This month's launch of the new iPhone 3GS gave me the chance to get back to the front of the line (literally, see below) of Apple gadgets. My original 18 month contract had lapsed, so I was eligible to upgrade to the new phone with a new contract. I booked a "personal shopper" appointment for 8AM on launch day, last Friday, June 19. I arrived at the Apple Store just before 8, giving me enough time to convince the nearby Starbucks to serve me 5 minutes early (seriously, a Starbucks that doesn't open until 8?! but that's a rant for another day) so I could have a hot beverage while I made my purchase. There was a modest line, but my pre-booked appointment let me skip to the front and be one of the first buyers in Cambridge.
In retrospect I should've just bought it at an O2 store, because the actual selling of the phone (where Apple store employees have expertise) is trivial, whereas the setting up of the account (O2's domain) is annoyingly complex. I would've thought I'd be an easy test-case, since I already had an account and was eligible for an upgrade. Not so: the straightjacket O2 registration page required a credit check on me, despite the fact that I've been a loyal customer for nearly two years. This would've been easy, except it requires the Apple store employee to call O2, where he got a girl on her first day (nice planning, O2). This took a while, but eventually was OK'd.
The next step is where the real problem struck. Somehow, instead of upgrading me, the Apple guy signed me up to a new contract with an additional phone number. Admittedly the O2 interface he was using was confusing, but I think it was at least half his fault for not carefully reading the instructions (e.g. he kept getting an error message on how many digits an IMEI should have, and kept putting in different things, never actually matching the requested number of digits). He told me the new phone would be activated with my old SIM and number, and I should ignore the fact that I was signing a contract with another phone number and SIM printed on it. I said three times that this didn't feel right, and he reassured me and spoke to a manager, who reassured him, that this was how it should work. By that point I just wanted the phone, so I caved and signed the new contract.
Once at home, much to my surprise, I popped the old SIM in the new phone, plugged it into my computer, and it magically worked: correct phone number, all data synced from my laptop. Brilliant. When I logged on to my O2 account page, however, I discovered that I now had two lines registered to me — exactly what I had dreaded. I had other things to do, so I left it for the time being, hoping that it might sort itself out. On Saturday I received an email billing me for my new account, which promptly killed that hope.
At this point I was convinced this would be a hugely annoying problem to fix, and that I'd be wrangling with O2 for days to get things right. I settled in with a big cup of coffee on Sunday morning to phone them up, expecting to be there all day. My first attempt looked promising, as I got bounced from Customer Service to iPhone service to somebody else, all giving me the impression that my problem would be possible to fix. Then the line went dead.
So I gave them a few minutes in the vain hope they might call back, and then called customer service again, expecting to have to be bounced along the same path to someone who might be able to help. Imagine my surprise when it became clear that this service rep was both knowledgeable and possessed the appropriate permissions to immediately close down the unwanted new account and put a hold on the bill, with no repercussions or further action from me (this is the land of "computer says no", after all)!
So now I have my awesome new phone, only one bill, and it only involved a minor headache. Cheers to O2!