Having had to fight off a would-be phone thief recently in Turin, I’m probably pretty aware as these things go.

But not aware enough even for a rough looking Gare du Nord RER station. All the warning signals were there from lack of staff, people skipping trains, furtive eyes. All the zips were zipped etc. But the decoy was enough and my phone was gone as I crushed into the train.

After double checking, I knew it had gone, but rammed in a small space on a packed train, there was no hope of spotting who or doing anything about it.

So I sprinted for my train at Gare de Lyons with that same kind of feeling you have after backing the car into a very visible lamp post: ‘if only’. A sliding doors moment when I missed the previous train by 5 seconds due to the lady blocking the escalator. The 15 min wait for the next RER which caused a packed platform, rather than the normal 5 minute gap. The 50 minutes that the Eurostar had lost on yet journey. Putting my phone into my pocket to check when someone nudged my backpack rather too deliberately. If only I’d flown.

But anyway I’d made the high speed train down to Nice with 3 minutes to spare. So at least if I had no contact, our AirBNB host and my wife would converge on the right place at the appointed time.

Of course you start to realise just how much is in your phone, how much depends on your phone.

The wedding speech for next Friday for a start!

Everything is else is backed up so all I need to do is get online or ring and make sure stuff is protected and disconnected etc. And then you reach for your phone which does both….. and so it starts.

A kind passenger allows me to alert Siobhan, so we can relax on the “under a bus” scenario. The rest has to wait as High Speed Rail on a TGV does not include high speed internet – or any at all.

So skip forward 6 hours and another 40 minute delay and I arrive at my internet enabled destination in Nice. Forget balconies and nice views! Siobhan and I have some hilarity on Facebook and email trying to locate each other, whilst I start on my phone provider. Hmmm…. would it help to keep them anonymous for the moment as the story is not yet complete?

Yes, you’ve guessed it – the website tells you – how do you report a stolen phone? Ring this number….. Dead end 1. How else…sign into your account and they text a 4 digit code to your ….you guessed it. Dead end 2.

Hmmm so let’s explore the site. No email and nothing else, but I can find a chat box by pretending I’m not me. There’s a 15 minute wait to ‘speak’ to anyone. Of course that will take me to 8.58pm and support hours run til 9pm. I’m wondering how many more expensive calls to Antartica will have been racked up by my thief by tomorrow. £15 grand in two hours is possible I discover.

So I decide to abandon Siobhan in the restaurant I said I’d meet her at and wait… and wait. So my first plea when I get through is “don’t cut me off” at 9pm as I need this phone closed out. So as Siobhan is banging on the apartment door whilst I ‘chat’ I am reminded that being cut off by a veterinary surgeon is my other big risk LOL !

Eventually after a few attempts at logic and reading, we communicate staccato such that I’m told the phone’s cut off and all’s well (sic).

So let’s skip the heady two days of my first Formula 1 race where lack of camera and Facebook was probably a blessing for friends everywhere. And come Sunday night I’m thinking Ricciardo was robbed and I’d better start using Siobhan’s phone before we split up tomorrow.

I get through after a not unreasonable wait but the lost and stolen line doesn’t deal with getting new phones, despite the South African agent’s willingness to help. Anyway it was irrelevant because it was 9pm and so I was promptly picked up and disconnected by the next person in the chain.

Probably a poor assumption on my part that companies recognise lost and stolen as a key moment of truth and a cause of churn when not handled well. Well if they knew that 20 years ago, it’s not unreasonable to assume it now? Or is it?

So today, I start over. A queue of 15 minutes on the lost and stolen line. Interesting dynamics. I get through to a very helpful gentleman in Cairo who alas has no systems just now, due to system upgrades, but he can handle general advice. Thanks but ….. we establish he cannot transfer calls and that calls are randomly routed so I might get lucky by trying again. What year is it, I ask myself? Start over.

This time I opt for tech support to see if there’s more logic on hand. I immediately get a chatty young lady from Pune – “captive” not outsourced she proudly answers my inquisition.  After I decline to give her 2, let alone all 4, digits of my pass code (why on earth do they keep phishing!), we establish her birthday is the same as mine and that she’s so excited and …. excuse me I’m on a borrowed phone here. Then follows the classic 20 minute contact centre call. In short:

a) She texts me the vendor network number to gain access to my voicemail.  Texts to my stolen phone of course.

b) Much holding and checking with the supervisor to see if I can have a phone number that works

c) She tells me that the phone wasn’t cut off on Friday night by the chat agent. The temperature of the call rises considerably.

c) Eventually she reappears momentarily from one of the holds and cuts me off.

Ok third time lucky?

Siobhan is amazed I haven’t lost it yet. “Would it help?” – I’m doing my best impression of the brilliant Mark Rylance in Bridge of Spies.

This time I get a polar opposite, a very dour Scot. A man of few words and many fixes. He’s obviously seen it all before and gives me the 07 number which can be rung to get into the voicemail system (sic). Hardly a secret since every Vodafone customer can use it if they store it – provided their phone hasn’t been stolen of course.

He checks the Friday confirmation as made and the order progressed so my phone was cut off.

So after an hour or so on my wife’s phone, we rapidly progress to the reason for the call. How do I get a new phone? Time for a transfer to the person to do that. I first ask about front line feedback, using various phrases which ring no bells. I pass on the faint hope that the lost and stolen part of the website will progress to something other than a phone number.

Now I reckon by the accent, my next helper was somewhere in the North West and being a Manc myself, I’d put it somewhere between Corrie and Shameless. Not a drop of Peter Kay in it. Her bank holiday was clearly being ruined by my existence. She sold second lines. I didn’t want a second line, I wanted a phone. “But I only do second lines.” “So why did the other guy put me through to you?” “He shouldn’t have.” I press reset on my brain. Let’s try again – “How do I get a phone so I can stay with your company.” “I can sell you a second line”…… I feel like Eddie Izzard in the Darth Vader sketch.

“Can you transfer me to someone who can sell me a phone so I can stay with your company rather than taking the easy route to another supplier?” The pause says it all so I have a bright idea. “Can you transfer me to retentions please? I want to leave.” Anywhere but here was obviously the right request and I get through to a helpful gentleman.

“What can I do for you?” I resist the temptation to start on all the ways to fix his company. I explain the iPhone’s been stolen, I’m quite happy to pay for  anew phone (sic) and that I can see that as a new customer I can get a nice deal on an iPhone.  I resist even mentioning the fact it’s much sweeter than my 6 month old deal.

He’s been here before even if I haven’t. First phone lost in 30 years for me. Ah but no, actually I remember now, that my phone was stolen from my hotel room in the Himalayas several years ago. And guess what, it was handled so badly that I left the supplier.

He’s quoted me a very large number which I mistake for a hyper-inflated price of a phone compared to the Apple Store. But I had misunderstood, obviously. This was just to pay off the contract. It’s more than the remaining 18 months worth of tariff so I ask for the calculation. “Computer says so…”

Eventually I find that my tariff is not my tariff – except when it’s used a password check of course. I had a lovely discount on my contract, but they don’t count that when it comes to calculating ‘the sting’. Bad profits as Don Peppers says.

The sting they’ve calculated is the inflated price of buying out my contract without the discount before they will sell me another phone. I’m not sure they love me very much. I think I’m a “customer”, but I could be wrong. And soon at this rate.

OMG the Darth Vader moment – I should have given in and taken the tray. Both the dour Scot and the Manc lass were right. On their death star, I should buy a second line, it’d be cheaper.

Would it help?” I hear Mark Rylance’s perfect tones in my ear. Sometimes it just does. I think I mentioned “misselling” and “blogging”.  I may have mentioned other things. It wasn’t a long conversation.

I came off the phone and tried the voicemail access number. You guessed. Voicemail was cut off when the line was cut off. So I’d been wasting my time. Of course, I should have thought of that right back at the start.

I still don’t have a replacement phone, nor access to my voicemail. Nor my father of the bride speech back.

But I’m blogging gently and wondering “Would it help?“. To be calm, or to look into the misselling case. To just cough and get a new phone at vast expense to contract or just go elsewhere and let my old contract run its course with its discount and all.

What’s clear is that nothing I can do will make it easy or worry free to deal with a busy wedding week and no phone. Maybe the supplier can come up with something that would make more sense than a car crash. This week please?

And maybe they can revisit the archives and look up the process for not losing customers who have their phones lost and stolen. It must be happening every day after all it’s an option on the IVR so must be happening in volume, with many people in more vulnerable situations then I am in. So why do you leave such an obvious set of dumb things undesigned and unfriendly?

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