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Canadians Fight Back Against Service Providers as Telecom, Internet and Now TV Services Falter

By Special Guest
Arti Visana
December 03, 2018

Canada’s federal watchdog for telecom complaints, the Commission for Complaints for Telecom-Television Services, said last month it is prepared to handle increasing complaints in the coming new year.

For the first time, the federal watchdog is also investigating complaints about television, which is adding to the volume of investigations, most of which involved wireless providers.

The agency handled 14,272 complaints from consumers in 2017-2018. More than 40 percent of them were about wireless service and 29.2 per cent were about internet service.

This represents a 57 percent spike in complaints in 2017-2018.

Strikingly, most of what the CCTS received between January and September 2018 were the same issues that the CCTS has been dealing with for the past 10 years — non-disclosure of information, and unanticipated charges on the invoices issued by wireless operators.

"Customers will communicate with their service provider and then find out that the reality of what they get is not what they expected to get. This results in billing issues, in charges people don't expect, on limitation on bandwidth or data," said CCTS Commissioner Howard Maker.

"It's a mismatch of customer expectations and what their service provider delivers."

Maker said the complaints come despite a revised Wireless Code which came into effect last year at this time and was designed to protect consumers.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission held hearings into the telcos' sales practices earlier this year and will be present their findings in February.

The storyline is not good. Based on the hearings and aggregated complaints, service providers are misleading many of the most vulnerable segments; seniors and low-income people who cave into high-pressure selling from contact center agents who may be incentivized to sell as part of their own compensation and bonuses.

Consumer advocates are pushing for sales codes of conduct and “cooling off” periods allowing consumers to change their minds and cancel contracts with no penalties.

Howard Maker, commissioner of the CCTS believes service providers can do better.

"We see a lot of complaints that customers bring to us that have no business getting as far as the CCTS. Small complaints where the provider's own evidence indicates that the customer has merit, that the story the customer is telling is true, and yet they're not resolved at the frontline, presumably because nobody looked at the records," he said.

As more and more media coverage surfaces, service providers are taking steps to combat the issues, to comply with regulations, and to improve how they operate. Maker has vocally encourage service providers, including especially Bell, Rogers and Telus, the biggest players who account for half of all complaints, to do the right thing.

"Where there's opportunity for improvement is around the disclosure factor — making sure all the necessary information that customers need to really understand what they're getting is complete," Maker said. “Documents should be clear, complete and written in accessible language. Consumers should be educated about all the ins and outs they need to know to make sure they're getting what they think they're getting," he said.

Among the issues are billing and disclosure, but also quality of service such as internet speeds, internet outages and bandwidth overuse surcharges. Consumers also complained about installations — especially technicians who don't show up on time.

"Overall complaints about communications providers have increased each year as both the CCTS's mandate and consumer awareness of its services continue to grow," Bell Canada said in an official statement.

It said its investments in front-line service teams and support systems are having a "positive impact on our customer service performance."

Telus issued a press statement saying it received the fewest complaints of any national provider, accounting for only 6.6 per cent of complaints.

"Of Telus's 901 complaints that were concluded prior to the 2017-18 report cut-off date, 757, or 84 per cent, were resolved at the pre-investigation stage," the company said.

“This is great news for consumers and for the telecom companies,” said Joe Galvin, CEO of CustomerView, a US-based company providing software enabling contact center agents to interact with inbound callers more effectively – and compliantly.

“What we’re seeing is a huge opportunity for companies like Telus, Bell and Rogers to use data analytics, including real time AI running during all conversations, whether voice or text-based, providing managers a means to understand if there are any risks happening, and prevent problems while also coaching agents to ensure the right script is being followed,” Galvin said.

Galvin says the key is to implement cloud-based analytics within the contact center environment that not only helps service providers avoid mistakes and even illegal activities, “but to also improve relationships and retention through guidance that keeps discussions friendly and helpful.”

“Using the same software, our clients are able to dramatically reduce issues, while bringing faster, more personalized and more effective support to consumers, including selling them not just more products and services, but the right ones,” Galvin explained. “This same software can also detect when consumers bring up competitors’ service in attempt to negotiate or otherwise steer the discussion. Our software captures all of this, through voice recording and transcription, which is then analyzed by our platform, which also means marketing and product teams in the service providers get data on what consumers think about the competition and specific services, reliability, pricing and more.”

CustomerView’s technology can also validate, based on what is purchased, what disclosures should take place. “Service providers appreciate our ability to validate any pricing quotes, against their first bill, and quotes on all calls, without spot monitoring.”

Turning lemons into lemonade? Galvin, who has grown up in the call center, contact center, and customer experience industries, says “getting a wake-up call is a good thing, as long as you’re ready to move forward after you wake up, and take advantage of innovations that are made not just for compliance, but for authentically better interactions, and support of collaboration across many departments so that those unhappy consumer calls become a means to understand more about the business, and in turn make the business better. This helps keep companies competitive, against incumbents, and new challengers coming in.”

Edited by Maurice Nagle
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