MacBook, which doesn’t have an USB ports, but the procedure Apple is advising me to do requires me to plug the phone into a computer. Of course, the phone didn’t come with an USB-C plug, and the computer didn’t come with an USB Type A socket, so it appears there is no way for me to do this without buying additional hardware. Well done, Apple.
To be fair, Apple’s tech support people were lovely to me. They eventually gave me a senior manager to speak to, who was “going to try something his end”, but eventually forwarded me to T-Mobile.
Back to T-Mobile
T-Mobile, on their end, weren’t able to help me. The chap on the phone offered to unlock my phone temporarily.
“Wait… Temporarily? Why temporarily?” I ask
“That’s for travel,” comes the reply.
“But you have no right to lock the phone. It is not yours to lock!” I say.
The phone call turns out to be completely fruitless, and I start bitching and moaning at T-Mobile on Twitter. Because, apparently, that’s what Twitter is for.
As I’m quarreling with T-Mobile (during which their customer service representative accidentally tweeted the last 4 digits of my phone number on its public account. Whoops), an e-mail comes in from Apple
Apple and T-mobile both come through
I receive an E-mail from Apple, saying it has resolved my issue:
“I have received updated information for your case regarding the device with the incorrect carrier lock policy, and wanted to let you know that the lock has been lifted. You will need to perform one more restore of the device in iTunes to complete this process, but after the device has been restored it will be unlocked to be used with the appropriate SIM cards as intended.”
Which is awesome, except for the part where the ‘restore of the device’ makes me reacquainted with the aforementioned USB-C / USB type A problem.
While I’m trying to figure out how to solve that particular snafu, I get a Twitter DM from T-Mobile’s customer service team, who were presumably getting bored of my incessant whining:
So somehow, the problem was resolved by both Apple and T-mobile within minutes of each other; Apple by doing Dark Magic™ in its back-end, and T-Mobile by realizing there was “no balance due on the device”, and that there was no reason for them not to unlock it.
Half way through trying to figure out how I would do a reset & restore on my phone, I decided to just restart my phone instead. It asked me to activate the device, I did, and it now works on my UK SIM card.
All it took was 3 hours of my time. At least I didn’t have to set up my phone from scratch again this time, so there’s that.
What can you learn?
Since this is a publication about customer service, there’s a few lessons to take away here:
- Apple: Listen to your customer — If your customer is concerned about pressing a button that looks like it does something bad, don’t reassure them that it is OK. Especially if it isn’t. This whole issue could have been avoidable if the Apple Genius had acted / escalated the issue right there and then.
- Apple: Consider your hardware — If your restore mechanism requires a wired connection to a computer, but you sell computers without that port… You have a problem. Throw a USB-A adapter in the box with your $1,500 computer; problem solved.
- T-Mobile: Staff training — If your social media team is able to resolve a problem that your phone support team cannot, it is symptomatic of a much bigger problem in your organization. Either they have access to different tools (weird), the SM team overstepped their remit (worrying), or the phone / SM support teams have different levels of training (frustrating)
- T-Mobile: Automatic SIM unlock? — If the customer owing money on a phone is what causes the SIM lock, perhaps just automatically unlock any phone where no money is owed? It’d be a lot less frustrating experience for everyone concerned.
- Everyone: Come ON — Give it a fucking break with the SIM locking already. You’ve had your monopolies, maybe it’s time to let it slide.