Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Cingular Rebate ...or... How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Get My Money

Theory
Today I contunue to stand on my customer advocacy soapbox. My rant-of-the-week is about mail-in rebates. At this point the rebate marketing trend has been around long enough to have touched the lives of nearly every American consumer. The idea is simple, bank on the laziness of the masses to allow you to advertize dramatic price savings which will only be realized by the most vigalent of penny-pinchers. In and of itself, I have no problem with wealth transfer from the lazy (or as some people might put it - the "smart enough to not work their ass off for a dozen hours for a lousy $20") to the diligent. What I do have a problem with is the dishonest dirty trickery of the whole process. Ambiguous verbiage and long waits are put in place by professionals to strategically minimize the payout from the third-party rebate clearing houses. Today's discussion will focus on Cingular Wireless.

Cingular
Because Cingular chooses to promote their phones with the post-rebate prices I would like to call them out on this process and hopefully share some tips along the way.

The Story
On December 31st I was finally swayed away from T-Mobile over to Cingular because of a great price they had on the Motorolla Razr V3 - $99 after mail-in rebate. Of course I purchased the phone on the last day of the promotion and managed to walk out of the store without the rebate form. About a week later when I went to fill out the forms I realized that I didn't have them. Of course the rebate form is not available from the Cingular web page - this was confirmed by a call to the support center. They informed me that I would need to go to the store where I purchased the phone and get a new form. A trip to the store left me formless because they get rid of the old forms once the promotion is over.

I called back through the maze of transfers that is Cingular customer service and finally reach the rebate center. Their direct number is 866-852-8617. It turns out that the "Cingular Rebate Center" is really a company out of Young America, MN that is actually run by Motorola (according to Cingular cancellation department). I talked to a nice stoner gentleman named duane3571. Duane informed me that it would take 10 business days to send me the form, but that he could get it for me. Since I called him on the 24th of January I asked him when I would need to have the form sent in. He told me that I'd need to have it sent by January 31st, and after realizing the problem with the situation he gave me a "special" address where I could send rebates to after the acceptable date. That address is:
Dept 5010-1398
Cingular Rebate Center
P.O. Box 8670
Young America, MN 55551-8670

I asked Duane if there were a way I could fax the rebate. He said that I could not get the fax number unless I had already sent in my rebate and waited for 12 weeks.

Exploited Exploiting the Exploiter
I hung up with Duane and started thinking - clearly this process is designed to cost you more than $50 in time and effort ($50 is the rebate amount). How could I get my $50, which was the advertized and promoted rebate without jumping through these hoops?

In my conversation with Duane I realized that this company in Young America was clearly separate from Cingular. They didn't even have ties into the Cingular customer database to look up my customer information. This let me know that they would not be able to check up on little details like when I actually signed up. Today I called back in to the rebate center. I told the rep that I had sent in my form 12 weeks prior and that I had not received my check. She asked for some information and saw that a new rebate form was going to be sent out to me. I told her that Duane said that I'd have to fill out a new one - but asked her how long it would take after I fill out the new form. She told me it would take between 4 and 12 weeks. I asked her if since I had already waited for such a long time if there was a way I could fax in my rebate. To my delightment she shared the heavily guarded number. The fax number for the Cingular Rebate Center in Young America is 866.238.3144.

Not wanting to wait for 10 business days, I called back to the store where I bought the phone. I had been told that there was a guy, Duy Nguyen who was particularly talented in the ways of finding old forms. Duy did not disappoint. He was able to fax me over a copy of the form. I filled out all this information and faxed it over to the rebate center along with the receipt, contract, and the upc/imei code from the box.

Since I am within the 30-day cancellation period I called back to Cingular customer service where I found the cancellation department rather easily. I started out my conversation with the rep by stating "I'm a new Cingular customer within my first 30-days and I'd like to cancel my service". It's amazing how willing he was to work with me. I quickly shared a few details of my sob story and he agreed to credit my account $50 immediately. This is where he shared the information with me that the company in Young America is actually Motorola.

I think I am going to fax in my rebate again in a few days and also mail a copy over to the super-secret department as well. I'll share details of my success or lack thereof in a future post.