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EricGiguere.com > Essays > Why I Hate Bell Mobility
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Why I Hate Bell Mobility

by Eric Giguere
October 26, 2004

November 30 update: Thanks to Connie at Bell Mobility, I've been finally able to resolve this mess. It's been a long haul. They had to go through my bills item-by-item from the end of May until the middle of September to figure everything out. It looks like the problem was that I activated a new line and did the number swap on the same weekend that they switched over to the new billing system. Something got messed up somewhere and so someone else's phone was attached to my account instead of my wife's. Of course, I told Bell that this was the problem many times, but no one believed me until I put up this page and started generating some bad publicity for them. I'm debating whether to leave this page up for posterity as an example of customer service gone wrong or take it down. Maybe we should vote on it?

October 31 update: So it looks like this page is getting me some action. I've had two calls so far from people at Bell Mobility who are interested in resolving my problem. Let's see what happens. I should point out, though, that my problems with Bell aren't directly related to the billing system switch that they've just done, which I know is a bone of contention with many of their customers. Obviously, I've been affected by that as well, but that's not the root of my problem — it's the billing for someone else's phone usage.

And I've been criticized by some Bell customer service reps for having done a new activation when I should have done a hardware upgrade. Perhaps this is true, but I wouldn't know — I'm just a customer, and I didn't want to pay upfront for another phone when I had bought two premium phones 15 months earlier only to have one of them break on me just out of its warranty period. Regardless, I had a problem that needed to be fixed and it's been like pulling teeth to get Bell Mobility to listen to me, let alone correct it.

As you'd expect from someone who writes about mobile technology, I own a cellphone. Unfortunately, Bell Mobility is my carrier. I say "unfortunately" because I'm very unhappy with them and their customer service in particular. Since I can't seem to get through to anyone who can actually do anything for me, I thought I'd put my story up on the Web as a cautionary tale for potential Bell Mobility customers. Maybe I'll get some action that way. If I don't, well, then at least I've made my opinion known to a few others.

Cellphone Dies, Pain Ensues

It all started in May 2004 when my wife's cellphone stopped working for no good reason. It was a Samsung SPH-a460, and I owned the identical model. We had bought the pair in January 2003 and signed up with Bell Mobility on a plan that offered free phone-to-phone calls and 200 minutes of anytime calling. Pretty basic plan that with the network access fees and taxes would cost us around $70/month. The phone died very prematurely in my opinion but it was out of its 1-year warranty period, so we had to have it fixed or replace it.

The problem with getting a cellphone fixed these days is that it's rarely worth the cost, plus you lose the use of the phone while it's off being fixed. So we chose to go the "hardware upgrade" route instead, getting my wife a new Audiovox 8450 to replace the dead Samsung. (Mine still works, luckily.) We could do this without any upfront costs, except we had to extend our contract with Bell Mobility. Since we hadn't had any issues with them up to this point, we didn't mind doing this. Basically we just wanted the phone to work.

Here's the important part: when we got the phones originally, my wife and I chose phone numbers based on the names of our dogs. I won't give out the actual numbers, let's just call them Rover (my phone) and Fifi (my wife's). In Bell Mobility terminology, Rover was the "prime" phone and Fifi was the "mate". When we did the hardware upgrade, we wanted to keep the Fifi number because it was meaningful to both of us; my wife especially likes it. The new phone's number was something meaningless to us, let's call it Kitty. So after the new phone was activated we had three phones and three phone numbers:

  • My working Samsung with the Rover number (prime)
  • My wife's dead Samsung with the Fifi number (mate)
  • My wife's new Audiovox with the Kitty number (other)

The day after we bought the new phone we went back to the store to do a number swap between the two phones. We did it as a separate step on a different day on the salesperson's advice, because he didn't think it was a good idea to do it on the same day as the new activation. After the swap, we were left with (we thought) this configuration:

  • My working Samsung with the Rover number (prime)
  • My wife's dead Samsung with the Kitty number (other)
  • My wife's new Audiovox with the Fifi number (mate)

There were a few glitches getting the new phone to work properly, but after contacting customer service a couple of times they fixed whatever problem it was and we were back in business. I phoned Bell Mobility to suspend the dead phone and from our point of view we were left with two phones, mine with the Rover number and hers with the Fifi number. We were able to phone each other without any difficulties and we figured that was the end of the story.

We were wrong.

Big Bills Arrive, Confusion Abounds

Fast forward to the end of August. There's a long lag time between when you make a call and when it starts showing up on your bill, but we're getting larger bills for no apparent reason. At first I thought we were just going over the minutes in our plan and that we also had some extras (like car breakdown service) that we didn't need, so I cancelled some things. I also saw some text messaging and mobile browser usage and called Bell Mobility to tell them to take it off because neither I nor my wife actually use those features. (We're old fashioned, we use our cellphones to talk to each other.) In retrospect, I should have looked more closely at the bills, but they weren't that unusual.

Then a larger bill shows up for $173. That's very unusual, so I decide to call Bell Mobility the next day about it. Oddly enough, at the same time my wife's cellphone stops working, for no apparent reason. The phone is fine, but the network won't allow her on. She can't make or receive calls. So I phone Bell Mobility with two problems, hers being the more pressing one.

Here's where we figure out something went wrong with the number swap in May. My wife's Fifi number, which she had used continuously since January 2003, had been assigned to someone else. Apparently it had been taken away from her earlier in May when she switched phones, and it had been finally reassigned to someone else's new phone activation.

To make matters worse, the Kitty number that originally came with my wife's Audiovox was still attached to our account as the mate phone. But I had suspended that phone, thinking I would send it out for repair. I never did, so the phone sat on my desk, unused and unpowered. So why was it still attached to our account, and more importantly, who was making calls with it? Because when I looked closely at the calls that the mate phone was making — my calls on the prime phone were fine and were listed first on the bill, making it easy to miss the fact that things were wrong — it was obvious that none of those calls were my wife's calls. Mostly she phones me, either my cellphone or my work number. There were no calls to me or to our home number. Instead, there were calls to places like (I tried a few of these from a regular phone) a rock climbing gym, which is not an activity that either of us pursue. These were not our calls.

After several calls to customer service, I manage to convince someone that something is wrong with the account. They agree that there's some kind of mixup and attempt various things to get my wife's phone attached back to our account. It takes several days, but they finally manage it by de-mating our phones, activating hers on her own plan, and then re-mating them. The customer service rep credits our account for the $173 bill and assures us that going forward the proper phones are attached to the right account, but that we may have to phone in again for the next one or two billing cycles to fix the billing issues because they are so far behind in their billing. I point out that I shouldn't have to do that and so he agrees to go back to the June bill (where the first bogus billings started appearing) and figure out how much we should be credited. He promises to do this and get back to us in a day or two. He never did.

Customer Service Unplugs, Frustration Increases

By now I'm really frustrated with Bell Mobility. That frustration only increases when I get a new bill for $440, charged automatically to my credit card. Now that is a completely unreasonable bill for our usage patterns. You'd think there'd be flag in their system somewhere that marks these things for further investigation, the way credit card companies look for abnormal card usage patterns. What had happened, of course, was that the person using the Kitty number had discovered that they weren't getting billed for their usage (I can only assume) and were happily racking up phone time, using their browser, and sending lots of text messages. The billing system was behind, of course, so this was all stuff that had occurred before they fixed our account.

Incredibly frustrated, I call Bell Mobility to sort this out. I have to explain my whole story yet again to yet another customer service representative. At the same time, I find out that Bell Mobility has just installed new billing software and are sending out bills more quickly so that the bills won't lag so far behind. So that's why I got my second bill so quickly after the first. I didn't care, I just wanted them to reverse the charges to my credit card. They said they couldn't, so I went and phoned Visa to reverse the $440 charge until the whole mess was sorted out.

Obviously, I wasn't the only person frustrated with Bell Mobility. The billing cycle switchover was apparently giving others headaches with larger-than-expected bills (not related to mismatched phones, just normal billings accelerated to be more current) and they were flooding the customer service lines with complaints. So how did Bell Mobility respond? They stopped taking calls.

Yes, that's right, the company that calls itself "Canada's leading communications company" had shut itself off from its customers. When I phoned, I heard a recording from the company president saying that they were unable to take calls for a while because of unexpected volume. Call back in a few weeks, he told me, but in the meantime be sure to pay your bill.

Now I was really annoyed. I wanted to drive over our cellphones and smash them (and, by proxy, our Bell Mobility contract) to itsy-bitsy tiny bits, but that wouldn't help our billing problems.

Another Bill Arrives, Anger Rises

Then we get another bill (the new billing system is certainly prompt). The phone numbers are correct on this one, but there's a "Termination Liability Charge" of $199 tacked onto it for no apparent reason. Time to try customer service again. Maybe they're answering their phones by now.

Incredibly, they are, and I actually get through to someone. I then spend an hour-and-a-half on the phone with her describing the whole sordid saga. She removes the $199 termination charge and then proceeds to go back in our bills and calculate how much we've been overbilled. By her calculations, we've been overbilled by $657. No kidding. She says she'll credit our account that much and I think that our problems are over, finally.

Well, they're not. She can't credit an amount that large back to an account. Neither can, incredibly enough, her supervisor. Apparently Bell Mobility doesn't trust their own employees. Probably don't pay them enough, I don't know. The customer service rep being limited I can see, but shouldn't the supervisor be able to do it? If not, don't they have a supervisor who can? Somebody up the chain of command must be able to credit me the amount. It's not that large an amount, and it's not like they're cutting me a cheque for it, either.

But no, apparently I have to collect all our bills together, mark which calls aren't ours, and fax them to someone at Bell Mobility who will then "rerate" the bills for us. Unfortunately, I have to leave at this point to pick up my daughter from school so I can't stay on the phone and argue the point.

I don't want to fax my bills to Bell Mobility. I'm not going to. I will have to get on the phone again with customer service and yell at them, but I'm too busy right now to do it. So I'm putting this page up instead and hope that someone at Bell Mobility notices it. Maybe I'll get some action that way.

What a nightmare. I never had this when we were with Fido, but we had such poor coverage with Fido that we had to switch carriers — we were just going out of digital coverage too much. Apparently I should have gone with either Telus or Rogers as my carrier.

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