TORONTO - Canadians have long had a volatile relationship with their telecom providers, but some savvy customers have turned their complaints about monthly fees and contracts into big savings.
For Hamilton resident Vanessa Ewen all it took was a phone call and a little dissatisfaction to pare down her wireless bill. Internet charges were next on the call list. She was inspired after hearing stories about other people's monthly bills a couple years ago.
"I heard prices and deals that they were getting, and wondered 'Why am I not getting that?'" she said.
Ewen made a call to the customer service department once she did a little bit of research on the best way to approach her wireless provider. After one successful round of negotiations, she decided to make contacting her telecom providers an annual event.
"I know it's a little extra work, but it really is worth it," she said.
Ewen estimates that she will save about $120 on her Internet bill over the next year after she called her provider last week and negotiated a $10 monthly discount.
The key is to start the process with a set plan, she said. In other words determine what you want to accomplish before picking up the phone.
"You need to know if you want to negotiate price or what services you're getting," Ewen said.
Before making the call, be sure to prepare evidence by doing a little bit of research. If someone in your family has a better monthly plan, mention that to the customer service representative, or if a competitor offers a better deal, don't be afraid to use it as leverage.
Once you've created a strategy, dial your provider and start the process. The first step is to get beyond the frontline staff who have hardly any power when it comes to reducing your bill. All of those decisions are made by the management or customer retention departments, which you will often need to request to speak with after addressing your initial frustrations.
"Build a rapport and use their name," Ewen suggests.
"Explain to them 'I've been with this company for so long. I pay my bills on time.' You can even say things like 'I'm going through a little bit of a hard time financially.'"
No matter how you choose to approach the negotiations, be sure to keep calm.
"I actually find that if you're nicer you get further," she said. "Nobody wants a caller freaking out, trust me, I've tried that approach too."
If your contract recently expired then your bargaining power has increased exponentially because telecom providers, particularly those who offer wireless services, don't want their customers to walk.
The customers who enter negotiations prepared to actually switch to another provider are likely to be most successful in lowering their bills.
"This is definitely an environment where the squeaky wheel gets the grease," said Carmi Levy, an independent media analyst in London, Ont.
"Carriers want your business, and they'll pull out all the stops if they think they're about to lose it."
"If you don't call and put up a bit of a stink, your carrier assumes you're perfectly happy, and your carrier remains perfectly happy to charge you more for the privilege," Levy added.
In the past few years the market has served up several alternatives to major wireless carriers with regional discount brands like Wind Mobile, Mobilicity, Public Mobile and Videotron that offer lower priced packages but less coverage across the country.
Numerous alternative Internet service providers are available across the country, and many of them offer lower-priced Internet packages and higher — or non-existent — data usage caps. One of the more popular alternatives is Teksavvy, which services most of the country, while there are many other smaller regional providers as well.
Activist consumer organization OpenMedia.ca provides a database of alternative wireless and Internet providers in regions across the country on its website at www.openmedia.ca/switch.
For those who are satisfied with their providers, and the price they're paying, there are still several ways to manage your telecom expenses.
Most importantly, avoid signing up for automatic bill payments because it means you're less likely to notice if your bill increases.
Also, if you only use your cellphone for emergencies or the occasional phone call, a pre-paid cell phone plan will reduce your monthly expenses dramatically.