As overall complaints to Canada's telecom ombudsman remain steady, Rogers Communications Inc. has posted a significant drop in the number of times its customers take their gripes to the industry complaint body.
The federal Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services (CCTS) said in a midyear report on Wednesday that it registered 4,562 complaints in the six months from Aug. 1 to Jan. 31.
That's down from 5,468 complaints in the same period a year earlier, but it's just about in line with the 4,520 complaints the CCTS logged in the second half of the 2014-15 reporting period.
Toronto-based Rogers – Canada's biggest cellphone carrier, which still accounts for the second-highest number of complaints – was responsible for 437 customer complaints, according to the CCTS midyear report, down 65 per cent from 1,240 in the same period last year.
"It's very clear that Rogers threw a lot of resources at this. Rogers made a decision corporately that this is important to them and to their customers and they have worked very hard with us," CCTS commissioner Howard Maker said in an interview.
Rogers attributes its improved performance in large part to its "Roam Like Home" service introduced in late 2014 that lets wireless customers use data from their monthly plan outside the country for a daily fee. The company said in a statement that roaming-related complaints from Rogers customers to the CCTS "are on track to decrease by 90 per cent this year, from the 2012-13 results."
"While there is still work to be done, we've started tackling some of the industry's biggest issues head on, like roaming, by introducing services that are easy to use and save customers' time," Deepak Khandelwal, chief customer officer at Rogers, said.
All three of Canada's national carriers – Rogers, Telus Corp., and BCE Inc.'s Bell Canada – have made improved customer service a priority in recent years, an effort Telus put in motion several years before its rivals and which resulted in industry-leading low rates of churn – customer turnover – for the Vancouver company. Telus consistently has the fewest CCTS complaints out of the large telecom providers.
(The CCTS currently only accepts complaints about wireless, Internet, home telephone and long-distance services but will begin to accept complaints about television service on Sept. 1, 2017. The majority of the current complaints relate to wireless services.)
The CCTS released its most recent full-year report in December, revealing similar trends. At the time, Canaccord Genuity telecom analyst Aravinda Galappatthige commented that the decline in complaints about Rogers "speaks to the company's ongoing efforts to improve what has always been its Achilles heel – customer service – and augurs well for a longer-term reduction of churn."
Bell Canada has topped the list of CCTS complaints for several years, although its numbers are also trending downwards. In the midyear report, Bell Canada accounted for more than one-third of total complaints with 1,677, down 16 per cent from 1,989 complaints in last year's midyear report.
The CCTS tracks complaints about the carriers' discount wireless brands separately. Complaints at Rogers's main discount brand Fido were down 22.5 per cent to 237 in the first half of the year, compared with 306 in the same period a year earlier. Telus's discount brand Koodo had 106 complaints, up from 76, while complaints at Bell's Virgin Mobile fell to 257 from 312 compared with the first half of the previous year.
In December, Canaccord's Mr. Galappatthige noted that Bell's business strategy differs from its rivals.
"Particularly on the wireless side, [Bell's] approach has been to have a far more stringent approach to pricing, which means that they are less flexible on carrying over lower-priced legacy plans and offering discounts. This, we believe, finds its way into higher churn and more complaints," he said. "At the same time, as we have seen in their results, it has led to much stronger [average revenue per user] growth in wireless of 6.1 per cent versus 1.1 per cent for Telus and flat for Rogers."