Consumer IQ

Dropped Calls, Spotty Reception, and Poor Range: How to Get Better Service from Your Cell Phone Company

three mobile phones

After last week’s discussion about cell phones and privacy, some of you contacted me to say I’d missed the real story. Why bother looking for a discreet smartphone when you can’t even make a reliable call?

Good point.

A recent survey suggested that anywhere between one and four percent of cell phone users experienced a dropped call in the last three months, which probably seems like a conservative number to anyone who owns a cell phone.

Is it any wonder that the latest service ratings for wireless carriers are dreadful? Last year’s customer service ratings for the industry slipped 1.4 percent and averaged a 70 out of a possible 100 points. If the cellular industry were a student, he’d be a very naughty boy and his report card would be filled with “C” minuses.

Are you happy with your wireless company?

I’m going to assume that for most of you, the answer is “not always” and that our discussion about privacy didn’t really speak to you because, well, you already have all this unwanted privacy because your phone doesn’t always work.

I understand. As someone who just navigated the canyons of Manhattan with his wireless device and suffered multiple dropped calls — all of them seemed to happen at key moments in the conversation, which made me want to throw my so-called “smart” phone on to the nearest subway tracks — I share your wireless agony.

Here’s how to fix it.

Tell your carrier.

You’d probably be surprised by how few users bother to say anything about their poor service. Filing a service interruption report is pretty easy. For example, if you have an iPhone using AT&T, you can tell the carrier about a dropped call using its free “Mark the Spot” app. On Verizon, you can dial #611 or 800-922-0204, or you can contact the company through their website and register the dropped call.

Why bother? Two reasons: First, you’ll be helping others who might pass through these dead zones. Carriers will try to resolve service problems if enough experience interruptions at that location. And second, if you complain enough, you may be able to request a partial credit.

File a formal complaint.

The next step is to file a proper grievance. If your cellphone service is so awful that you’re unable to make calls — and I’ve spoken to customers who say they can’t even get one bar in their neighborhood — then it’s time to take this to the next level. A formal, written complaint sent through the carrier’s site will get things started.

Keep your grievance brief and polite, and as counterintuitive as this may sound, stay off the phone. Why? Because you need a written record of your complaint and the company’s written response, just in case you have to take this to appeals. The carrier can either fix your service problem by installing a signal booster, tweaking a tower, or letting you out of your contract.

Appeal to a higher authority.

If you’ve kept a written record of your service problems, which I hope you have (see previous tip), then you’re going to want to let someone higher up the food chain know you aren’t happy. I list the names of executives on my customer service Wiki, On Your Side.

Keep your appeals brief and cordial, and make sure you include all of your previous correspondence to show your efforts to go through proper channels before appealing. You’ll probably be put in touch with an “executive” office that can fast-track a resolution, whether it’s getting you a new phone, a partial credit, or letting you out of your current contract.

Call for help.

If your carrier is being intransigent, which can happen from time to time, you can always call the government. The Federal Communications Commission handles service complaints. You can also contact me, and if I’m able, I’ll advocate for a better resolution than the one you’ve been offered. Finally, you can dispute your credit card bill or take your carrier to court, as a last resort.

Bottom line: If you’re unhappy with your cell phone, you don’t have live with the wireless misery. It’s fixable.

Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate who blogs about getting better customer service at On Your Side. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook or send him your questions by email.