An Outbreak of Good Service

Two notable instances of excellent customer service today.

First, we decided it was time to get Oliver a laptop for use in school. He’s been successfully using the hand-me-down Windows laptops provided by the school since grade 4 (bless the hearts of the resourceful resource staff!), but he’s getting frustrated by having to use a Windows machine at school and a Mac at home, and we want him to have a computer he can take back and forth from home to school.

We settled on an 11 inch MacBook Air, and my first call was to Little Mac Shoppe. It’s a small, local business, that I walk by at least twice a day. I know the owners. I want to support them.

Hi, I’m wondering if you have a MacBook Air in stock?”, I ask.

Sorry, we don’t. If you need something today, then I know Future Shop has them in stock,” says the helpful person on the end of the phone (who turned out to be John Cox, the personable owner).

Gee, thanks,” I said, and rung off.

After our regular visit to the Charlottetown Farmer’s Market Oliver and I headed off to Future Shop. We got as far as the parking lot.

I just couldn’t shop there again: I couldn’t face the disingenuous “extended warranty” money-grabbing upsell. I couldn’t handle the pumping back-beat of the in-house sound-system. I couldn’t handle the nervous energy. I couldn’t support a faceless big-box chain. So we kept on driving.

Back to Little Mac Shoppe.

Where we ordered an 11 inch MacBook Air, to be delivered in 5 to 7 business days. There was no extended warranty invoked. No attempt to even upsell us to AppleCare. John was friendly, engaging, and a human being.

Which, I have decided, is what we should optimize our shopping to support.

Laptop on the way, the next step was to switch our cell phone provider.

I was a loyal Island Tel Mobility customer for many years, until I needed a GSM phone to travel with and they hadn’t switched over from CDMA yet. So in recent years I’ve been a reluctant customer of Rogers Wireless, putting up with their moribund service, 1970s-style customer website, and spotty service unless you happen to be in certain parts of Charlottetown.

When we looked at cutting the cable TV cord last month I took the opportunity to review our entire telecommunications agenda, and realized that we were spending $120+ a month for Rogers service. Some quick comparisons showed me that we could cut our bill almost in half and get more service by switching to Virgin Mobile, which works on the Bell (née Island Tel) network, so has service across PEI. And a jaunty attitude to boot.

But I dragged my feet, reasoning that switching would be complex and time-consuming.

The straw that broke the camel’s back was a call to Rogers to have them unlock the Samsung Galaxy Rugby I’d acquired a few months ago for doing Android development with. I paid full price, and thus reasoned that the only reason it was locked to Rogers was administrative, and that they’d unlock it for free.

I was wrong.

They refused to unlock the phone unless I paid them $50.

So to Virgin it would be.

I bought a $14 unlock code for the Samsung phone from, and took that phone, along with my Nokia Lumia 800, to The Source (née Radio Shack) in the Confederation Court Mall where I made the arrangements to port our existing numbers over to Virgin Mobile. The staff there was very friendly, the process of switching was quick and painless, and after 30 minutes I walked out the door a switched man. Total out-of-pocket costs was $0.

I hold no illusions that Virgin Mobile will be a perfect replacement for Rogers — I’ve been burned by enough multinationals to know that it’s in their nature to be essentially evil — but I gotta say that, at least so far, I’m impressed: the customer website is simple, clear, and works every time, the plan pricing was simple and clear and inexpensive, and even the sassy British voicemail narrator is a breath of fresh air.

Stay tuned to see how it works out.

Here’s the side-by-side cost breakdown of the before-tax cost:

Item Rogers Virgin
Catherine’s Voice Plan $25.00 $20.00
Peter’s Voice Plan $25.00 $20.00
Peter’s Data Plan (based on usage) $25.00 $10.00
Peter’s Call Display $8.00 $0.00
Fake “Gov’t Regulatory Recovery Fees” $4.26 $0.00
Real Government Fees (911) $1.00 $1.00
GRAND TOTAL $88.78 $51.00

That’s a savings of $37.78 a month, or $453.36 a year. And Catherine gets Call Display included, which would have been $8.00 a month more with Rogers, and the option to use data if she wants to at non-exorbitant sliding-scale rates. Our “free” voice minutes decrease from 100 to 50, but as we really only call each other, and “within account” calls are free with Virgin, that’s not an issue for us. Oh, and those 50 “free” minutes are for calling anywhere in Canada, whereas Rogers’ 100 “free” minutes were local calls only.


alexander's picture
alexander on September 1, 2012 - 21:22 Permalink

AppleCare has saved my bacon enough times that it’s a requirement for me now.

Daley's picture
Daley on September 1, 2012 - 22:57 Permalink

I agree on the AppleCare saving my laptops, but I usually wait until close to the end of the regular 1 year warranty runs out before buying it.

DerekMac's picture
DerekMac on September 2, 2012 - 12:47 Permalink

Besides Virgin Mobile, Koodo is another ‘second tier’ cell phone company that offers decent pricing and service. It is owned by Telus, and has the same coverage they do i.e. uses the Bell towers on PEI. I recently bought a pre-owned (back from a 14 day trial) Samsung Galaxy Ace from them for $100 outright,  I can bow out of their service at any time (and still keep the phone), and 10 percent of my monthly bill accumulates on their “Tab” to buy a new phone any time I want. I can also adjust my plan at any time to more closely meet my needs. My deluxe $50 a month package (plus 50 cents for 911) includes a gig of data and 150 minutes of calling anywhere in Canada, plus free evenings and weekends, free caller-id and voicemail, unlimited free texts, etc. It was a much better deal than I could find with the major carriers,  I am not locked into a contract, and the gig of data gives me peace of mind that I will not be faced with an extra bill for overage (even though it is on a sliding scale).

We opted for AppleCare for the iMac we bought for our son, also from the Little Mac Shoppe. In my opinion, the normal repair charges from Apple make it worth it, especially with a laptop.

Pedro's picture
Pedro on September 28, 2012 - 06:04 Permalink

Peter, what’s “call display”?

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on September 28, 2012 - 12:40 Permalink

Call display” is the name telcos here, both mobile and wired, give to the display of  the calling number on the phone/device for incoming calls. It’s also sometimes called “caller ID”. Although there seems to be a migration away from this practice, it has long been the case that this “extra feature” is billed at an exorbitant fee — $8/month on my old account. I presume, other than the cash from the fee itself, it has been priced so high as a disincentive for customers: if you don’t know who’s calling, you have to answer every call, and thus pay for every call, which is good for telcos, at least mobile operators.

Pedro's picture
Pedro on September 28, 2012 - 12:55 Permalink

I confess that when I wrote it was actually my understanding of what it could mean, but I simply refused to believe that there still existed such practices and worst that they actually can still consider to be legal by any communications provider… Amazing Peter. Happy to you changed operator, who haver has such a practice doesn’t really deserve to be in business.. I’m petrified hehehe.

Peter Rukavina's picture
Peter Rukavina on September 28, 2012 - 13:07 Permalink

Can I safely assume that when I move to Düsseldorf and sign up for Vodafone service, there will be no such charge ;-)