When I was studying Economics, we were taught a golden rule: “Competition leads to high-quality products and services, thriving innovation, reduced prices and last but not the least – improved customer service.” Though I’ve applied the same rule to great success in a number of industries, the Canadian wireless segment continues to defy my hard-earned conventional wisdom.
Despite several new players joining the fray last year and the so-called ‘cut throat’ competition in the Canadian wireless market, one thing hasn’t changed – the number of customer complaints continues to rise exponentially with every passing year. In fact, complaints from Canadians about their telecom (mostly wireless) services more than doubled in a year.
The latest report published by Canada’s Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services (CCTS) indicates an increase in telecom consumer complaints for the fourth straight year – a matter of shame if Canada has to become a better telecom nation.
A quick slice of history first – the Commission for Complaints for Telecommunications Services was established in 2007 to provide an avenue for Canadian citizens to call in to complain about the frustrations and lack of service they are receiving from their telecommunications provider. Though it was formed with a noble objective, it achieved little in its first two years of existence – 6000 complaints in the first year and it investigated 2200 of them = 36.6% investigated. Next year, the graph dipped further – the number of complaints skyrocketed to 17000 and the CCTS just investigated 3000 of them = 17.6% investigated.
The latest CCTS report reveals that complaints jumped by 114 per cent in 2010-11 over the previous year, to more than 8,000. A large majority of the complaints filed were about wireless services and almost all of these were about billing errors or contract disputes. In fact, wireless problems accounted for 62 per cent of the agency’s complaints (significantly up from 31 per cent in 2007-2008). As expected, the ‘Big Three’ topped the complaint charts – Bell Canada (2,348), TELUS Communications (1,387) and Rogers Communications (1,355).
The CCTS says the increase in number of complaints is largely due to growing public awareness of the agency. Though the report clearly indicates a strong need for strong government action and the industry to react proactively to increase consumer confidence, I’m not sure if either of the two parties is listening.
Last year, the Better Business Bureau called Canada’s cell phone marketplace “a virtual minefield” as each of Canada’s major cell phone companies received a failing grade. As my fellow blogger Jordan Richardson wrote back then - “This awe-inspiring sense of consumer dissatisfaction isn’t something that can be fixed by mere market forces and choice, nor can it be fixed by simply adding new ‘competition’ to the heap.”
He was spot on in his assessment that Canada’s telecommunications industry continues to be influenced by greed and unfortunately maintains the status quo through ridiculous and bewildering fees, disgraceful marketing practices, backroom deals, and other designs to unconditionally rip off consumers and box out real telecom options.
“Competition in this sector can bring innovative products, better service and lower costs, but it can also cause confusion in billing, data usage, service and contracts. This is a trend we have now seen for four years, and it shows no sign of subsiding,” commissioner Howard Maker said.
IMO, the CCTS report doesn’t reveal any surprises – many consumers do not understand how their devices use data, how much data their monthly plan affords or how to track how much they use, and this often leads to ‘bill shock‘. The good part is that we all know that there’s a problem and it needs to be fixed. The bad part though is that nobody actually wants to DO something about it!
Is there a solution to end this mess? Does the regulatory body need to do more? Or is the ball in the wireless industry’s court to finally get its act together and start caring more about customers? Please voice your opinion by leaving a comment.