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Editorial: Customer disservice

A recent media report revealed that some telecom call centre employees are directed to stonewall customers. —
A recent media report revealed that some telecom call centre employees are directed to stonewall customers. — 123RF Stock Photo

“This call may be monitored for quality control purposes.”

It’s a recorded message people often hear before they are transferred (finally) to a live person at a call centre.

Customers may feel somewhat reassured that the person on the other end of the line will be helpful since their responses are being recorded and reviewed by supervisors.

But instead of being assessed on how helpful they were to customers, employees are sometimes reviewed on the degree of resourcefulness they use in stalling and stonewalling — disturbing prerequisites for call centre workers.

Now, most are helpful and do the best they can, and the companies that hire them actually care about customer service. But not so much at telecom call centres, particularly those engaged by Bell, Rogers or Telus — the three singled out in a recent damning CBC Go Public investigation.

Only as a last resort, when angry threats are made to cancel outright or switch to a competitor, does the customer finally receive the service they are seeking.

Hundreds of current and former telecom workers have spoken out about misleading and unethical sales practices. Those allegations prompted the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) to order a public hearing on the sales practices of telecoms, set to get underway Monday, Oct. 22. It’s part of an inquiry ordered by the federal government as a result of numerous complaints.

Many Atlantic Canadian television, telephone and internet customers are nodding in agreement. It’s about time.

As Go Public reported, most telecom sales reps earn points towards commission for every product and service they sell and lose points every time they cancel or reduce a customer’s service. So, employees are encouraged to do everything possible to delay cancellations or downgrades in service.

Out of sheer frustration, many customers reluctantly pay up and keep services they don't need. Inexorably, monthly fees go up and changing bundles becomes next to impossible. Only as a last resort, when angry threats are made to cancel outright or switch to a competitor, does the customer finally receive the service they are seeking.

When will these big telecom companies clue in that you can only push customers so far, and that any lingering loyalty will soon vanish with poor treatment? Telecoms seem to presume that Canadians will continue to accept getting ripped off and ask for more.

But an Angus Reid poll released Thursday suggests otherwise. It found that Canadian millennials are increasingly willing to opt out of traditional television and phone service for online streaming. Many have no need of landlines; others are cancelling cable or satellite. Telecoms should be offering bundles that are cheaper and more flexible to keep customers and attract new ones — not driving them away in droves. Incredibly, many don’t seem to care.

Atlantic Canadians have telecom horror stories to tell and now is their chance. Pass them along to the CRTC, and maybe substantive changes will finally come.

And, yes — this editorial may be monitored by big telecoms for criticism purposes.

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