The US has 181 million wireless subscribers. Canada has 12 million. Wireless subscribers of both countries account for nearly half the total population of each country respectively.
More than likely, you have already been through two or three cell phones and have changed service providers at least once. Chances are you have at least one horror story about a billing issue gone terribly wrong costing you hundreds or thousands of dollars. This mistake probably caused you to take your business-- and your phone number to another carrier.
None of this is surprising: the wireless industry is ranked as second lowest in the University of Michigan's newest customer satisfaction index -- only cable service providers had a lower rating.
Unfortunately, there are few laws to protect the consumer from the evil doings of wireless providers. There is good news, however (and it has nothing to do with auto insurance).
With a few insider tips, and a little bit of know-how, you can manhandle the giants into treating you fairly.
Tip #1: Don't trust the sales person to take care of you!
The most important weapon in your arsenal is organization. From day one it is imperative that you keep copious notes regarding your dealings with your carrier. What should you be noting?
1. The name of the sales representative-- this ensures a small measure of integrity by the company
AVOID THIS PITFALL!
Never buy your cell phone or service through a third party retailer like Best Buy, Good Guys, or a kiosk in the mall. How can you tell if they are a third party retailer? They usually sell service by more than one provider. Why is this a pitfall? Third party retailers will often hold you to a contract in addition to the contract you have to sign with your service provider. They do this to ensure that they receive their full commission. Sometimes this contract is actually longer than the one you've signed with the provider, and has additional clauses, which may prevent you from changing your phone number, or even using different equipment.
2. Details about your service plan-- there are two parts to this: a. your primary bucket of minutes and b. promotional features (nights weekend times, additional minutes, mobile to mobile, long distance included) etc.
3. Your contract end date. How much will it cost to terminate service? What circumstances will allow you to get out of your contract without a penalty? (This typically amounts to death, and military service).
AVOID THIS PITFALL!
There are many things that will extend your term one or two years! Find out what they are before you make any decisions! Typically, if they give you a good deal on anything-- service, additional minutes, earlier night and weekend times, a good price on a phone, etc.-- you are extending your contract. Some companies will extend your contract for simply changing your rate plan.
What exactly are you paying for?
Look closely at your first invoice. Is the information correct? Do you really have what you asked for? Did you sign up for text messaging, data and insurance? What are these E911 and Line Number Portability fees I'm paying?
Sometimes sales people will add extra features without your knowledge. Make sure you get what you ordered. You are not required to pay E911 and Line Number Portability fees. These are charges passed off to you by your service provider, who doesn't want to pay millions to make its network E911 and LNP compatible. Typically a gentle conversation with a service rep will have these bogus fees removed from your invoice. The catch to this is whether the company has written the inclusion of these fees into their new contracts. If you have already had service with a company for years, and these fees show up on your bill, call and ask them to be removed.
Tip #2: After the end of each call with a CSR, ask them to read the notation they have added to your account. Don't take no for an answer. If you ask for it, they are obligated to tell you. Make sure they have noted everything they have promised you. This helps you to avoid billing discrepancies in the future. If you are having a particularly hard time dealing with your wireless company, you may want to consider recording phone calls with them-- not for the purpose of using as evidence in litigation, but so you have evidence of what you were promised.
Wireless companies have a policy that requires them to make good on their deals. If someone promised you something, within reason, the company has to honor the promise.
Tip #3: Make sure you understand all the details of your service plan. For instance, a National Plan doesn't necessarily mean "no roaming". Some wireless companies allow you to roam on their network, but not on the networks of other service providers. This used to be the case with AT&T wireless.
Do you know how much you are going to pay per minute if you are roaming? What about if you go over your minutes? How do you know when you are roaming?
Tip #4: READ YOUR CONTRACT!
They wrote that contract to protect the company. Period. There is nothing in that contract that will help you in the event of a dispute.
Did you know that most wireless companies make you sign away your right to sue? In your service agreement, you agree to settle disputes through arbitration. What's the difference? Basically arbitration tips the scales unfairly toward your wireless provider.
Tip #5: Follow Up
If you have a dispute with your wireless company, and manage to find resolution through the Customer Care channel, make sure you call back in the next billing cycle to verify that your issue has, in fact, been resolved.
AVOID THIS PITFALL!
Wireless companies will never subject their employees to verbal abuse by a customer. Usually, you get one chance-- after that, you are marked as "hostile" and as soon as you enter your account number at the IVR prompt, you are routed through an endless cycle of automated recordings. You can forget ever speaking to a human again.
Remember, the poor kid who is answering your call didn't cause your issue. He's probably not being paid a living wage, and has to put up with being yelled at almost constantly for eight hours each day. If you are polite, he will truly go out of his way to help you. If you are a jerk, he might just "accidentally" extend your contract end date to 2009.