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Helio Will Take Your Money But Not Refund It (As Promised)

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I just got off the phone with Helio customer service and I need to rant, so I’m doing it here. It is a true crazy-guy-on-the-internet-style rant. It touches on gadget obsession, Mobile Virtual Network Operators, brand experiences, and shitty fucking customer service. I know a couple of really good people that work for Helio and this is no reflection on them. JUST THEIR SHITTY FUCKING CUSTOMER SERVICE (which ultimately reflects on my experience with the brand). So, in true crazy-guy-on-the-internet form, I am posting this rant on all my blogs and every forum where anybody would give a shit.

incidentally, i made this graphic while on the phone with customer service. the mass of helio logos represents the amount of phone calls and bullshit that i've gone through with customer service. the rest of the graphic isn't really symbolic.

---start rant
My gadget obsession/obsessive compulsive early adopter syndrome got the better of me earlier this year, and I purchased a Helio Hero, sight unseen. Hell, there weren't even any published reviews at the time of purchase, but for months, I was foaming at the mouth purely on rabid speculation from mobile/gadget nerd sites like howardforums, mobileburn, engadget, gizmodo and the like. Most speculation was mostly optimistic, and centered on the supposition that SK Telecom's (South Korea's leading mobile provider) involvement meant that some of the bleeding-edge gadgety goodness that Korean mobile users enjoy would finally have an avenue to trickle down to our lowly shores. My mostly-loving relationship with Verizon had hit a bit of a rough spot over insurance claims due to some ill-advised roughhousing with my Treo 650, so it seemed to be perfect timing for Helio to come along and sweep me off my feet.

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I signed up on the preternaturally perky website through a impressively painless registration process, and my Hero was on its way. True, it was lacking features like the Treo’s qwerty keyboard and Bluetooth, but it made up for it with a 2MP camera (for buzznet, natch), EV-DO (hi-speed interwebbing), MySpace integration (like you don’t have a MySpace account. Btw, add me if you haven’t), and most importantly, the first on the block/sexy factor. When it arrived, I was impressed by the quality of the packaging and the unboxing process, which managed to even surpass the experience I’ve had with Apple products. Sounds weird, but there are whole websites dedicated to how products (particularly electronics) are packaged.

Long story short, I got the phone up and running, and lived with it for a little while. Man, it IS a sexy device, all gloss black with a sexy screen with stereo speakers that were puzzingly loud and clear for their size. The device itself felt substantial and the top slid open with a satisfying, tactile click. However, in day-to-day usage, I found that it didn’t mesh with how I wanted to use it. Once you have a phone with a qwerty keyboard, you pretty much can’t go back to a phone without one. Even with predictive text entry, it’s just inefficient. The camera wasn’t all that great and sending pictures was done not via mms but via email, which was an arduous process, exacerbated by the numeric keypad text-entry system. EV-DO wasn’t much of a help, since WAP browsing was abysmal at best. I couldn’t even check buzznet, for crying out loud. MySpace integration? After all, I really didn’t care that much about that. Actually, that was one of the red flags that I should have paid attention to. From the time Helio was first announced to the time it actually launched, we all realized that the initial speculation was wrong, that it wasn’t the high-end MVNO (mobile virtual network operator) that gadget geeks were hoping for, bringing in Korean mobile goodness, but rather, another youth-oriented MVNO like amp’d or virgin mobile, albeit a high-end youth-oriented MVNO. Not for the mobile professional, not for the moblogger, but for rich kids. Luckily, they had a 30-day money back guarantee.

I called customer service and was greeted by a friendly enough agent who cheerfully apologized that it didn’t work out, and offered up that qwerty keyboards and Bluetooth were coming soon, and that maybe I’d want to try back later in the year. I had a really good experience so far and would definitely try it again once the phones were up to speed, and I thought that was entirely possible. In any case, he sent out a FedEx box, which I dutifully packed up and sent back for my refund.

A month passed, nothing. After I checked the FedEx receipt to make sure they received it, I called to follow-up. The wait was considerably longer on the phone, during which I was treated to some Snoop Dogg as hold music. Fine. I was then informed that it takes up to 60 days to receive a refund. Fine. 60 days pass, no refund. Instead, I found that I had been charged $130 for no reason. I call back, only to be told that there’s nothing they can do about it and that I should just get my bank to reimburse me. Here, let me delete your bank information so that it’s impossible for you to be charged again Oh, and my refund? Hrm. I’ll escalate it to the finance department, they’ll call you tomorrow. A week passes, no follow-up. I call back, only to find that nothing has happened. I explain everything again, I give the FedEx # again, I get apologies again, and a promise (again) that my issue will be escalated. I ask how I’ll be receiving my refund, seeing as how they don’t have my financial info anymore. They do, in fact still have my bank info. Several calls later, I am in an endless loop of false promises, explanations that nothing has been done, and absolutely no confidence that anything will happen.

What am I supposed to do now, I ask you?
---end rant

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