Alternatives to Bell & Rogers

Are you sick of dealing with constant billing errors and service failures?  Or maybe you’ve just had it with the obscene price you are paying for phone and cable, and the aggressive caps on internet.  Bell & Rogers have enjoyed a history of passive customers, who think there are no alternatives or are overwhelmed with the thought of changing service providers.

I have spent the last 2 weeks in the U.S. and I am amazed at the pricing and packages available for phone, internet and cable from a variety of providers. Perhaps this is a function of a large number of players fighting for customers.

Telephone & Internet

In Canada, Bell & Rogers have become the faces of poor customer service.   A number of smaller players have entered the phone and internet market over the last few years, most notably Acanac and TekSavvy.

I ditched Bell after a long battle over constant billing errors.  Even though I had an email with proof of the agreed upon contract, it took escalation to the Executive Office and a threat to pull my business.  Due to the lengthy correction process I was unhappy with the service.  After the errors were finally corrected, there was nothing offered for my hassle. I stuck to my guns and switched providers.

There are terms to which you must adhere when ending your service with Bell and Rogers.  Despite the numerous warnings on forums, I found the process to be rather straightforward.  I simply had to notify Sympatico (>30 days before end of contract) of the termination of service.  It’s worth noting that if you plan to keep the same phone number, do not cancel your phone service with Bell.  The new provider will take care of it.

I have been a satisfied customer of TekSavvy for almost two years.  Their customer service is great and the transition was seamless.  They handled the porting of my phone number and service.  The whole process was just a matter of filling out an online form and TekSavvy handled the rest.  Any inquiries I have emailed to their support have been quickly and accurately answered.

Television

When in comes to Television, cable has become less and less relevant, especially for the younger generation.  I have been Rogers free for almost 10 years when I realized how expensive cable was getting and what a stranglehold they had on their customers.

I use an over-the-air (OTA) antenna for my television needs.  OTA covers most events and prime-time TV.  My costs were $100 for a decent outdoor antenna, $10 for cabling and about 2-3 hours to set it up the way I wanted.  I am in the Toronto area and receive roughly 25 stations.

The best part about this is that they are all HD/Digital channels.  You don’t need any special equipment to receive HD channels.  All newer TVs have HD tuners built-in.

Now most people using this setup say they don’t watch much television, so OTA is more than adequate.  I watch a significant amount of television and OTA covers most of my needs.

The internet is also an amazing source of television.  I stream any shows that I can’t access from OTA directly from the television network’s web site.  For example, Discovery Canada as well as CTV and CBC provide their shows online.  TSN will also stream certain events like the NHL draft if you are into that.

There is a large library available on U.S. networks like A&E and Spike that are available to Canadians.  If there is a show provided by a Canadian network, then head to their site to view.  If the show is not provided on a Canadian network, then head to the US web site.

Mobile

I have been lucky enough to have a mobile phone provided and paid for by my employer for the last several years.   Wind mobile won a key decision that will allow them to play a significant role in wireless that will likely allow more entrants into Canadian mobile.

Summary

The bottom line is that I pay less than $65 a month for phone (long distance is $0.03/min), internet and TV access.  There are no surprise fees or sudden increases, and there are no contracts!

Imagine a world where you don’t need to make a monthly call to Rogers or Bell.  This is the world I’m living in now and I spend most days not thinking about it.

Readers:  Can you share your Rogers or Bell experience?  Has anyone else made the switch to another telecom provider?  Has anyone dropped cable for OTA or internet streaming?

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Should United Airlines be ashamed?  Know your passenger rights.

Customer experience should be at the top of mind for any industry.  It should be especially important for an industry that claims to be struggling.  We have all heard stories of passengers behaving badly on airplanes, and airlines portray the flight crews as being professional and courteous. Companies and people are measured on how they perform when things go wrong.

Airlines have become notorious for bad behavior, especially in recent months/years. In my experience, when there are delays, over bookings, cancellations, etc., the teams on the ground can be quite disappointing.  Very little information is offered and a lack of patience and empathy can make the most mild mannered customer turn into a ranting lunatic.  When an issue arises, the employees need to show patience, but they often do not.  They can be rude and unprofessional. This is a culture of hiding behind policy that has been trained, and ingrained, without flexibility.

By now you have been introduced to a new term: “re-accommodate”. With respect to the United Airlines situation that you can read about here, http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/united-airlines-flight-overbooked-1.4063632  this incident is so egregious, that I was stunned to see a CEO double-down on backing up his employees’ bad behavior.  He only gave an apology when the backlash on social media was so fierce, that he had no choice.  Say what you will about passenger Dr. Dao’s history, in this situation, all he did was board a plane and sit in his seat. Put yourself in his shoes.  This ended with a concussion and a broken nose, and he was dragged off a plane screaming.

American Airlines employs a flight attendant who allegedly threatened to fight a passenger. The CEO of AA was savvy enough to understand the impact of this to the AA brand, and issued an immediate apology. This seems to have limited the damage done to the company. http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/american-airlines-stroller-confrontation-1.4081314. The company also took steps to assist the customer.  I am not advocating the customer is always right. I am advocating that the customer understand the policies, and that employees/the company do the right thing.

Most citizens would probably put up some resistance, when asked to leave a plane, but when airport security or police officers showed up, they would likely leave quietly. The rules in place up until this incident, were that airlines could pull a passenger from a flight, even after boarding. However, as an example, any passenger involuntarily bumped to another U.S. flight (scheduled to arrive more than 4 hours later than their booked flight), would be entitled up to $1350.

When faced with a situation like this, understand that airlines can and will drag you off a plane, despite you being a paying customer who has done nothing but sit in your seat.  While the policies in place heavily favour the airlines, you are still in a position to bargain your compensation and terms.  Know your rights by reading the following and if you have any serious issues, there is also a complaints process that you can follow.

Air passenger rights and complaints process in the U.S. can be found here. https://www.transportation.gov/airconsumer/fly-rights

Air passenger rights and complaints process for Canada can be found here
https://otc-cta.gc.ca/eng/air-travel

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The Current State of Canadian Telecom

Living in Canada, means at one time or another you’ve complained about your cell phone provider (this goes for Internet service providers too). It’s telling of the current state of the Canadian telecommunications industry – three industry giants Rogers, Bell, and Telus setting a snare trap in the woods. This is essentially what these three telecommunication companies are doing due to steep competition between each other. It has lead to a stranglehold on the industry, essentially an oligopoly, so while it’s prosperous for corporations, it’s a system that is robbing Canadians. Far too much of their energy is being put towards pushing deals, plans, and devices on customer, but they are an illusion because the standard price is significantly marked up, meaning Canadians pay among the highest cell phone bills in the developed world.

Comparing the Big Three

According to a report by wireless-mapping company OpenSignal, the difference between Rogers, Bell, and Telus are not as evident as some would think. In fact, the “Big Three” are fairly even in terms of features like 4G and network availability. The report also finds that Telus comes out on top when comparing overall download speed for 3G and 4G, but these victories are not won by wide margins.

No Room for the Little Guy

With the three leading telecom providers dominating the industry, smaller Canadian-based providers are unable to offer the same level of service. Open Media points to Ting, a Canadian mobile provider that can’t sell its services due to the Big Three blocking them from accessing regional networks. Although they are a Canadian company, Ting shifted its focus to the United States so they could offer a cheaper alternative to America’s many mainstream providers.

Open Media found that it’s because of a price-gouging cycle, in which the big telecom companies dominate a market then use that control to raise rates. Finally, they take the profits and invest it in lobbying to shape market rules in their favour.

Losing the Personal Touch

Another issue is a lack of direct and personal customer service in Canadian retail spaces. Today’s typical telecom retail space focus most of their attention on mobile plans and devices, with less of an emphasis on other services they provide such as TV and internet services. High competition has resulted in these companies having to heavily market their blowout offers and how great a deal a particular plan is, or how the dozens of features on a device are going to make your life better. Sales tactics seem to be focused primarily on making a glamourous first impression and hoping that’s enough to sell a product or service, rather than why a product or service is superior than what the competition offers. The whole process can seem rushed and lacks a personal connection between the sales representative and the customer.

The Big Three aren’t showing any signs of loosening their grip on the Canadian telecommunications industry, meaning that Canadians are going to have to go on paying for expensive plans and continue to be dissatisfied with their providers.

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Extended warranties are a cash cow

Electronics & appliances sales people, I’m looking at you!  You have to love the effort.  There are many fantastic, advertised deals on electronics, home theatre products, appliances, and other related items, and you don’t have to wait for the Christmas season to get them.  But have you ever wandered in to a store to pick up a “deal of the century” only to be pressured into an extended warranty?

Many of the larger chains use this tactic.  They lure you in with door crashers and great sales, only to hit you up at the end for an expensive insurance that you don’t need.

Future Shop (among others) has been in the business of selling extended warranties for years, and they don’t take “no” for an answer.  At least, not a first.  It usually takes 3 refusals from the client before the sales person will let you off the hook (not sure why our world revolves around 3 tries – not everything should be like baseball, but I digress).

Extended warranties carry high margins (around 50% profit) and as a consequence high commissions.  This is where companies and sales people make the most money.

So you walk in to a store to buy a TV.  Once you have settled on your choice and the sales is virtually complete, the sales person begins the pitch (perhaps that’s why it’s a baseball metaphor).  The pitch usually involves a statement  (not so much a question) about the extended warranty and a hard sell about how electronics are unpredictable and you can have peace of mind in case your product doesn’t perform as well as you think it should.

In reality, some may be better than others, but I believe extended warranties are for suckers. They run in parallel with a manufacturer’s warranty.  So for example, if you buy an LG Television and it has a one year warranty, a three year extended warranty only protects you for the second and third years.  Be sure you understand what exactly the extended warranty covers (they do vary).

If you want to talk probabilities, any issues with electronics or appliances usually manifest themselves in the first year.   The second, third and fourth years are least likely to produce failures.

If you do have an issue, think about the customer service that the company issuing the extended warranty provides.  What experience have you had, or have the people you know had when it comes to getting repairs done easily under an extended warranty?  I can tell you my friends, family and colleagues have not as easy time as it is made out to be.

If you use a credit card to make that purchase, be sure to see if it has any special features.  Many cards carry a clause that doubles the warranty on purchased items.  So at this point, you are paying somewhere around 10-15% of the product purchase in order to extend your warranty by a year.

Do me a favour, and put that money aside.  If you need a repair in year three, you are likely going to be able to cover it with the money you saved.  If no repair is necessary, pay off your debts or do something nice with the money!

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Stella & Dot – new hidden costs

Stella & Dot is a multi-level marketing based line of boutique-style jewellery.   By using a trunk show (tupperware-style party) selling strategy, their ‘stylists’ (independent sales partners) showcase the product directly to customers.

Anne, a stylists who I have spoken with in the past, reached out to me again.  Stella & Dot has decided to change the way it pays its stylists.  The company has unilaterally decided to stop paying by cheque/direct deposit and instead use pre-paid VISA cards.

When she received a pre-paid credit card in the mail and read the terms & conditions, Anne discovered the change.  Stella & Dot positions this with this quote from their FAQs “You’ll get instant gratification with weekly pay on your own Stella & Dot debit card.”

However, there is no mention of the hefty fees that are associated with pre-paid credit/debit cards.  Customer Support at Stella & Dot did not even try to understand her issue. Instead the support representative quoted the company’s policy that they can change the terms any time they want.

I suppose they could start paying their stylists in fruit or t-shirts or copper, but that doesn’t make it any more reasonable or fair.  At least the value of copper has a chance to increase.

Escalating to a supervisor, and waiting on several promises to look in to this, proved useless.

I connected with their Social Media team who immediately called Anne back and took the time to understand her issue.  Ultimately, there was no resolution.  This was their new way of paying their stylists.

ADP is a payroll company used by Stella & Dot and many other businesses.  I reached out to some insiders about general cases (not Stella & Dot specifically).  The reason for a change of this nature seems to be to offload payroll costs from a company and on to its contractors/stylists.

The prepaid credit cards have fees to activate, transfer, simply use the card, and there is even a maintenance fee to keep a balance month to month.  You can read about them at Million Dollar Journey and from Ellen Roseman at Moneyville.

Anne decided these extra costs were more than she could take, and ultimately she has decided not to renew her contract with Stella & Dot.

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Hotel Safes Are Not Very Safe

Have you taken a trip recently?  Did you stay in a hotel?  Did you trust that your money, valuables and important documents would be safe?  This is not a doomsday issue, but you should take extra care when using a hotel safe.  It is important to understand the security limitations of a safe owned by someone else.

You enter your new hotel room (well, new to you – germophobia is for another post), and get settled.  At some point you realize that you don’t want to wear all your jewellery at once, or carry all your cash, or lug around your bulky passport.   The hotel safe becomes your best friend.

When you approach the safe, there are usually very basic instructions in an obvious location, on how to program it.  Have you stopped to wonder how they get the safe open/reset after the last super spy came through, and programmed a highly secure pin code?

All hotel safes (and I suppose safes in general) can be opened by at least one of the following methods:

  1. A master code
    Many safes use a master pin that is coded at the manufacturer.  In some cases this is hard-coded, meaning it can’t be changed.  Whether the pin is hard-coded or the hotel staff just never changed it, you would be surprised at how easy these are to break.  Before programming that hotel safe, be sure to try ‘000000’, ‘999999’, ‘123456’  and any other obvious options.
  2. A programmable card
    Take a look at the outside of the safe.  If it has a magnetic card strip/reader where, for example, you could slide your room key or credit card, then it can be unlocked by a card held by the hotel staff.
  3. A master key
    If there is a keyhole, this safe can be opened by a master key, also held by the hotel staff.
  4. A third party plug-in unit
    Again, take a look at the outside of the safe.  If there is a ‘port’ or plug somewhere, then it can be opened with a ‘safe cracker’ or plug-in unit.  Occasionally hotels will have one of these in house.
  5. A drill
    Where there’s a will, there’s a way.  All safes can be opened with a drill given time and the right drill bit.  If you ever watch any auction-themed TV shows, they often find safes and with the 4 options above unavailable, they can be seen drilling for gold.

While there is no way to prevent the hotel staff from entering your safe, there are things you can do to minimize the chances of being ripped off.

  1. Ensure that there is no obvious master code.
  2. Ask the hotel how they reset the safes and who has access.  You can decide on your level of comfort based on this.
  3. Take a picture of the open safe, with your valuables in view. Then take a picture of the safe closed/secure.
  4. Ensure your hotel room door is closed on your way out.  Many times you will be ripped off because of opportunity.
  5. Do not leave any greatly expensive item (diamond ring) or sentimental item.

There are third party locks that you can buy to further secure your hotel safe but these are unproven and expensive.

I do tend to leave cash and passports in the hotel safe assuming it’s passed step 1.  It’s probably not the best move, and passports may be a pain to replace.  However, it’s nothing I can’t live without.

Take a look at this demonstration.

Readers:  Have you ever had items disappear from a hotel safe?

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