Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Voicemail Is Not a Backup Solution

So, this is going to be a sad story. I'm sorry in advance, but it's one I need to tell, in the hopes that this post saves at least one person from the same heartbreak as I saw one of my customers experience.

First, some important information, for people who have never used a prepaid phone. Prepaids have two tanks, both of which need to be filled for the phone to work. One tank is full of minutes of talk time, and the other is full of days of service. Any time you refill one, you also refill the other. If you talk a lot, you'll often have service dates well off into the foreseeable future. Alternatively, if you rarely use your phone, you may find you have thousands of minutes to spare, but still need to top up once a month, or once every three months, just to keep service on the device. Often if you run out of minutes, the service days remain, but depending on your provider, if the days elapse, you may run the risk of having your account closed, after some delay.

I was working one afternoon, when a customer came in to top up her prepaid phone. She had a phone, maybe 5 years old, still chugging away, and had a prepaid service she'd carried for at least as long. She told me that due to an unexpected illness, she had been unable to refill her phone before the days remaining on her account elapsed. Her account had been suspended, and she was looking to get it turned back on. She was a customer I had helped before, and she had always been friendly, if a bit less tech-savvy than some.

I asked her how long it had been shut off for, to which she told me she wasn't quite sure. She had been ill for a number of weeks, during which her phone was the least of her worries. She said that it had been off for at least a week, possibly as much as a month. When I commented that she may lose her phone number as a result, she seemed concerned.

She asked me if her voicemails would be accessible, once her phone was turned back on. I honestly told her that I wasn't sure, but dutifully got onto the phone with customer service to find out. After some amount of time with them, I managed to resecure her phone number, and get the phone topped up, but had no guarantee from the customer service rep (who was wonderful, if unsure about the rather obscure inquiry) as to the status of her voice mailbox.

When we turned her phone back on, she gave a call to her voicemail, finding it to be empty. She told me, as tears came to her eyes, that she'd lost the only recording she'd had of her father, whom she had lost earlier that year. She had kept this phone, which she no longer needed, topped up with the sole purpose of retaining her last living tie to her father, the voice on the other end that neither she, nor anyone else could replace.

She was crushed. I talked to everyone I could at the customer service center, trying my damnedest to find someone who would tell me that recovery might just be possible. Again and again I was told that there was no way they knew of to save her father's message. It was deleted when her account lapsed, through little fault of her own.

As she left my store, she could barely hold herself together. I knew she didn't blame me, and I knew it wasn't my fault, and yet every inch of me felt guilty as the bearer of that awful news. "I'm sorry, but you will never hear your father's voice again." were words I didn't say, I didn't need to. But it was the message I had to deliver her.

For the love of all the things that mean something special, things we can't replace, if you keep a voicemail as a memento, find another way to keep it. Whether you use a cable to the mic jack on your computer, potentially with an adaptor (2.5mm to 3.5mm, for most older phones, 6$ @ Radio Shack), or hire someone to do it for you (while not advertised, MRRU can offer this service), find a way to store your special voicemails elsewhere.

This story is not about prepaid phones, or about my guilt in being the bearer of bad news, or even about voicemail, really. This is a story about a recording that meant the world to someone, until that recording was lost forever. If you have meaningful recordings, back them up, and if you have meaningful recordings in your voice mailbox, get them copied somewhere else. Please.