Recently I got a piece of email from a reader inquiring about a problem with his BlackBerry 8703 handset. The reader, who has Verizon service in the New York City area, couldn't get GPS-enabled applications to work on his phone. He'd enabled the GPS receiver as per the included instructions, and tried both pre-installed apps and a few he downloaded and installed himself. And while the applications ran, none of them could obtain locative information essential to their functioning. So it seemed a reasonable conclusion that there was a problem with the GPS system on his handset.
He called Verizon customer service. They told him to call BlackBerry (RIM). So he did. They told him to call Verizon. And so passed the buck. Eventually Verizon made mention of an elevated customer service option available to him ... for an additional $49.95. The problem, he related to me via email, seemed to be that neither company had enough control over his user experience to feel responsible to make it right - Verizon didn't make the BB 8703, so they couldn't really address specific hardware problems with it, and while RIM made the BlackBerry, they didn't really have control over how Verizon deployed services to it, so they couldn't help either. Or so they both claimed.
Of course consumers want and deserve a wide selection of handsets featuring an array of hardware designs, operating systems, and software/feature options. So carriers must stock and support handsets from a variety of manufacturers. However, this reader's frustrating experience (which is far from the only such story I've been told) speaks to an important disconnect in the cellular service experience. Verizon, Cingular, Sprint, and the others - the carriers don't make handsets, but they do make specific and far-reaching demands of the handset makers before agreeing to sell and support their phones.
Part of those negotiations has to be a better outlining of who will be responsible for supporting what features on the various handsets. Customer support from the carriers can usually handle the basic stuff on the basic phones, but that's about it. BlackBerry and other business-class devices are big business - the devices cost more and usage demands more expensive voice and data plans - and their users rely on them for mission critical work. As such, they should expect (and receive) top notch customer service. It's utterly absurd for a business user paying $60-100/month for voice and data service to get the runaround like this when his device simply doesn't work as advertised.
Businesses love BlackBerries because they do email so well, this reader concluded in his email. If they don't work, BlackBerry will be (expletive deleted) because someone else will come along with a way to do email that does work. Amen. Wireless services are too big of an industry to fail at the customer service level. BlackBerry, Verizon, and everyone else -- get your act together. Customers are willing to pay for service. And we're willing to go elsewhere if you can't provide it.