Facebook pages become forums for angry customers
Thousands of cell phone customers remain dissatisfied with their service more than a week after their carrier was switched from Altell to Element Mobile.
Ryan Delaney, the owner of Spirit Implements in Waupaca, started a Facebook page shortly after the transition. As of Tuesday, Jan. 18, the Dump Element Mobile site had more than 2,100 friends and hundreds of postings from angry customers.
Complaints range from dropped calls to loss of texting and an inability to access voice mail or the Internet.
"This has been the worst product rollout in the history of all product rollouts," Delaney told the County Post. "In my opinion, they took over a fully functional cell phone carrier and dropped it in the toilet."
Delaney said he was in Atlanta on business when his cell phone stopped working on Jan. 7. He then spent several days trying unsuccessfully to contact Element Mobile's customer service.
On his Facebook page on Jan. 9, Delaney posted, "They send out a nice slick brochure talking about how they are going to concentrate on customer service - now, I can't get anyone to answer a phone call. Phone only partially works, coverage is horrible and I need my phone for business and may be stuck in a loser contract."
That same day, Element posted on its Facebook page, "Service update - some customers are experiencing unexpected network issues. Our network team is working nonstop to address these issues. Please stay tuned for details as they become available. As always, please feel free to contact Customer Support at 800-236-1461 or email@example.com."
On Jan. 10, Element posted, "Thank you for your continued patience and support during this transition! There are a few issues that some customers are experiencing but we are working through those on a case by case basis. Issues are being resolved by the hour."
"EM is breaking my heart. Still no email back. If they try to charge us ETF's (early termination fees), let's all just throw some $$ in a hat and as a group retain a great lawyer," Delaney posted on the morning of Jan. 11.
A few hours later, Delaney posted, "They called! Four and a half days in - and today I got a call! Why am I excited? They finally did something they should have done on Friday."
Element posted a service update on Jan. 11: "Please visit our updated FAQ page http://elementmobile.com/why/faq that addresses common upgrade questions. It is our brand promise to resolve any short term issues you face, with the goal of providing the best long term customer experience. We will continue to make updates as they become available. We have the best customers and we will work to make things right."
On Jan. 12, Element sent out a press release, indicating that "some customers have experienced an interruption of service," and explaining how they could apply for a service credit by completing a form at www.elementmobile.com/why/support.
"Any short-term network transition issues do not reflect the service a customer can expect in the long term with Element Mobile." Jerry Wilke, chief operating officer of Element Mobile, said in the release. "We have the best customers - they are passionate about technology. We hope to be judged on how we overcome these obstacles and make things right."
Also on Jan. 12, the Element Facebook page had the following exchange:
Chris Woodard, "I'm very pleased with my service and will be sticking with Element Mobile as when these upgrades are finished it will be the best data speeds and the best coverage around all from a local company."
Deanna Luedtke Rehberg, "It is great to see that they have about five happy customers, wonder how long they will stay afloat with those few that actually have working phones."
On Jan. 13, Element posted another service update on its Facebook page, "Network optimization is scheduled for 12AM to 5AM Friday January 14. We apologize in advance for any service interruption you may experience and appreciate your patience during this upgrade."
On Jan. 14, Element posted, "Network optimization was successful! All sites are operating normal. Final maintenance is scheduled for 12AM to 5AM Sunday January 16. We apologize in advance for any service interruption you may experience and appreciate your patience during this upgrade."
At the Element Facebook page, a customer posted, "OK. Still roaming, unreliable text, no pic or vid messaging. Is this what will be "operating normal" is? If so, we will look elsewhere along with the thousands of others."
Shortly after 8 a.m. Sunday, Jan. 16, Element posted, "This mornings network optimization was successful! To ensure your handset is loaded with the latest software, dial *228 --> send from your handset. This will manually load the updates that may not have taken effect over the air. We are aware and currently troubleshooting customers experiencing a slow data connection in some rural areas."
That posting triggered 53 comments. While several customers indicated that the network optimization had worked for them, most of the responses were from unhappy customers. Shelly Willy Higgins' post summed up the attitude of most of the Facebook comments by stating, "Define 'successful.'"
Meanwhile, the Dump Element Mobile page has continued to grow in popularity and the discussion has moved on to such subjects as how to contact the Better Business Bureau, alternative carriers and litigation due to the $200 early termination fee that makes leaving Element for another carrier costly.
Dan Kowalke, director of marketing for Element, said about 5 percent of Element's customers have reported technical difficulties.
He attributed the company's problems to two issues: handsets that need replacing and an overloaded customer service technology at Element.
"A small percentage of our best customers who rely on our data feature required a technology refresh or a new device to be compatible with the upgraded network," Kowalke told the County Post.
Kowalke said Element has been working to provide new equipment to its customers that need it as quickly as possible.
He also indicated that Element's voice mail and e-mail systems have been overloaded by customer contacts. He said the company is responding on a case-by-case basis and has hired more employees to help with customer service.
"We've compensated and will continue to compensate for any disruption of service last week," Kowalke said. "Ultimately, Element Mobile will make things right."
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