Customer service too good to be true: ATT and Audiovox

I'm in a mood to rant about poor customer service experiences I've had lately.  Since one of them is about Apple, I figured I better start by posting the other one, which is related to Microsoft technology.

Back in November, I bought an Audiovox SMT 5600 smartphone through my cell carrier, AT&T (now Cingular).  This is the first smartphone I've owned, and I've really enjoyed it.  Having access to my calendar, contacts and email with over the air synch has been a huge benefit for me.  But as it turned out, my particular phone wasn't quite put together right.  There was some sort of shielding problem that caused a buzzing on most of my phone calls.  It got progessively worse after several months, so I figured I may as well get the thing repaired.

The 5600 comes with a year long warranty.  So I called the AT&T store from whom I purchased the phone.  They told me to call AT&T Wireless's warranty department, and the warranty department, in turn, told me that AT&T isn't responsible for the warranty, Audivox is.  Okay, next call goes to Audiovox warranty (800-229-1235, option 1, then 2, then 3).  The person who answers the phone is very nice, and tells me they have a deal that sounds too good to be true -- for $20, they will overnight me a brand new phone, and then I can just send them back the old phone.  $20 for a brand new phone sounds like a nice deal, especially since I had already scratched my phone up a bit.  The other option would be for me to send my old phone in and wait for them to repair it and send it back.  The service agent lets me know that they usually turn around these phones in a day, so I would only be without my phone for a week, tops.

I took a couple days to ponder, and then decided to go with the $20 new phone deal.  It sounded too good to be true -- and guess what, it was!  When I called back, they told me they were temporarily out of replacement phones.  Okay, could they tell me when more phones would be in?  Maybe in a couple weeks, they say.  Okay, can you reserve one for me and just send it to me once it's in?  No, we have no way to do that.  Okay, can you call me when the new phones are in?  No, we have no way to do that.  You should just call back in a couple weeks.

This exact process repeated itself for over a month.  I'd call, they'd say they didn't have any replacement phones, didn't know when more would arrive, and couldn't do anything to help me out.  It was starting to sound like this $20 replacement deal was around just to say they had a nice warranty policy, and it could never actually be used.

Eventually I broke down and mailed in my phone.  While I had been told it would take only a day to repair, they didn't tell me that it would also take two days just to enter into the system once it arrived at the warehouse ;)  My week without a phone was starting to stretch into two weeks by the time they had finally looked at the phone and tried to diagnose it.

There is a good ending to the story -- they decided the phone was defective, and sent me a new one at no charge.  So I ended up getting my new phone, but only after a long stretch of frustrating interactions with Audiovox.

Audiovox over promised and under delivered, and that counts as poor customer service in my book.