The number of complaints that Canadians lodged with the federal telecom and television Ombudsman has fallen by 12 per cent after climbing steadily for three years in a row.
The Commission for Complaints for Telecom-television Services (CCTS) fielded 8,621 complaints during the six-month period from August, 2019, until the end of January, according to a midyear report published Tuesday. That’s down from 9,831 complaints during the same six-month period a year ago.
The Ottawa-based agency – which receives funding from the industry but acts independently of it – aims to resolve customer complaints about wireless, internet, home-telephone and TV services.
The prepandemic decrease in complaints suggests that customers are increasingly able to resolve their issues with their service providers without having to turn to the CCTS, commissioner Howard Maker said.
“That’s a win for customers because coming to us is a pain," Mr. Maker said. “Who wants to have to do that to solve your day-to-day problem with your [telecom provider], especially now when we’re so reliant on them,” he added, referring to how the COVID-19 pandemic has forced Canadians to work, learn and entertain themselves from home.
The last time that the number of complaints fielded by the industry Ombudsman declined year over year was during the six-month period from Aug. 1, 2016, to Jan. 31, 2017. Since then, complaints have been on the rise, hitting a record high of 19,300 for the 12-month period ended July 31, 2019.
The decrease in complaint volumes for the most recent six-month period is attributed largely to BCE Inc.’s Bell Canada, which recorded a 26-per-cent year-over-year decline, and Cogeco Communications Inc., which saw a 75-per-cent drop.
BCE chief executiv, Mirko Bibic attributed the decrease to the company’s investments in beefing up its customer service. In addition to offering more self-service options, agents at Bell’s call centres now strive to answer the bulk of their incoming calls within 20 seconds, Mr. Bibic said.
“If you answer the call right away, customers don’t hang up frustrated, so that’s really moved the needle,” Mr. Bibic said.
Bell has also trained more of its employees to deal with complex issues that can wind up at the Ombudsman, he added. “That’s helped resolve issues before they get to the CCTS," Mr. Bibic said.
Wireless service was mentioned in 44 per cent of the complaints fielded by the CCTS, making it the most frequently cited service, followed by internet, which appeared in roughly 27 per cent of the complaints.
The most frequently mentioned issues were around disclosure – usually a mismatch between what the customer was expecting and what he or she received – followed by disputes about billing.
John Lawford, executive director of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre, said that disclosure issues often mean the provider has misled the customer about the terms of service.
“We are most disappointed that communications companies, and in particular wireless companies, appear to feel they may behave this way toward their customers,” Mr. Lawford said in a statement.
It’s unclear whether complaints will continue falling or whether they’ll rise again in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mr. Maker said, adding that customers do tend to complain more during times of economic strife.
But Mr. Bibic said he doesn’t expect that will be the case. “The industry’s done a great job stepping up for consumers during the pandemic," he said, citing measures that telecom providers have taken such as waiving internet overcharges for some customers and providing flexible payment options to those who have lost their jobs. “The overall suite of accommodations we’ve made is being widely acknowledged.”
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