When I chose my first cellophone provider a couple of years ago I picked T-Mobile based on two criteria: they have a GSM network, and they were (at the time) the only wireless carrier to explicitly announce their non-participation in the warrantless wiretapping schemes promulgated by the Bush administration. I did not attempt to grade them on customer service.

Fast-forward to 2009. In a rare fit of downturn-inspired economic prudence, I studied my usage patterns and determined that I could cut my monthly cellular bill from nearly $50 to about $6 by switching to prepaid service. I called customer service to make this happen, and there—after a few minutes of easy-listening soft rock—my saga begins.

Operator #1. Sure, we can do that. But this is Postpaid customer service. Just let me transfer you to Prepaid. [hold music]

Operator #2. Let me verify your information. Can I have the last four digits of your social security number? Yes, we can do that, but I’ll have to transfer you to Postpaid so they can cancel your current plan. [hold music]

Operator #3. Let’s have your name, your phone number and the last four digits of your social. Oh, maybe they thought you meant Postpaid? Only Prepaid can do that. Hold on. No, I’ll have to transfer you back to Prepaid. [hold music]

Operator #4. Can I just verify your information? I’ll have to trans—Oh, you already talked to Postpaid? Sounds like it! You see, we need them to cancel your—I see. Well, I can’t do it myself, but… hold on. Sir? I’m going to transfer you to Account Services and they’ll take care of you. Yes, I promise. [hold music]

Operator #5. Hello? Hello? Yes, but I can just barely hear you. Can you hear me? Let me move my microphone closer. Is that better? Yes, we are a phone company. Now if I can just verify your information I can take care of this for you. It will take up to 24 hours to—Yes, when you wake up tomorrow you’ll have the same number, but with prepaid service. You’re welcome.

The next day, my handset displayed a new screen: “Unregistered SIM.” I used a different phone to dial customer service… again.

Operator #6. Can you turn your phone off and back on again. Really? Do you have reception? Let me just look at this checklist—Oh, fine, I’ll transfer you to one of our engineers. [hold music]

Operator #7. I see the problem. They updated your billing but your SIM card was not properly provisioned by the scripts that interface with the billing system. It shows your SIM as deactivated. I’ll just fix it manually. It will take about 5 seconds for the change to… ah, look, I see your phone just registered on the network! Sorry about that. I hope this hasn’t been inconvenient.