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Earning cell phone loyalty

I must confess to a certain smug satisfaction in seeing the pages of ads in the Saturday Globe and Mail from the big three cell phone companies desperate to sway Canadians to their side.

In January 2009 I wrote this letter, below, to the head office of Rogers Communications. Receipt of the letter was never acknowledged. I was not alone in my complaint, I later learned. The website "ihaterogers.com " had many, many more. Now, it is stories like this that are coming back to haunt all three of the cell phone companies when they want and need our loyalty to keep out a U.S. competitor.

I feel I was rather prescient in my prediction that one day Rogers would regret not focusing more on customer support and satisfaction. While I believe we should have a level playing field, I also believe Canadian cell phone companies must provide fairer prices and policies and better customer service.

January 2009

Dear Rogers,

In August 2005 I got two cell phones for my two teenage daughters, then 14 and 12, and signed a three-year contract with Rogers.

The two numbers were linked to my name on one account. Within four months, the youngest lost her phone. The cost of replacing it was more than $150 for the cheapest option. I determined it was more cost-effective to have her join my plan with Telus, in which she would get a better free phone and lower over-all rates, than to pay the Rogers charges to replace her phone or exit the contract. We let her Roger's  number go dormant and I paid the minimum $25 a month for no service and no phone. I planned to quit the contract in August 2008 and marked the date.

In July 2007, with one year left on the contract, my older daughter, then 16,  dropped her phone in a puddle, rendering it useless. She took it to the local Roger's store to see if it could be fixed, but was instead "given" a "free" replacement phone. Neither she nor I knew that by doing so, automatically the two numbers rolled over to another three-year contract until July 2010.

It was August 2008, when I tried to quit the younger one's dormant number and stop the $25 a month payment, that I learned that due to my underage daughter's actions on her phone,  I was now on contract to 2010 for both daughters — without my knowledge or consent as the signee of the original contract — and that I would have to continue paying the $25 fee for another two years or pay $800 to get out of the contract for the younger one's non-existent phone.

Then, the older daughter's replacement Rogers phone was lost  just a few weeks later. I made sure I went with her this time to the Roger's store. To get a replacement would cost $150, or we could "upgrade" the one phone but either way we would be forced to sign another three-year contract to 2011 -- for two phones!!

Rather than do either, I am now paying $50 a month for no phones and no service until July 2010, a total of $1200. But to quit both numbers outright, I will have to pay close to $1600. I have repeatedly tried to talk with Roger's customer service agents since the first lost phone in 2005, but have been met with condescending agents who tell me that if my children can not be trusted to care for their phones then I should not have let them have them;  a contract is a contract.

Granted, the problems started with kids losing or breaking phones, and my frustration is also with my kids -- but they are teenagers, and notoriously irresponsible as a demographic (which is why, no doubt, cell phone companies market to them.) And despite giving my teenagers consequences for losing their phones I am still stuck paying $50 a month for no service to a company who seems to be taking advantage of this situation and who, in my mind, illegally extended the contract with a 16-year-old.

On a related manner, when my credit card expired to which the $50 was being billed, I tried to contact Rogers agents to let them know. I tried five times to get through to give my new number. After waiting more than 20 minutes, I would hang up. I also tried to use the Rogers website to update the information, with no luck. Astonishingly, even when I am trying to pay my extortionist bill, I receive bad customer service!

I finally figured, if Rogers wants the money you can come after me — which you did  this month.

The Rogers collection agent was very professional —almost kind — the first one in your company who listened to and commiserated with my story. She seemed to understand that it was very difficult, psychologically,  after all we have been through,  to pay a $300 bill when we have no working phones and no service. She transferred me to a customer service agent. I was put on hold for 15 minutes. When, yet again,  I told my story, the very rude and condescending young man actually LAUGHED and blamed my irresponsible teens and my "poor parenting" for my trouble.

His laughter and berating astonished and enraged me. Never in my life have I been subjected to such treatment. I told him he can laugh now, but customers will have the last laugh. A company that pays no attention to earning customer loyalty is, in the long run, committing business suicide.

I have consulted a lawyer and find that to fight you will come at a high financial cost. I am writing to you now to let you know that I while I find your practices appalling, and even illegal, I will pay the contract until July 2010, but I will never, ever use any Rogers service — wireless, cable, video —ever again.

And I feel certain that there will come a time when you will be sorry that you created a company culture in which it was more important to lure new customers into vice-like contracts than to earn and keep the loyalty and trust of the customers you have.

Sincerely,

Anne Mullens

Posted on Sunday, August 4, 2013 at 08:19PM by Registered CommenterAnne | Comments4 Comments | References8 References

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Reader Comments (4)

Looks like you had a really lousy experience with Rogers, that sucks. But I'm not sure why you would paint all the cell phone companies with the same brush. There are more than 30 different companies in Canada operating 10 different networks and a lot of those companies do a very good job of providing service to Canadians.

I assume you were reading the same Globe and Mail stories I was reading this past weekend so you do understand that the cell phone companies are NOT trying to BLOCK Verizon from coming to Canada. They are trying to get the same terms and conditions as our government is offering to Verizon in the upcoming spectrum auction as well as assurances that the government won't force Canadian companies to open their networks to Verizon at below cost. It's an important distinction.

It has certainly been interesting to see our supposedly "Progressive Conservative" government implement a perverse policy that puts Canadian companies at a financial and competitive disadvantage to US companies.

BTW, if you go to Verizon's website you will see that they actually charge 15-20% higher prices than similar plans in Canada so they might actually force prices up instead of down.

I wonder if you will still be feeling a smug if your cell phone rates go up and good jobs/profits head to the US instead of staying in Canada and contributing to our economy.
August 5, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSheila
Hi Sheila,
It is my guess that you work for one of the companies, right?
I do understand the situation, and I read all the articles you read in the Globe. But you miss the point of my blog: Canadians don't care because the companies mishandled their customer relations for so many of them for so long. In 2009, I tried to tell Rogers that having such bad customer service would come back to haunt them. Other Canadians told the other companies that, too.
I am not alone in being willing to risk an uncertain future rather than let the present day situation continue.
I agree with Tom Flanagan's article today in the Globe. The whole system needs to be torn down and built again. I have travelled many places in the world where the consumer has much more power. That is the system I want for Canada.
And I stand by the comment: companies that provide good products and service, and good customer relations will do fine. I think there could be even more jobs in the future because the companies will have to actually answer their phones and deal effectively with customer issues.
Good luck to you and all your colleagues.
August 6, 2013 | Registered CommenterAnne
Hi Anne

Consumers are never "locked" into a contract, especially in Canada. The terms for terminating a contract are agreed to at the time consumers voluntarily agree to enter into the contract. If someone "signs you up" for a contract without your permission, that contract is not legally binding. If you don't like the terms of the contract you don't have to accept them, you can change them or just move on to one of the other companies that has terms more to your liking.

When Wind Mobile first started in Canada they didn't offer their customers the option of a contract. Within a year they had to offer contracts because they found that consumers wanted the benefits (i.e. the big subsidy) that came with the contract. Was Wind's decision to offer contracts a legitimate response to customer demand or was it something nefarious?

The point I was making was that your bad experience with Rogers shouldn't form the basis of your opinions about Canada's entire wireless industry. There are a number of very good companies such as Koodo, SaskTel, Telus and Videotron that get top marks year after year in the JD Power customer service ratings. Are they perfect? No. But do they deserve to be placed a competitive disadvantage relative to a US giant like Verizon at the hands of our own government? I don't think that is right either.

We all remember the trouble Rogers got themselves into with negative-option billing for cable subscriptions many years ago. But as I recall, they were the only company that engaged in that practice before it blew up in their face.
August 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSheila
I read the comments with some surprise. I've had a Rogers cell since '06, my only phone, no land line. No major problems, but there were a couple of issues that Rogers made right. But what I love is the dependability -- three dropped calls in eights years.Can't beat that, so reliable. And also a great plan which more than meets my needs. Granted, I can't wait to get rid of my d*mn Blackberry, poor service from them, but that is my own fault for getting seduced by the Blackberry name.
Very unlikely I would leave Rogers
August 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCheryl Keyes

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