Telecom complaints could increase amid COVID-19

Shruti Shekar
Telecom & Tech Reporter
Getty Images

Customer complaints about telecom services could increase because of COVID-19, and the nature of those complaints is likely to shift due to stay-at-home measures.

Ben Klass, a telecom expert and PhD student at Carleton University, expects to see an “increase across the board” when the Commission for Complaints for Telecom-television Services (CCTS) releases its annual report sometime in October 2020. 

“It is reasonable to expect that the proportion of complaints related to home internet service will likely increase as opposed to the past,” he said. “More people are staying at home and relying less on mobile than they normally would be.”

The CCTS released its mid-year report on May 12, indicating that it saw a 12 per cent decrease in overall complaints between August 2019 and January 2020. 

The report said 44.2 per cent of all complaints were about wireless services, followed by 26.5 per cent about internet services. 

Bram Abramson, a communications lawyer and a former director of the CCTS, said it was hard to determine if there will be an increase, as going to the CCTS is the second step in filing a complaint.

“The CCTS wants customers to go through their service provider [first] and then go to it only if the service provider won’t resolve the issue,” he said, adding that customers could also take their complaints to provincial consumer agencies or small claims court as other ways to resolve their complaint. 

Abramson added that while customers may be complaining more now, carriers may also be taking extra measures to resolve as many complaints as possible. 

“A simple decision at a high level to treat a particular type of complaint or hot button issue in a particular way will yield a significant change in complaints accepted by the CCTS... because the carrier is dealing with those complaints right after the first instance,” he said. 

In an email, Telus indicated that “complaints continue to trend downwards” so far this year.

Bell said in an email that it was pleased to see a 26 per cent decrease in complaints in the latest report.

“Our ongoing investments in customer service have served us and our customers well during COVID,” Bell said, adding that call centre agents are answering 80 per cent of calls within 20 seconds and cutting hold times by almost 30 per cent.

Rogers said in an email that it is on a “multi-year journey to improve our customer experience and our customers’ feedback is so critical through this health crisis,” adding that it has received positive feedback from customers with the changes it made during the pandemic.

The latest report indicated that Rogers and its flanker brand Fido each saw an increase of complaints.

Yahoo Finance Canada reached out to Shaw but did not receive comment in time for publication. 

The next CCTS report is expected to be released in October, which will include data from January to July 2020. 

Howard Maker, CCTS’ commissioner, said in an interview that there could be an increase in complaints due to the pandemic, but that there was “no one factor that drives complaints up or down.”

“The things that service providers are doing, positive or negative [affect the number of complaints],” Maker said. “We know that they’re waiving overages and some roaming and LTE charges and things like that.”

“Sometimes they will do these things and one would imagine that it might reduce complaints, but complaints could also be generated from other factors.”

Maker added that since January “complaints have remained stable” and that commission is seeing the “same kind of complaint volumes pre-pandemic.”

In the most recent report, “disclosure issues” and “incorrect charges” were the most complained about problems, which were 26 per cent of all reported issues. 

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