Monday, September 24, 2012

Cell Phone Saga: Part II

For Carolyn.

Claro is really good at making money. If that is the only thing you care about, you should take a business course with these people. I highly recommend them. But then I won't do business with you, unless you're an exceptional trickster, of course. I'd like to tell you differently, but I've agreed to some crazy things which turned out, not surprisingly in hindsight, minute-23-of-any-Fraiser-episode painful. Cringe painful. Glad it wasn't you painful.
I left Cell Phone Saga: Part I when I had signed the contract for 5 phones for 18 months. Ah, promises.
We went to pick out our "free"-comes-with-the-contract phones. They looked legit. Long story short here: they suck. Looks, as it turns out, is all they have. One you cannot hear ring. Yes, we tried everything. One you can't hear the person on the other line. One randomly connects to the internet, which Claro gleefully charges you for. One was stolen in a concho before we knew it too well (Yeah, that was my bad). Let's assume it worked splendidly. And one refuses to send text messages, though that is a good feature since those are apparently not part of the plan and subject to--you guessed it--extra charges. No problem. No problem. We can deal with this. The phones, afterall, were "free". If we had really wanted to, we could have put our phone chip into a fancy, functioning phone. Right, Claro?
In about month 3 of our 18 month relationship, Claro started to send us love messages. How sweet. These messages actually un-locked our phones, so we could easily respond to them. Even while they were still in our pockets. How thoughtful. Before we knew it, our pockets and small children had happily signed up for services like Daily Sports News and Hourly Jokes and Healthy Eating Tips and Best Pick-Up Lines. You know, information that is important and worth paying more for. Just three months in and it was official: we were in love. Love, stalking, what's the difference? And they kept sending messages. Even after official complaints where I used words like dishonest and deplorable. Bless my ClaroStalkers.
When I say official complaints, I really do mean it. You see, anytime I wanted to do anything other than give them money--which they happily accept at hundreds of convenient locations (no, you're right, not online)--I had to go, with my passport and a smile, to the main Claro office. After you've climbed the stairs and pulled open the heavy glass front doors, been hit by the arctic blast of cranked up A/C, you may approach the first desk. But you often need to use your elbows. One person is seated behind the desk, one stands behind her and a third next to the computer. I'm not sure what the two extras are for, but you only speak to the one seated at the desk, when you can get her attention. She's usually deep in conversation with the two standing. Like this:
"Yes?" she'll ask, which is her way of saying Welcome! How can I help you?
"I need to complain about X" or "I need to replace a lost/stolen chip"
"What is your name?" her pencil and paper at the ready.
"And your last name?" she sighs since I'm supposed to say my full name, always.
"Don't worry about it," I assure her. It really isn't necessary.
"Please," her beauracratic training kicks in.
Then I tell her, she frowns as if I'm trying to be difficult and waves me to the line while writing important things on little slips of paper. I guess having a difficult to spell/pronounce last name can be useful.
Bringing a book is a good idea, since the wait can be quite long. When you develop a system that demands people come to one specific place to do everything other than pay their bill--and there are thousands of customers--the lines are going to be long. I don't care how efficient you are, but then again neither does Claro.

In month #8 of my 18-month contract, the other contributing family cell phone plan peops left. The Claro Stalkers surely drove them away, far, far away. 'Twas sad. We had to decide what to do with three extra phones and a wholelotta monthly bill. Could we cancel our contract? I didn't know, because of Mistake#4 (See Cell Phone Saga: Part I).
We focused all of our efforts on moving, and I happily ignored Claro and my ClaroStalkers (but I kept giving them money at remote locations!) for a few months. True, a horrible way to deal with difficult situations. I accept my slap on the wrist.
After we'd finally found a place in our new city, settled in, avoided Claro some more, my loving husband offered to go with me to the main office for the showdown I had hoped to avoid for the rest of my life or at least until March 2013 when my ClaroStalkers would be legally put to rest. He knows me too well. We decided that we did, in fact, need to cancel the contract because it made very poor economical sense. I gathered my documents and brought a wad of cash (because there is always a penalty) and marched down to the office, ready for a break-up, but without the tears.
Right off the bat, I can tell you that if you decide to go with Claro, you should go to the San Francisco de Macoris office. It's far friendlier, the A/C is under control and everyone we talked to there seemed entirely competent to do their job. Claro-SFM is still Claro, but its navegable. And after you spend all morning there, I invite you to lunch at our place. Just don't talk about Claro when you get here.
We asked Maria, our lovely service representative, no less than 62 questions. She answered all of them. And even though LovelyMaria didn't have a single answer that we wanted, she did it all with a smile and we felt like informed, un-angry customers (not happy, but not angry). In sum, these are the two pieces of information we gleaned:
*If we want to change our address, it will cost us more money (Genius business model, I'm telling you).
*If we cancel our contract now, at month 12 of 18, it will cost us the same as it will to have the contract for 5 more months. Five months of Claro is equal to Josh's monthly income at his new job as Academic Director, to give you some perspective. So, what you're telling me LovelyMaria, is that I can either pay for 5 months right now and not receive any service or I can pay for 6 months, one month at a time, and get 6 months of service (Realizing that the word 'service' is a bit of a stretch)? Yes.
So, it seems that Claro has ensured that we will continue to be in a relationship with them. Twisted as it is. 'Cause breaking up is hard to do.