It’s hard to meet someone these days who hasn’t had at least one run-in or negative experience with a wireless carrier or cable/satellite TV provider in Canada. The visceral reaction some of them give after receiving bill shock or confusing responses and service from live agents is largely a symptom of what seems to be a larger problem.
The stories may not ring exactly true for everyone when it comes to the details, but the context should be familiar. Here are some examples:
A woman who was able to get someone else to take over the remaining two years of her contract with Rogers, only to be told by a customer service representative that her phone number is tied to the contract, so she can’t port to another carrier. Number portability makes it illegal and impossible for a carrier to “own” a phone number.
Another woman who was charged $800 for speaking on her cell phone for under five minutes while vacationing in Cuba with data roaming turned off.
A man who had to call three times and spend a combined four hours on the phone over a span of two months to get his plan changed. After it was supposedly done the first time, he was shocked to see that nothing had been done and was charged more on his bill, as a result. It then happened again before finally being rectified.
Another who was re-upped for a one-year contract for home Internet without his knowledge or consent.
Service reps that offer one thing, while others take it away. Misinformed or unmotivated reps that offer more lip service than actual service. Inflated bills, contract issues, phone upgrade problems, Internet throttling, sudden price increases for cable or satellite — the list goes on.
The problem is fairly pervasive, and there’s some data to back it up. The Commissioner for Complaints to Telecommunications Services (CCTS) found that complaints doubled from 2010 to 2011, and billing and contract disputes topped the list. The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) also noted an increase in complaints about Internet service in 2012. OpenMedia.ca, a grassroots organization that actively promotes more competition and better customer service, has followed many of these trends.
And, of course, there is the recent story of a man from B.C., who was outraged upon receiving a $22,000 bill from Fido after his son had been streaming YouTube videos while on a family vacation in Mexico. Since he was never capped or warned about the excess usage, the damage had already been done. After six weeks of negotiating, he paid $200.
In previous articles, we’ve covered why it’s better to buy a phone outright instead of going on a contract, and even compared some of the prices for home Internet to give you a better sense of your options. We also touched on how porting a landline over to Ooma or NetTalk could be a cheaper way to get the same type of service. Part of the reason is that service is usually good when it actually works well and is priced fairly. This is precisely the mantra behind companies like, Wind Mobile, Mobilicity, TekSavvy and Distributel, among others. Of course, these providers aren’t immune to the tidal wave of anger and disgust from Canadian consumers, but they don’t seem to come up as often, either.
On a personal note, I can recount a situation I had only a few months ago where my parents needed a Bell technician to fix something with their satellite TV. After arranging for a technician to arrive at a specific day and timeframe, we waited patiently but ended up having a no-show. After complaining and rescheduling for the following week, it happened again. Yes, the exact same scenario.
After causing a ruckus and threatening to go to the head of residential services at Bell (who ironically had sent a letter to my parents asking them to reconsider cutting off their landline), they finally said they would send someone as quickly as possible. He was there at 9:00 AM sharp the following morning, and had the audacity to claim that he called and knocked on the door both of the previous bookings. This simply wasn’t possible with three of us in the house all waiting for him to arrive. And why did he knock instead of ringing the doorbell like he did that morning? I wasn’t there to ask him.
We weren’t able to get any customer service reps from any of the providers to speak on the record for this article, but off the record, we were told tales of lackadaisical morale, questionable management and training and corporate greed. None of this would probably surprise you if you’ve had a forgettable experience with a rep, but it speaks to the seeming dysfunction that pervades those encounters.
What appears to be a common denominator is customer retention. This is a big reason why phone upgrades, particularly for popular models, tend to come with contract extensions. A customer under contract may not necessarily be a happy customer, but they’re certainly a paying one.
Bundled services may also seem like a cost savings, but there is misleading logic to it. Internet service that costs more than a smaller provider, yet offers the same bandwidth speed and a much lower bandwidth cap doesn’t seem like good value. It’s true that you get what you pay for, but that also goes both ways sometimes. If you’re paying more, maybe you should get more. Saving $15 per month on a trio of bundled services with one provider might seem like a good deal when viewed from the prism of a full year, but that annual $180 savings can easily be doubled by strategically staying away from contracts and shopping around for better deals from other providers.
Again, on a personal note, I saved my father a combined $750 per year by having him change carriers after his contract was up and porting the landline over to Ooma. He used to have a bundled deal, but now only keeps one service (satellite TV).
Customer service naturally tries to dispel these as myths or misinformation, which is something I experienced personally. Another rep didn’t even know what companies I was referring to — strange, considering her training should’ve informed her about who even the smaller competitors were.
While the laundry list of issues with customer service are usually tied with the evils of the companies they represent, the problem appears to be systemic, and features a disconnect from the upper echelons down to the front lines. Though Rogers and Bell were singled out in a CCTS report released in October regarding complaints from customers, the other providers are guilty, too.
Part of dealing with all this and possibly diffusing what could turn out to be an ordeal requires a lot of patience.
Here are some tips
If you’re going to roam with your phone, make sure data and/or roaming is turned off. This should ensure that your device uses nothing unless you’re on a Wi-Fi network.
Always speak calmly and concisely when dealing with a rep or supervisor. Despite how angry you might be, yelling, shouting or even swearing will definitely not get them to reduce your bill.
If you’re getting nowhere with a rep or supervisor, make sure to get his or her name and the reference or case number. You will need them when escalating to a higher level in the company.
Don’t be afraid to escalate, meaning you would prefer to speak to a supervisor or manager. And if still not satisfied, take it to the office of the president at your provider, as that information should be relatively easy to find.
While it’s true that smaller Internet Service Providers (ISP) don’t have the same level of customer service in terms of numbers and personnel, they are still responsive. Don’t buy into the fear tactics of the bigger players who claim that you will be left to fend for yourself if something goes wrong.
If you have an unlocked phone and aren’t under contract, shop around with the carriers and let them know that you have the phone and don’t want to sign up for a contract. From there, tell them you’re not interested in any promotions or plans advertised on their Web site. Tell them you want to talk to someone who can offer you a retention plan to get your business. If they refuse, tell them their competitors did, so you’ll just go to one of them instead. Do this calmly and politely. Don’t be smarmy or arrogant.
If you have a billing dispute where you think you’ve been overcharged, be sure to know your bill well and highlight the charges you think are bogus or inflated.
Always remember that cancelling service with providers usually requires 30 days notice, including after your contract has expired. Here’s an article about that issue.
If your phone contract has expired but you’re still paying the same monthly cost, ask your provider why. There is a hidden charge over the course of a contract to help the carrier recoup the investment of giving you a subsidized phone, but with the contract over, there’s no reason to charge you that.
Remember that a cell phone contract is like a car lease, meaning that someone can take it over from you.
If you feel truly wronged and no one will help, lodge a complaint with the CCTS.
For some good insight into handling a billing problem, or negotiating a more reasonable charge, check out this handy guide.
Do you have a horror story with any of the carriers or providers? Tell us about it in the comments section below or send us an email.