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No, Public Mobile, It Doesn’t Work That Way

Public Mobile's Logo

Public Mobile is a Telus-owned low cost and possibly self-service phone carrier in Toronto. Over the lifetime of my interaction with their service for most of this year. I’ve noted a number of failures and difficulties worth thinking of if you’re interested in a phone company or switching. Be warned, Public Mobile is a phone carrier to avoid in 2017.

Billing System from Hell

When their payment system failed on my credit card, it started a chain reaction of hell. First, my account was suspended and data services were cut off. This act of proactive force lead me to my online account page, only to see a massive red box indicating my account may or may not be disabled. I wondered in this moment if my access to the promo I was on was also removed. Hard to tell.

I then attempted to replace the credit card they had on hand thinking processing failed due to a typo. I added the credit card in every way I could think of. Only to be met with a poorly thought out error. You know, the kind of error that tells you nothing about the failure:

Public Mobile Credit Card Failure

Knowing that perhaps Public Mobile’s billing system was failing somehow, I looked to engage them and try to find an answer. There were reasons why I needed to continue using this particular credit card. Also, I should note: My credit card was valid, working and Public had used it all year to automatically pay – why now did it fail?. In fact, I used this credit card today for a small purchase

Is That What You Call Support?

The next step was to somehow contact Public. Looking at the website, there was no contact number to speak of. Ok, self serve, so maybe that means this is all electronic support. They even seemed proud of this fact:

At Public Mobile we do things slightly differently; we don’t have a call centre, we handle all of our support online so that we can save you money and because we think it’s better.

So, surely I can find them on Twitter and DM for support as many companies are doing now, right? No way. Tweeting them looking to talk, the reply was:

Really? I needed to contact them through the “community”, a glorified online forum?

The “community” site itself is a separate system not connected to the accounts and billing system. There, you’re required to create a new account, and support requests are not integrated into the wider system. For that reason, you needed to send an account number and a phone number so they know who you are. This sort of dislocation really seems like a metaphor for the kind of service they provide. Even better though, is that if you don’t do this, they’ll scold you for slowing down the process by not providing required info.

The “community” site also includes no clear indication that you should private message a moderator for support. I can’t even imagine a less techsavvy person navigating this convoluted system.

The result was a sent message and waiting two hours for a reply while my service continued to stay down. Just about the moment I was replying to them I had a bit of an epiphany: this was a waste of time. I cannot trust these amateurs to go down the rabbit hole and fix my problem. It was too much, so I gave up, found another credit card and just paid the bill.

Really Really Bad Interface Design

My biggest gripe from the first time I used Public Mobile’s system is that it’s poorly designed, lacks basic useful elements, and should not qualify as “useful”. In general use, these problems will continue to compound until you too, as a Public Mobile customer will pay for these problems with failed services. Here are some of the most egregious violations:

Credit card entry forms are different, inconsistent, and lack complete information. If you look at the two of these possible credit card forms, you’ll see how they’re very different and don’t even include a second address line.

Public Mobile Credit Card Entry Forms

Payment invoices/receipts are non-existent in the system. To find more information on your payments (if you keep records), you have to access a screen that shows up to six months of payments and it looks something like this:

Public Mobile Past Payments

Also, the payment that gets placed on my credit card is too difficult to verify. Nowhere in the above list of items does it simply say: Credit Card Charged: $128.82. Nowhere. Do some mental work, and you’ll figure out how they came to the charge, but seriously? Is this a joke? Even worse, my most recent payment cost $122.04, but good luck trying to source down why or how the price changed. Is it possible that because of this billing failure, I have lost access to a discount? I can’t tell, and can’t trust them to help me.  This not something that should be so mysterious. I even raised this issue with the “community” in March 2017, and nothing came of it and nothing was fixed or improved.

An Update: Public confirms there was some sort of mismatch on my card – something called an “AVS Mismatch”. Why they decided after a year of having this exact information to start doing this is unclear. I’m surprised I even extracted this much information. I’m going to give them a chance to make this right, but I would be extremely shocked if they did.

Based on this, they used a credit card for a year without trouble, then started verifying AVS information now with what they had on-hand. This was completely automated. This effectively blocked my credit card with no warning and left me without service for hours of a work day. Adding to the insult, forms for credit card entry are piss-poor (see above), making sure your AVS details will fail too, but maybe you too won’t know when.

This company needs a wake-up call. This is not acceptable.

For this reason, I don’t recommend Public Mobile in November 2017. Avoid them if you can. The question is, are they going to improve? I sure would like to recommend these guys to my customers. Maybe Telus sees Public as an afterthought and just wants the let the company die?