In Canada we have a handful of major players in the telecommunication space and a number of smaller less powerful players. The key power players are Bell, Cogeco, Qubecor, Rogers, Shaw, and Telus. Each of these companies suffers from varying degrees of ethical weakness. Seldom if ever do more than two of these companies compete in the same market at the same time. Bell is one of the few if only companies that stretch from coast to coast and only then is due to their former nature as a crown company.
As content providers and content carriers they have done things like choke out competition in the carrier space making unreasonable demands on the companies they have been legislated to bulk sell pipe to, Teksavvy for instance faces regular shaping of data and throttling at the hands of Bell and Rogers for their clients. They have in the past engaged in efforts like reverse billing, contracts that could be considered unethical, and substandard business practices while protesting the requirement to support funds that create Canadian programming they’ve been all too ready to have their subsidiary companies like Global, CTV, CHUM/City, and so on collect these funds to create home grown content.
As bad as we have it here in Canada it is nothing compared to the mess south of the border, in the US you have a handful of players dominated by Comcast followed by DirecTV, Dish, Time Warner AT&T and Verizon with Comcast and Time Warner in the process of FCC hearings on the legality of a merger (that would push them to almost a 34% market share. Unlike here in Canada in many markets there are no alternative options and the lobbying of these big players have prevented the option of other companies entering in to the industry from even being possible.
As consumers where does this leave us? Legally there are very few options and the companies know this but these companies are not stupid they also realize the optics and launch very nuanced campaigns to keep them at top of mind. Rogers for instance has several options it is tabling to address the hemorrhaging of clients to Netflix and their investment in local sports teams, Bell have a series of charitable events for mental health and various music festivals. They all wave one hand while hoping you don’t notice the other all the while charging some of the highest prices in the world for service that is, while not the worst, certainly not the premium level that we should expect for the cost we pay.
Rogers emphasized customer service and unlike some of their southern or blue compatriots the “up sell” has never infiltrated their day to day conversations. While they will attempt at resolution they will not sell you a service to get rid of a service. Almost 15 years answering telephones and being a tech support professional taught me one thing, I hate who I become when I get on a phone call. There are all sorts of difficult people to deal with when working on the phone, there’s the Kings of Industry, you know the type, one call from them to the right people will shake the pillars of heaven. The reality is most of these people have little to no influence on the world (though I have fielded support calls whilst working for a fruit based computing company from a Prime Minister and his wife and it was far from the most pleasant experience in my life).
Then there are the angry ones, the ones with the undirected rage against everything. Nothing you can do will ever satisfy and short of bending the fabric of time and space to fit their whim they will not leave satisfied (and even if you do bend space and time chances are they will still leave dissatisfied). Whilst working at a Blue company I had one of these. He shot his computer with a Colt .45 whilst on the phone with him.
Then there’s the weeping angels, these are the people who are the damaged and the broken where the technology has owned them and they just sob in to the receiver. Honestly, these are the worst, at least with angry people or entitled d-bags you get some forward momentum. With the weepers they just loop on and on until you collapse under the weight of their frustrating delusions. I’ve had a few of these, where you come away feeling like crap. The reality is these people should not be allowed near a computer let alone to use it in a capacity that may impact the life of others.
By handling these types of people I’ve realized I’m the worst kind of person to get on the phone as knowing how the game works there’s a chance I may manifest one of these three archetypes without even knowing or wanting. I try and remain cool, I attempt to remain jovial but I end up falling in to one of these groups of telecommunication sinners.
A recent encounter with Rogers drove me around the figurative bend, I’ve had ongoing issues with my buzzer in my building. This has been fixed twice in the past and I notified support of the problem and took time off work to get the problem fixed. The technician arrives, I answered the phone and he said Rogers here and I asked if he was in the building or did he need me to come down and let him in. His response was “okay” after this less than promising start where very little communication occurred I started me off on the miserable foot.
Within a few minutes of his arrival I get the building management on the phone. They let the super know and the technician who had already gone down to the lobby met him and (according to the technician when he showed up 15 minutes later back in my apartment) was let in to the phone room. Over the course of an hour and a half he was up and down a half dozen times before leaving saying he couldn’t fix the problem and would require the assistance of a second tech and could be back Monday. The next day was my birthday party (which is why I had originally planned an article about cool pop-culture stuff from 1974 but this made me unable to get around to it) so this wasn’t acceptable. I called Rogers upset that the issue wasn’t resolved and I had lost income due to the taking a half day off.
When I called I was a little pissed but could have been talked down, after talking to the first agent though I saw red. This technician who left barely 15 minutes before had filed his service call report saying he wasn’t given access to the room which is not only contradicted by what he told us and what building management told us it transformed the service call in to a billable call. I saw red, I cancelled everything, I posted on Twitter and Facebook and I basically became archetype one the Prime Minister of Douchebags. My frustration was reasonable enough, he lied to either us or to his employer, neither solution was acceptable.
In defence of the individuals I spoke with on the phone each one was reasonable and heard me out, I have to say Rogers has done a good job of insulating their employees from the misery of their existence. Having lived it I can say it’s not fun. There are televisions hanging throughout the call centre telling you how long the call wait is, the number of disconnects, etc. The Sword of Damocles’ first call resolution was hanging over your head. It was not an uncommon sight to see someone walked in to a room and see them subsequently not return to their desk but a dour faced HR representative boxing up their possessions.
I raged and fluctuated between archetype one and two before after hanging up and getting some distance and getting a direct message on Twitter from Rogers, a call from the escalations team, and a call from the technician’s manager I was talked down and ended up cancelling my cancelling of services and given appropriate recompense for the trouble but the problem is it never needed to get that way and even if it was my options kind of sucked should I have followed through.
Aside from the payout for the cell hardware (about $350 dollars), the early termination fees (about another $100 dollars) and the general inconvenience and lost wages from having to get a new service set up I didn’t really have options. I have been a prior customer of Bell and Bell’s technical service is like blunt head trauma from a syphilitic angry weasel. In short, not fun. That said it's not near as bad as the experience of American customers like the experience of this Comcast customer when he attempted to cancel his service. The fact Comcast customers have taken to recording every interaction and posting it on the internet just to get resolution is a sad statement that thankfully we've never quite made it to that level of terrible service.
We as customers are without real options, without meaningful protections, and beholden to a handful of companies that couldn’t care less for us or our satisfaction. A customer since 1999 who has at times paid over 600 dollars for my cable services I am the kind of lifetime subscriber they’d want to hope for.
In the end this comes down to the fact we need to reach out to the CRTC, the FCC or whatever regulating body is appropriate based on geography. Carriers and content providers need to be separated and reasonable pricing and contracts need to be enforced and ad hoc options that allow for flexibility of services need to be encouraged. We are in a period where the transmission methods for media is changing and if the big carriers don’t have brand loyalty based on experiences of their customers they will be in a very difficult place in the future.