Telus tends to tattered reputation

Telus Corp. says it has improved its service levels after a terrible 2003, but one industry observer wonders if past problems will plague the carrier’s reputation.

“They’re certain to suffer some loss” as a result of a turbulent year, said Mark Quigley, an analyst at The Yankee Group Canada in Ottawa.

On Thursday Telus said in a statement that it had overcome “short-term customer service challenges and is now surpassing historical levels of service.”

In December the firm answered 86 per cent of incoming customer calls within 20 seconds. The standard set by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) is 80 per cent. Telus pointed out that in September, it only managed to answer 60 per cent of calls in the alotted time.

The carrier also said that in December its 611 repair bureau answered 93 per cent of requests for fixes within 20 seconds, “well above the CRTC standard of 80 per cent.” In September Telus managed to answer 68 per cent of these calls in time.

The company conceded that “we still have work to do” in its effort to raise service standards to well above the status quo. For instance, last month Telus met 86 per cent of urban and 77 per cent of rural repair appointments. The CRTC standard is 90 per cent. Telus said the problem lies in its effort to clear backlogged repair orders, which stemmed from “climatic events in B.C.,” such as the fires and subsequent floods that hit the western province last summer and autumn.

As well, whereas the CRTC expects telcos to clear out-of-service problems within 24 hours 80 per cent of the time, Telus averaged 76 per cent in urban and 63 per cent in rural areas in December.

Telus blamed poor service on fires, floods, computer virus attacks, power outages and issues with a new trouble-management system.

Quigley wondered if the firm might also blame its poor labour relations. Telus has been working for three years to develop a contract with its workers. Earlier this week Telus said it plans to put an offer forward next Monday for the Telecommuncations Workers Union (TWU) to consider.

It’s not necessarily good news, however. Telus said it had hoped the preceding conciliation period “would prove more successful” than it did, and “despite the company’s best efforts and the assistance of the federal conciliators, Telus and the TWU have been unable to reach agreement.”

That doesn’t bode well for Telus’s near-term labour relations. But even if employment issues were partly to blame for past service problems, “at the end of the day it doesn’t really matter, does it?” Quigley said. “Telus is the one that receives the bad press. They’re the ones that receive the slap on the wrist from the CRTC.”

According to Karen Radford, Telus’s Calgary-based vice-president of technology and operations, the carrier knows all too well that its reputation is on the line.

“The best way to secure relationships with [customers] is to meet and exceed service levels,” she said, adding that this is just what Telus means to do.

Quigley said it behoves Telus to improve service levels, and fast. A host of competitors are chasing the firm’s core market in Alberta and B.C. Microcell Telecommunications Inc., which operates the Fido mobile phone service, last year started City Fido, designed to get Vancouver urbanites to toss their Telus-provided landline phones in favour of Fido’s cellular service.

Quigley pointed out that Primus Canada’s new voice-over-IP (VoIP) telephone service is aimed at Calgarians and Vancouverites. Meanwhile, Calbary-based cable network operator Shaw Communications Inc. has been considering cranking up its own VoIP service, and Bell Canada’s western arm, Bell West, is expected to have a hosted voice-data service for Alberta and B.C. businesses in the near future.

Quigley said Telus business customers wouldn’t necessarily care about the carrier’s poor service levels, which speak to the consumer market and not corporations. Radford, however, said Telus is taking nothing for granted. After all, many business people have home phones with Telus. “We have to meet expectations on the consumer side.”

Along with its technical problems, Telus recently dealt with the firing of bullets at its Burnaby, B.C. headquarters.

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