Originally, mobile phones were the size, shape and heft of your average brick. People would walk down the street yelling, "Guess where I'm calling from!" into the mouthpiece.

Now we have "smartphones." Ironically, it's the user who has to be smart to understand all those apps (I think "apps" is short for "appetizers") or you can get an 8-year-old explain it to you.


They miniaturized smartphones into video wrist-phones; then enlarged them again so people could watch movies. I wondered why anyone would watch a two-hour movie on a cellphone — until I spent an afternoon at the DMV. Now I get it.

Yet, with all these advances, no one has figured out how to make calling customer service painless.

Last week, I spent two hours on the phone with Chad, one of our service provider's "troubleshooters," to get my new cellphone to work. Chad performed the necessary repairs — using magic, I believe — remotely, from his computer.

Unfortunately, the fix didn't take and The Amazing Chad wasn't available when I called again yesterday. He'd probably been fired for being pleasant to a customer. This time I spoke with Ron, for 90 minutes.

Ron walked me through backing up my phone on my computer, then wiping it and reinstalling all the software, data and factory settings — four times. Then Ron threw in the towel and said those five little words you never want to hear, "I'm going to transfer you."

"Ron, wait!" I cried. "I can do better!" But it was too late. "Hold" music was already playing in my ear. I was to be at the mercy of — duhn, duhn, duuuuhn — the Warranty Department.

After pressing "7" for customer service three times — and having it return me to the "main menu" three times — Selma came on the line. To fully appreciate the following conversation, keep in mind my cellphone was only 32 days old.

Selma agreed to replace my busted phone with a "new or refurbished one" (italics mine) for a $199 co-pay.

"But the phone cost $175," I said. "How can the co-pay for what I already paid for — a new, working cellphone — be $24 more than the cost of the phone, especially a refurbished one?"

Due to my inability to grasp this complex mathematical concept, Selma transferred me to the manufacturer. I began contemplating connecting two empty soup cans with a long piece of string. It would have to work better than my new cellphone.

Melissa, the manufacturer's rep, also offered to replace my phone — without the $199 co-pay. She wanted a $29 "restocking fee."

"Why would you put a broken phone back into inventory?" I inquired.

Instead of an answer, Melissa gave me six return options; I hated them all.

By now I'd been on the phone for two and a half hours without a bathroom break. Unwilling to continue (at least, not without a stiff drink), I said, "I'm going to transfer you" and handed the phone to Doug.


I don't know how he did it, but 30 minutes later, a new phone was on the way — without any fees. There's just one catch: We're going to have to put the SIM card from my broken phone into the new one.

I hope Chad's around next week when I call because the new phone doesn't work. I like Chad. Chad doesn't say, "I'm going to transfer you."