With all the competing claims about coverage, speed and contract terms, it’s easy to be confused when trying to get a good deal on cellular phone service.
A good place to start your research is the website of the Maine Office of the Public Advocate at maine.gov/meopa. There you’ll find basic advice on selecting a phone that meets your needs, choosing an appropriate service and so on.
Download the latest Ratewatcher Guide to learn more. Maine residents may also call 207-624-3687 to request a free, printed copy.
You also can get advice on what to do if you get into a dispute with your wireless service provider by visiting maine.gov/meopa/consumer.
Under the section on wireless companies, the advocate puts the consumer’s task squarely on the line, saying, “Like cable companies, wireless companies are largely unregulated with respect to service quality and billing disputes with customers.” In other words, be ready to stand your ground when disputing a charge or service.
This doesn’t mean you should be nasty. Front-line customer service people are trained to deal with abusive callers, who don’t get very far. Consumer advocates advise being courteous and calling when you’re not rushed and the call center isn’t busy — perhaps on a Friday evening.
Mohammed Halabi was interviewed recently on the CBC-TV program “Marketplace.” Halabi runs a firm called Mybillsarehigh.com, which focuses on reducing Canadian consumers’ wireless bills. He urges his clients to keep records of their calls, to give their phone numbers to the call center worker in case of a disconnection and to keep track of a reference number for that call — it may take more than one call to resolve your issue.
To get the best deal possible, you may have to dig deeper. Front-line customer service people are trained to deal with issues quickly, get callers off the line and move to the next call. They often are not empowered to offer price breaks of 10 percent to 15 percent below the best advertised deal — but a manager may be, especially if you’re a longtime customer the company wants to keep. So, if you don’t think you’re getting anywhere with the first person who answers, ask to be transferred to a customer retention or loyalty specialist.
A New York Times blog half a dozen years ago contained some winning tips for getting good wireless deals, which you can read about at bucks.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/11/18/how-to-negotiate-a-lower-cellphone-bill/?_r=2. Among the hints: act nice, play dumb, take good notes and, most importantly, say you’re prepared to switch to another carrier. You might call around first to see what other companies are prepared to offer; then you’ll have ammunition when you are ready to strike your best deal.
Similar advice comes from the website fivecentnickel.com. One writer advises consumers to talk about the fact that money is tight and ask, “What can you do to help me?”
Asking for a favor sometimes bring unexpected results; at a minimum, it sets you up for the follow-up question, “Is there anyone else — say, a supervisor — who could do any more to help me?”
If your research involves more nuts-and-bolts info — such as the difference between 3G and 4G — you might want to visit pcmag.com. The publication prints an annual story on which mobile networks are the fastest.
For Consumer Reports’ ratings and recommendations plus a buying guide, visit consumerreports.org and search “cellphone.”
Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer, ME 04412, visit http://necontact.wordpress.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.