Canadians lodged 9 per cent more complaints with the federal telecom and television ombudsman compared with a year ago, with Rogers Communications Inc. seeing a sharp increase compared with its two main industry rivals.
Rogers customers submitted 2,361 complaints to the federal Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services (CCTS) during the 12-month period ended July 31 – an increase of 33 per cent from the previous year.
Other telecoms that had significant spikes in complaint volumes include Videotron Ltd., with a 57-per-cent increase, and rural Internet provider Xplornet Communications Inc., which saw customer gripes climb 35 per cent.
The CCTS aims to resolve disputes over wireless, internet, home-telephone and TV services when direct communication between the customer and the service provider has proven ineffective. Although the Ottawa-based agency receives funding from the industry, it acts independently of it.
The data come after after an explosive boardroom battle for control of Rogers resulted in the wireless giant replacing Joe Natale as chief executive officer last month with the company’s former chief financial officer, Tony Staffieri.
Tackling the company’s customer service issues was a key priority for Mr. Natale when he took the helm in 2017. At the time, Mr. Natale said he would “obsess” over the customer experience. Earlier in his career, Mr. Natale worked closely on customer service as an executive at Telus Corp.
The boardroom battle at Rogers began when chair Edward Rogers attempted to replace Mr. Natale with Mr. Staffieri in late September but was blocked by the company’s board. Mr. Rogers, who said in court documents that he had concerns with Mr. Natale’s performance and the company’s lagging share price, reconstituted the telecom’s board through a written resolution, replacing five independent directors with his own candidates. The new board voted to remove Mr. Natale and make Mr. Staffieri interim CEO.
In Monday’s report from the CCTS, internet issues at Rogers were cited 61 per cent more than during the previous year, compared to an industry-wide increase of 12 per cent. Complaints citing the quality of Rogers’s internet service rose by 122 per cent from a year earlier.
Complaints about Rogers’s TV service were up 49 per cent from a year earlier. The CTS said the increase is significant given that across the industry, TV issues were down by 13 per cent.
Complaints by customers of Rogers-owned Fido rose 49 per cent from a year ago to 1,676, while customers of Rogers’s Chatr Wireless carrier lodged 123 gripes with the CCTS – an increase of 48 per cent.
A spokesperson for Rogers said that internet use has increased by more than 50 per cent during the pandemic, and the company “continually focused on upgrading and expanding our network in real-time to keep up with demand.
“These CCTS complaints represent less than 0.01 per cent of our total customer interactions, and although we completed over 36 million conversations with Canadians during this 12-month period, we recognize even one complaint is one too many and we are continuing to listen to our customers and use their feedback to help us improve,” Andrew Garas said in an e-mail.
John Lawford, executive director of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, an Ottawa-based consumer advocacy group, said that the pandemic has made people more reliant on the internet – and that may have resulted in slower service or overage charges for some customers.
“Most people had internet issues because they were home and using the internet more, and may or may not have had a plan that was adequate,” Mr. Lawford said.
Xplornet said the pandemic created “unprecedented challenges” for all internet providers, with network demand soaring by 40 per cent overnight.
“Xplornet responded to the challenge by investing more than $150-million to upgrade network capacity; upgrading existing sites and building new ones across rural Canada; and acquiring spectrum that will allow us to continue to improve our service to customers over time. As a direct result, the number of customer complaints has fallen markedly in recent months,” Johanne Senécal, vice-president of government and public affairs, said in a statement.
Veronique Mercier, a spokesperson for Videotron, said the company introduced a new technological platform shortly before the pandemic, “which meant we had to migrate billing for thousands of customers during the period covered by the report.
“This temporarily created two separate billing cycles for some customers, and therefore generated an increase in questions from the affected customers,” Ms. Mercier said in an email.
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