Even as Canadian telecom companies work to improve customer experience, disputes over a lack of information on the terms of Internet and wireless contracts remain a persistent source of complaints to the industry's ombudsman.
The Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services (CCTS) published its mid-year report Thursday, highlighting the fact that "non-disclosure" has been the leading source of complaints for at least 2 1/2 years.
"Understanding what you are getting when you sign up to receive a service or product is fundamental in a consumer transaction," said CCTS commissioner Howard Maker.
Lack of disclosure or misleading information about contract terms was raised 795 times in complaints from Aug. 1 to Jan. 31, accounting for 10.7 per cent of all issues.
The Ottawa-based agency handles complaints customers cannot resolve directly with their Internet, wireless or home telephone providers. (Its mandate will extend to include television in September.) Wireless services typically account for the largest number of issues the CCTS deals with.
Mr. Maker said the CCTS raised concerns about proper disclosure with the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) during the regulator's February hearing to review the terms of a national code of conduct for the wireless industry.
The CRTC introduced the code in 2013 and it already contains a number of provisions that relate to disclosure, some of which have been more effective than others, he said.
But Mr. Maker urged the CRTC to clarify issues such as the services included in the contract – specifying that data allowances should be included, for example – as well as make changes to the manner and timing for providing copies of contracts to customers.
"We are optimistic that the CRTC will address some of the issues we raised. … [and that it] will result in a decline in the number of disclosure issue we see in wireless complaints," Mr. Maker said.
The CCTS's mid-year review also revealed that complaints are once again down on a year-over-year basis, with the agency fielding 3,955 complaints over the six-month period, down from 4,562 in the 2015-16 mid-year report. Each complaint can contain one or more issues, with non-disclosure, incorrect charges and poor service quality accounting for the top three issues raised.
However, Mr. Maker said while the numbers for the period are down over all, "In February and March, we received more complaints and this is part of a three-month trend of increasing complaint numbers. We can't say whether it will continue, but if so, we will likely not see a year-over-year decline [in the annual report]."
Canada's biggest wireless providers have invested heavily in improving customer experience in recent years as organic growth in the industry slows and holding on to subscribers becomes increasingly important.
Telus Corp., which made customer service a priority years before its rivals, consistently enjoys a low rate of subscriber turnover. It also accounts for fewer complaints to the CCTS.
Rogers Communications Inc. began a push to reform its own customer service, which the company admitted was a huge problem, more recently and has seen a drop in the number of complaints its subscribers take to the CCTS (although its numbers were up slightly in the mid-year report).
BCE Inc., the country's largest communications provider, has topped the CCTS's list of complaints in the past four annual reports. However, the total number of complaints about the company has also been declining.
Top 10 service providers by number of complaints in CCTS mid-year report (Aug. 1, 2016 to Jan. 31, 2017)
1. Bell Canada – 1,258 complaints
2. Rogers – 535 complaints
3. Virgin Mobile (owned by Bell) – 285 complaints
4. Telus – 278 complaints
5. Fido (owned by Rogers) – 204 complaints
6. Videotron – 165 complaints
7. Freedom Mobile (formerly Wind Mobile) – 140 complaints
8. Koodo (owned by Telus) – 115 complaints
9. Xplornet – 113 complaints
10. Comwave – 88 complaints