Bell tells inquiry that it does a good job but aims for better sales practices

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Bell tells inquiry that it does a good job but aims for better sales practices
A CRTC logo is shown in Montreal on September 10, 2012. The sales practices of Canada's largest telecommunications companies _ a long-time sore spot for many consumers _ will be the subject of a public inquiry ordered by the federal government on Thursday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

Bell Canada acknowledged Friday that it needs to improve when selling its television, internet and wireless services but insisted that the percentage of problems it experiences is small and doesn’t reflect its own code of conduct.

Rob Malcolmson, who led a Bell delegation to the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, said the company has a stringent code of conduct for employees and contractors.

But the senior vice-president of regulatory affairs for Bell’s parent BCE Inc. acknowledged that “more can be done to strengthen the confidence and trust Canadian consumers have in our industry.”

The Montreal-based company _ which operates the Virgin Mobile and Lucky wireless brands in addition to various Bell services _ was named in 346 of about 1,300 complaints filed as part of the CRTC’s inquiry.

“We did a deeper dive on those, and 201 fell into the category ‘price not as expected’ . . . and 78 fell into the category of potentially aggressive sales tactics,” Malcolmson said.

“So we looked at those and we said, that seems to be the core issue and asked: How do we fix it?”

Bell’s proposed solution is to have several measures required of the industry as a whole _ including allowing a customer to terminate a new service within 30 days of installation, without an early termination fee.

Bell also says all service should provide order confirmations, written in plain language, within 24 hours of an order being placed.

Rizwan Jamal, president of Bell Residential Services, said that if customers don’t agree after reviewing the written material “they can walk away with no termination penalties.”

Several advocacy groups for consumers, seniors, ethnic groups and people with disabilities have proposed numerous ways to impose new rules or standards on the telecommunications industry.

But many of the companies that sell the products insisted during a week of proceedings that industry-wide rules and regulations aren’t necessary.

The delegation from Rogers Communications _ which offers Rogers, Fido and Chatr wireless services in addition to its Rogers branded television and internet services for the home _ said Friday it doesn’t think a CRTC code of sales practices is necessary but it would want to be involved with its creation if that’s the outcome of the hearing process.

“We don’t believe there’s a systemic issue,” said Eric Agius, the company’s senior vice-president of customer care, said in an interview after addressing the commission.

“For us, what’s most important is that we build long-term relationships with our customers.”

Rogers is tackling the issue of customer complaints by continuously improving its sales processes _ including the introduction of a new pause in transactions that will give sales people time to clearly explain all elements of the deal.

A limited number of Rogers retail outlets have already introduced a system for summarizing all the key elements of a quote, and the company aims to do the same across all its sales channels by the end of 2019 _ including door-to-door..

Earlier, Shaw Communications Inc. said the federal regulator can best protect Canadians from problem sales practices by banning telecom companies from using outside contractors to do their door-to-door sales.

Shaw senior vice-president Paul Cowling told CRTC commissioners that door-to-door sales have resulted in the most serious problems revealed by media reports, which included investigative reports by CBC.

“Focusing a recommendation or remedy on door-to-door sales would address the most significant area of risk and consumer vulnerability,” Cowling said. “We have proposed a prohibition on third-party sales.”

Like its competitors, Shaw does uses door-to-door sales but they are by employees rather than outside contractors. By contrast, Rogers uses a combination of employees and outside contractors for door-to-door sales and Bell outsources all of its door-to-door sales to a third-party provider.