IT World Canada

Telecoms take note – customers do have some power, CCTS commissioner says

If telecoms weren’t sure how customers would react to having the rug pulled out from underneath them, Public Mobile’s decision last week to suddenly increase its data plans by 25 per cent should be a perfect case study, says commissioner and CEO of the Commission for Complaints for Telecom-television Services (CCTS).

CCTS commissioner Howard Maker

“If I’m a telecom, I’m learning that consumers do have some power and that their collective action can make a difference,” Howard Maker told ITBusiness.ca one week after CCTS received more than 1,600 customer complaints about Public Mobile’s sudden price hike on data. On average, the CCTS receives a little more than 9,000 complaints per year.

“The other thing I’m learning is, if I promise my customers something, I should live up to that and if I don’t, I’m going to have to be accountable for that decision,” he says.

While Public Mobile has since reversed its decision to raise the price of its popular $40/4GB plan, Maker says two things made this price-hike different from the ones other Telecoms sometimes introduce, which almost always upsets customers.

First, he says Public Mobile had seemingly promised its customers that they wouldn’t change the plan while they were still subscribed to it, and then did so anyway. The telecom’s community forum says anyone signed up for the promotional plan would be able to keep the promotional rate as long as they were an active customer. “No surprises,” wrote Public Mobile. The telecom’s service terms, however, does say that the company has the right to change any of its rates without notice.

Secondly, the way customers shared their concerns and organized on social media to resist the change and identify the problem was fierce.

“It was unprecedented,” Maker says, pointing to the sheer number of complaints the CCTS received. “We’ve never had a situation where we had this many attempts to file complaints in such a short amount of time.”

The CCTS is still trying to respond to them all now, although Maker says he anticipates most of them have already been resolved.

He reminds users, however, that the CCTS shouldn’t be the first touch point for customer complaints. The organization’s Procedural Code requires that a consumer must have given the provider a reasonable opportunity to resolve the complaint before the CCTS can accept it. Maker also says the CCTS is in frequent contact with service providers at senior levels when they see “systemic problems” or crisis situations. In the case of Public Mobile, CCTS reached out to senior execs to ensure they were aware of the problem and to inform them of the 1,600 customer complaints they were receiving.

Maker says he’s doesn’t know if Public Mobile would have reversed its decision if the CCTS didn’t get involved, but he points out one thing is for certain – it’s not good business to annoy your customers.

“We may have had some role in bringing the issue to the right people at the service provider level,” he explains. “But they make their own decisions.”