Transcription, Audience du 24 octobre 2018
Volume : 3
Endroit : Gatineau (Québec)
Date : 24 octobre 2018
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Les participants et l'endroit
Tenue à :
Centre des conférences
140 Promenade du Portage
- Président: Ian Scott
- Vice-présidente, Radiodiffusion: Caroline J. Simard
- Vice-présidente, Télécommunications: Christianne Laizner
- Conseillers(ères): Joanne T. Levy, Monique Lafontaine, Linda Vennard, Christopher MacDonald, Yves Dupras,
- Conseillers Juridique: William Abbott, Yael Wexler
- Secrétaire: Jade Roy
- Gérant de l’audience: Guillaume Leclerc
--- L’audience débute mercredi, le 24 octobre 2018 à 9h00
2712 LE PRÉSIDENT: Bonjour. Good morning.
2713 Madam Secretary.
2714 LA SECRÉTAIRE: Merci. Bon matin.
2715 We’ll now hear the presentation of TekSavvy Solutions Inc. Please introduce yourself and your colleagues and you have 10 minutes for your presentation.
2716 MS. LO: Thank you.
2717 Good morning, Mr. Chair, Vice-Chairs, Commissioners, staff. My name is Janet Lo, I am VP, Privacy & Consumer Legal Affairs at TekSavvy. I work to translate the regulatory obligations and consumer policy objectives that you set out, into TekSavvy’s consumer policies and processes.
2718 Before I pass it along to my colleagues to introduce themselves on the Panel, I want to quickly introduce Daniel Mackwood, our Regulatory Carrier -- our Regulatory and Carrier Affairs Analyst who’s sitting behind me.
2719 MR. KAPLAN-MYRTH: My name is Andy Kaplan-Myrth. I’m VP, Regulatory & Carrier Affairs. I’m TekSavvy’s point of contact for regulated agreements, like agreements related to tariffed wholesale broadband services.
2720 MR. AUBÉ JR.: My name is Pierre Aubé, Jr. I act as Chair -- as Chief Operating Officer for TekSavvy. I oversee our call centre operations in Chatham and Gatineau. We have over 400 front-line agents and over 300,000 customers across Canada.
2721 TekSavvy is an independent internet and voice provider. We sell by inbound methods, like phone, website orders, or online chat. To give you an idea of the volume of customer interactions we deal with, we answer over 1.5 million calls a year.
2722 We’re really proud of how our team serves our customers and we want to invite you, the Commission, to visit Chatham or Gatineau’s call centres. We’d love to show you how our call centres work, and you’re welcome to listen in on calls between our agents and customers.
2723 TekSavvy’s slogan is “Different. In a good way.” We hear from our customers time and time again that they're looking for a competitive option that is not “one of the big guys”. We believe in doing what’s right for our customers and treating our customers as we ourselves expect to be treated, fairly and honestly. These values are built into TekSavvy’s culture, and they underpin our sales approach. There are three key things that differentiate us from others -- from the others you’ll hear about over the coming days.
2724 First, what you see is what you get. Our service offerings, price structure, and best available prices are advertised on our website, transparent to both the competitive market and all our consumers. We believe in fair pricing for consumers. Many of TekSavvy’s costs are fixed, which dictates customer pricing. For example, incumbents set activation, monthly access and capacity rates in their wholesale tariffs. TekSavvy also pays for shipping and hardware. When our costs change, we might change retail pricing. For example, when the CRTC lowered wholesale rates in October of 2016, TekSavvy then lowered retail prices for our existing customers in January of 2017. The wholesale rate reduction allowed us to offer more competitive pricing for consumers. Even though these wholesale rates were established - and remain - on an interim basis, we lowered prices for hundreds of thousands of TekSavvy customers because it was the right thing to do.
2725 Second, we put consumers first. Our agents listen to a consumer’s request, and then asks probing questions to fully understand what the consumer needs and what’s most important to that person. With that understanding, our agent can then explain the available service options to that customer. Our goal is to help the consumer make an informed choice about what service best meets their need.
2726 To be clear, TekSavvy does not pressure our employees to complete sales. We don’t use any sales incentives or track sales targets, and we actively discourage aggressive and misleading sales practices. We believe our customer service and fair prices will sell our services, and our agents should focus on meeting the customer’s demand and providing the best possible service during each interaction.
2727 The third thing that makes us different is that all of our consumer services are sold on a pre-paid basis with no fixed-term contract. If a customer is dissatisfied for any reason, or wishes to switch service providers, they can cancel without paying further charges, and we don’t charge a cancellation penalty.
2728 We’ll be happy to further discuss the in’s and out’s of our sales practices with you in questions.
2729 MR. KAPLAN-MYRTH: For most of our services, TekSavvy is a wholesale-based service provider. That means that we lease access to incumbent carriers’ facilities on a wholesale, tariffed basis. We invest in transport, networking, routing, caching – all the things necessary to build an ISP’s network – in order to provide wireline broadband services to end-users on TekSavvy’s network.
2730 TekSavvy, alone, determines how to package and price service offerings to our consumers. Since we buy wholesale services from the same incumbent carriers who are party to this proceeding, they know virtually everything about TekSavvy, from our market position to our end-users’ identities.
2731 We’d like to focus the rest of our time on our concerns with the retail sales practices of large incumbent telecom carriers. These practices occur in touchpoints where an incumbent can take advantage of their market position. For example, by targeting our customers. And these sales practices have a real impact on competition and consumers.
2732 Some parties in this proceeding characterized our concerns as wholesale issues, out of scope for this hearing. We agree with the Order in Council, Canadians deserve a competitive marketplace where consumers are treated fairly. The scenarios we describe are misleading or aggressive sales practices targeting retail consumers that result from the abuse of asymmetries between competitors and incumbents. These are not only information asymmetries, but also asymmetries in the structure of the regulated wholesale framework.
2733 MS. LO: In our written intervention, we outlined three types of misleading or aggressive sales practices that are able to arise from incumbents’ conflict of interest, as both a wholesale provider and a retail service provider competing against its wholesale customers like TekSavvy.
2734 First, incumbent technicians who perform, installs, and repairs for TekSavvy may use those opportunities to sell their employer’s - the incumbent - retail internet services. The Commission’s Ipsos survey reported that four in 10 - or 39 percent - of respondents had technical support representatives attempt to sell them products or services during the support interaction.
2735 In these situations, what ought to be a purely technical service call is leveraged into a sales opportunity. When it happens to a TekSavvy customer on a service call, it undermines TekSavvy’s credibility as a service provider, it undermines competition, all while confusing consumers.
2736 Second, consumers have reported that incumbents make misleading statements about TekSavvy’s services, in order to poach our customers to their own retail services. The Commission has heard several similar comments on the record of this proceeding and previous wholesale proceedings. Here’s a recent example, last Wednesday during peak time, TekSavvy had a province-wide outage on a major cable network that primarily affected third party internet providers. A customer told us that a salesperson from the same cable carrier knocked on his door during that outage. The salesperson claimed that the service -- the customer’s service would have been restored right away if they switched providers.
2737 The third type of sales practice appears to misuse information specific to TekSavvy’s customers that would only be available to an incumbent through its wholesale Carrier Services Group, in order to market or sell incumbent retail services to a consumer.
2738 We also raised two other general types of sales practices that concern us.
2739 CBC’s Go Public investigation documented misleading sales pitches about “fibre” when it is actually “fibre-to-the-node” service. This practice misleads consumers as to the technological nature of the fibre broadband service being sold.
2740 Finally, consumers do not generally know that flanker brands, like FIDO and Virgin, are an extension of an incumbent’s primary brand. Flanker brands are typically used by providers with market power to undercut and eliminate low-price competitors, while protecting a company’s premium price offerings. The flanker brands aren’t especially transparent to consumers about their connection to the incumbent, giving consumers the illusion of more service provider choice in the marketplace. Consumer confusion is exacerbated when flanker brands position their offerings against TekSavvy. This leaves consumers with the impression that TekSavvy ought to be able to deliver the same services or installation features at the same price when that's not the case.
2741 All of these scenarios are examples of aggressive and misleading retail sales practices that distort and confuse consumers’ understanding of telecom services. These practices are also barriers that incumbents can easily erect to dampen competition.
2742 Competitors like TekSavvy are disproportionately disadvantaged when incumbents make misleading and disparaging statements about competitor services in retail sales contexts. Incumbents with market power stand to benefit most when they win a retail customer, and these sales practices ultimately confuse consumers about available service provider options.
2743 We believe that a Code of Conduct could help to address some of these scenarios of inappropriate sales. For example, a Code of Conduct might prohibit sales during transactions that ought to be purely service-based, like technician appointments. We have noted that Codes in other industries and jurisdictions prohibit the conclusion of sales transactions during installation visits.
2744 At the same time, any obligations written into a Code of Conduct must reflect the realities of wholesale-based providers, who operate on a different economic model than incumbents.
2745 We’ve focused this presentation on our own sales practices and how incumbents’ retail sales practices harm our ability to compete for consumers’ trust and business. We believe that consumers deserve transparency, honesty, and fair treatment and they ought to be able to make informed choices about their service providers.
2746 Thank you for the opportunity to present today, and we look forward to your questions.
2747 THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you. Thank you very much for your presentation.
2748 Commissioner Simard.
2749 COMMISSIONER SIMARD: Merci, monsieur le président. Alors, good morning, and thank you for your presentation.
2750 I don't know if you have had the chance to hear the other intervenors since Monday, but we will start off with kind of the same questions that have already been discussed.
2751 So the first one is I would like to be interested in knowing your views about the scope of this problem.
2752 MS. LO: So I think you're asking how large the scope is of misleading and actual -- aggressive practices in the marketplace?
2753 COMMISSIONER SIMARD: That's correct, yeah.
2754 MS. LO: We've watched with interest the other intervenors. We hear their concerns.
2755 We see the same hallmarks of misleading practices from the anecdotes we've heard from our own customers in the poaching scenarios that we've discussed. We've seen also the Commission's statistic, one in four have experienced that.
2756 From what we understand, it seems to be a problem tied to larger carriers. It's not something we hear at TekSavvy. It's something we actually go to quite a great length to avoid. It's not a great way to start a relationship with a consumer.
2757 So we believe that they might exist. In fact, that's probably why customers come to TekSavvy looking for someone that's not one of the big guys.
2758 So I don't think we take any issue with what's already been said. I'm not sure that we can speak to whether these practices are happening and the statistics or the scope. That's a little bit out of our wheelhouse.
2759 But we believe consumers' lived experiences.
2760 COMMISSIONER SIMARD: Thank you.
2761 That leads to the second question that has already been discussed as well, which is the definition of the key notions, which are like the -- the misleading sales practices and the aggressive sales practice.
2762 So do you have a definition for us?
2763 MS. LO: Sure. We listened very closely over the last couple of days, and we agree with what a lot of other intervenors have said.
2764 So in terms of misleading practices, the CCTS talked about failure to disclose key information, customer surprises that flow from that. ECT talked about false information or informational errors.
2765 Certainly those would capture things that are misleading.
2766 We would also agree with the FCSC talking about reviewable practices and material representations or omissions of a material nature. And I guess to frame that as well for the consumers that we've raised today, we would also add a mischaracterization of a competitor's services, the nature of a competitor sort of failing to disclose or be transparent about whether one is affiliated with or just part of an incumbent, so who you're dealing with as a customer, and then also the quality of service.
2767 We have heard from our customers and consumers in the market that they have heard that TekSavvy is owned by Rogers or by Bell or that our services are inferior. Those are comments that we have put on the record in our intervention, and those are also types of statements that we would see as misleading statements to consumers.
2768 COMMISSIONER SIMARD: Thank you.
2769 During this hearing, many examples of misleading or aggressive sales practices have been discussed. So some of them occur before the contract is signed, others during like the signature of the contract, and others afterwards.
2770 In your presentation you refer to -- in paragraph 9 to like your goal to be -- like is to help consumer to make an informed choice.
2771 So I would like to be interested in knowing more about that. Like could you provide us with a concrete example of information -- basic information that is provided to your customers?
2772 MS. LO: Sure. So this is sort of a question around suitability. And we've talked at great length in our filings with the Commission about how we approach that.
2773 I'll let Pierre expand in a minute, but I'll take a crack at it.
2774 So our sales approach is to listen to what consumers ask for. We try to understand -- if someone calls in and says, "I want internet service", we want to understand what's important to that customer about getting internet service.
2775 We offer a range of products on different types of technologies. We want to make sure that we're signing up -- them up for a service that makes sense for them, so we might need to understand what they want to use their connection for, how many folks are in the household, how they're going to use the connection, what time of day, those kinds of things.
2776 And those are the kinds of things that our agents will try to understand with a customer to be able to recommend a set of products that makes sense for them.
2777 And that really comes from us wanting to make sure that we've got a customer on the right service that makes sense for them.
2778 So Pierre, do you have anything to add?
2779 MR. AUBÉ JR.: Sure. Just that is the agent doesn't have a target set for them to achieve that sales target as well as they don't have a target for the time they need to require on a phone call. So they're really trying to listen onto what the customer is actually saying so that they can actually, you know, sell them the proper product.
2780 So questions they would ask would be, you know, "How many people in your household? Are you going to be streaming Netflix?", you know, similar questions as those to try and understand, you know, the bandwidth needs, the speed needs, et cetera and based on what they qualify in their area, and then they would offer them that choice.
2781 That's really meant on what the consumer's asking.
2782 COMMISSIONER SIMARD: I understand as well in your presentation -- from your presentation, paragraph 7, that there's no negotiation, if I understand correctly.
2783 So in other words, what I'm reading is that your service offerings, price structure and best available prices are advised on your web site. They are transparent.
2784 So does this mean that there's no negotiation with consumers?
2785 MR. AUBÉ JR.: That is correct. There's no negotiation.
2786 The consumer doesn't negotiate a special rate, a special discount. The only place where I would see would be a negotiation where the customer has some down time and they would call us and say, "I want some credit for two weeks because I was" -- you know, they want more credit for what was -- what was expected.
2787 But there's no actual negotiation. Everything's transparent online.
2788 If we have a promo, it's also transparent online. We don't give, you know, Janet a special price or Andy a special price or Pierre a special price. No, no. It's here's our prices.
2789 COMMISSIONER SIMARD: Thank you.
2790 And when you, I guess, provide your consumers with an offer, is there a summary, like a written summary of the offer?
2791 MR. AUBÉ JR.: So there are written summaries. We can do two ways.
2792 If the customer hasn't signed up yet and just wants information, we would gladly email the information summary of what they've asked. So if they're signing up for a cable product at certain speed, certain price, what's the install -- what's the installation price or what's the activation price, what's the shipping cost, it's all transparent to them and we'll email them gladly, even before they even signed up.
2793 And once they actually signed up, they also receive an email with the details of the transaction, fully transparent.
2794 COMMISSIONER SIMARD: And in your opinion, what do you think of this approach in terms of outcome?
2795 MR. AUBÉ JR.: In my opinion, it's transparent. It goes back to what TekSavvy -- you know, TekSavvy's culture's all about, is about to be transparent and open and honest with the customer.
2796 You know, what I find is when we send an email, we go out of our way to -- even if the customer hasn't signed up and we sent them - or the pre-customer, we send them an email, they'll come back because they know that what they've actually -- you know, what we've sent them is what they're actually going to get and two weeks later it might not change. It'll be the same.
2797 You know, prices can change, as we highlighted in the -- based on different pricing structures, but it's transparent to them and, in my opinion, it works.
2798 COMMISSIONER SIMARD: And because you already use it, can you I guess share with us I guess -- is there any kind of -- in the practice have you had to change like the summary, and the information, and refine it, or -- I’m looking for like your current version is it like -- is it working?
2799 MS. LO: So when we looked at developing that onboarding email -- so this is the email that we send to all of our customers that order a service to confirm what they have ordered. When we looked at developing that email and what things ought to be in that email we looked at the Wireless Code, even though we don’t offer wireless services. We’ve also recently looked at the TV Service Provider Code, even though TekSavvy doesn’t offer TV services -- we have an affiliate that does -- to understand what kinds of things ought to be clear to a customer.
2800 So using those codes, even though they do not apply to us, as a best practice to understand how -- and then thinking about how that makes sense for the services that we offer, because we are prepaid, we’re not post-paid, and understanding those things as best practices to what consumers expect to have a very clear understanding of following a transaction.
2801 So we’ve actually built our onboarding email that confirms what the customer has purchased based around some of these requirements as a best practice.
2802 COMMISSIONER SIMARD: Thank you.
2803 And you just mentioned that you don’t offer like rebates or discounts. Is that correct?
2804 MR. AUBÉ JR.: So we can offer a promo. We do have promos that we do. In fact, we have a promo right now that’s currently running. So that would be a discounted rate for a period of time. Once again that’s transparent online. There’s no -- nothing else is hidden. It’s just there.
2805 COMMISSIONER SIMARD: So like the fact that it’s not for the -- do you -- you don’t have any contract, right?
2806 MR. AUBÉ JR.: No contracts.
2807 COMMISSIONER SIMARD: Because one of the problems that have been raised is the fact that some rebates or discounts are often time for a limited period of time.
2808 So, in your case, when it’s the case, I guess when there’s a promotion, it’s for like new customers I guess, or new services, and it’s clear that it’s for this period of time, right?
2809 MR. AUBÉ JR.: It is clear for this period of time, and the customer will see that in their welcome email it is -- you know, it’s a period of 6 months, or 12 months, or whatever that promotion is, it’s clearly there for the new customer onboarding, yeah.
2810 MS. LO: I would also just add that we do not require customers to commit to a term with us. So we offer the promotional price for a set period of time, 6 months or 12 months. That’s not contingent on them staying with us for 6 months or 12 months. So if they were to leave, for example, there’s no penalty that comes back because they didn’t stay through that period of time. They just would not have the benefit of that price.
2811 And then in addition the promotional price is -- it will not -- so if you signed up for a promotion -- a 6 month or a 12 month promotion -- we’re not going to change that price on you within that 6 months or that 12 months.
2812 COMMISSIONER SIMARD: That’s clear. Thank you very much.
2813 Now, I would like to hear what you have to say about like the types of sales practices. So do you use door-to-door practice, I guess Internet, or store sales? So which types of sales practices do you use?
2814 MS. LO: So we do not have store fronts. We do in our Chatham office have a window where folks can come. We don’t get a tonne of interactions there for signups but we could take signup there. Usually it’s just folks who are based in the Chatham area who prefer to pay their bills in person.
2815 So we don’t operate a tonne of storefronts. Most of our sales are done -- a vast majority of our sales are done by phones, so customers calling us looking to understand what we offer and signing up through the phone process. We’ll also take orders online through our web order forms. We also take orders via chat if a customer wishes to do it that way, or we’ve got a bunch of social media channels as well that customers can reach us.
2816 Am I missing anything, Pierre?
2817 MR. AUBÉ JR.: No, those are the ways. And the one thing we don’t do is aggressive outbound sales to try and convert a customer. So it’s all inbound. So we do some marketing and we drive in the volume.
2818 COMMISSIONER SIMARD: And do you use third party agents to do your sales?
2819 MS. LO: We do have a small third party program but it is very closely held. It’s not intended as an outside sales force. So these are not, you know, companies that we’re engaging to go do outbound external sales. They’re really intended to be partners with TekSavvy. It’s a very small program. So reaching into markets or segments where we would not otherwise be present. So business that could offer our services to their customers or to their employees. And so we work with them closely just to be able to offer service but they’re not intended and they do not work as an external sales force to, you know, meet sales targets or anything like that.
2820 COMMISSIONER SIMARD: And what I’m hearing is that it is a small portion of -- could you be a bit more specific about ---
2821 MS. LO: I don’t have the numbers in front of me. It is a very small proportion. We can certainly look to provide some numbers perhaps in confidence, but it is a very small proportion of what we do. And ultimately any customer they bring through would be a TekSavvy customer so we would face the consequences of any improper selling if that were to occur.
2822 COMMISSIONER SIMARD: Thank you.
2823 And do you offer trial periods to your customers and if so could you describe those trials?
2824 MS. LO: Yeah, this was an interesting question. And we were listening yesterday when various groups were talking about a trial period. And it’s actually something that we’ve thought a lot about internally. I think there was a bit of a difference between a trial period and a cooling off period, as The Fair Communications Sales Coalition mentioned yesterday. So we do offer a cooling off period on some of our products. Now, it would be only for hardware. So I guess -- let me back up. So I think a cooling off period, as the concepts exist in law, is sort of intended as recision. So a customer has some kind of remorse or regret entering into that contract and the cooling off period serves as a balance or a protection against whatever might have led to that. So it’s a short period of time during which a customer might be able to rescind the contract and put them back in a position as if they never entered into that contract.
2825 So what that would mean is that they would get all money that they paid to enter into that contract back. The service provider might get some equipment back, or whatever.
2826 So that’s I think a cooling off period if I -- to compare that to a trial period I think what is intended by a trial period is a period of time where a consumer can trial services or products, after which if they’re not satisfied they can cancel without any kind of penalty.
2827 So, from our perspective, we are a prepaid service. You pay in advance for your services. If you were to cancel we would refund any portion of the prepaid period that you could not use. There’s no cancellation penalties so no extra charge to cancel your services. So that’s kind of like an everyday trial period. A customer doesn’t have to stay with us. They’re not committed. There’s no penalty if they’re not satisfied and choose to leave.
2828 Now, we’ve looked at a cooling off period and we actually have something similar. So if a customer has ordered services from us and are not satisfied, for whatever reason, in the first 30 days, we allow them to cancel their services, we would refund any portion of services that they have not used, and we would also refund their hardware no questions asked as long as they return that hardware to us. So that would sort of address any upfront costs that the consumer spent on hardware.
2829 The other things are a little trickier because we have fixed costs when it comes to things like activation fees. So it’s not something that we would necessarily be able to say to a customer we’ll just refund that, because that would be a fairly large cost for a company like TekSavvy that operates on the wholesale model if that were to become a requirement.
2830 COMMISSIONER SIMARD: Thank you.
2831 A bit earlier you made a reference to call centres. I would like to know more about that. So, more specifically, could you tell us if you record the conversations between customers and call centres and do you permit customers to record those conversations?
2832 MS. LO: Sure, it’s a great question.
2833 We do record transactions between our agents and customers on the phone; we’re very transparent about that as well. And when you call in to your call centre the system will say, “We’re going to record this because we want to make sure that we have a copy or some kind of recording around what we’ve agreed to.”
2834 We -- in terms of whether customers themselves record the conversations on their end, possibly, you know, we wouldn’t have an issue with that. I’m not sure that that's come up before, but if a customer chose to record that we wouldn’t have an issue with it. We also do provide copies of transcripts of those call recordings on request, that's required under privacy legislation in Canada. We have to provide access to customers’ personal information on request, and so we have a Data Protection Office that's more than happy to provide transparency if that's requested.
2835 COMMISSIONER SIMARD: Is it the same practice with chat -- the chat function that you refer a bit earlier?
2836 MS. LO: Absolutely. So with chat and online orders, we would have a copy of what was discussed, same as by email. Those are a little bit easier to fulfill because there's a record. And our chat function also allows the customer to email themselves a copy of the chat transcript, so the customer can take proactive steps to keep that, but we certainly keep it. And if a customer were to request, we would provide what we have.
2837 COMMISSIONER SIMARD: Is there a cost associated to such request?
2838 MS. LO: No, under privacy legislation it is a consumer right, so there is no cost associated with it.
2839 COMMISSIONER SIMARD: In some interventions it is stated that employees need additional protection when they internally complain about problematic sales practices, some call it “whistle blower protection”. Can you elaborate on that, like is it something that happens in your company?
2840 MS. LO: So, I think you're talk -- you're asking about sort of whistle blower type protection internally. So, if an employee were to complain about sales practices internally or processes, how would we handle that? We have an open door policy for any type of complaint internally, where folks are -- our employees are welcome to raise those concerns with us. We don't see a lot of -- we don't see any complaints internally about sales practices.
2841 And I think a lot of that comes from -- and maybe Pierre can elaborate on this -- we don't have an incentive structure. We don't establish sales targets where individual employees are expected to meet those targets. And we don't say, you know, “If you don't meet a certain number of sales and your employment is at risk.” It’s just certainly not the model that we’ve chosen to use for our agents. So, we really try to make sure that our agents are well positioned to serve consumers. That means that they have to understand our products, that means that they have to ask questions -- as Pierre described before -- about what the customer needs. And they're not focusing on these other kinds of incentives or structures that might -- might result in some misleading or sales practices that we wouldn’t want to see as a company.
2842 Pierre, do you want to add anything?
2843 COMMISSIONER SIMARD: Just a question of clarification. If there's no targets, does this mean that there's no bonus kind of practice in your company?
2844 MS. LO: Sorry, I want ---
2845 COMMISSIONER SIMARD: So there's no bonus ---
2846 MS. LO: Bonus.
2847 COMMISSIONER SIMARD: Yeah, sorry.
2848 MS. LO: No, agents do not -- there's no bonus or incentives directly. So there's no targets, there's no bonuses or if they made or won a certain number of sales, we don't have any of that.
2849 COMMISSIONER SIMARD: Good. I would be interested in I guess, hearing what you have to say about like your best practices. You have already mentioned some of them. Sorry. You have already mentioned some of them, I would appreciate if you could just I guess, summarize your thoughts about that.
2850 MS. LO: Sure. So I think we outlined those best practices in our submissions. So, just being transparent about pricing from the get to, that's transparency not just to, you know, individual consumers that we’re trying to sell to, that's transparency to the market as a whole. So, I think taking out the, “I'm going to call in and try to negotiate a price and that might take an hour, and then I’m going to have to call in again and make sure that price is still right”, taking out a lot of those types of transactions is definitely something we see as a best practice.
2851 I think that the sales processes that Pierre’s described and we went into into our submissions around understanding consumers, that is also one of our best practices. That's not required, but we just -- we’ve heard that that's what consumers want, that's what consumers expect. So that is a best practice that we’ve implemented as a business practice.
2852 Certainly, our approach to cooling off periods is a best practice for -- on hardware. And just generally being transparent and trying to do the right thing for our customers. We’re a competitor, so, you know, not everyone knows about TekSavvy, so we have a little bit more to prove to build that credibility and the trust with our end users, so we definitely try to do the right thing.
2853 COMMISSIONER SIMARD: Thank you, that's helpful to hear that.
2854 Now, another question that has already been discussed since Monday. Like, in your view, is there a systemic problem which requires a systemic solution or rather do you think that it is -- that targeted specific actions are required to address aggressive or misleading sales practices?
2855 MS. LO: Sure. I think the record of the proceeding speaks to itself. You've got 1,400 consumers who have told you -- and more on Twitter right now -- who are telling you their lived experience, so it’s a little challenging for us to assess if that's systemic. But we certainly have looked at some of the solutions proposed, like a code which would be potentially a systemic approach, and I think that makes sense for the telecom industry to the extent that these concerns exist and consumers feel as though there is no remedy or ability to get anything different. I think that it is important to find the right approach and the right balance, whether that's systemic or targeted or a combination of both, to get at the heart of these types of misleading and aggressive sales practices.
2856 COMMISSIONER SIMARD: And what would be the impact of a global approach on your business?
2857 MS. LO: That’s a good question, this is one we’ve talked about a lot internally. We sort of see that we’ve probably -- we hopefully would already be able to do the things that would exist in any kind of a global code. We want to be a little bit careful though, because if a code were to set out a certain set of obligations, we want to make sure it doesn’t tie businesses like ours into a certain type of business model.
2858 So we talked a little bit about being prepaid, we talked a little bit about some of our fixed costs issues. Some things might be harder to do than others. So for example offering a cooling off period on all services and service fees paid, that might be a little harder, that would be a real cost to our business and that would be a little bit of a burden.
2859 The -- I think that when we think about a code -- or as well the wholesale issue is an important thing to come back to, because we hear it from our customers and so we’re really here to amplify that concern to you. You know, the incumbents will say it’s not a systemic practice, and all we can say to that is we continue to hear about it -- we continue to hear about it and we can't really assess if that's always happening or regularly happening. We only hear about it when a customer feels like they need to raise it to us. So I think a code can address some of these issues.
2860 COMMISSIONER SIMARD: And are you more in favour of mandatory rules or self-regulation when you refer to a code?
2861 MS. LO: When you say “mandatory rules” you're thinking about CCTS enforcement or administration of a code. You know, I mean -- so if it’s self-regulation, then I think you're leaving it to competition and to telecommunication service providers to decide if they meet an obligation.
2862 I'm not sure that that's working right now. That's -- consumers have voiced some concerns.
2863 We hear that from our customers, and we certainly see that when it comes to sales practices happening in tech service calls or sales practices that are happening when a customer mentions TekSavvy and a potentially misleading or aggressive statement is made about our services, those are -- those are situations where I'm not sure that self-regulation is adequate to prevent or address.
2864 And those are situations where there is no remedy.
2865 So it is helpful to have some body be able to look at these and say objectively yes, there was something wrong that happened and that shouldn't happen because the code says, you know, these types of practices should not take place and then potentially talk about how the customer could be righted and would also call it out publicly and be helpful to be able to substantiate whether these situations are happening or not.
2866 COMMISSIONER SIMARD: A few minutes ago, you referred to the fact that your consumers oftentimes go back to you with some concerns about other practice -- other providers' practices.
2867 Could you elaborate a bit more on that? Like do they call you, do they -- how does it work?
2868 MS. LO: Sure. Maybe I'll just take you through how that kind of comes up and how we might hear about it.
2869 So TekSavvy is a service provider. We offer services. A customer calls us, orders service. They pick their date for install.
2870 We would schedule that. Because we offer internet service as a wholesale-based provider, we would then push that order to the underlying carrier and say, "We'd like to schedule an installation for our customer on this date".
2871 That installation practice or the installation itself is part of the service that the underlying carrier providers to us. We do not get to say who performs that installation.
2872 And so when they confirm that installation, then one of their technicians, our underlying service provider's technicians, would show up at our customer's door to perform the install at the scheduled time.
2873 Now, hopefully what happens is the customer's installed, everything works, tech leaves, we're happy. Our customer's on-boarded. They're now TekSavvy's customer.
2874 In some situations, the customer will call us and say, "Something weird just happened when the technician showed up. They tried to sell their own service". It was the incumbent carrier's service.
2875 Or "They said something about TekSavvy's services being inferior or questioned my choice to choose you as my service provider. What should I do about that?"
2876 And we do not have a lot of mechanisms to remedy that.
2877 So we might take more information down about the technician, what the technician actually said to the customer, what was misleading or strange about it, what they tried to sell to the customer, and then Andy, Andy's group, would raise that concern with the underlying service provider and say, "This is an inappropriate sale. You were there to complete the installation for our customer. It was not an opportunity for you to sell your services".
2878 Now, that is just the scenarios we hear about because a customer is on guard and thinks something weird happened.
2879 We certainly wouldn't hear about it if the sale was successful and customer switched. We might not hear about it if the customer didn't think anything of it. We only hear about it when a customer thinks it's very strange or egregious or says, you know, "They said something about your quality of service. Is that true?"
2880 So we would only hear about it if our customers who think twice to raise it with us directly, so there might be some opportunities for us to combat that.
2881 But it is a struggle because we don't really know how big that problem is, and when we have raised it with the Carrier Services Group, and maybe Andy can elaborate on this, they'll tell us it's not a systemic issue. They've gone and talked to the technician. Maybe they've taken on some coaching. But we don't really hear more about what they've done or we don't get much assurance that it's not happening on a widespread basis.
2882 MR. KAPLAN-MYRTH: Yeah, just to add to that, when we -- when we do decide to spend the time and energy required to raise these kinds of situations with the underlying carrier, we're usually assured that they'll bring that issue to the field manager responsible for that technician and they assure us that this sort of behaviour is not -- not tolerated.
2883 That's always the last that we hear about it because, of course, they won't give us any further information about employees or any -- you know, any other ramifications for that employee.
2884 You know, the carriers will say and have said on the record that these situations do not happen very often, that we have recourse when they do happen.
2885 I think the evidence is these sort of situations have been happening for years. They have been included in submissions, in applications since at least when our industry association, CNOC, raised it in an application in 2013 and in numerous other proceedings at the same time.
2886 It has not been resolved. It continues to happen, and customers are sending you their own testimony about these kinds of situations even in this proceeding now.
2887 MS. LO: I guess I would just close off by saying that our customers, when they raise it with us, if they raise it with us, usually are very taken aback that we would have sent someone to their home who's making some kind of an aggressive sales pitch. So I realize I didn't fully answer your question earlier about a definition of "aggressive".
2888 We would see these as potentially aggressive situations because the technician is in the customer's home, it's their domain. They're not expecting a sales pitch, so their guard is down, as some of the groups yesterday were talking about. And it's aggressive because it's unexpected.
2889 It's supposed to be a technical call, so a sales pitch is inappropriate, and certainly inappropriate when it's on TekSavvy's time to just get our customer on-boarded.
2890 COMMISSIONER SIMARD: Thank you.
2891 So based on what you just, I guess, explained, I think the -- there's one question that is relevant.
2892 Some parties have argued that competition like the availability of different service providers is sufficient as a customer protection against misleading and aggressive sales practices. What do you think of that?
2893 MR. KAPLAN-MYRTH: Robust competition might be one tool to address this kind of issue.
2894 We don't have robust competition right now in wireline broadband. There are a number of proceedings open right now that go to the heart of how the competitive industry works, and we're waiting for a lot of those issues to be resolved so that we can start to rebuild a competitive industry.
2895 You know, not to summarize all of those proceedings, but essentially, all of our costs right now are interim. All of our tariffed rates are only established on an interim basis, and have been, some of them, going back four or five years.
2896 So the competitive industry is really struggling in us in a way, and a lot of the structural framework for how carriers provide services to us, both provide those services, but also undermine the way that we can provide competitive services at the same time.
2897 So for example, we're not able to provide fibre to the premises services on a wholesale basis right now because of the way that that framework is still being developed and the costs are still being finalized and are, in practice, out of reach for us. So there is no competition for wholesale fibre to the prem right now in Canada.
2898 At the same time, for the services that we do provide on those same carriers' networks, we have a lot of uncertainty about what services are available at what addresses.
2899 So if a customer calls us right now, we can look up whether the copper service or fibre to the node service is available at their address. Sometimes we're told that it is and we send out a technician who then says, "Now that I’m here, I can see only fibre to the prem is available".
2900 So that customer at that moment is expecting an internet service to be installed and is being told by the technician that the service they ordered from TekSavvy is not actually available, but if they sign up with the carrier right then, they can get a fibre to the prem service.
2901 So these issues are kind of closely tied together, and while, you know, if we could offer all of those services on a competitive basis, on a level playing field, in a robust way, then maybe customers would just be able to come to us when they were unsatisfied with the information they were getting from underlying carriers.
2902 The fact is right now the system that’s in place for competitive services just doesn’t provide that and it actually undermines competition by putting the carrier in the position of being able to possibly manipulate or misinform the customer, or maybe even not misinform them but still steal them from us, right. That customer who signed up on a call for fibre-to-the-node, when the technician arrives maybe it’s true that fibre-to-the-node service is not available and they could actually sign up for fibre-to-the-prem, that could be true, it’s still an opportunity for the carrier to make a sale to our customer without us having the chance to, you know, clarify that customer’s other options, or other things if they could stay with us.
2903 COMMISSIONER SIMARD: Thank you.
2904 That leads us to the last series of questions about CCTS. So could you tell us when do you inform your customers about CCTS?
2905 MS. LO: So we inform our customers about CCTS at the third level of escalation if they’re not able to reach a conclusion or a satisfactory resolution internally. We will, in some cases, advise customers about CCTS earlier if they’re expressing a lot of concern for a particular issue so -- but generally it will be the third level.
2906 We hope of course it never gets to that point. Pierre talked about our agents being empowered to solve everything and be able to provide whatever the customer wants. All of our agents have all the tools to be able to meet a customer’s request, so offering credits, being able to get them on the right service. Agents are empowered to solve concerns. It shouldn’t need to get to a third level for us to solve it. But in the case that it does get to the third level we would of course advise the customer about their right to go to CCTS. We also do include information about the CCTS on our website. It’s in our terms of service, and it’s also on our invoices every quarter.
2907 COMMISSIONER SIMARD: And, more broadly, do you think that some actions should be taken to increase the awareness of CCTS?
2908 MS. LO: We -- I’m not sure that we could really speak to that. Our customers are aware of it when they need to be. I know that some of the public interest groups yesterday mentioned about, you know, TV service providers or -- sorry -- broadcasters I guess airing ads. We don’t -- we’re not in that business so I can’t speak to whether that should be a requirement. We do what we can to raise it when it makes sense for our customers, but also certainly no later than the public awareness requirements of the CCTS.
2909 COMMISSIONER SIMARD: Thank you.
2910 I have no other questions. I would like to thank you for your participation in this process. Thank you very much.
2911 THE CHAIRPERSON: Commissioner Laizner?
2912 COMMISSIONER LAIZNER: Good morning.
2913 I noticed that in your opening remarks at paragraph 25 at the end you said that you thought any obligations written into a code should reflect the realities of wholesale base providers who operate on a different economic model. You mentioned in answer to some questions that you were concerned about a code perhaps affecting your business model of prepaid services. And I take your comments about the concerns you have about technicians. But is there anything else that you would like to add on that front?
2914 MS. LO: I guess we looked at the Wireless Code and the way the Wireless Code works is you have a number of obligations there, some of which apply -- majority of which apply to post-paid type contracts and then a few of which will apply to prepaid contracts. So I would say something similar, so ensuring that obligations that are intended for fixed term contracts, obligations that are intended for representations around commitments, things like that, committed prices, where we can’t commit to a price if our input prices change or cooling off period, if we were to be required to refund all fees, like an activation charge that’s not movable from our perspective it’s just a fixed cost we need to pay, things like that, that’s what we mean by reflecting the economic realities of wholesale-based providers.
2915 And certainly we’ve seen the Wireless Code think about some of the different business models and how application might work. It doesn’t mean that certain types of providers have fewer obligations it’s just some obligations might not make sense for that provider so to lock them in would actually hamstring or force them to do some shifts to their business that might not make sense.
2916 COMMISSIONER LAIZNER: Okay. So, for example, when you were talking about customers being able to cancel their service, the installation is a cost that they would have borne, and so would that be refunded, or not?
2917 MS. LO: For TekSavvy services the installation fee is directly tied to an activation fee that we have to pay our incumbent. So we’re trying -- we’re sort of experimenting with a couple of offers, but generally that is a separate line item that our customers need to pay upfront, and that is because it is in a wholesale tariff that we have to pay.
2918 COMMISSIONER LAIZNER: Okay. Understood.
2919 MR. KAPLAN-MYRTH: Sorry, just to jump in, you know, alternatively if the wholesale tariffs were changed so that we would have that cost refunded if a customer exercised their right to a cooling off period, that would be another way to pass that on to the customer in a way that didn’t, you know, disadvantage us since we have that fixed cost.
2920 COMMISSIONER LAIZNER: Okay. And then my last question is when you were discussing promotion, such as a discounted price for a period of time, at the time you set up the promotion, given that it’s a prepaid service, do you also disclose what the price would be at the end of the promotion?
2921 MS. LO: Yes, absolutely. So the regular price when that will kick in is disclosed at the point-of-sale. It is very clear in all of our advertising on our website where we go to great pains to make that as clear as we can. It is also in the onboarding email when the customer -- after the customer signs up it will say, you know, after this period of time -- after 6 months, 12 months -- this will be your regular price.
2922 COMMISSIONER LAIZNER: Great. Thanks. That’s all my questions.
2923 MR. KAPLAN-MYRTH: Can I -- just to add, you know, it’s the same wholesale lens that I keep adding, which is we’re subject to the rates in the tariffs. So if today we promise a customer that 12 months from now the rate will change to a certain amount, it’s possible that in the interim the Commission may set new rates for those existing service tiers, it’s possible that the carrier will apply for a different rate for those service tiers, or make some other change, so when we’re subject to those changes when they happen we would not be able to then lock in that price for the customer. We would need the flexibility to be able to change it in response to changing input costs.
2924 COMMISSIONER LAIZNER: And I would assume that the customer would be notified before they enter into a contract -- while they’re prepaid services with you -- that those are contingencies that you’re subject to, right? You notify them of that?
2925 MR. KAPLAN-MYRTH: Yes.
2926 MS. LO: If a price were to change -- if we need to change a price -- and thankfully that has not happened frequently. We do not take price changes lightly because we know our customers are sensitive to them. When we do have to change a price we do provide notice. That’s in our terms of service. Our agents will talk to customers about that. And we will provide as much notice as we can about when a price change is going to happen.
2927 COMMISSIONER LAIZNER: And I just thought of one last question that I wanted to ask you. You had mentioned that in context of remedies such as redressing matters with customers through rebates or whatever and publicly disclosing where companies have subjected people to misleading or aggressive sales practices that warrant our intervention, what is your view about monetary penalties as a potential sanction?
2928 MS. LO: So I think you’re talking about the AMP’s that the Commission has ---
2929 COMMISSIONER LAIZNER: That’s correct.
2930 MS. LO: --- within its jurisdiction. I guess we would see that -- we would hope that that would be sort of a last resort, something that you’re seeing that’s systemic, pervasive, and you feel as though there needs to be some statement made to a company or to the industry at a large that this is not a good practice.
2931 So we hope that there is some remedy -- opportunity for a company like ours to if we were in that situation look internally and try to address those problems prior to being subject to an AMP, but certainly that's within your jurisdiction to determine if something like that is warranted.
2932 COMMISSIONER LAIZNER: Thank you very much.
2933 THE CHAIRPERSON: Commissioner Lafontaine?
2934 COMMISSIONER LAFONTAINE: Good morning. Just another action item that I'd like to raise with you is to get your views on an annual report card published by the Commission with respect to, you know, complaints in the communications sector.
2935 What would you -- what would your views be on that?
2936 MS. LO: We're supportive of transparency, generally, not just within TekSavvy, but across the industry. I think those kinds of things are helpful. There are soft ways to sort of signal what's happening, to get some data about what's comparative.
2937 It's important to have that data to also inform policy and make sure that policy is appropriately balanced.
2938 So I don't think we -- we wouldn't object to any kind of annual score card or public transparency mechanism.
2939 COMMISSIONER LAFONTAINE: Thank you.
2940 And one other question. We heard from a number of advocates -- industry advocates for the deaf, deaf-blind, hard of hearing, elder community who spoke very eloquently during the course of this proceeding and they have written submissions. And I'd be interested to hear a little bit more about how your company addresses their concerns and some of the concerns that they talked about in terms of how they're treated by customer service representatives and how you go about ensuring that your employees address their concerns and deal with them in a respectful manner.
2941 MS. LO: Sure. I'll start, and then if Pierre has anything to add, I'll invite him to do so.
2942 So a lot of the concerns raised by the Deaf Wireless Consultative Committee seem to focus on accessibility issues for wireless services, which we don't offer.
2943 Certainly -- so we primarily sell phone and voice services, wireline or VOIP, and also internet.
2944 And so for our voice services, we do offer, you know, IP relay, TTY for folks who needs those services. Those are offered free of charge.
2945 We also do waive directory charges for folks who have visual disabilities and can't look things up in directories, so we do have service options available for customers who needs those accommodations.
2946 For internet services there's sort of less of a demand for accommodations for internet. You just need to plug in and then you're connected.
2947 From a customer service standpoint, we try to meet the customer wherever they're at, so whether that's they need to call in, we can do everything by chat if they need that. Email only, social media. That's for all customers; not just for customers with visual or hearing disabilities. We'll do what we can there.
2948 We also do have a small accessibility team internally. Still fairly small company overall.
2949 We have a small accessibility team that internally figures out how to best respond to accommodation requests from consumers, and the listening model that Pierre has talked about really is the opportunity for the customer to tell us if they have something in particular, a disability that needs to be accommodated, and what they think they need in order for us to meet that.
2950 Pierre, we were talking yesterday about one of the ways your team went above and beyond. Maybe you want to go into that?
2951 MR. AUBÉ JR.: Sure. Sure.
2952 Like just recently we had a customer order internet service, and we've been piloting a couple of groups in various cities to go above and beyond to go assist customers if they need some more help. And that customer was blind and wanted some help setting up their internet and setting up the various devices throughout the home.
2953 So we actually sent out the team. You know, it was raised by the customer service agent. We said, sure, we can come out, you know, whenever we can.
2954 And we went up there, set him all up. Everything was done, you know, came back. So we really try and listen to what the customers are asking and try and provide whatever we can at that point in time.
2955 COMMISSIONER LAFONTAINE: Thank you. Those are all my questions.
2956 THE CHAIRPERSON: Commissioner Levy?
2957 COMMISSIONER LEVY: Hello. You -- you discussed Commissioner Lafontaine's question, which was one of the ones that I had as well, but I also was concerned about the number of interactions that people seem to need to have with the provider before they get their issue dealt with.
2958 And in some instances, we've heard of people having to have 70, like seven zero, or 41 different interactions before something is settled.
2959 Do you have any statistics on how many -- the average number of interactions you -- your customers have to go through before their issue is resolved?
2960 MS. LO: That's a good question.
2961 I'm not sure if we track the number of transactions, so I'll probably leave that to Pierre.
2962 General approach, again I talked earlier about our agents having all the tools, so our agents can do tech support, our agents can do customer service, our agents can also do all billing issues.
2963 So regardless of what type of issue a customer raises, our front line agent who they call, who they speak with, should have all the tools they need to solve whatever rate is raised by that customer.
2964 In addition, we have started appointing sort of account managers, so each of our agents is the dedicated account manager for a customer. That enables that agent to not only have -- be able to build a bit of a rapport with a customer, but they'll remember, hopefully, what was asked last time. They're not starting from scratch. They don't have to re-explain everything.
2965 But it also builds in a bit of, I guess, accountability because the agent knows that if there's an issue because they said something wrong or they made -- they said something misleading, that customer's going to come back and they're going to have to deal with that call.
2966 So there's a bit more of an incentive to get it right in the first transaction.
2967 I guess I'll leave it to Pierre to talk about specifics.
2968 MR. AUBÉ: Yeah, I don't have full statistics to just be able to share, but I can say that it can be very different based on whichever service they're ordering and which provider we're actually with or which incumbent we're actually dealing with.
2969 Some might have, you know -- we can only do so much with the customer and, after that, we have to dispatch a tech from the incumbent, which that tech can then -- you know, we've seen cases of missed installs or whatever would be. That could increase the statistics greatly where all of a sudden, you know, what took -- what normally would have taken three or four interactions now increases down to, you know, 10, 15 interactions because there's customers calling back saying that the tech never showed up, let's book another install. Let's see when we get the confirmation. Let's see if we can send out that tech now.
2970 So those sort of can impact the statistics. That would be sort of what I would see there, yeah.
2971 COMMISSIONER LEVY: Okay. So if I understand you correctly, you have -- if you have account managers for certain areas or certain customers, then it's almost -- it's a little bit like a concierge service. They catch them at the beginning and they take care of them through to however far they can go.
2972 MR. AUBÉ: They take care of them right until their issue is resolved or they're online if it's a new install. So it's -- you call me, you'll deal with Pierre right up until like -- right up until I got you online, right, so you're all set up.
2973 COMMISSIONER LEVY: Thank you.
2974 MR. AUBÉ: That's the thing. Yeah.
2975 THE CHAIRPERSON: Commission counsel?
2976 MS. WEXLER: Thank you.
2977 Earlier in your exchange with Commissioner Simard you offered to provide information on what proportion of sales are concluded through your third party sales program.
2978 Would you undertake to file that with us by November 1st?
2979 MS. LO: We can do that by November 1st in confidence.
2980 MS. WEXLER: Certainly open to any party to designate any information as confidential when they file it in accordance with the rules. Thanks.
2981 THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you.
2982 Thank you very much for coming and sharing your experience and submissions with us.
2983 We will take a 10-minute break and return at 18 minutes after.
2984 Thank you.
--- L’audience est suspendue à 10:08
--- L’audience est reprise à 10:24
2985 THE CHAIRPERSON: Madam secretary.
2986 MS. ROY: Thank you.
2987 We will now hear the presentation of Tbaytel. Please introduce yourself and your colleagues, and you have 10 minutes for your presentation.
2988 MR. TOPATIGH: Thank you very much.
2989 Good morning, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners and Commission staff. My name is Dan Topatigh. I am President and Chief Executive Officer of Tbaytel.
2990 With me today to my left is Kathleen Jones, Vice-President Sales, Marketing and Communication, and to my right Amy Meunier, Director of Marketing and Communication.
2991 Tbaytel is pleased to have the opportunity to participate in the Commission’s hearing into the retail sales practices of Canada’s largest telecommunications carriers, and provide a perspective as a small regional carrier.
2992 As a small incumbent local exchange carrier, Tbaytel has a long, successful record spanning more than 115 years of providing high quality telecommunications services, and doing so through outstanding customer service to the residents of Thunder Bay and a number of surrounding municipalities and townships.
2993 In addition, over the last 25 years Tbaytel has expanded to provide wireless services to the residents of northwestern Ontario covering an area from just west of Sault Ste. Marie on our easterly boundary, to the Manitoba border in the west, and from Red Lake in the north to the U.S. border in the south.
2994 As a municipally owned company, Tbaytel is wholly owned by the City of Thunder Bay and, by extension, our customers. Tbaytel operates as a Municipal Services Board and was formed to ensure Tbaytel’s continued growth, accountability, and performance in northern Ontario. The company is built around four core guiding principles; financial stability, employment creation, regional economic development, and technological innovation. This corporate structure lends itself to a much different way of doing business, with a focus that is more than just revenue and subscriber counts.
2995 At the core of this proceeding is the matter identified in the Governor in Council’s Order in Council of whether or not large Canadian telecommunications carriers are offering their services for sale by engaging in misleading or aggressive sales practices.
2996 Tbaytel agrees with Eastlink’s statement in their intervention that the impetus for this proceeding appears to be a series of news stories published by the CBC alleging that Canada’s largest carriers engaged in inappropriate sales practices. In addition, as Eastlink further noted:
2997 “The stories did not implicate any other communications companies or suggest that there is a widespread issue with misleading or aggressive sales practices within the Canadian communications industry.” (As read)
2998 In response to the matter of misleading and aggressive sales practices, Tbaytel has noted that our sales philosophy is focused on the needs of our customers and that by listening and working with our customers we’ll continue to meet their needs.
2999 Upon review of the record of this proceeding, Tbaytel has noticed that many of the other carriers have claimed to have a similar sales philosophy. However, as we stated in our August 30 intervention, “It is easy for a company to profess that they are customer oriented but just talking about it is not proof.”
3000 So how are we certain at Tbaytel that this stated goal is reality? It is because our results are our proof. At Tbaytel it starts with our mission and strategic direction; the work environment and training we provide to our employees; the design of our compensation models; the internal and external customer feedback we receive; and knowing who we are and working to our strengths.
3001 Through our hiring practices, training documentation, and the results of surveys that have been conducted over a number of years, including the period in question, we have provided evidence that demonstrates that Tbaytel does not have a culture that encourages misleading or aggressive sales tactics.
3002 Reaching our stated sales philosophy starts with the type of individual Tbaytel seeks to employ. For example, the Tbaytel Service Advisor job description states:
3003 “Service Advisors are customer focused individuals who can provide exceptional service to our customers; achieved by building and maintaining customer relationships with a high level of engagement through listening, analyzing and offering solutions based on customer needs.” (As read)
3004 Tbaytel’s training material speaks to matching the customer’s needs to the products and services that meet those needs, and as we note in our training documents:
3005 “Sell does not always mean incremental revenue growth for each customer, it could mean an overall revenue decrease for some customers.” (As read)
3006 Throughout Tbaytel’s different training documents, there are statements similar to the one I just noted that speak to a sales philosophy based on educating our customers and ensuring our customers are getting the best possible experience. Some examples include, from our Service Excellence Training, statements like, “Just to make sure I gave you the right information -- or gave you the right information could you repeat it back to me?” And, “Be sure you’re using plain language, correct grammar, and clear directions.” From our internal Market Line documentation, “If a customer is concerned about their monthly costs, suggest an Internet downgrade or suggest a TV plan downgrade.”
3007 These are just some examples of the directions included in training that is provided to staff involved in the selling of our services and provides proof of Tbaytel’s commitment to meeting the needs of our customers.
3008 In addition, these same key messages are used in our evaluation tools, call review, and coaching programs. Part of the scoring of an Advisor’s customer interaction is based on how well the Advisor addressed the customer’s needs. For example, the Advisor is evaluated on how well they, “Understood the customer’s needs, both stated and underlying needs”, as well as, “Gave accurate and complete information, including areas that may affect customer in the future.”
3009 Listening to and working with our customers is a very important part of each and every interaction, and it does not end once the telecommunications service is sold. Feedback is an essential part of Tbaytel’s sales practices and is another opportunity to listen to what our customers think about us. Moreover, this provides Tbaytel with important information on how we can better serve our customers.
3010 To elicit feedback, Tbaytel engages a number of methods such as post-transactional surveys, local and national brand equity research, and product experience research that provides insight on areas such as Net Promoter Score, brand metric scores, and overall satisfaction with our products and services.
3011 The results of the surveys conducted over a number of years show that not only does Tbaytel continue to outperform direct competitors in Tbaytel’s market; Tbaytel consistently outperforms providers across Canada. This can be seen with our significantly higher Net Promoter Score, as well as with high brand metric scores including brand equity, brand impression and brand commitment
3012 The hundreds of interventions filed in response to the CRTC’s proceedings also provide a general result on the public’s opinion of Canadian carriers. Tbaytel has reviewed the submissions that have been filed on the public record, and it is clear that there is a definite disconnect between the majority of the filings made by individual citizens and those of the Canadian carriers.
3013 Filings made by individuals paint a picture of an industry that is out of touch with the needs and wants of the consumer base, with many accusations of unethical business practices. It is concerning to Tbaytel that such actions appear to be commonplace in some markets, and it is particularly disconcerting that Tbaytel, as party to this proceeding, may be incorrectly included with the group of carriers that have been used -- that have used misleading or aggressive sales practices.
3014 We’d like to point out that of all of the filings that make up the record of this proceeding, Tbaytel is not aware of any complaints of misleading or aggressive sale tactics directed at our company. Moreover, we do note that on the few occasions that individuals point to a better or more positive experience, those instances generally refer to the smaller or regional carriers such as Tbaytel or SaskTel.
3015 As we touched upon earlier in our presentation, Tbaytel’s municipal corporate ownership structure puts us in a relatively unique position. As a Telecommunications Service Provider or TSP, and similar to SaskTel, which is Crown owned, Tbaytel is wholly owned by the City of Thunder Bay, which reminds us of our accountability to serve our customers well since the residents of Thunder Bay and northwestern Ontario are ultimately our owners.
3016 When you interact with the owner of your company each and every day it ensures that we strive to provide a world-class customer service experience with every interaction. Accountability is much higher when your supervisor or CEO is in the office next to you, just like it is when your owner is your neighbour next door.
3017 With regard to implementing new regulatory measures specific to sales practices, and similar to the opinion of Eastlink, Tbaytel’s concern is that additional regulatory oversight will increase the administrative burden on carriers. This added administrative burden will have a significant negative impact on the smallest companies, which the record of this proceeding has shown are not the companies that have caused the public’s frustration in the matter of misleading or aggressive sales practices.
3018 Furthermore, the addition of increased regulatory measures leads to an increase in costs incurred by the TSPs. Such an outcome would be especially impactful to smaller carriers that are already challenged with lower economies of scale.
3019 As Tbaytel has noted in its intervention one of the few areas that smaller carriers like Tbaytel can differentiate themselves from the largest Canadian carriers is through best practice in customer service.
3020 Part of the Canadian telecommunications policy objective states that the Commission should -- and I paraphrase -- “Rely on market forces as a means of achieving a telecommunications policy objectives,” and, “When relying on regulation, use measures to the minimum extent necessary to meet the policy objectives.” Further regulatory intervention would run counter to this and would limit smaller carriers from the means available to differentiate themselves from the largest carriers.
3021 Therefore, Tbaytel does not believe an industry wide regulatory intervention is required to protect the public from misleading and aggressive sales practices. Rather, as it has done in the past, the Commission can tailor its regulatory involvement to the section of the industry that requires intervention with regard to this matter.
3022 Based on the information provided on the record by Tbaytel showing our customer-centric culture that starts with our mission and strategic direction, the work environment and training we provide to our employees, combined with the results of outside surveys and the absence of interventions claiming the use of misleading or aggressive sales practices by Tbaytel, we can say with honesty that Tbaytel does not have a culture that encourages, either through our employees or third parties, misleading or aggressive sales practices.
3023 We thank you for this opportunity to share our views and we welcome any questions you might have.
3024 THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you. Thank you very much for your submission.
3025 Commissioner Lafontaine.
3026 COMMISSIONER LAFONTAINE: Good morning. Thank you for your presentation this morning and for your detailed written submission that you filed with the Commission back in August.
3027 You know, you stated in your submission this morning and in your written brief that a lot of these misleading and aggressive sales practices don’t apply to your company, it’s not been your experience, but you have been -- you're a long standing member of the industry and perhaps your best practices could be informative and helpful this morning, so I’d like to get into that with you.
3028 But first, I would like to hear your thoughts on a proposed definition of “misleading and aggressive sales practices”, you didn’t elaborate on this, you know, today or in your written brief. And I’d just thought whether -- I’d like to hear your thoughts on that.
3029 MR. TOPATIGH: Certainly. I think from -- the term “aggressive” can be very subjective and a personal assessment in many cases of what might be deemed to be aggressive. But for us when sales staff are not listening to the customer’s cues, that can certainly be categorized as aggressive. So our goal is to ensure that our agents are always listening to those cues to make sure that they can understand that.
3030 “Misleading and deliberate”, I think from that perspective the act is something that is deliberately deceptive or trying to get someone to a wrong place, if I can say it that way. However, “misleading” can also be a result of a lack of information where clarity needs to be provided as well.
3031 COMMISSIONER LAFONTAINE: And then in terms of the extent of the issue, you do talk about it in your -- in your oral presentation, but I thought -- I’d like to ask you to elaborate a little bit more about your views on the extent of this problem. There was, of course, the Ipsos research that the Commission had -- the Commission then posted on our website last week, which shows that there is quite a significant problem that Canadians have had with this issue, and I’d just like to hear a little bit more about your views on that.
3032 MR. TOPATIGH: Certainly. There's no denying it and I think we’ve said it inside of our submission as well, that there are examples across the Canadian landscape of misleading or aggressive sales tactics, we’re here to speak to our experience. We certainly do not -- I’ll say are quite surprised and not reflective of our own experience with respect to one in four experiencing something of that nature.
3033 From our standpoint, I think we strive to make sure that -- that differentiation in customer service is what's make us successful at the end of the day.
3034 COMMISSIONER LAFONTAINE: Would you say that your approach to your customer service is one of the important measures or the most important measure to address misleading and aggressive sales practices within your organization?
3035 MS. JONES: Certainly it’s very important, but I would say it actually starts with the -- with the strategy, with the Marketing Department and how promotions and pricing are put together with clear and consistent information available at all channels, whether that be through a website or at a point of sale. And then, very importantly with the service advisor in ensuring that they are supporting the already stated goals of a promotion and providing consistent information to customers.
3036 COMMISSIONER LAFONTAINE: Thank you. That was -- just in terms of the marketing, it was one of the issues that I wanted to discuss with you in terms of clarity for your customers or potential customers. I did see one of the filings that you submitted, some sample promotion -- promotional materials where there was a term -- the promotion for a term, whether four months and 12 months, but they were -- but it was a promotion for 12 months if the customer entered into a 24-month agreement. And so what I was curious about was what happens to those other 12 months and how do you inform the customer about that?
3037 MS. MEUNIER: Yes, we do offer contracted pricing at certain points throughout our period of our marketing cycle. Within those periods we are very clear in all of our messaging as to the length of time of the fixed promotional pricing. So in that example that you would have seen, we did publish a specific rate for that 12-month period. We do hold the customer whole during that period, so if there any changes to our regular pricing during that period, the customer does not experience a rate increase at all. That price is guaranteed for them during the term.
3038 In addition, after month 12 when they begin month 13, as they're on a two-year contract, that is indicated to them at point of sign up that they would begin to pay regular in market pricing at that time. We do inform them of what that pricing is at the time of sign-up however, to let them know that if that changes along the way that we will certainly let them know, and that is communicated to them upon sign-up.
3039 In addition, the purpose of having that contract term is we do not charge any installation or activation fees, so the intention of having that term is simply to recoup the investment costs in converting the customer.
3040 COMMISSIONER LAFONTAINE: Thank you. So, just to come back to this point of sign-up, do you provide a critical information summary to the customers when they are signing up? Do you summarize the key issues of the agreement? Do you provide it to them in various forms? So I guess I’m interested to hear about the information summaries and the agreements themselves how they are provided to your customers.
3041 MS. MEUNIER: At Tbaytel we are a full service provider, so we do offer the full gamut of services, wireless services as well as wired services. So for our wireless services, certainly we are governed by the Wireless Code and we do adhere to all of the requirements there. So any customer signing up for wireless services do receive a critical information summary, as well as a welcome package from us at point of sales, so they walk away with all of the information after that transaction.
3042 Specific to our wired services, when they subscribe, if there is a contract term in place, we do mail to the customer directly after their sign-up a summary of their contract terms and all of the requirements that they agreed to within that transaction, so that they have that and it’s available to them for awareness.
3043 The customer is also given a 14-day grace period after receiving that. So, if something in that summary document is not what they were expecting, they can certainly call and cancel or change their services without penalty.
3044 COMMISSIONER LAFONTAINE: Thank you. The 14-day grace period, does that apply for just a particular service or for -- do you provide that for all of your services?
3045 MS. MEUNIER: The 14-day grace period is specific to the wired services on contract.
3046 COMMISSIONER LAFONTAINE: M'hm.
3047 MS. MEUNIER: We do offer a different grace period on wireless, I believe that’s 30-days buyer’s remorse.
3048 COMMISSIONER LAFONTAINE: Thank you. Just coming back to your -- your sales people, your sales team and your call centres, you know, the various points of sale -- I guess, actually just for the call centres. Do you record the exchanges with -- with your customers or potential customers?
3049 MS. JONES: Yes, we do record all customer calls, and customers are alerted to that when they phone in through the automated system that the call will be recorded.
3050 COMMISSIONER LAFONTAINE: And are they able to also record or have access to the recording upon request?
3051 MS. JONES: They absolutely can get access to the call. We will often go back ourselves to a call as well to clarify for training and coaching purposes.
3052 COMMISSIONER LAFONTAINE: Thank you.
3053 I’d like to hear a little bit more about your employee training and compensation. I believe I’ve understood that you do have -- there’s a compensation system, a bonus system, et cetera, for your employees, and I’d be interested to hear more about that and how you have this in place, yet your service representatives are still able to service the customers without misleading or aggressive approaches.
3054 MS. JONES: Absolutely.
3055 Different points of sale. So in our Customer Care Centre, where our sales -- well, where our Customer Care Agents exist, we actually do not have any sort of a variable compensation model. We don’t have any official incentives for those particular staff. So if a customer is calling in because they received marketing information or that type of thing, that agent’s responsibility is to look after the best needs of the customer at all times.
3056 On occasions, we will run small, promotional incentive programs for those customers, but we audit the calls on those to ensure that they are actually meeting the customer’s needs during those times. Those are very small and infrequent little sales incentive programs.
3057 In terms of salespeople, we do have approximately 3 percent of our sales staff, of our Tbaytel staff, are on a variable compensation program. So their wages are predominantly fixed wages. They do have an opportunity to earn a small bonus percentage for meeting certain targets that we provide. Those targets are set quarterly to help us dictate movement, and often they’re more about us trying to be efficient and serving our customers’ needs than they are necessarily about meeting a specific sales target.
3058 So if I may for a moment, Tbaytel is actively deploying fibre to the home, to Thunder Bay and to other underserved areas. It’s important to us when we open a new neighbourhood with fibre to the home to actually direct our sales people to that initiative, and have them efficiently moving people to fibre that want to. So we might create a small target for moving customers over to fibre. That can be a like-for-like shift. They can be on the very same services on fibre that they were on copper, so it may not even represent revenue increases for us.
3059 So those incentive programs are really meant for us to be able to pivot and focus and efficiently get to the programs we need to. And the salespeople that have those in place, it is not the main part of their compensation. So it’s a small incentive for them to work with us on the initiatives that are important.
3060 COMMISSIONER LAFONTAINE: Thank you.
3061 And then in term of the employee training, you mentioned your written submissions and your oral submissions about, you know, there’s auditing and there’s training program, et cetera; can you tell us a little bit more about how that takes place, and then how you would handle a situation where you might have audited a salesperson that maybe crossed a line that you don’t want to be crossed when your customers are being serviced; how that sort of situation would be addressed or has been addressed?
3062 MS. JONES: When a sales advisor is hired at Tbaytel, they go through an extensive training period; they’re not on the phones at all and they’re working through learning about the products and services, product knowledge, and expectations of us.
3063 They then move into a period of time where they’re working on the phones and they’re working with a mentor, and then they move into working full-time as an agent.
3064 Additionally, we do have call coaches, and we are monitoring the calls of all of our agents, but specifically through probationary periods or when someone is new to the organization the number of calls that are audited for those people are increased so that we can ensure that they’re understanding everything that they’ve learned, that they’re representing our products, services, and our brand and reputation the way that we would expect from them.
3065 There is a formal sales agent scorecard or checklist that the call coach will actually look to. I talked about a couple of the things on there that help us to ensure that they’re properly representing us, things like, “Are you giving clear information to the customer about what they’ve purchased, now and in the future?”
3066 COMMISSIONER LAFONTAINE: And when you mentioned a checklist, do you also have some form of checklist to -- for your sales teams to have a good understanding of what the customer needs when they’re trying to assess what the requirement is?
3067 MS. JONES: For some of our sales agents that deal, maybe, with small -- well, large, small, medium business, or who are going directly out to consumers on our direct-to-consumer model, the salespeople have either a call check prep list of the things that they’re expected to achieve in that interaction, and that’s more about, you know, information that they need to make sure they’re providing the needs analysis that they are expected to get before they leave the premise of the customer.
3068 Additionally, we do post-transactional surveys after those kinds of interactions to ensure that they are meeting the customer’s needs and that the customer is happy with that interaction.
3069 COMMISSIONER LAFONTAINE: I’ve understood from your submissions that -- particularly your written submission that you do work with third-party agents, in terms of selling your services. Can you tell us a little bit more about how you ensure that these third parties follow the -- you know, the philosophy and the guidelines that you have in place for selling your services to customers?
3070 MS. JONES: Just to provide clarity, from a door-to-door perspective, we do engage in door-to-door sales, but we do that 100 percent using our own staff, so we feel very confident that those people are representing us, our products and services the way that we would expect them to do. We actually see it as quite a service to our customers, so when we deploy fibre to a new neighbourhood, it’s a wonderful way for somebody to just get signed up very quickly and efficiently.
3071 In terms of outbound calling, we do do some of this ourselves. There are probably only about -- in the period in question of this particular review, there were two outbound calling campaigns where we used a third party.
3072 We use the same third party that we found a number of years ago, that we’re very comfortable with. And the people within our marketing team actually meet with that third party; they go over the goals of the stated campaign; they go over the ways in which we want things represented, and ensure that they know fully what our expectations are. We do not pay them per sale. We pay them for completing a list. So they don’t get any added bonus for converting somebody.
3073 Additionally, we don’t allow that sale that they make to go straight into any kinds of our systems and get provisioned automatically. If they get on the phone and find a customer that’s interested, they have to warm transfer to one of the Tbaytel representatives, which provides us the opportunity to ensure that the customer knows exactly what they’re signing up for and that that’s what they actually want.
3074 COMMISSIONER LAFONTAINE: Thank you.
3075 Now, many Canadians have intervened, as you may have heard, to describe their -- excuse me.
3076 So in some interventions it is stated that employees need additional protection when they internally complain about problematic sales practices. Some call it whistleblower protection. Can you just address that, that point, in terms of your sales team?
3077 MR. TOPATIGH: So the entire organization is subject to a whistleblower policy. All 429 employees, on an annual basis, sign both a whistleblower policy and a code of conduct policy on an annual basis.
3078 I can tell you that in my tenure at Tbaytel, we have not had occasion to have a whistleblower complaint filed against the organization.
3079 COMMISSIONER LAFONTAINE: Thank you.
3080 I’d also like to address the concerns that were raised by certain vulnerable communities that have appeared at this hearing and filed written submissions; in particular, you know, the deaf, deaf-blind, the hard of hearing; their advocacy groups appeared on Monday morning. The elderly; there was an advocacy group yesterday. And I’m wondering if you can address how your sales force, your employees, are trained to address their concerns, as they expressed very serious concerns about their treatment. And so in terms of the training and the types of services that you provide to meet their needs?
3081 MS. MEUNIER: Yes, certainly. I want to echo, actually, some of the comments that TekSavvy made this morning with regards to the services available to this group of individuals.
3082 Certainly, I think that our support of this maybe extends a little bit broader because we do have a full gamut of services. But in terms of those that are hard-of-hearing or visually impaired, we do offer a number of services available, things like message relay service, TTY, IP relay service. We do have a number of methods to engage with our staff, so that can be through live chat, via phone call.
3083 In addition, we also have authorized user places -- policies in place. So an individual could register someone else to speak on their behalf or make decisions on their account and we'd be more than willing to interact with someone else to represent them as well.
3084 We do have a corporate retail store. So within our store, we are in adherence to accessibility standards. We do have different stations to address those that need to sit or that are in wheelchairs. So certainly all of those things are taken into account.
3085 With regards to our plan structures, we do offer discounts on our wireless plans to take into account multiple different types of disabilities and those could range from cognitive disabilities to hearing disabilities to sight disabilities, in that we offer an individual a 50 percent discount on their plan in addition to a family member or a caregiver. We offer -- extend the same discounts so that it will allow those two to interact properly.
3086 Also in our demographic or in our region, we do have a bit of an aging population. So a number of our services are offered to the elderly and we take that into account as well in our practices where we design different marketing materials, more simplified in larger print font, and we actually send sales staff to a home, home for the aged to talk one-on-one with the individual or caregiver. So that's always top of mind for us.
3087 In addition, we do do educational training sessions within our store. So we can set up individual 45-minute sessions with users if they need additional help to walk through their plans, their device usage, whatever that looks like.
3088 So I feel we do have a very well-rounded gamut of options and all of these are included in our staff training policies when they are onboarded.
3089 COMMISSIONER LAFONTAINE: And how do you ensure that these communities can access that information, this wealth of information that you have and these various services and rebates?
3090 MS. MEUNIER: Certainly, a lot of this information is available our website and our website is WCAG compatible, so we do make sure that we have all the functionality required so that we have proper labels and hovers so that they can enable speech readers. So all of that information is available on our website for consumers to access.
3091 And then it would just be simply through inquiry into our customer care sales department for them to let them know. And I also just wanted to say we are connected with a number of local organizations, so the CNIB for example and also other sort of disability organizations we partner with so that they can extend our message of plan discounts and features to members of their organizations.
3092 MS. JONES: I think additionally regarding your request about the sales staff, we have a very small team of individuals that we call “direct to consumer sales reps”. These would be the people Amy mentioned who would go out to the homes for the aged to perhaps sell to them something that they require there.
3093 But additionally, we also send them out to provide support. So if a home has been converted to our services, they will go on site upwards of a week or so and literally go person to person and teach them how to use their new TV service for example.
3094 COMMISSIONER LAFONTAINE: Thank you.
3095 I'd also like to talk to you about the surveys that you conduct, the post-transactional with your customers. I've understood that these take place just at the point of sale but I'm interested to know whether you do these surveys say after a 30-day period or after a first billing cycle to get a sense of sort of the extent to which the customer is happy with their service.
3096 MS. JONES: Okay. I'm pretty certain that the survey is done pretty much immediately after the interaction. I do not believe that we survey after the first billing cycle.
3097 MS. MEUNIER: The only thing I would add in addition to that is that we do quarterly product experience research. So that is just a general research program that goes out to get consumers’ inquiries or feedback with regards to our products and services performance and how we supported them, but that might not necessarily catch, you know, those people that had just signed up. That's done through the method that Kathleen just mentioned that we catch them right after the transaction so the information is fresh in their mind.
3098 COMMISSIONER LAFONTAINE: And is it right after the transaction no matter where the transaction takes place, if it's door-to-door or online?
3099 MS. JONES: Yes. Different sales channels have different mechanisms, so some of the surveys go out by email and some of them are phone, depending on where they had the interaction.
3100 COMMISSIONER LAFONTAINE: Thank you.
3101 I'd now like to discuss with you or I've got some questions for you about, you know, actions to be taken. I understand from your submission today that it is your view that new regulatory measures across the industry is not something that you advocate, that if there are measures to be put in place, they should be just for sort of targeted at the larger players.
3102 And you indicated that if there were sort of broad measures put in place that this would be onerous for a company like yours.
3103 Now I'm sort of going to take a bit of a step back. One of the measures that's been talked about in this proceeding is a new code for internet and phone services, perhaps an additional code or one new entire code for all communication services. And my understanding from your submission here is that that's not something that you would advocate for your segment of the industry.
3104 So I'm curious to understand why it would be -- it would have such a negative impact on -- whether these particular measures would have a negative impact on your organization?
3105 MR. TOPATIGH: I think certainly I wouldn’t term it onerous. We certainly have found a way to comply with the Wireless Code of Conduct. We do believe it has a purpose and a need inside of that. It does add additional administrative burden which comes with additional costs. And as I mentioned in the opening commentary, with small players, that does challenge our economies of scale in terms of distributing those additional costs to set up the infrastructure required to ensure that we're complying on a regular basis.
3106 And we're here to speak on behalf of our organization which we truly feel that we have an opportunity to differentiate ourselves in customer service as a result of all the findings and our own experience.
3107 So I think we're looking at it from the perspective that layering on an administrative burden I'll call it to the organization that isn't warranted with the results that we're providing today is our point of view.
3108 COMMISSIONER LAFONTAINE: Thank you.
3109 Another recommendation that has been brought forward in this proceeding is for salespeople at points of sale, whether they be in store or over the phone, to provide a summary of key elements of the discussion, not of the agreement but of the exchange so that the customer, the consumer can go away and think about the service and what it would mean to enter into an agreement for the service and to compare with other service providers.
3110 And I'm interested to hear your thoughts on whether your company already provides something like that or whether that would be something that would be difficult for you to do.
3111 MS. JONES: I think first of all we focus on making sure we meet customer needs and design programs that customers need. So whenever we're doing promotions, we often have termed options and non-termed options and the majority of our customers are not on contracts.
3112 So I think that providing clear information is important. I think that is already being done. I think that website sales materials, everything should clearly articulate what the promotion is. I guess I don’t know that we need to be mandated to do that or certainly we don’t feel like we need to be mandated to do that. That's part of providing clarity to our customers on what they’re doing.
3113 MS. MEUNIER: I would just add, in addition to that, anytime we do have a published promotion within any of our retail sales locations we do create fly sheets that actually summarize the promotion and information, as well as that goes in combination with our brochures that explains any of the plan pricing or packaging.
3114 So certainly that is available for a customer to receive when they walk into any one of our retail locations. And if they call into customer care and they do not have access to our website to see our packaging and pricing, we do mail out all of those materials as well for them so they have that available.
3115 COMMISSIONER LAFONTAINE: So you do provide it if it’s requested? They can have a copy? They don’t have to write the terms on a sticky note?
3116 MS. MEUNIER: Yes, 100 percent. We have that printed and ready and provide upon customer request.
3117 COMMISSIONER LAFONTAINE: What would be your view on the Commission publishing an annual report listing all of the complaints of misleading and aggressive sales practices that have taken place over the course of a year?
3118 MR. TOPATIGH: Certainly we would find no problem with that sort of disclosure. I mean, similar to the CCTS disclosure that you see in terms of total number of complaints and so on, a rough calculation over a period of time of all the complaints that they received. We represent less than .1 percent of all complaints over that period of time. So we certainly would conclude that that might be a significant advantage to us quite honestly with respect to differentiation.
3119 COMMISSIONER LAFONTAINE: And I’m going to ask the question I think I -- I think you’ve answered it but I’m going to ask this specifically. And what are your views on the Commission imposing administrative monetary penalties for if there were breaches -- if there were a new code and breaches of that code?
3120 MR. TOPATIGH: I think that avenue is available to the Commission. We believe in first call resolution. We have a number of different channels available internally to ensure that we’re mitigating any misunderstandings that might exist between ourselves or the customer, providing the necessary clarity. We have escalation through a number of internal methods. There are a number of methods already available through CRTC, CCTS, et cetera, Better Business Bureau. But at the end of the day if that’s not getting the proper resolution then I think that that would be something that would hold all carriers to a higher level of responsibility.
3121 COMMISSIONER LAFONTAINE: Just a few questions about the CCTS. There have been discussions in this proceeding about awareness and perhaps the possibility of improving the awareness of CCTS. I was wondering if you could speak to that.
3122 MS. JONES: Well, I think we participate, like most carriers, in trying to promote the CCTS and what it is there for. We do on all of our bills tell consumers about the CCTS and how they can contact them, as well as our website. For mobility of course we also put that information on the critical information summary. And verbally customers are told about that if the stated levels of escalation have been reached without getting to a customer resolution satisfactorily.
3123 I think that the CCTS awareness should be continued and that it provides a positive avenue for customers to have themselves heard.
3124 COMMISSIONER LAFONTAINE: Thank you.
3125 There was an intervenor yesterday who proposed a complaints roadmap. Does that -- is that something that you think would be useful to your customers when contacting you, or do you feel that your customers are -- their issues are being addressed?
3126 MS. MEUNIER: A complaint roadmap, do you mean that it defines the process in which a customer would use complaint escalation?
3127 COMMISSIONER LAFONTAINE: Yes.
3128 MS. MEUNIER: Yes, I do feel that that would be valuable, and certainly that is something that we publish for all of our consumers to know. So we state our three step complaint process within our website that is clear to a customer where they start at our customer care service level advisor or any one of our sales staff. If they are not satisfied with that they can certainly ask for escalation to any one of our managers. And then outside of that certainly the next avenue is the CCTS or CRTC, depending on the service offered. But that is published and available. And that makes sense to us.
3129 COMMISSIONER LAFONTAINE: I believe those are all my questions. Thank you very much for your time this morning.
3130 THE CHAIRPERSON: Commissioner Simard?
3131 COMMISSIONER SIMARD: Good morning.
3132 I have a quick -- one question for you. You talk about discounts for specific groups of population. I would be curious to know if they are easy to manage.
3133 MS. MEUNIER: Do you mean easy to manage on the customer’s invoice, or -- I’m not sure I understand your question.
3134 COMMISSIONER SIMARD: So is it easy to I guess identify like vulnerable people and kind of ---
3135 MS. MEUNIER: Yes.
3136 COMMISSIONER SIMARD: --- I guess grant the discount?
3137 MS. MEUNIER: So we have a simple form available for anyone that self-identifies as having a disability, and we simply require that form to be authorized by an organization like the CNIB, or the Brain Injury Society, or a doctor, and that’s what we use for qualification to offer the appropriate discount.
3138 COMMISSIONER SIMARD: Thank you.
3139 THE CHAIRPERSON: I see no other questions.
3140 Commission counsel?
3141 MR. ABBOTT: No questions.
3142 THE CHAIRPERSON: Then I thank you very much for taking the time to come and share your views and suggestions with us. Much appreciated.
3143 We’ll take a short break while the next party seats itself. Five minutes. Thank you.
--- L’audience est suspendue à 11h11
--- L’audience est reprise à 11h15
3144 THE SECRETARY: We will now hear the presentation of Bragg Communications Inc., carrying on business as Eastlink.
3145 Please introduce yourself, and you have 10 minutes. Thank you.
3146 MS. MacDONALD: Thank you.
3147 Good morning, Chairman, Commissioners, Commission staff. I am Natalie MacDonald, VP Regulatory, at Eastlink.
3148 At the outset, I would like to say that I’m here alone today, the reason being that some of the key people we were hoping to have here are actually -- had been prescheduled and were unable to attend, but I will make every attempt to provide answers to all the questions that you have here today, and certainly if we have any issues or concerns I can bring those back and provide them in a final filing.
3149 THE CHAIRMAN: Thank you.
3150 MS. MacDONALD: Eastlink appreciates the concerns that led the Governor in Council to direct the Commission to conduct the current proceeding.
3151 The stories published by CBC news contain serious allegations. However, it is important to note that those stories only implicated two companies, Bell and Rogers. They did not suggest that there is a widespread issue with misleading or aggressive sales practices within the Canadian communications industry, nor does the evidence filed in this proceeding support such a conclusion.
3152 There were very few allegations against smaller service providers such as Eastlink. Instead, the vast majority of the consumer interventions filed in this proceeding concern the practices of only three companies primarily.
3153 As a result, while we obviously do not condone companies engaging in misleading or aggressive sales tactics or practices, we do not support the imposition of additional rules addressing sales practices on companies like Eastlink who do not engage in such behaviour.
3154 We take great pride in our customer-focused approach to business. We focus on each consumer’s unique needs so that we can help them find the communications services that are best suited to their needs. Our representatives, whether employees or contractors, are trained to elicit from consumers the information that will help us identify the combination of services, features and price that works best for them. It also means we teach our representatives to clearly explain the services that we offer and to ensure that each consumer fully understands the options available to them.
3155 We know that our success depends on building consumer trust and satisfaction. That is why we have a zero tolerance policy toward misleading and aggressive sales practices and we have put in place a number of mechanisms to both prevent and detect such behaviour, all of which are described in detail in our confidential responses to the Commission’s requests for information.
3156 And the evidence filed in this proceeding indicates that we already have the right controls in place to mitigate the risk of inappropriate employee or contractor behaviour. For example, of the 1,300-plus consumer interventions filed in this proceeding, only two accuse Eastlink of engaging in misleading sales practices and, our review of those complaints determined that they were the result of simple employee errors as opposed to intentionally misleading sales practices. Accordingly, while concerns may have been expressed about the sales practices of some of the larger companies, we submit that there is no demonstrable need or basis for imposing additional regulatory requirements on the entire industry.
3157 We believe in an efficient approach to regulation that properly balances the needs of both consumers and communications companies. In this respect, we believe that rules addressing sales practices should only be introduced if there is documented evidence of a problem that can only be addressed via regulation, and any such rules must be as narrowly tailored as possible to avoid discouraging competition and innovation in telecom services.
3158 With those principles in mind, we do not support imposing new rules on all companies as a result of allegations against only two or three companies, or imposing new rules solely to create the appearance that the government has taken action on the issue when, in fact, Canada has a robust series of legislative and regulatory requirements designed to protect consumers against misleading and aggressive sales practices.
3159 We ask that the Commission also consider the potential costs to businesses and consumers as a result of any new rules. Some parties have argued that if service providers’ practices are already sufficient, then imposition of new requirements should not create much of a burden.
3160 However, in our experience, implementing new rules and processes can be costly and require complex changes to many systems, costs that will need to be recovered. Where there is no proven need to impose such new requirements, such costs could otherwise be directed to improving products and services.
3161 In our view, the evidence on the record does not justify painting all communications companies with the same brush or imposing new obligations on all parties. Companies who have not engaged in misleading or aggressive practices should not have to pay for the actions of the small number of companies who are accused of doing so.
3162 While the Order in Council suggests that additional regulatory measures are needed to protect Canadians, the fact is that there are simply no gaps in the existing legislative scheme that need to be filled by new requirements. Rather, to the extent there's a demonstrated issue with certain companies’ sales practices, those issues should be addressed directly with the relevant companies through enforcement of existing rules.
3163 This concludes our presentation, and I will be happy to answer any questions you may have.
3164 Thank you.
3165 THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much.
3166 Commissioner MacDonald.
3167 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Good morning. Thank you very much for being here.
3168 No relation. I was asked that question as recently as yesterday.
3169 I take your point that, obviously, the vast majority of the complaints that have been raised on the record don't apply to Eastlink customers. That could be partially due to your size relative to some of the larger operators or it could be related to some of your internal practices, so I think I'd like to begin by talking a little bit, you know, your operation and your best practices.
3170 So I'd like to start by understanding what you send customers at the time of agreement in the way of an on-boarding letter or welcoming letter or email and what type of information is contained in that document.
3171 MS. MacDONALD: Okay. So of course we offer -- we actually offer four services in the market.
3172 We have wireless products which are governed by the Wireless Code, and we fully comply with that. We have wireline products, telephone, internet service, TV service. And of course, the TV service is governed by the TV Service Provider Code.
3173 We also offer a home security service which is governed by provincial legislation, and we operate in seven provinces, in very rural communities in those provinces, but each of which is subject to different provincial laws.
3174 So there's very specific rules associated with that as well in terms of some of the sales transactions.
3175 With the Wireless Code, of course, we have -- we comply with the requirements and, therefore, provide the customer with a full review at the time of the transaction. We go through all the details of the sale transaction, the rates, the options available to the customer, et cetera, and there is a checklist that is used as well at the sales process.
3176 That is reviewed with the customer as well, and they do receive a welcome kit and a copy of the agreement at the time of the sales transaction.
3177 With our wireline services, because we do bundle our services and we are subject to the TV Code, we actually apply the model of providing the customer with the critical information summary which we refer to as the welcome letter to the customer as well, and that covers all services.
3178 So when a customer is purchasing a bundle of service from us, we're not separating out the non-TV services and following the code for those but not the others.
3179 So we've actually taken an approach where the customer sales agent will go through the details of the customer's -- you know, probe them to find out what services they're looking for, what their interests are, what options may be of value to them, and then when that transaction is concluded the sales agent takes the customer through all of the details.
3180 When I say concluded, the customer seems interested in a certain specific package of products or services, then the agent will take them through all the details of that -- of that service and then a critical information summary in the form of a welcome letter is provided within two hours which we advise the customer to review the details of that and then, of course, within 15 days we also provide a copy of a detailed agreement to the customer.
3181 Now, the critical information summary is fully compliant with the TV Code. It sets out even details -- it's in the form of a welcome letter, so it's very consumer friendly. It's written in a way that describes, you know, when the install is to occur, what the services they've selected, what the terms and conditions are, the rates, the breakout of the services, so all of the information required is provided at that time.
3182 If the customer reviews that -- it's basically within the two hours of the discussion. The customer can -- you know, if they have any questions, concerns, then they can contact us, they can make changes, et cetera.
3183 And a customer, of course, can do that any time up until the date of the installation as well. And when they get the service agreement, if they have any concerns about what they see in the agreement then, of course, they can also make contact with Eastlink and correct any issues or concerns that they may have seen.
3184 But the critical information summary itself will give the customer all of the details that they need to understand what they're ordering, the price, the terms and any other qualifying information.
3185 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: And is that true for any customer interaction regardless of how that sale is actually made? Is the process the same or similar if the sale was conducted over the phone versus at the door or at one of your stores?
3186 MS. MacDONALD: Yes. It's basically the same process, so we still provide the welcome letter to every customer. In fact, if a customer calls at any other time during the course of our relationship and they make changes, they also get another follow-up letter confirming exactly what they changed and what the -- you know, the price and the details of that are as well.
3187 At the door -- and we had filed with the Commission confidential numbers, but we have a very small percentage of door-to-door sales transactions and telemarketing. They represent an extremely small portion of our business.
3188 But at the door, there's also very specific requirements under the provincial legislation which requires that the -- a customer have the details of the arrangement that they've agreed to, that there's also a -- each province has buyer's remorse -- information that needs to be attached to every agreement when it's sold at the door which tells the customer that they have the right to cancel when it's sold at the door.
3189 And my understanding of that is because door-to-door sales are -- typically have a reputation of being more aggressive, and so it's to ensure that if a customer is at the door in a, one might argue, a more aggressive kind of personal situation that they have that period to reflect on what they agreed to.
3190 So that is a requirement in all the provinces under the door-to-door legislation.
3191 And of course, we have also communicated in our submissions to the Commission that, at the door, the representative will also call through to the Eastlink representative, who then will go through all of the details of the order to ensure that the customer is clear on what the different terms, services, rate and make sure that they've agreed to what the door-to-door sales rep has sold them.
3192 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: So that's covered off under provincial door-to-door legislation.
3193 Do you offer your customers the ability to cancel within a cooling-off period if that transaction did not happen at the door?
3194 MS. MacDONALD: We are subject to a -- such a period under the Wireless Code, so of course we comply with that. And it's 15 days for customers with some limitations for the devices and to ensure that the service is reliable and works in their area.
3195 And then it's 30 days for persons with disabilities, which gives them a longer period of time to trial the device and understand it.
3196 On the TV service side, that -- no such a cooling-off period is mandated other than the 30-day period for persons with disabilities which, of course, we comply with.
3197 With telecom services, we don't actually have a -- what I would describe as a cooling-off or buyer's remorse period.
3198 And, you know, part of the reason for that is because we simply make sure that we get it right with the customer, and that the customer is clearly communicated with at the time that they're entering into the arrangement.
3199 And we also, you know, have taken significant steps in trying to simplify the descriptions of the offers, simplify our terms of service even. Just over the last year, we went through a many months long process to update our terms of service to try to make them read more, so that an average customer going to them can better understand the key aspects of them.
3200 We’ve been focused on simplified billing. Our welcome letter is, in our view, you know, very easy to understand. We’ve even looked at issues around colouring and that sort of thing to really highlight areas on bills and the letters, et cetera, to improve our customers’ understanding of exactly what they're entering into.
3201 On the telecom side, there's plenty of time for our customer to decide whether or not they either still want the service. There's certainly plenty of time for our competitors to win them back before they're even installed, to be completely honest, so that happens. And they also have the opportunity as soon as they get our welcome letter to raise any questions. And the welcome letter being very clear and easy to understand, would definitely prompt questions if a customer didn’t think that they ordered what was written on it.
3202 What I will say about a buyer’s remorse period on the telecom side, is I can understand this on the wireless side because you've got new devices. Consumers are paying hundreds of dollars for devices, they're very expensive and it’s a personal expense that the customer is paying for, and they're operating in an area where, you know, they want to make sure the coverage and their day-to-day habits that their service will work where they need to be.
3203 I would say with telecom services phone and internet, they don't necessarily have those same kinds of risk. Customers generally know what their phone service is, they know it’s reliable. And I would say much the same as well for internet, as I believe one of the earlier presenters said, “You plug it in”. So there's not that need for a period to assess whether the service is actually adequate.
3204 I think the real issue that we’re hearing that's led to this proceeding is, is the pricing clear to customers? And is what they think they bought what they're actually getting? And I don't think that gets to a remorse period, it gets to get it right the first time and make sure our customers know what they're buying. So that's why we don't actually have that kind of a cooling off or a remorse period.
3205 There's quite a significant difference also in the costs for installing a service at the home versus a transaction in the store, which would allow perhaps for a buyer’s remorse period also on the wireless side of the business. You know, the cost element of rolling a truck, doing an install, our technicians have been, you know, very well trained to talk to the customer and make sure that they fully understand how the service is working and helping them understand different features that might be useful for them. So there's a lot of time spent doing that as well at the home. And so in that respect, I think it was TekSavvy who did mention that there are costs of cancellation that would be relevant.
3206 Now, saying that, if a customer is getting a service and they don't like what they're getting or they want to make changes, we certainly will have that conversation and then allow them those changes because we want to keep our customers happy.
3207 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: That actually starts to focus on what I was going to ask next, because we were having a conversation yesterday and be it a remorse period, trial period, cooling off period, with wireline services, to your point, there may be actual expenses that the company has incurred to provision that service. They might have to build coax into individual’s homes, do a truck roll. Do you see any distinction between an order that's processed via -- my technical friends always hate it when I say this - via keystrokes versus actually having to send a tech out and perhaps spend more money to onboard that wireline customer?
3208 MS. MacDONALD: I’m sorry, if I could just ask for a little more clarification. So ---
3209 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Yeah, I mean the conversation yesterday was around a company’s ability to recover money that they may have invested to build facilities into a particular home. And I’m just wondering, is there a -- is there a difference based on how much you may have had to invest, whether we might want to look at, you know, cooling off period or longer cooling off period if it was a very low cost install versus something more expensive than that?
3210 MS. MacDONALD: I definitely would agree that the cost of all of the undertaking to, you know, perform an install, perhaps there's a requirement to build coax, et cetera, all of this becomes relevant to all of the work that leads up to making the sale with the customer. And therefore, there may be reasons to say that a cooling off period in those cases perhaps isn’t appropriate in certain cases.
3211 But I think what I would really -- I think the real relevant issue is why do we need a cooling off period? And I think that if customers are looking for a certain product and service from their service provider, and the service provider has been very clear about what those services are and the price and there's no surprises, I don't know that there's a need for one unless, you know, in the very specific cases that the Commission has already mandated it where there's device -- questions about suitability of a device or perhaps reliability of a service in light of a person’s, you know, mobile habits. I'm not sure that a cooling off period is -- should be entirely on the basis that the cost is lower.
3212 I also will revert, you know, to the comment I made earlier, which is if we have a customer who has chosen a selection of services and various features and, you know -- the TV services is always a good example because there's so many different things, you know, aspects of that service a customer can order -- we absolutely will hear them out and make changes to their service if they're not happy with it and they need to make those changes. So, I think that conversation is always available to our customers because we want to keep our customers happy. So for those reasons, I don't necessarily think a cooling off period is a -- should be a mandated requirement ---
3213 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Okay.
3214 MS. MacDONALD: --- on the telecom side.
3215 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Another topic that we discussed, we were hearing from individuals and some of them had had very long-term challenges with their service provider and services not matching what they had been sold, and they were trying to obtain a copy of the voice recording that took place when the transaction happened and it was very difficult for them to obtain the voice recoding. So, what are your practices? Do you record every call? And if a customer asks, will you provide that recording to them?
3216 MS. MacDONALD: So, we do record calls for quality assurance purposes, for training, et cetera, as well. When a customer does call in, we inform them, as required, that the call may be recorded. For those customers who have a concern with that, we can make arrangements for them to speak to someone where it isn’t recorded. And under the federal privacy legislation, customers do have a right to access information that we have concerning their services and their account, and that would include receiving information regarding any recorded calls.
3217 Now, the federal privacy legislation doesn’t mandate the form, so we’ve typically -- in such cases would transcribe the message or the recording. As to whether we could or would provide the voice recording itself -- I’d actually heard that question yesterday and I made some inquiries, and I’m not sure system-wise how that -- how that would work to get it to the customer or in what case scenarios, but to date we’ve not really had any issues with a debate or a dispute around the content of a call recording in a transcribed format.
3218 And, you know, typically if we have an issue that's raised by a customer, we listen to the recording and we think something went wrong, we address it immediately through training and also through addressing with the customer. So we just simply haven’t had real issues to debate over an oral copy -- or audio copy versus a transcribed copy.
3219 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Okay. Thank you. We had an intervenor present yesterday afternoon and the statement was made that credit checks should not necessarily be allowed for communication services. And in their home province the statement was that other utilities -- power utilities, natural gas, don't do credit checks. So I did some checking for my neck of the woods, and at least in my home province that is not the case. Credit checks do happen for new customers when they come on board and if the credit check is high, perhaps an installation charge or security deposit can be waived.
3220 I'm wondering, can you speak to the importance of being allowed to do credit checks on any new customers that may be looking to avail with Eastlink services?
3221 MS. MacDONALD: I will say that they are -- we would agree that it's important to be able to perform a credit check. And I would want to check and follow up if I'm incorrect in my facts here, but I believe that if a customer is not -- refuses to do a credit check, we may provide an alternative in the form of an advance payment or a deposit or something of that nature. But that's something I would need to check.
3222 But I do think that it may be that we allow a customer to refuse it, but there just may be some scenarios where, then, we would some other form of assurance, you know, where there's a significant amount.
3223 So of course, we've -- you know, communication services are -- you know, are not a small amount of money every month. I mean, there's -- customers are paying for them, and sometimes if there's device elements as well that are being subsidized that can be very costly for the company, and those are costs that we're paying someone else for as well, so they're not just easily absorbed in terms of the operation issue.
3224 So it's absolutely important to be able to at least have some level of confidence when you're providing significant cost devices or equipment or, you know, performing installations and providing services to customers that we have some assurance that the customer is going to be able to at least meet a threshold to be able to have a lower risk of non-pay, et cetera.
3225 So I think it's just a standard practice in the business, for obvious reasons. It's a competitive business. There are, you know, situations where people are -- customers are transferring back and forth and, in some cases, due to non-pay situations. And we try to minimize that because, of course, if we're faced with absorbing non-pay, then the cost of service goes up for everyone.
3226 So it's really just about keeping the cost of service reasonable and ensuring that we can try to minimize the accounts receivable from non-pay situations.
3227 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Perfect. Thank you.
3228 And if you have any, I guess, internal information of procedures that you would like to highlight for the Commission in instances where people do not want to submit for a credit check what the other options are, if you could maybe undertake to provide that by November the 1st and you can claim confidence.
3229 MS. MacDONALD: Sure.
3231 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: You stated in your opening statements that you have a zero tolerance policy towards misleading and aggressive sales practices.
3232 So given that you have a zero tolerance policy, that tells me you've probably defined, at least internally, what misleading or aggressive means, so can you share your thoughts on that?
3233 MS. MacDONALD: Sure.
3234 Well, first of all, by saying we have a zero tolerance policy, you know, sometimes referencing we have this policy and that practice, it implies we've got all kinds of written documentation. And we certainly do have a Code of Ethics which outlines the expectations of all employees, and we have, in our training materials, very clear focus on the customer.
3235 And I think our -- you know, it's safe to say that our policies come from a place where our customer is extremely important, keeping our customer satisfied, and a customer we lose today could be a customer that we gain in another week or a month or a year, so we simply cannot afford to have practices that will create a perception about us in the market that is negative.
3236 We want -- you know, it's a core focus, it's a core philosophy, to keep our customers happy and to have a good reputation.
3237 So with that said, all of our training and -- in all of our interactions and in all of our product and service development, we have the customer in mind.
3238 And in terms of the practices that we have, you know, we've described many of those in the -- in the confidentially filed documents as well.
3239 With regard to what is an aggressive practice or a misleading practice, I definitely agree with many of the comments that were made already at the hearing this week in terms of how one might define an aggressive practice or a misleading practice, but what I say about the misleading practices is the Competition Bureau has an extremely well-documented policies, descriptions, examples on their web site of what are misleading sales practices.
3240 And I know this as well because over the years we've reviewed as many Competition Bureau documents as possible in terms of understanding requirements for advertising, clear communications, making sure that if you're describing a product or service that you're not failing to include information which is material. And what is material information?
3241 Material information is information which, if the customer knew about it, it might alter their purchasing decision. And you know, the use of fine print shouldn't contradict what's in the main content of the advertisement or the promotion or the information.
3242 And so those rules and those descriptions are very well described at the Bureau's web site, and there's a lot of very consumer-friendly ways in which it's described. And so I would refer to those.
3243 There's a test that's often referred to as the general impression test. What is the general impression that I would say an average consumer would have when they hear about your products and services and what's included and what's not and have you, whether in the way it's written or in the way you've described it, conveyed an impression that it's different than what it is?
3244 And so you know, it's really about -- you know, to me, those are things that are misleading.
3245 It may not be intentional and, you know, it may be, again, lack of communication or a lack of understanding. And these are the things that we try to train our customer representatives on, is take the time to make sure the customer understands and take the time to explain all of the key terms and conditions so that they know what they're getting themselves into as well when they decide to take our service.
3246 So that's, sorry, misleading.
3247 Aggressive, I think, is pretty clear-cut. I think if a customer -- as others have said, social cues. If someone says no, well, that's a pretty clear statement that they're not interested, but if the person is displaying that they're uncomfortable and, you know, I think that any person who's dealing with another in a sales context needs to be able to understand those social cues.
3248 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Perfect. Thanks for that.
3249 So I know you're not necessarily a fan of new rules and regulations. I just wonder, can I get your thoughts on if the rules don't apply to all of the operators that are out there, how do we ensure equal protection for all Canadians who might purchase their services from smaller operators?
3250 MS. MacDONALD: At the outset, I'd like to say that when we say there should be no new rules, it's -- it's -- I would not want it to be interpreted that we don't agree with the underlying principles that this discussion of a new Code is intended to address, but it's really around the cost impact of establishing new rules.
3251 And I say that because we have proactively decided to apply the welcome email critical information summary approach to all of our customers when they place an order. And we differentiate our service based on our quality of customer care and our attention to our customer.
3252 And when the TV Code was established, before that decision came out, we were already in the process of managing our systems in a way where we could send these welcome letters to our customers, and so that was already in place and we were working to build a very good positive customer experience with communicating, confirming their order, et cetera.
3253 And so when the TV Code came, we had to do some additional work to make changes to what we were already developing.
3254 And the systems that we use to create the welcome letter to make sure that it's captured in a way where it can't be altered to ensure that it's linked with our email system so that it gets to the right customer at the right time and all of the other systems and training associated with doing that is quite significant.
3255 And so we've got a Code on the wireless side that we've -- we're compliant with and we've got the TV Code. If there is another Code, the danger or the concern that we have is that there will be one stated obligation that's very specific and to which it will create a whole new course of work, costs, system changes that could take weeks to months to implement when the underlying objective of the policy is already being fulfilled by us.
3256 And so how does the Commission deal with a situation where there may be, at the end of this, the Commission may feel something needs to be done?
3257 I would say that, you know -- and we need to think of this a little bit more ourselves in terms of what we might be able to propose, but I would say that the Commission has issued policies and guidelines in the past, expectations of behaviour, et cetera. We do have a CCTS that receives complaints. And although the CCTS may not be the body that is assessing whether they’re aggressive or misleading, they’re certainly the body that is receiving complaints and knows what the underlying basis of those are.
3258 And so if there is a guideline, a policy, that describes expected standards of behaviour by the industry, and those expected standards of behaviour are not being met, then perhaps the Commission can exercise its tools to say, “Well, there are certain companies, A, B, and C that we’re seeing patterns and we need to address those.”
3259 Now, I know the next question may be, “Well, what under the Telecom Act allows us to do that?” And I don’t have an answer on the spot here. But I do know that historically in the past -- and I know we have two different pieces of legislation, we have also had the Broadcasting Act, but I do know that there have been instances of requirements of companies to maintain their licence, for example, where a failure to comply with certain expectations or obligations resulted in reporting by that company where other companies doesn’t have to report.
3260 And I’m not sure, I again would have to look to see if the legislation and the Telecom Act allows for that but I see no reason why the Commission couldn’t issue direct questions to individual companies and then exercise its powers to either order reporting specifically to order those companies to describe how they’re going to remedy the situation, and to manage those companies as a separate non-compliance issue with those policies.
3261 So that’s just a -- food for thought but perhaps we need to think a little more about whether we can reference some section of the Telecom Act that would allow for that as well.
3262 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Okay, thank you.
3263 If we did end up going down the road of a new code, knowing that that may not be your preference, we’re always very conscious about adding regulatory burden and expense, with any of our decisions. If we have the existing codes and we do at some point explore a new code, does it make sense to look at all of the codes that are in place and have one unifying code for all services consistent -- you know, expecting consistent behaviour, regardless of what service? And does that reduce your burden or address any of your concerns with respect to being compliant with multiple codes?
3264 MS. MacDONALD: I would say that a code that addresses underlying core principles of behaviour is pretty easy because it’s not prescribing exactly what a company must do. For example, change your systems to include this piece of information in an agreement, when we’ve already done that under two separate codes.
3265 Underlying principles of behaviour, I think, is a fairly safe approach, but when you start getting into prescribing, it’s a challenge.
3266 The other thing I would say is should there be one code versus another approach; it’s -- without getting into what I would describe as confidential information about our systems, we actually have sort of two systems that would make one code require us to modify, then, two systems. I’m not sure that that would work unless, again, we’re talking about a principled approach versus very prescriptive rules.
3267 It might be a situation where the existing TV code, which we have used as a guide for all of our services on the wireline side, might -- an extension of that may work. But I’d like to think about that further and inquire internally as to what the impacts would be.
3268 But just so you know, the key concern I have relates to how many systems changes would be needed if this new code now alters, for example, something on the wireless side that we have built, or vice versa. So these are the things that we need to be thinking about when we’re asked those questions.
3269 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Okay. Well, thank you for that and if you want to comment further on that through an undertaking or in your final submission, any thoughts that you want to share will always be appreciated.
3270 If it is not a new code, or one unifying code that applies to all service providers to protect all Canadians, are there certain groups that you think require some additional protection? I’m thinking of older Canadians; I’m thinking of more vulnerable individuals. Do they require extra protection, or are the existing measures adequate, in your mind?
3271 MS. MacDONALD: It’s a good question, and I have heard, you know, the participants through the week speaking about some of the issues, and certainly they raise concerns listing to some of those stories.
3272 What I would say is -- I’m not sure of the answer to that; we would need to think about it. But what I will say is when your communicating to a customer, any customer, regardless of that customer’s vulnerability, the objective is that that customer leaves knowing what they have ordered or what service options they have, what they are paying, and what the terms are. And so I think no matter who you’re dealing with, as a company you need to be able to comply with obligations to make sure that those customers are being served well and understand exactly what they’re getting.
3273 If the result of this review reveals that there are certain groups of vulnerable Canadians that are absolutely facing a greater risk, then maybe the Commission may feel very specific provisions are warranted to address those. I’m not sure if I can say that that is in fact the case today.
3274 Of course I do note that we’ve heard some stories that are concerning, so...
3275 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: We’ve also discussed over the week the potential need for additional protections for employees of companies that may be witnessing inappropriate or behaviour -- sales behaviour that isn’t totally above board and ethical.
3276 What are your thoughts on an expectation for whistleblower rules, for want of another term, that all providers would have to abide by?
3277 MS. MacDONALD: We ourselves do have a whistleblower policy. We also have -- we’ve listed a number of avenues where employees can raise concerns with our company, with anyone in our company. They can speak to their supervisors, managers. We have an internal Internet, an Inet, where employees can also raise concerns. And we actually have a direct link to the office of the president where she has -- welcomes every week input from employees, or concerns.
3278 And certainly the culture at our company is one where people, employees feel very comfortable bringing issues forward. And if they’re not comfortable, sharing them with their direct manager, they certainly have been able to comfortably access higher levels without concern.
3279 So in that respect, I wouldn’t be thinking from a place of we need to establish these kinds of rules, and I certainly -- it would be nice if they weren’t necessary because I don’t think any company would probably want an environment where they feel that employees are feeling that kind of pressure.
3280 But I think at the outcome of this proceeding, if the Commission feels that there is a problem in some cases that warrants it, then it may be up to the Commission to recommend something. I, again, don’t necessarily agree that it is necessary in the case of all companies, because in our case we just simply -- we don’t think there would be need to regulate that.
3281 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Thank you. And, I mean, I realize that, you know, throughout the course of this week in many cases we’re focusing on the exception rather than the rule, and the standard mode of operation.
3282 Just one sort of final area that I want to get your thoughts on, and it’s around awareness of the CCTS. Out of curiosity, what level in a customer escalation do you inform them of the CCTS?
3283 MS. MacDONALD: Okay. At the outset, we provide information on our Web site around the customer complaint process, which actually does show a map, kind of a flowchart of -- for our customer as to the routes that they can take for a complaint, and it also includes information regarding the CCTS. We provide it on the CIS or our welcome letter, in our terms of service, and also in the customer contract, and it’s also provided on every monthly bill for the customer.
3284 So customers, if they're reading anything, are going to find CCTS noted in numerous documents that we provide.
3285 Under the CCTS communication plan, we provide -- we comply with the requirements of that, which is to provide notice to the customer at the second escalation. Now, the second escalation is defined in that, and so we follow that process.
3286 Our objective is to resolve all customers’ issues before it gets to that point. So, you know, I might say that the second escalation requirement is helpful because it really does give you a chance to say, “Okay, you know, we need to address this and look into it,” and it gives companies that opportunity to resolve it.
3287 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: And, you know, obviously, the goal is always for you to be able to resolve your customers concerns internally, and you said that you -- you know, you notify them of the CCTS second escalation on monthly bills and the welcome letter. Do you let them know about other organizations at the same time where they could lodge a complaint, such as the CRTC, the Competition Bureau?
3288 MS. MacDONALD: Under -- so where we have some -- we operate two very small SILEC’s, small incumbent local exchange carriers, and we -- certain of those services are regulated so they would remain under the jurisdiction of the CRTC. So we would communicate that in cases where the issue is not one for the CCTS. We don’t specifically communicate to customers that they can go to the Competition Bureau. I would think it would be abhorrent to think that you would be telling your customer to go the Competition Bureau if you weren’t able to resolve an issue. So no, we don’t do that.
3289 But, you know, we’ve -- as we’ve said, and as we filed with the Commission, the percentage of complaints that we have relative to our interactions with our customers are extremely low, those that are escalated, and we make every attempt to resolve them before they’re even escalated.
3290 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Thank you.
3291 And just one final question; you know, multiple -- several times we’ve had, you know, conversations around awareness of the CCTS and whether general awareness is what’s required or situational awareness when there’s an issue. And yesterday we were having this discussion with another intervenor and the suggestion was made that since the CCTS now administers the TV Service Provider Code that BDU’s should be required to make public service announcements notifying the general public of the existence of the CCTS. Would you like to comment on that, or any other things we may want to do to explore increasing awareness?
3292 MS. MacDONALD: I’m not -- I have heard that there were some parties who felt -- who presented who felt that perhaps their awareness was not high.
3293 I am not sure I -- I’m not sure that the awareness is a problem, only in light of the fact that we have literally been referencing this in every -- as I said, at the second escalation we need to communicate to our customers, and in all -- pretty much you could almost say all documents, in the sense that it’s the bill, the welcome letter, the agreement, the terms of service the CCTS has referenced.
3294 As to public service announcements, you know, we -- to the extent that we’re able to do a public service announcement, there’s some issues around -- on the broadcasting side around the ad avails and the use of them, and I’m not sure where that is right now so I’d have to check on that, but we have used our community channel as a means. But again, I’m not sure that it’s necessary.
3295 I don’t know that I agree that the awareness is a problem. I mean, the rules I believe only come into place -- the increased awareness rules -- over the last year. So I’m not sure. I mean, there has been some increase in the CCTS complaint numbers. I might question maybe they’re attributable as well to more awareness. So I’m not sure that there is really a problem there.
3296 COMMISSIONER MacDONALD: Okay. Well, as always, thank you for that, and thank you for your participation in this process. Those are my questions.
3297 THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you.
3298 Commissioner Dupras?
3299 COMMISSIONER DUPRAS: Hi.
3300 MS. MacDONALD: Hi.
3301 COMMISSIONER DUPRAS: You say most of your service are sold in a bundle fashion. What happens if one wants to switch provider at an early stage; for instance, someone with a disability that has a trial period with wireless and the TV Code but no such period for wireline telecom services; does that mean that he can only cancel the wireless and the TV services and he’s stuck with the wireline telecom services, and then it’s a problem switching provider because he cannot then go to another for a full bundle because he’s still stuck with your telecom services?
3302 MS. MacDONALD: I would say it’s a -- you’ve described what I believe might be a unique scenario that I’m not sure that we would have specifically experienced. I really don’t know. And our bundles are typically including the wireline services. But, as noted, we would comply with the TV Service Code requirements and the wireless requirements, which is subject to limitations on usage under the -- I guess in the case, the 30-day period.
3303 It sounds like it would be one of those situations where if the customer called we would obviously comply with our requirements and then the installation would likely have occurred, the TV service would have been provided, so of course they would be entitled to their 30-day period under the TV Code.
3304 And it almost sounds like a case-by-case situation, which to me we would not be tying a customer to maintain services with us first of all. We would always let the customer leave, but -- I might have to think through that one, but I think once the installation, et cetera, is done under the TV Code then we would have to honour that, and as part and parcel of that other services are installed at the same time I would assume that the customer would be able to transfer without a problem in that case.
3305 It’s a specific scenario that I’d probably need to check on, but I don’t think it would be a problem for the customer to be able to exercise their ability to make that transfer, and they would not be penalized or required to stay with us, or to incur those costs.
3306 COMMISSIONER DUPRAS: Okay. In your welcome letter, do you inform about cooling off, trial periods, cancellation, and termination provisions ---
3307 MS. MacDONALD: I believe ---
3308 COMMISSIONER DUPRAS: --- for the different services?
3309 MS. MacDONALD: All of those requirements as per the Wireless Code and the TV Code yes would be included in there. I would want to double-check and confirm that. But I’m most certain that everything that is required to be in our critical information summary is included in the welcome letter to the customer.
3310 COMMISSIONER DUPRAS: I meant when purchased on a bundle basis.
3311 MS. MacDONALD: Yes. Yes. So, you know, if a customer is buying a bundle the welcome letter includes all of the key requirements of the critical information summary that would apply to the services under the TV Code as well that are in that bundle.
3312 COMMISSIONER DUPRAS: Okay. A PIAC representative yesterday mentioned that under the direction to the CRTC implementing the telecommunication policy that should the Commission propose new measures that it would have no choice but to implement them in a manner that is symmetrically and competitively neutral, meaning that it would have to be imposed on an industry-wide basis. Do you have any comments on that?
3313 MS. MacDONALD: I did hear that, and I might need some time to consider and review that in terms of the final reply or closing comments. But that kind of goes back to my earlier statement where, you know, I commented that underlying principles and expectations of behaviour as a policy I think are fair. When you get into stipulating very specific ones it may be that they should apply broadly.
3314 But I guess what I would pose as a question is, is there not an opportunity to issue a policy of expectations and behaviour in which case if it is not complied with by certain entities then those entities might be subject to a closer review. And that’s a question of I guess of the jurisdiction as well but I think it’s a question worth looking into. And I don’t know the answer to that right now. But certainly it’s something that we’ll think about whether there’s other options other than a prescribed code with very specific requirements in it.
3315 COMMISSIONER DUPRAS: Okay. Thank you.
3316 THE CHAIRPERSON: Commission Laizner?
3317 COMMISSIONER LAIZNER: Hi. So I was interested in your comments that you didn’t think a cooling off period was necessary because companies should get it right the first time and there’s existing processes in place.
3318 We’ve also seen that Ipsos-Reid survey that said that 40 percent of Canadians have felt that they’ve been subject to misleading or aggressive sales practices in the last year.
3319 So what is the solution for a consumer who gets a product and then looks at the contract and the fine print and one of your examples contradicts what the bold print says, or the contract says something that they didn’t think they had contracted for, that what they contracted for was different?
3320 In your view, is the solution that the consumer has to go to the company through all the escalating levels of the complaint process to get that fixed, or is the solution the CCTS as opposed to a cooling off period where the buyer can just say you know what it’s what I thought I was getting, it’s not clear. I want to take advantage of this very cleanly and get out of the contract.
3321 MS. MacDONALD: It is a good question. I guess what I would say is that the process initially should be that the customer would contact the company and inquire about the issue and the company should investigate and if there's an issue then, you know, a concern about how the product and service was sold, then it should be remedied on paper with the customer.
3322 I did hear when the CCTS presented earlier this week, I believe if I recall correctly, they refer to the fact that although they may not specifically deal with misleading practices or aggressive practices, they do deal with did a customer get what they contracted for.
3323 And so I would expect that if a customer is sold something and they don’t believe that they're getting what they contracted for, that if it wasn't resolved at the level of the company and it was escalated to the CCTS, regardless of whether it was aggressive or misleading, the CCTS would look to the facts of the case and seek that the company validate that they've communicated with properly to the customer in a clear way.
3324 The TV Code and the Wireless Code both do speak about clear plain language communications and I know we're talking about telecom services but, ultimately, the CCTS is equipped with a complaint of whether a customer is actually getting the service that they contracted for.
3325 And I think that -- the tools that the CCTS has is to ask the service provider to provide copies of call detail records, customer notes, anything that indicates that the customer was advised. And if the company is not able to provide that, there have been occasions where the CCTS would say, well, then they've got one person’s word against another.
3326 But, you know, both of those codes certainly speak to ambiguity being in favour of the customer and I feel that that has been an approach that the CCTS has taken if there's no evidence of -- you know, on the service provider’s part that they acted appropriately.
3327 COMMISSIONER LAIZNER: Okay. And recognizing that the steps the consumer has to take would, you know, probably in all likelihood take a lot more time for the matter to be resolved either through the internal complaints process of the company in question or another avenue, you would still favour that over a cooling-off period.
3328 MS. MacDONALD: I guess from our perspective, we don’t run into those -- you know, the descriptions of these types of behaviours are clear -- like you know, companies being aggressive and forcing a customer into a service that they don’t want are clearly inappropriate if those things are happening. We have not -- we have not been involved in that kind of behaviour that would result in this -- you know, consumers raising this as an issue with our company.
3329 The companies do need to communicate clearly at the outset and so for those reasons...
3330 COMMISSIONER LAIZNER: But we're talking about the redress where that's not happening and I just want -- in your view, systemically that a cooling-off period is not a good idea, that consumers should have to go through the existing processes within a company or through avenues such as the CCTS.
3331 MS. MacDONALD: You know, I guess I don’t see -- if the Commission determines there's a systemic issue, I believe it would more appropriately be addressed by addressing the requirements upfront which is to ensure that customers know what they're getting.
3332 If the Commission feels that that will not address the situation, I suppose, you know, the Commission has implemented cooling-off periods before but I just really don’t see that being the solution for anyone. And the reason is because while it may be perceived as addressing a problem for a customer who is in a vulnerable situation where a company has not complied or has not acted appropriately, what it's really doing is also just increasing the costs overall for the industry.
3333 I just don’t -- I think if you've got a situation that is serious enough, that there's a systemic issue, that companies need to be mandated to have a cooling-off period because they haven't communicated properly and a customer has changed their mind or feels that they're not getting what they wanted, that is a bigger issue.
3334 And by allowing customers to just switch back and forth I don’t think that -- even if they're able to leave, I don’t think that's doing the customer any good. It's still forcing a customer to make a move, to go through the process of getting -- you know, getting their money back during the cooling-off period. It's incurring costs for the companies. One might hope that increased cost would improve their behaviour but I just don’t know if overall that is the solution that is overall beneficial to the entire industry or to consumers.
3335 I think if I was a consumer concerned about being treated inappropriately, I would rather just -- I would rather not the remedy be I can leave after having gone through all of the work of getting the service in the first place. And so that's where I'm going with that. I just don’t know that a cooling-off period as a standard to address this kind of behaviour is the right approach.
3336 COMMISSIONER LAIZNER: Do you think it would provide an incentive to -- on the service providers to ensure more clarity so that consumers wouldn't feel the need to address these misleading and aggressive sales tactics that have broke them into a contract that wasn’t what they thought they were going to buy?
3337 MS. MacDONALD: I don’t know. I'm not sure. What it may do and I'm not sure of this either but it might incentivize competitors to be more aggressive during that period to win back customers and become, you know, the very -- you know, if there's aggressive behaviour happening, it may be used to the advantage of aggressive companies to convince customers during the cooling-off period to win them back.
3338 It creates opportunities for other behaviours that go beyond what the objective I think is intended to address. And I don’t know if those other behaviours, for example, a company sells a service to a customer. If they don’t have the right process to make sure the customer knew what they were getting, or maybe they do have the right process but during that cooling-off period another company comes in and says, “Oh, I know that this company incurred all the costs and the time to install the service for you but we have a great deal for you”, and they're aggressive, then the customer decides to switch not -- perhaps not because they didn’t understand or it was miscommunicated but they're just benefitting from a mandated cooling-off period, that kind of behaviour needs to be, you know, considered in making a decision to mandate a cooling-off period because that could actually increase the cost of -- to companies of losing customers during a period when they otherwise, having acted appropriately, would have had a happy loyal customer committed to their service.
3339 COMMISSIONER LAIZNER: Okay, thank you.
3340 MS. MacDONALD: Okay.
3341 THE CHAIRPERSON: A couple of very short follow-ups from me. Picking up on a discussion that you had with Commissioner MacDonald and you've answered this in part, but I just want to pick your brain a little bit further, we talked about a situation and what your practice would be in terms of determining what's suitable for a vulnerable Canadian. You've probably heard some of the discussions about suitability and I just wonder what do you think what suitability requirements might be appropriate?
3342 MS. MacDONALD: I have heard the discussions about suitability and I do agree that it's very difficult because it is so subjective. I also think that any individual selling a service, whether innocently or otherwise, might have views about what's suitable based on their own experiences. So again, we may have certain or any company may have certain customer care reps that believe getting the most for the best price is the most suitable service because, you know, they might come from a mindset of more is better.
3343 What we do is we train our customer care reps to do what's best for the customer and, obviously, you know, knowing what's best is not always easy but it's about probing and asking questions.
3344 As I think one of the other presenters this morning said, you know, asking questions like how many in your household, what services do you like, what kinds of services are people in your household looking for, what kind of activity do you do when you're on the internet, you know, to try to prompt and understand the nature and the level of service that they may need.
3345 And maybe even features and functionalities, there's all kinds of features and functionalities available to any number of customers depending on what their unique needs are and so it's about probing in that way.
3346 So, when companies are getting it right -- and I’d like to say that our company is getting it right -- we’re asking questions to understand that and describing what may be available of interest, you know, in a non-aggressive manner just to prompt them in case there's something that is relevant to the customer.
3347 And I don't know how much further you can go beyond maybe a requirement that says -- you know, companies are obviously going to want to sell their services and they're going to want to make sure their customers are happy. We don't want to sell our customers something that they don't want or don't need, or paying for that they're not using. But we definitely want them to know when they're buying something that there's features and functionality that could give them way more value for the service. So our customer care agents may want to speak to those features or add on services if they think it’s relevant. If it isn’t, that's where the issue of “don't be aggressive, understand your cues” and say -- and if someone is saying, No, I don't want to hear this anymore”, or if they're providing other cues that indicate they're not interested, then in those cases I think the sales rep needs to take that cue.
3348 THE CHAIRPERSON: But taking into account your comments about regulatory burden, you wouldn’t disagree that a set of pointed inquiries to get a sense of realistic customer needs would be appropriate?
3349 MS. MacDONALD: I don't agree with the suggestions of inquiring as some of the proposals around suitability in terms of financial needs, et cetera. I think that's delving too far into a customer’s personal areas of information that our customer care agents frankly shouldn’t be asking. I think that there's just basic sales type question about your basic needs that are ---
3350 THE CHAIRPERSON: That was the sense of my question.
3351 MS. MacDONALD: Yeah.
3352 THE CHAIRPERSON: You wouldn’t object to a basic set of questions to assess the appropriateness, for example, of high-speed internet, “Do you have a computer or a device that would make use of it?”
3353 MS. MacDONALD: Sure. And I think, you know, I guess I would say that I wouldn’t object to it, but I also don't know that it would be in our case, you know, I don't know that it’s necessary, but I wouldn’t object to basic questions. I just think those would be the basic questions that sales agents would be asking anyways. It’s the going above and beyond and delving deep and having a mandate to do that I don't agree with.
3354 THE CHAIRPERSON: Okay, understood. Maybe one last point just -- you did mention earlier provincial consumer protections. Just what's -- what are the challenges you face? What are the significant challenges faced by a company such as your own with respect to fulfilling both federal and provincial obligations or requirements?
3355 MS. MacDONALD: I would definitely say it has its challenges, so we try to make sure that we’re completely familiar with the various provincial consumer legislation. I know there's some views on the record that they don't apply, but I also know that the Commission has made statements in past proceedings, including the Wireless Code Proceeding and the TV Code Proceeding, that where there is no conflict, both should operate -- or implying basically if there is conflict, then the code would apply.
3356 With -- we have challenges because we operate in very small areas and there's different provinces’ legislation. So we have to kind of siphon through all of them and try to figure out, and then you have to offer a service or a product and market it in a way where you're complying with everything. And although different provinces’ legislation can be comparable, there can be unusual unique additional provisions that works for every province except one, and then all of a sudden you can't, you know, provide an offer.
3357 We’ve had some issues for example with one province where they have very specific enumerated requirements that have literally prevented us from offering certain types of products because of certain of the rules, which may have been established for very specific reasons. So, it does have its challenges, you know.
3358 The door-to-door legislation is quite onerous as well, and there's licensing requirements and all kinds of other requirements that vary in terms of what needs to be provided to get a license to operate door-to-door, et cetera. And there's requirements once you do that and each province is also different. And so there's different requirements around that as well.
3359 So yes, it is extremely challenging to kind of manage through that and make sure that you're complying with all. So typically, what you need to do, is try to operate to the -- to the most onerous requirement, and make sure of that across the board if you want to have a consistent approach that you're complying with the most onerous requirement across the board.
3360 THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you.
3361 Counsel, do you have any further questions or issues around undertakings.
3362 MR. ABBOTT: I don't have any further questions. I do want to confirm some undertakings. Eastlink has certainly pulled into a commanding lead on the number of undertakings, although you will have some competition later.
3363 MS. MacDONALD: It’s a concern.
3364 MR. ABBOTT: So leading the -- leading the board is first, provide Eastlink’s policies and processes concerning requests for credit checks and alternatives to credit checks in the sale process, that's the first. The second is to provide Eastlink’s views on what sections of the Telecommunications Act may be used to enforce sales practice requirements on specific service providers. The third is to provide Eastlink’s views on the impacts to Eastlink’s operations of a new code, including the impacts of system changes. The fourth is to confirm which issues are addressed in Eastlink’s welcome letter, such as early cancellation terms, when services are sold in a bundle.
3365 MS. MacDONALD: M'hm.
3366 MR. ABBOTT: The fifth is to provide Eastlink’s views on alternatives to a broadly applicable prescribed code in the context of implementing rules relating to sales practices.
3367 Those -- if I could have you confirm the giving of those undertakings?
3368 MS. MacDONALD: Sure, we will ---
3369 MR. ABBOTT: Thank you.
3370 MS. MacDONALD: --- make our best efforts where’s there's some that requires opinion or -- certainly.
3371 MR. ABBOTT: There -- if they could be filed with the Commission by November 1st. And of course, you are free to designate any content as confidential in whole or in part if appropriate.
3372 MS. MacDONALD: Sure, thank you.
3373 THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you for your appearance and your contributions and your lead in the undertaking competition.
3374 MS. MacDONALD: Thank you.
3375 THE CHAIRPERSON: With that we will recess for lunch, returning at 1:30, please.
3376 MS. MacDONALD: Thank you.
--- La séance est suspendue à 12h26
--- La séance est reprise à 13h29
3377 LE PRÉSIDENT: Madame la secrétaire.
3378 LA SECRÉTAIRE: Merci.
3379 We’ll now hear the presentation of Xplornet Communications Inc. Please introduce yourself and your colleagues and you have 10 minutes.
3380 MS. PRUDHAM: Thank you very much.
3381 Hello, Mr. Chair and Commissioners. My name is C.J. Prudham. I’m the Executive Vice President, General Counsel for Xplornet Communications Inc. And here with me today is Lisa Jones Keenan, our Vice President of Direct Sales; James Maunder, Vice President, Communications and Public Affairs; and Laurie Dunbar from Fasken Martineau who’s our External Counsel.
3382 We are pleased to be here representing Xplornet, Canada’s leading rural internet service provider and Xplore Mobile, Manitoba’s newest wireless provider. Given our mobile business has not formally launched yet, our remarks will be focused exclusively on the Xplornet broadband business.
3383 Xplornet was founded nearly 15 years ago with a single mission, to make fast, affordable, high-speed broadband available to rural Canadians.
3384 We use wireless broadband to connect over 350,000 homes and over 900,000 rural Canadians. That’s what we do. That is what each and every Xplornet’s nearly 1,000 employees does every day.
3385 Each of our customers is different. That’s because, how you typically connect to the internet in rural is different. It has to be, because the conditions vary dramatically from region to region.
3386 Therefore, Xplornet’s approach to marketing its services is different from the approaches taken by the large telecommunications companies. We do not engage in direct marketing activities such as door-to-door sales, or outbound calling to solicit potential customers, which we note account for many of the interventions filed in this proceeding by consumers. Instead, Xplornet advertises its services in newspapers, in the mail, on the radio, on TV and online.
3387 Therefore, the inquiries Xplornet receives about its services are initiated by consumers and businesses responding to our advertising. These calls are received, not by externally run call centres, but by Xplornet employees. These employees are located in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Woodstock, New Brunswick and Cornwall, Ontario. Lisa Jones Keenan oversees those sales teams.
3389 MS. JONES KEENAN: Xplornet trains its sales team to listen and understand the needs of the potential customers.
3390 Our dedicated, bilingual sales team is trained to determine whether our service is in fact available in the area where the customer lives, what type of service, whether it is fixed wireless or satellite access, is available to best fit the potential customer’s needs.
3391 Because these calls or interactions are answered by our own Xplornet team, it means we have more control over their training and we can monitor their performance.
3392 Xplornet’s sales team does not receive a commission for selling a more expensive service than the customer needs, and there is no financial incentive to upsell or oversell customers.
3393 When a customer contacts Xplornet and agrees to take our service, our sales team sends the customer a record of the service they ordered. This is followed by a call to confirm their installation.
3394 Each call or communication with Xplornet gives the customer the opportunity to change his or her mind and alter the package purchased, or cancel altogether.
3395 More importantly, each of these touch points has a natural cooling off period in between that would reduce or eliminate the effects of any inappropriate, aggressive tactics.
3396 The customer can also call within the first 45 days to adjust their package, the size, if it is too big or too small.
3397 Finally, Xplornet offers a 30-day money back guarantee and it permits its customers to terminate their sales contract within 30 days of being turned on if the customer wishes to do so, whether that is for performance reasons, cost or change of heart.
3398 Xplornet will remove the service and refund 100 percent of what the customer has paid us. There is no fine print. We honour that commitment and we have faithfully for over 10 years.
3399 This money-back guarantee empowers our customers; it leads to a better customer experience, and provides the ultimate consumer protection. We also believe this money back guarantee leads to fewer disgruntled customers and disincents our team from participating in aggressive sales practices.
3400 MS. PRUDHAM: Mr. Chair and Commissioners, we believe these factors position Xplornet in a different context to the other companies appearing before you this week.
3401 We also believe this is, at least in part, why Xplornet has not been in receipt of any complaints regarding its sales practices in the relevant period, between July 1, 2016 and July 16, 2018.
3402 Are we perfect? Far from it.
3403 We are monitoring this proceeding closely and are mindful of the recommendations being made by other parties.
3404 In particular, we note the recommendations of organizations representing the deaf, deaf-blind, and hard of hearing Canadians to provide access to ASL video to improve accessibility in retail stores. We are pleased to say that as a result we will be ensuring these features are made available in each of our Xplore Mobile retail stores in Manitoba.
3405 We also note that the complaints directed at Xplornet in the submissions by the parties to this hearing, namely the Fair Communications Sales Coalition and OpenMedia, that these complaints represent approximately one percent of the total complaints filed. There’s approximately 34 directed at Xplornet. While this is less than half of Xplornet’s market share, it still indicates we have work to do to improve our customer satisfaction. We have identified, where possible, the nature of these complaints and are committed to resolving each of them.
3406 Given only a few interventions mentioned Xplornet, and the record does not identify any aggressive sales activity by Xplornet, we do not have any suggestions for new regulatory measures to address issues with our conduct.
3407 We believe there are already other avenues available to address concerns about misleading advertising, including provincial consumer protection legislation and the Competition Act.
3408 There is also CCTS, which addresses complaints by the telecommunications consumers and small businesses. In the mobile business, which many of the consumer complaints are focussed on in this hearing, there is the Wireless Code of Conduct.
3409 Provincial consumer protection legislation also specifically addresses the activities of door-to-door sellers. For example, the Consumer Protection Act in Ontario permits customers to cancel contracts entered into as a result of high pressure sales tactics at a location other than the supplier’s place of business, or for any other reason within 10 days of the consumer receiving his or her written contract.
3410 Between the provincial consumer protection legislation, which also deals with false or misleading advertising, and the Competition Act we believe these pieces of legislation should continue to be applied.
3411 Finally, we believe the Commission does play a role in educating the Canadian consumer on their rights and creating incentives for robust competition in our industry.
3412 The most powerful message the consumer can send, after all, is to leave any provider they believe is not going above and beyond to put the customer first.
3413 Thank you for this opportunity to appear. Mr. Chair, Commissioners, we would be pleased to take any questions.
3414 THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you. Thank you for your submissions.
3415 Commissioner Dupras?
3416 COMMISSIONER DUPRAS: Thank you.
3417 Good afternoon. After reading your intervention and your presentation today, I see that your practices are pretty straightforward and so I won’t have much questions about them, save maybe a few, but I will engage you on questions relating more to the large carriers and what you may know about them being a competitor.
3418 So, first of all, in your intervention in paragraph 13 you say that to help your consumer Xplornet makes use of a checklist of information to be covered with each potential customer. Could you tell us more about that checklist and exactly what information you make sure that your customer gets?
3419 MS. JONES KEENAN: Certainly. So there are a number of variables that make up a package that a customer can purchase at Xplornet, and not limited to speed, the monthly service fee, data usage. So there are a number of items that we want to make sure that the customer is aware of.
3420 In addition to that, we want to make sure that the customer is aware of our 30-day money back guarantee, that if they decide to leave their contract before the end what is in it for the customer. We also want to make sure that they are aware of any terms and conditions. So there’s a number of checklist items that the sales agent is required to complete on every call.
3421 Some of the other items that the customer -- or that the consumer is provided not only is reviewed on the call but is also supplied to them via email once the customer has decided to proceed with the purchase of Xplornet. So it’s a very detailed checklist and it explains all of the terms and conditions and all of the options that the customer has decided to proceed with.
3422 COMMISSIONER DUPRAS: Okay. And can you be more specific on the items that ---
3423 MS. JONES KEENAN: Yes, I can.
3424 COMMISSIONER DUPRAS: --- are contained in the checklist?
3425 MS. JONES KEENAN: So one of the things -- oh, sorry.
3426 MS. PRUDHAM: I was just going to say I do believe we provided this as a copy to the response to the original questions that were put forward but we’re happy to go through it with you.
3427 COMMISSIONER DUPRAS: Okay. So it’s -- well, maybe for the benefit of my colleagues if you could.
3428 MS. PRUDHAM: Absolutely.
3429 MS. JONES KEENAN: So what we explain to the customer is the activation process, so what that entails and what they can expect from a basic install. We explain to them that the install will take place, and then after that when they will receive their first invoice.
3430 We talk about the discount that the customer may be receiving if there is a promotion that’s applicable, what their monthly service fee is during that promotional period, and then what it is for the remainder of their contract, if there indeed is a difference.
3431 We also explain to them that there are two different payment methods and how the customer chooses to pay their bill, what’s important with that.
3432 We talk to them about the email address and to which their invoice will be sent and how it’s important to check that account.
3433 We talk to them about any additional users in the home and what they are using the Internet for, and that will help us to determine the best package to meet the customer needs.
3434 We explain to them about a Wi-Fi router, because so many households now are using devices and not necessarily just a computer tied to one router.
3435 We ask them about additional users on their account. So if they’d like to have someone else in the household that can inquire.
3436 And we talk about early cancellation fees and our traffic management policy.
3437 I think that’s it.
3438 COMMISSIONER DUPRAS: Okay. Very good. Thank you.
3439 Now, as you know, the Ispos survey that was added to the record noted that 40 percent of Canadians report having experienced aggressive or misleading practices. Are you surprised by such findings for the whole industry?
3440 MS. PRUDHAM: I don’t think we’re surprised. We’ve certainly seen aggressive competition. So I think it's fair to say that the internet business has certainly become very aggressive in Canada with -- there's over 400 competing ISPs, and in some rural areas there are eight or nine ISPs. So it's not unusual to see overly zealous people, occasionally, in the industry.
3441 COMMISSIONER DUPRAS: But -- so this is something that you agree with or you think it's even higher or it would be lower than that?
3442 MS. PRUDHAM: I think it's probably representative.
3443 COMMISSIONER DUPRAS: Okay. And there appears to be -- well, there is disagreement on the record as to whether aggressive or misleading sales practices are present in the market and to what extent.
3444 What are your views on this?
3445 MS. PRUDHAM: I'm sorry. Could you repeat the question, please?
3446 COMMISSIONER DUPRAS: Well, I mean, there are some companies like Eastlink today that came and said to us that it's only a few bad actors that are using such practices, while others are saying that it's throughout the industry.
3447 What are your thoughts on that? Is it something limited or it's ---
3448 MS. PRUDHAM: I think it varies. There are certainly a number of parties who behave quite honourably and in compliance with law and -- but still compete vigorously. There are certainly a few bad actors that have been certainly brought to the Commission's attention through the complaints process.
3449 And I'll admit that we probably see something that doesn't necessarily make it to your attention. We've seen very small players who've behaved quite badly.
3450 COMMISSIONER DUPRAS: Okay. But in general, do you think this is something prevalent?
3451 MS. PRUDHAM: I think the vast majority of that 400 do, in fact, comply and do the right things.
3452 COMMISSIONER DUPRAS: Okay. We talked about the definitions of what is misleading and what is aggressive.
3453 I mean, in your case I understand you don't make any outbound calls, but still, when someone calls in, there's always an opportunity for an agent to mislead or sell more than what is required. How would you define misleading sales practice?
3454 MS. PRUDHAM: Well, we do have internal compliance programs and training, and we follow the Competition Act.
3455 I'll confess I spent the better part of about nine years on Bay Street as a competition lawyer specialized in marketing practices, so we do focus around those definitions and the provincial definitions. So we would say anything that is false or misleading that is likely to impact a purchase decision, that's our definition of what we consider false and misleading that's material and relevant to a customer.
3456 COMMISSIONER DUPRAS: For example, verbal contracts where the customer does not have a written summary of the offer and feels that what they are signed up for is not what they agreed to.
3457 I'm thinking in your case, for instance, internet speeds, they're not getting the speed they ordered, is that misleading?
3458 MS. PRUDHAM: Well, we go to great lengths to try and explain, obviously, that the internet is a shared resource and explain those sort of things.
3459 So as Lisa has outlined, there's a whole process that we go through, including providing them with their information, to ensure that they understand what it is they're buying. We're very careful in our advertising to ensure that we say that speeds are "up to", and that it is dependent upon a number of other factors that are not entirely within our control because the internet is a shared resource.
3460 And we work very hard to ensure that we are delivering what we say we're trying to deliver.
3461 COMMISSIONER DUPRAS: But generally, would you say that such practice is misleading, not necessarily in the case of Xplorenet if you're not doing it, but that such a practice is misleading?
3462 MS. DUPRAS: I can speak to something that happened quite a number of years ago, so this is about eight or nine years ago.
3463 We -- so keep in mind this is 3G technology. We're well back in the world where one megabit per second was a really good package back then.
3464 At the time when that 3G technology first started coming out and first started being deployed, we went out with our advertising based on what the average speed the customer was actually receiving, so we were over-provisioning, ensuring that what was in the ad was consistent.
3465 We were confronted with an ad that said 21 megabits per second from our competitor, who was using the theoretical speed of the equipment. So yes, there's an opportunity for, unfortunately, consumers to be misled.
3466 Obviously, a theoretical speed can't be achieved, so I'm delighted to report most of the industry doesn't do that any more. But there is the possibility. Yes, I would agree with you.
3467 COMMISSIONER DUPRAS: Okay. Thank you.
3468 And how would you define an aggressive sales practice?
3469 MS. PRUDHAM: Would you like to ---
3470 COMMISSIONER DUPRAS: That would warrant intervention.
3471 MS. JONES KEENAN: Well, what we think is very important at Xplorenet is listening to the customer as much as you're providing them with information, so it's in our best interests and there's no incentive for an agent to up-sell a customer, so we really try and find out what the customer needs are and why they are purchasing an internet product.
3472 So an aggressive tactic would be something that's not listening to the customer. An aggressive tactic would be perhaps over-selling the customer and charging them more for a package than what they actually need.
3473 Right now at Xplorenet, our sales commission is not incenting customers -- or agents to sell more than what the customer needs.
3474 Another way that we try to dissuade any type of sales tactics that feels to a customer that maybe is not confident what they're purchasing, we don't want them to feel like they're being rushed or pressured so we don't put a restriction on the length of a call or how much time you can take when you're educating a customer. You can take as long as you need to complete that sales call.
3475 So I think those things help us create a dynamic where the consumer feels more confident and comfortable with what they're purchasing.
3476 COMMISSIONER DUPRAS: Would you agree that practices such as signing up or up-selling a customer for higher internet speeds than what a customer really need is aggressive?
3477 MS. PRUDHAM: I think it always has to be in the context, and I can't obviously speak to a hypothetical without a little bit around it. But I think what Lisa's ---
3478 COMMISSIONER DUPRAS: But I'm asking not necessarily pointing at Xplorenet, but generally.
3479 MS. PRUDHAM: Well, the only reason I pause in answering your question is I think this is a challenge that certainly the Commission faces. It's a challenge the industry faces that consumers -- we talk about megabits per second every day. It's part of our vocabulary.
3480 I'm not sure that all Canadians know exactly what that means, what's the difference between five megabits per second and 50 megabits per second, or 20. They know it's obviously more, but it doesn't necessarily relate to what they do.
3481 Like they can't say, "Oh, I definitely need that if I'm going to do exactly this type of activity". So there's still not that full education.
3482 So I guess the only reason I'm pausing on your question is, yes, in general, of course, trying to sell somebody more than what they need is not appropriate, but the real challenge is, does the consumer really know what they need and how can we help make sure they get what they need.
3483 COMMISSIONER DUPRAS: I’m just trying to see examples of what is aggressive and if you concur with that.
3484 MS. PRUDHAM: Well, let's put it this way. We would think anything where the customer feels uncomfortable.
3485 You never want a customer to feel uneasy about a transaction, or uncomfortable about it.
3486 COMMISSIONER DUPRAS: Okay. Understanding the purpose of a sales agent is to sell, did any story filed on the record of this proceeding seem particularly misleading or aggressive to you?
3487 MS. PRUDHAM: I'm sorry. I guess we haven't read all of them, but -- to be able to fully answer that question.
3488 It would be difficult for us to do.
3489 COMMISSIONER DUPRAS: Okay. Have you read the IPSOS survey?
3490 MS. PRUDHAM: Yes.
3491 COMMISSIONER DUPRAS: And in there, there is some qualitative surveys. I mean, what you've read there, you find generally that this is aggressive?
3492 MS. PRUDHAM: It's definitely concerning. I'd definitely say it was concerning.
3493 Again, you'd have to know the context of when it -- where these situations occurred, but certainly the quotations that appear in the IPSOS survey are concerning.
3494 COMMISSIONER DUPRAS: I mean, in your company if employee finds that there is misleading or aggressive sale, is there whistleblower protection?
3495 MS. PRUDHAM: Yes, I think we can kind of answer that in two parts.
3496 The corporation as a whole has a whistleblower policy. We have a number of different ways in which consumers -- or our employees can report anonymously. They can, of course, approach their supervisor or things like that but, you know, that’s not always the best way to do it, if they think their supervisor might be involved.
3497 So there’s anonymous drop-off boxes, there are anonymous phone lines, and there’s also a computer system operated by a third party that allows people to report as well. All of that information is reported up regularly and reviewed, and we report directly, actually, on a quarterly basis to our Board of Directors regarding any complaints that come in through that process.
3498 COMMISSIONER DUPRAS: Okay. And what do you do when such complaints are made?
3499 MS. PRUDHAM: We ask the HR Department, usually, to conduct the investigation to ensure it’s done in an impartial manner. And depending upon the circumstance, obviously, we take the appropriate actions.
3500 So if you -- did you want to speak to how you deal with the discipline of the...?
3501 MS. JONES KEENAN: Yeah, there are a number of different ways if we’re talking about a specific agent that we would like to monitor and ensure that they’re providing the best experience to a customer. And so the agents are monitored by their supervisor, and there’s also an opportunity through daily coaching, their weekly meetings, and their touchpoints, et cetera. So agents have an opportunity to talk to -- as CJ said, to their manager or to their supervisor, and if that’s not the direction that they feel comfortable in they can go to their HR team.
3502 So the monitoring goes kind of both ways. The agents or employees have an opportunity to voice their concerns, and then from a performance perspective, we also the mechanisms in place to ensure that each individual agent is doing their job as best as possible, and providing the best customer experience.
3503 COMMISSIONER DUPRAS: And you use third party to sell your services?
3504 MS. PRUDHAM: No, we do not.
3505 COMMISSIONER DUPRAS: So the retail stores, they’re your own?
3506 MS. PRUDHAM: Our -- sorry; so to be clear, yes. I apologize. Our mobile retail stores are our own, they are employees. We do have a dealer network, to be clear, on the access side.
3507 COMMISSIONER DUPRAS: Yes?
3508 MS. PRUDHAM: So, yes, there are third-party dealers; they are subject to strict contracts and performance requirements.
3509 COMMISSIONER DUPRAS: And what measures do you have in place to address any concern regarding misleading or aggressive sales by third parties?
3510 MS. PRUDHAM: In that situation it is -- so if we hear of any of that, it works back through the channel to the -- I forgot the fancy title. Thank you, I’m terrible with acronyms -- District Sales Manager, and the District Sales Manager is responsible for a meeting directly with the dealer to address whatever has happened to ensure that such conduct does not continue.
3511 COMMISSIONER DUPRAS: Okay. And, I mean, from what you’ve seen in this instance, that you’ve heard about other companies also, what do you think is the worst for misleading and aggressive practices; is it door-to-door, over the phone, or the Internet?
3512 MS. PRUDHAM: Well, again, based on the limited information that we have, there certainly seems to be considerable concern around the outbound telephone calls that are occurring, that can be quite aggressive. And certainly door to door has always, historically, been an issue. That’s why provincial legislation exists, whether it was vacuums or encyclopaedias that were originally being sold; anyone who is in your home or on your doorstep can definitely be intimidating, so I can understand why people are, even today, concerned about that.
3513 COMMISSIONER DUPRAS: So this would be the most problematic practice?
3514 MS. PRUDHAM: We would assume.
3515 COMMISSIONER DUPRAS: I mean, other intervenors have argued that there needs to be an industry-wide mandatory rule to address misleading and aggressive sales. What are your views on that?
3516 MS. PRUDHAM: Well, we are certainly open to the Wireless Code of Conduct being extended to the Internet, with the appropriate adjustment that would have to be made for -- just as Eastlink and others have indicated, there is an equipment element to the Internet side of things, and considerable costs associated with that that don’t exist in the handset world in the same way. So you’d have to make the appropriate provisions for that.
3517 So I think we would certainly be in favour of that, but our biggest concern is -- and the reason why we said in our comments that we don’t believe you need new legislation per se is it’s really about enforcement. I mean, you have the Wireless Code today and yet the significant chunk of the complaints that you’re hearing about are wireless matters. So there is a very good code there with a good set of rules and yet there are problems still occurring.
3518 To us it’s about enforcement and ensuring that you are enforcing on a consistent basis. So that everybody in the industry understands those rules and the importance of complying with those rules.
3519 COMMISSIONER DUPRAS: So you would be in favour of a code -- additional code for Internet and phone services to apply -- okay. I thought you were telling us that it should only apply to the bad actors.
3520 MS. PRUDHAM: No, I don’t believe.
3521 COMMISSIONER DUPRAS: Okay, I’m sorry.
3522 MS. PRUDHAM: We believe it should be consistent for everyone in the industry.
3523 COMMISSIONER DUPRAS: So in terms of impact on your company to abide by such a code, you don’t see any real consequences for you?
3524 MS. PRUDHAM: Well, I think if you’re complying with the legislation today that exists, the Competition Act, the provincial laws, you’re probably 99 percent of the way there, in terms of doing the right thing. So the incremental elements are, hopefully, not that significant to you.
3525 But as I said, the one thing that is very different is the actual installation element of it which you don’t really have under the current Wireless Code of Conduct because the consumer walks in with their device, and that’s very different than when you have to role a truck for two hours to a location and put about $500 or so worth of equipment into somebody’s home. It’s a very different experience. So you do have to address that element.
3526 COMMISSIONER DUPRAS: Okay. And then such rules, if we would had a trial period to contracts for all communication service, for all customer, to reduce the consumer frustration regarding the sales practice, do you find this a good idea?
3527 MS. PRUDHAM: Well, we’d like to think so, given we’ve been doing it for over 10 years.
3528 We take that 30-day money back guarantee very seriously. It exists because our company at the beginning, people didn’t believe us that they could get Internet way out where, and they wanted to try it before they bought it, in many respects.
3529 So it truly is fully money back. There’s 100 percent of what the customer pays. And we do that for exactly that reason. If somebody is unhappy, they shouldn’t feel trapped or pressured; they should be able to get out of that circumstance.
3530 So I think for 10 years we put our money where our mouth is on that one, and so, yes, we believe in cooling off periods, and have done so.
3531 COMMISSIONER DUPRAS: And to be more effective, will you agree that this trial period -- I mean, I’m sorry; the summary that you give to your customers after a transaction call, do you think it should be given before the trial period begins?
3532 MS. PRUDHAM: It is.
3533 COMMISSIONER DUPRAS: Not in your case but generally?
3534 MS. PRUDHAM: Yes.
3535 COMMISSIONER DUPRAS: Because we’ve heard situations where the -- by the time the trial period was over, I mean, the -- they couldn’t cancel their contract anymore.
3536 MS. PRUDHAM: Well, in fairness to a consumer, a consumer has to know what they’ve bought in order to assess it. So I would think the right answer is that they should have the contract and then the process starts.
3537 COMMISSIONER DUPRAS: Okay. Well, I mean, the questions I’m asking you are not necessarily for ---
3538 MS. PRUDHAM: As a general principle.
3539 COMMISSIONER DUPRAS: --- as a general principle ---
3540 MS. PRUDHAM: Yes.
3541 COMMISSIONER DUPRAS: --- and a code that could be adopted if these solutions would be proper. Okay.
3542 And many have said that this awareness for the CCTS should be improved to resolve more consumer complaint. Do you have any special views on that?
3543 MS. PRUDHAM: Personally, yes. The reason is I confess that, as a consumer, I've actually attempted to make use of the CCTS process and obviously at Xplornet I've been on the other side receiving some of those complaints coming in. And what I can tell you from both sides of the experience is that it's not clear what the scope of the CCTS’ mandate is and the types of issues that they can take on.
3544 My colleagues actually quite laughed because they said what happened to your complaint and the answer was the CCTS rejected it and said it was out of scope, which is kind of ironic that somebody who receives complaints didn't know what the scope was in terms of making the complaint.
3545 So I think that just speaks to if it's -- there's confusion even within those who work with the system on a regular basis, and I'm not suggesting I'm the brightest bulb on the porch, I'm just suggesting though that it's not abundantly clear what is and is not within the CCTS’ scope.
3546 That is one thing this Commission could certainly do to help consumers is make it very clear what they can do and how the process works for them.
3547 COMMISSIONER DUPRAS: Okay. And at what point the complaint of the -- in the complaint escalation process do you make your customer aware of CCTS?
3548 MS. PRUDHAM: I apologize, I don’t know that one off the top of my head. I know we do make it -- it's on the bills. It's on our website. It's on all of those things. We can certainly give you -- and not that we wish to try and beat out Eastlink here but we can certainly give you an undertaking to confirm when.
3549 COMMISSIONER DUPRAS: So you try to resolve it internally and ---
3550 MS. PRUDHAM: Yes. Yes. We certainly do. We work very, very hard at trying to achieve first call resolution. That is something our call centre is measured on to try and solve complaints. We have an entire process that if a customer is calling more than once on an issue, there's an automatic process in the background that kicks in at the point at which they've called more than four times in 32 days and that little task force takes it on.
3551 So we certainly don’t want customers to be swirling around in the system having to call 20-30 times. That is our nightmare, for the customer as well. So we try really hard to monitor and address issues that are repetitive.
3552 COMMISSIONER DUPRAS: Okay. In your intervention, finally you state that Xplornet recommend that the Commission adopt a more fulsome approach to the telecommunication marketplace to ensure transparency, competition fairness, innovation, and equity for all parties. You refer to the fact that there is a process under way for a review of the Telecommunications Act.
3553 Can you elaborate more on this? What specifically should that approach include?
3554 MR. MAUNDER: I think what we would say is that, you know, there are obviously a number of processes under way at multiple levels of government, including this process before the Commission. The government, for a number of years now, has decided that it would review both the Broadcasting and the Telecommunications Act and, you know, as the legislative branch of government, we wouldn’t want to make any recommendations that would supersede or get out in front of whatever those recommendations of the Panel ultimately are.
3555 That was what we were suggesting in our submission that I believe you're referring to. In respect of any measures that the Commission may want to recommend, my colleague CJ had mentioned the Wireless Code. Certainly, as a concept, we're not opposed to a Wireless Code in terms of the implementation.
3556 However, we would have concerns with how it would be constructed because the world is different and, you know, we heard both Xplornet and Eastlink earlier today talk about things like equipment costs, you know, the cost of installation and truck rolls are very different two hours north of Sherbrooke for example than they would be in Downtown Toronto.
3557 These are the sorts of issues we know that the Commission is reviewing now in respect of the much broader issues though at play. We wouldn't want to presuppose or predetermine what the Government of Canada is going to recommend.
3558 COMMISSIONER DUPRAS: Okay. Well, these are my questions and unless you have anything else to add...
3559 THE CHAIRPERSON: Commissioner Lafontaine?
3560 COMMISSIONER LAFONTAINE: Thank you. Thank you for your presentation today.
3561 I have a question about the 30-day cooling-off period. That 30-day window I suspect starts at the time that the customer signs up for the service. What do they get in that -- within those 30 days? Do they get a critical information summary, you know, welcome package agreement? Are they going to get a copy of their first invoice in those 30 days to help decide whether they want to stay with the service?
3562 MS. JONES KEENAN: The customer before they're installed, they do receive a critical information package which does detail on the package what they have agreed to and, as I said, the monthly service fees and their discount, end of contract, and all of that.
3563 The moneyback guarantee, the 30 days, starts at the point of install. So they may have agreed to the service prior to that but they get a full 30 days to utilize the service.
3564 After they are installed, there is another email, welcome email that's sent to the customer which details more information about their activation, their username, their password, and then their invoice is generated the next day and that invoice also details their package, their monthly service fee, their discount, et cetera. So they do receive a lot of information.
3565 COMMISSIONER LAFONTAINE: Thank you. And they get that invoice within that -- the cooling-off period?
3566 MS. JONES KEENAN: Yes, they receive it the day after they're installed. Their invoice is generated.
3567 COMMISSIONER LAFONTAINE: Thank you. And then the 45 days to change the package, is that 45 days from install or 45 days from entering into the agreement?
3568 MS. JONES KEENAN: That's 45 days from install. So if they decide they want to do what we refer to as a package upgrade or downgrade, they can do that. But also during the customer's contract, they can call in and decide if they want to upgrade or downgrade their package. So it's not a one and done. They can call up to once every billing cycle and change to upgrade or downgrade their package.
3569 COMMISSIONER LAFONTAINE: Thank you. One other quick question, if I may. In terms of adjusting your stores in Manitoba to -- your retail stores to provide access to ASL video to improve accessibility, this is -- you need to be commended.
3570 I'm curious to know if this a very expensive undertaking for you to do?
3571 MS. PRUDHAM: It was -- actually, we were obviously monitoring the proceeding on Monday and listening very carefully to what was being said. And there was a wonderful suggestion that came from a question actually. It was asked by one of the Commissioners and what would make things better. And one of the panellists responded and said, “Well, if you had the videos in the store on an iPad” and we just happened to be setting up our stores literally at this precise moment and we also looked at each other and went, “Well, of course”.
3572 So we admit it won't actually be on an iPad, it will be on a computer but it only took a couple of minutes.
3573 COMMISSIONER LAFONTAINE: Not complicated and not very expensive.
3574 MS. PRUDHAM: No.
3575 COMMISSIONER LAFONTAINE: Thank you.
3576 THE CHAIRPERSON: Commissioner Levy?
3577 COMMISSIONER LEVY: Hello. You were talking about opening up your Xplore Mobile retail stores in Manitoba. Is that going to be your first opportunity for your sales staff to be face-to-face with Manitobans?
3578 MS. PRUDHAM: Yes.
3579 COMMISSIONER LEVY: So you'll be offering your full range of services through those stores or just focussing on the mobile side?
3580 MS. PRUDHAM: At launch it will be mobile.
3581 COMMISSIONER LEVY: At launch it will just be mobile. Why wouldn't you make it the full range of services?
3582 MS. PRUDHAM: Well, we do things slowly and carefully at Xplornet, as you may have guessed by some of the belts and suspenders you've been hearing about so far. So to ---
3583 COMMISSIONER LEVY: I’m from Manitoba, so...
3584 MS. PRUDHAM: There you go.
3585 Well, our intention is to try and do this one step at a time and make sure we get it right because we know we're human, we know we're going to make a few mistakes along the way. So we'd like to try and perfect each process before we start layering on the next one.
3586 COMMISSIONER LEVY: The other question I had had to do with -- I know that you have indicated that you've had really very few complaints that have gone to next steps. Are the primary sources of the complaints difficulties in understanding the technology or are they unfamiliarity and unease with the nature of the contracts themselves for the services?
3587 MS. PRUDHAM: I think most of ours seem to relate directly to service issues. We do try to serve some very difficult locations and we ---
3588 COMMISSIONER LEVY: Yes indeed.
3589 MS. PRUDHAM: --- the -- it was interesting because we did go through all 34, as we mentioned, in great detail. The majority of them seem to have very, very similar characteristics to them in terms of heavily -- heavily treed areas where there were service issues. So to be perfectly honest, that's what we seem to find as our most common issue, is when we’re trying to serve very hard to serve areas and service does not perform as expected. But, you know, further to -- what we try to do is we take those seriously and do try to fix them.
3590 COMMISSIONER LEVY: Thank you very much.
3591 MS. PRUDHAM: Thank you.
3592 THE CHAIRPERSON: Commissioner Simard.
3593 COMMISSIONER SIMARD: Thank you.
3594 I have a follow-up question regarding your cooling off period kind of policy, so the 30 days to cancel and 45-day policy to make some adjustments. I’m curious to know if you have assessed the costs for your business to kind of comply or kind of enforce this policy.
3595 MS. PRUDHAM: Yes, yes, we have, but we believe it’s the right thing to do, because we don't want a customer who’s unhappy. There's just no point in putting them through an extended period of, you know, taking six months where we keep saying, “Well, you know, we’ll get back to you” or making it difficult to cancel or things like that. It just doesn’t make any sense. If it’s not going to meet their needs, why put them through that? There's just more cost to our business, so on balance we found it’s better to allow them to cancel.
3596 COMMISSIONER SIMARD: I'm fully aware that -- and I’m not asking you numbers here, but can we -- can you give us a sense of this kind of -- those costs?
3597 MS. PRUDHAM: So you're asking for an undertaking to provide you with an approximate cost?
3598 COMMISSIONER SIMARD: At this point I was just more interested about like the big picture, like are we talking about like -- I guess it’s hard to say, is it like significant, not significant. I wanted like to avoid the undertaking and ---
3599 MS. PRUDHAM: Oh, okay.
3600 COMMISSIONER SIMARD: --- digging a bit more, but I don't know if you are able at this stage and like -- we’re talking about public information, so just to share more -- give a picture.
3601 MS. PRUDHAM: It’s a tough question to answer. It’s not a huge number obviously, because that would be very concerning from a business perspective if it were. It’s not insignificant either. It is a choice we’ve obviously made to do this. So, I’m -- I’m struggling a little bit to how to answer that, but I can tell you it makes financial sense from a business perspective for us to do this.
3602 COMMISSIONER SIMARD: Thank you.
3603 THE CHAIRPERSON: You're really not entering the competition with Eastlink with any great fervour.
3604 I have a couple of short follow-ups, if I may. One earlier -- I think I could -- it wouldn’t be unfair to characterize one of your responses as saying that overselling is aggressive, is an aggressive marketing behaviour. But we’ve heard a lot as well about the suitability issue, and there we get into the challenge of -- as you outlined - what is suitable, and we do want to hear from your prospective or existing customer. So I guess, if you could elaborate a little bit on that, the kinds of questions that you engage in to understand the suitability of a customer. And then, if you could also, your comments or any suggestions for a broader and perhaps industry-wide approach on that issue.
3605 MS. PRUDHAM: I think there's about three questions in there. Okay. Given the distances we have to travel to install, given the costs associated with installing, it’s very important to us that this be the right choice for the consumer, because otherwise they will be cancelling and it won't make a lot of sense. So that's why we go through this process, to make sure they are going to get something that will meet their needs.
3606 And I'm sure Lisa can run through a couple of questions as examples of how we go about doing that.
3607 MS. JONES KEENAN: Yes. So let’s just assume that we have a very wide spectrum of customers who are purchasing products, some are very tech savvy and some of them are not. So, we may get some of the individuals who aren’t as familiar with the jargon, the megabytes and gigabytes, et cetera, so we would try and ask questions in a simple context in which they’d be able to respond.
3608 So, “How many users are in your home? How many devices? How many concurrent users will be using the service? Are you using the service to just do online banking? Are you trying to watch Netflix? If your household does watch Netflix, how many hours a day? How many hours a month?” And that will help us determine what package is best for that household, understanding that many households don't have just one user in it. So that would be an example of some of the questions that we would ask.
3609 If customers provide us with specific examples, then we can get into additional questions, such as, you know, “If you're gaming, what type of games are you doing?” So the agents are provided as well kind of a simple guideline to break down what “usage” means and how many hours of Netflix this package will provide you and the difference between maybe using standard definition and high definition. So, really trying to allow the customer to get as much value out of the package as possible, while setting them up on the right package.
3610 THE CHAIRPERSON: And in that process, if you -- or can you ascertain whether or not you're dealing with a vulnerable customer or a group? Do the approach -- does the approach differ? And would you think in a more generalized way for the industry that there should be particular approaches to vulnerable communities?
3611 MS. JONES KEENAN: Well, I can speak to our practices and I can tell you that one of the things that's important to do is to match the pace of the individual to which you are speaking. So, if you know that you're talking to someone who isn’t particularly well versed in the product that they're purchasing, really slow the conversation down, give them lots of time to ask question, allow your pace to match theirs and don't overcomplicate things, you don't need to provide additional jargon.
3612 So, what I would recommend is that if you know that you're selling to someone who perhaps needs that additional time or that additional information, then as an industry we should provide that and ensure that we’re taking care of customers and they're purchasing the packages and products that best suit their needs.
3613 THE CHAIRPERSON: Changing gears somewhat, you deal -- you deal with a number of jurisdictions, provincial and federal, and you've mentioned that there are differing rules, different regulators for different purposes. Have you found that the multiple -- call it consumer regulatory frameworks are problematic and how do you deal with it?
3614 MS. PRUDHAM: Great question, yes.
3615 THE CHAIRPERSON: Can you elaborate on the yes?
3616 MS. PRUDHAM: Yes. Xplornet does operate in all 10 provinces, all three territories, so we have to comply with everywhere. So the federal legislation obviously, including the Competition Act, all of the provincial consumer protection acts, and it is a challenge. It is quite a web that you have to work your way through, and sometimes there's inconsistencies, sometimes you can compensate by achieving all of them. But it’s work, it is absolutely work to try and come up with a consistent policy that -- for the company that covers everybody.
3617 So it would definitely be helpful if there was a single guidance on this issue, but at the present moment there's quite a patchwork across the country. And I suppose that's not any different from any other industry who’s likewise facing -- trying to do business in every part of the country.
3618 THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you. I guess just one last question. Do you find -- do you find a difference in terms of your -- call it your two different markets, your satellite dependent community versus your fixed wireless community of customers, are your marketing and customer experiences similar in both of them?
3619 I assume in one case there's -- there are alternative suppliers present, and in the case of the more satellite dependent communities, there may not be any other competitors' services available.
3620 MS. PRUDHAM: Okay. There's a couple things in there.
3621 THE CHAIRPERSON: Sorry. Was that a confusing question?
3622 Maybe cut it -- parse it in two.
3623 Do you find a difference in those market segments in terms of your customer relations ---
3624 MS. PRUDHAM: Not really.
3625 THE CHAIRPERSON: --- customer experience?
3626 MS. PRUDHAM: Not really in terms of customer knowledge or sophistication or the types of questions they ask. As Lisa's indicated, you get a wide variety across both areas.
3627 And in terms of the competition question, which I think is sort of the next question in there ---
3628 THE CHAIRPERSON: My supposition -- sorry to interrupt.
3629 My supposition is that in areas where you're a fixed wireless provider there may be competitive alternatives. There may not be in the other community.
3630 MS. PRUDHAM: Yes and no. It's an interesting phenomenon because there are certainly some areas where we use satellite and we are competing with fixed wireless. Certainly -- certain areas of British Columbia are a great example of that where we're satellite and they're fixed wireless.
3631 We have yet to locate a single part of Canada where there isn't somebody else, even if it is another satellite provider. So there's always someone there. What's there is very, very dependent upon where you are.
3632 In some cases our competition is a hub and stick product from Bell, Rogers and Telus, so it's -- as Lisa said, you really have to ask a lot of questions to try and figure out exactly where the person is, what their alternatives are and what they need it for.
3633 THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you.
3634 Commission counsel, do you have any questions?
3635 MR. ABBOTT: No further questions.
3636 THE CHAIRPERSON: Would you like to record the single undertaking?
3637 MR. ABBOTT: Yes. In the undertakings race, your horse barely made it out of the stable before wandering onto the racetrack. And could you confirm your undertaking being to provide information on the point in the complaint process when Xplorenet informs the complainant of the CCTS and the form and content of the notice?
3638 MS. PRUDHAM: Yes, sir. We will do so.
3640 MR. ABBOTT: Thank you.
3641 As you probably heard, undertakings are due on November 1st and for what it's worth, although this is unlikely to be confidential, you can designate any response confidential in whole or in part.
3642 MS. PRUDHAM: Thank you.
3643 THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you, counsel.
3644 We'll recess for 15 minutes while we make the necessary connection to our last intervenor of the day.
3645 Thank you very much for joining us and for sharing your thoughts and views. Have a good day.
--- L’audience est suspendue à 14:25
--- L’audience est reprise à 14:40
3646 THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you.
3647 MS. ROY: We will now connect via Skype for the presentation from Northwestel. Please introduce yourself and your colleague, and you may begin your presentation.
3648 MR. SHAW: Can you hear me okay, Madam Secretary?
3649 MS. ROY: Yes, we can hear you perfectly. Thank you.
3650 MR. SHAW: Okay. Thank you, Madam Secretary, Mr. Chairman, Commissioners and Commission staff. My name is Curtis Shaw, and I'm the President of Northwestel.
3651 Here with me today is Gina Macleod, and Gina's our Associate Director of our Customer Contact Centre. We are both very pleased to have this opportunity to participate over Skype.
3652 Customer service is a top priority for Northwestel. Our goal is to be recognized as the preferred supplier of communications services in communities across Canada's north. And whether it's serving customers in the larger territorial capitals or those in much smaller and more remote towns and communities, our goal has been the same, and it's to meet the needs of our customers while maintaining the highest standards of ethical conduct.
3653 To achieve this goal, we place great emphasis on employee training and ensuring that our training standards are vigorously adhered to. Our employees make every effort to assist customers by always performing thorough needs assessments to ensure that they receive the most appropriate service package of services based on their individual circumstances.
3654 Our sales agents are also provided with specific plain language, clear and concise scripts. And coupled with an electronic checklist, we ensure that our employees have the necessary resources to always provide accurate information to our customers.
3655 In cases where certain customers need additional support, we do our utmost to make sure that this is available. For example, we have created specific support materials, scripting and training to assist vulnerable Canadians. Additionally, in instances where English or Inuktitut are not the first language of the customer, we make all of our efforts to assist with language barriers, including the use of alternative languages if requested and within an agent's abilities.
3656 To guarantee that training tools are being appropriately utilized, we operate a web-based platform that requires our customer care and sales representatives to formally acknowledge when training has been completed. We also record all inbound calls so that we can audit accuracy and adherence to policy.
3657 In addition to any individual coaching that may be provided on an exception basis, sales representatives must undergo monthly coaching sessions.
3658 And finally, all of the employees at Northwestel, including field techs, customer care reps, sales staff and all levels of management, are required to sign off on our Code of Business Conduct, which mandates personal accountability for ethical behaviour.
3659 As an additional measure of how we conduct ourselves, we also actively solicit customer feedback at the end of many of our customer interactions with the express goal of ensuring customer satisfaction. If a customer scores their interaction poorly, an escalation is automatically generated to the employee's manager.
3660 We also have a process in place for customers and employees to voice any concerns that they may have with our behaviour. For example, contact information on our web site includes an Office of the President option that allows customers to escalate an issue themselves if they are not satisfied with an initial response or they have other concerns.
3661 We also operate an internal employee program known as "Raise it Up" that allows customers to escalate issues on behalf -- or escalate issues on behalf of customers. These programs are important accountability mechanisms that further reinforce our commitment to customer service and ethical behaviour.
3662 At Northwestel we're very proud of the commitment to doing what's right for customers. I believe it's also notable that while Northwestel serves a significantly smaller proportion of Canada's population than many of the other service providers participating here this week, we serve an area -- a geographic area that's approximately one-third of Canada's entire land mass.
3663 Of course, there are many unique business challenges as a result our unique circumstances, but we take comfort in the fact that as part of this proceeding we have received no formal complaints from consumers, from our employees, the Commission or the CCTS with respect to our retail sales practices.
3664 That said, we also understand and appreciate that as the communications services in Canada's north becomes more advanced as is the case due to major investments that we're making that the challenges we face with respect to customer service may also increase.
3665 We believe we will successfully meet these challenges. Our customer service will continue to evolve and we will continue to improve by building on the robust training and quality control programs we already have in place. And we will continue to focus on providing customers with information that is clear, complete and tailored to their needs.
3666 This proceeding serves an extremely important purpose. Northwestel will certainly use insights we have gained over the course of this proceeding in the last week to refine our customer approaches.
3667 At this time, regulatory measures, we do not believe, are necessary -- additional regulatory measures. It is very clear that market conditions have fostered an environment where customer satisfaction is critical to our business success. And as Northwestel continues to invest in building more advanced networks and offer even better services, we believe it is imperative that we continue to build relationships with our customers that are based on trust, accountability to the people and the communities we serve, and our position as an honest, ethical and reliable service provider.
3668 Thank you for this opportunity to attend today on Skype, and we'd be welcome to any questions that you may have.
3669 Thank you.
3670 THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you. Thank you for your submission.
3671 Commissioner Vennard.
3672 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: Good afternoon, and thank you for taking the time to talk to us today.
3673 Are you in Yellowknife or Whitehorse, or where are you?
3674 MR. SHAW: We're in Whitehorse in the Yukon.
3675 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: Whitehorse. How are things up in the Yukon?
3676 MR. SHAW: It's a beautiful fall day.
3677 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: I bet it is. Same thing down here in Ottawa.
3678 I have a number of questions for you, and you can -- I'm going to ask you to respond to the questions either with respect to your own company or I imagine you've been paying attention to the hearing and the proceeding so far, and if you want to comment on other companies or different things that you've heard, then please feel free to do that as well.
3679 MR. SHAW: Sure.
3680 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: Now, it will probably come as no surprise to you that I think a good starting point would be establishing some common definitions.
3681 There appears to be disagreement on the record as to whether aggressive or misleading sales practices are present in the marketplace, and to what extent. Many times throughout this proceeding we’ve talked about the Ipsos survey where 40 percent of Canadians feel they have been subjected to misleading or aggressive sales practices in the last year or so. And I’m wondering; does that number surprise you?
3682 MR. SHAW: I can’t formally comment on the Ipsos-Reid survey methodology. The number, you know, sounds high. You know, I think what it points to is a market that’s increasing in competitive nature and, you know, firms are fighting for market share. And so, you know, I don’t think it’s a surprising number but, again, I can’t, you know, critique the methodology and questions in the approach of Ipsos-Reid specifically.
3683 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: Okay, thank you.
3684 Would you like to give us your take on how you would define a misleading sales practice?
3685 MR. SHAW: I think for us, you know, I’d probably be looking more at, you know, the Competition Bureau and their definitions of misleading advertising, misleading sales practices. You know, I think that’s the definition we would gravitate towards.
3686 You know, from an advertising standpoint the goal is clear and concise and making sure that the customers understand what we’re providing, and delivering on those promises.
3687 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: Okay. How about aggressive; how would you define an aggressive sales practice? Something that would warrant intervention.
3688 MR. SHAW: I think for us, you know, if we had a complaint -- we don’t have any complaints through the CCTS or through this proceeding. If we had a complaint, you know, I think we would look at it and look at it; is it a process issue; an issue with communication breakdown? You know, we would have the opportunity to listen to the call. And depending on the severity of it, it could be coaching of a frontline representative in our retail stores or our call centres. And if it was something that crossed the line that we thought was uncalled for or, you know, kind of meeting the aggressive sales definition, you know, it could be subject to disciplinary activity for the individual.
3689 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: Okay. How would you define that within your company? How would you define an aggressive sales practice?
3690 MR. SHAW: I think at the highest level probably, you know, someone that says no or they’re not interested and the rep continues to try to pressure for an upsell. You know, I think that would start falling into the genre of what we consider to be aggressive sales.
3691 You know, it’s typically not something we see in our environment. And, really, you know, we coach our reps, new reps, existing reps on how to try to understand customer needs and sell the right product for service.
3692 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: Okay. Now, understanding that the purpose of sales agents is to sell, did any story filed on the record of this proceeding seem particularly misleading or aggressive to you? I don’t know how many of the interventions you read, but anything that you’ve heard as you’ve been -- as and if you’ve been listening to the proceeding this week, was there anything that really stuck out for you?
3693 MR. SHAW: I read a number of the interventions, and yes, there’s a (inaudible). You know, for us we didn’t have any; we were paying particular attention to, you know, what we saw in northern market. So, yes, I think there's been, you know, a handful of customers that have come across through this proceeding that absolutely have experienced aggressive or misleading -- or they feel that they’ve, you know, seen aggressive or misleading (inaudible).
3694 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: Okay, thank you for that.
3695 Now, do you think that misleading or aggressive sales practices are more a problem for door to door, over the phone, over the Internet, in-store sales? Do you have any viewpoints on that?
3696 MR. SHAW: I think for us -- you know, I go back to our experience. You know, we sell over the phone, inbound and outbound, we have retail store reps. We don’t do door-to-door sales right now. You know, I think when I’ve encountered door-to-door sales, from a consumer standpoint, I find, you know, those have been more, you know, say, maybe, you know, a different approach that they can see some more aggressive sales practices.
3697 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: Okay. What about mass marketing campaigns; in your view are they also subjecting people to misleading or aggressive practices, any sort of mass marketing campaign?
3698 MR. SHAW: I think if advertising is clear and concise, you know, people may view it as aggressive, but you can also view it in an industry where there’s increasing competition, and more competition from large, international players that advertising is more impactful than maybe it was five or 10 years ago. I think that’s pretty much of the nature of the industry that we operate in day to day.
3699 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: Okay, thank you for that.
3700 What do you think is the most important measure that you currently have in place to respond to consumer concerns about misleading or aggressive sales practices, and could you explain why? Or in your case, maybe you could explain why not. Like, do you have something in place and you haven’t had to use it, or do you just not need it?
3701 MR. SHAW: So maybe I’ll start; maybe I’ll let Gina talk about the training we provide to some of our frontline employees.
3702 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: Okay.
3703 MR. SHAW: You know, if you look at our organization right now, and you look at what we’re doing from a marketing and installing perspective, there's more and more of it is being placed online. And we’ve encourage customers if you have a complaint, call our call centre, and if they don’t get satisfaction, they can ask to speak to a supervisor or manager. You know, from there we advertise CCTS or CRTS escalations on our billing, and if we do get a complaint through CCTS -- and more predominantly we get them through the CRTC for regulated services, we do our utmost to try to respond to that issue with our management team.
3704 So generally that’s the process that we follow.
3705 Maybe, Gina, I’ll let you comment on the training that we provide reps around selling.
3706 MS. MacLEOD: For our call centre agents, we are really focused a lot on customer relationship building. So a big component of our new hire training and ongoing coaching program is to really focus on needs-based assessments, asking questions, paraphrasing, and also, you know, our audits look at, you know, our agents providing their own accurate information; are they establishing the needs of the customer, and working with the customer on what they were calling in about, those kinds of things. So I think that focus within the call centre on relationships, and it is really one of the key things that is working for us.
3707 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: Okay. You say at paragraph 3 of your oral remarks, that your employees always perform a thorough needs assessment to ensure that customers get appropriate services. Could you outline and describe what’s involved in that needs assessment? You reference a checklist at one point, I think, in your reply. Could you tell us about your checklist or that needs assessment that you do?
3708 MS. MacLEOD: Sure. So with each different service, there are different components of the service that we ask our representatives to ensure that they are covering with the customer. So it’s all based on -- you know, if it’s telephone service, there’s different components and features that we want the agents to cover versus Internet versus TV. So the checklist, really, is dependent on the call with the customer and the services that they’re requesting. But, certainly in the case of, say, an Internet customer we would ask them and talk to them about, you know, how are you planning to use the service? Are -- you know, is there multiple users in your home? Is there multiple devices? So we can sort of help assess what types of packages might work best for the customer. Are they a light user? Are they more of a heavy user that would require a different level of package?
3709 So our checklist really gets down to the level of different scenarios and different things to cover with customers, including one-time charges, the next steps for, you know, getting the service up and running or activation, so it’s a tech that -- a technician appointment that’s required, we go through some of the pieces of that interaction that will be coming. So there’s a number of components that we cover off.
3710 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: What is the -- at this point I guess it would be in the pre-customer state because they wouldn’t be a customer yet. Or maybe they would be. What sort of information do you -- does the customer get, or does a person get at that time?
3711 MS. MacLEOD: So when they’re setting up services or requesting to potentially set up services?
3712 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: Yeah, after the conversation and the needs assessment, do they get that? Is that recorded or do they get that in a follow-up email from you?
3713 MR. SHAW: So there’s probably a couple of different components, depending if it’s in our call centre or if it’s in our retail store.
3714 You know, for some of our CRTC regulated services, like I’ll use an example, like a phone line, there isn’t a critical information summary provided. The rep will typically, on the call, state what they’ve signed up for, what the monthly billing’s going to be, when the bill’s going to arrive, that service is billed a month in advance, so all those things would be explained over the phone.
3715 If you look at our TV services, we follow the TV Code of Conduct. So we provide a critical information summary on request to any customer that asks for it.
3716 And then for Internet services or TV services where we have a truck roll or a technician going out to a home how there’s usually a welcome kit that’s provided on how to use the service, how to set up the modem, and who to call for support.
3717 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: Okay. So would the person -- where I’m going with this is the idea that there’s -- we’ve heard many times that there’s sometimes a mismatch between what people thought they were going to get and what they actually ended up getting, and a lot of that seems to go in the area of contract clarity and also just getting the information, just receiving the information.
3718 So your customers receive the information before the installation is even set up, they know what they’re getting?
3719 MR. SHAW: No, we do not have residential contracts and we’re no longer in the (inaudible) space. So, you know, I think some of the examples that were brought up this morning are probably not applicable to Northwestel.
3720 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: Sorry, I didn’t -- I couldn’t hear that last part that you said.
3721 MR. SHAW: So we do not have residential customer contracts right now, and the majority of our residential services are regulated. So when a rep is exiting the phone they will articulate when the service will be installed, how much it’s going to be charged, what monthly billing looks like.
3722 In the case of the TV services we follow the TV Code of Conduct and we ask customers if they’d like a summary of the discussion and what changes they made to their packaging and we’ll email that out to the end customer.
3723 But for services such as the Internet or telephone lines we would provide any mail or email correspondence to the customer base.
3724 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: Okay. You record your conversations -- your phone conversations?
3725 MS. MacLEOD: Yes.
3726 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: Does the customer have access to them if they wanted it?
3727 MS. MacLEOD: Upon request. Yes, upon request they can get a transcript to copy.
3728 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: Okay. Also I’m wondering -- I know that you covered this in your oral remarks, but how do you accommodate -- I’d like to expand a little bit on how you accommodate the needs of the accessibility community and also seniors as well as language. Could you give us a bit more information on that?
3729 MR. SHAW: Sure. I’ll make a few comments. The population -- the demographic in the north is actually quite young. If you look at some of the territories that we serve in Nunavut, for example, 55 percent of the population is under age 25. So we don’t have maybe some of the same challenges with the elder population that you see in southern Canada.
3730 But general accessibility, you know, what I would say is first of all the reps are trained on what accessible services we have. We offer the same services you’d see across the telecom industry, TTY, IP Relay. If someone needs help we have an authorized user policy where consent can be provided in the call centre. Third party consent to speak on behalf of a customer, and we’ve got an easy process for that. And about a year ago we introduced chat in our call centre. So it’s just one more way that customers can communicate with our reps over a chat line as opposed to phoning in the 1-800 number.
3731 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: Okay. Thank you for that.
3732 It seems like this would be a good time to start talking about your complaint process at Northwestel, because at some point I’m sure that there’s people who complain about something, or there’s a mismatch, or changes, or whatever.
3733 A number of times in your reply of August 23rd, which was actually in reply to our request for information of July 16th, you state that you are not aware of any complaints regarding misleading or aggressive retail sales practices submitted to any municipal, provincial, or federal regulatory, or law enforcement agencies, including the CCTS. That shows up quite a few times, for example, in Question 22. Is that what you refer to as a formal complaint?
3734 MR. SHAW: No. So there’s -- the complaints that we have in the organization outside the CCTS and the CRTC there’s really two ways that customers can escalate beyond say a manager in the customer service area.
3735 One would be our office of the president tool. So if a customer just hits the end of the road and they don’t feel like they’ve had a resolution they can come to our website. We’ve got a portal. It’s called office of the president. They submit their information. And we basically have our management team in the call centres in the customer service area deal with that customer issue and try to bring it to closure.
3736 We also have an internal tool, it’s called raise it up. And this is if I have, you know, a friend, a colleague, a family member that has an issue in Northwestel, as an employee I can log that into our internal system and the same process. We have some of our top customer service people try to address that offline.
3737 And so the last resort is really the CCTS and the CRTC. You know, we try our utmost to try to deal with issues directly with the customer if they have any issues with Northwestel.
3738 You know, if you go back to our August 23rd submission if you look at the CCTS, the mid-year report, we had one complaint in that period, and it wasn’t to deal with regional sales practices.
3739 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: Okay. Thank you for that.
3740 You note that customers who may not be satisfied with your resolution to a complaint are referred to the CCTS or the Commission. Now, since the CCTS can only address issues with forborne services, does this limit its ability to help your customers that might not be satisfied with your complaint resolution process?
3741 MR. SHAW: I think, you know, the processes of the CRTC and the CCTS are similar. You know, I’d say the majority of our customer escalations going to a regulatory body would go through the CRTC channel because most of our residential services are regulated.
3742 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: M’hm.
3743 MR. SHAW: You know, one of the things that I’ve seen in the last year, year and a half, is there is customer confusion, there’s customer bounce. So we have an unregulated service that will go the CRTC. The CRTC will kick that over to the CCTS, and vice versa.
3744 So, you know, I think our biggest issue in terms of regulatory bodies that are looking at customer complaints is really clearly articulating to customers where do they go and then trying to make sure the individual case officers at the CCTS and the CRTC actually know if they have jurisdiction to deal with them.
3745 So, you know, in the last year, year and a half, I’ve seen cases where, you know, the customers get bounced between the regulatory bodies looking for resolution.
3746 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: Do you think that is a big problem for you or just something that happens in the normal course of business? I mean, not everybody ---
3747 MR. SHAW: It’s something that happens ---
3748 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: --- can be satisfied.
3749 MR. SHAW: It happens to us. We don’t get a lot of complaints. You know, I think, you know, if you look at the two bodies we’re talking like 50 to 20 over the last year. So, you know, I think we can handle them case-by-case. But, you know, I have seen bounce between the organizations.
3750 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: Okay. Thank you for that.
3751 Some interventions state that employees need additional protection when they internally complain about problematic sales practices; in other words, whistle blower protection. Can you please comment on if employees or agents are affectively able to raise issues with management?
3752 MR. SHAW: I think if you look at our call centre we’ve got a pretty open door policy of management. I’m in the call centre probably once a month or every six weeks. I know a lot of reps by name. So it’s a small company.
3753 In terms of our code of business ethics we have a code of business ethics. We have an ethics tip line that’s anonymous. So any employee across the organization can submit something to the ethics tip line and it is investigated behind the scenes. So, you know, I think that’s a last resort for employees, that if they don’t feel comfortable going to a supervisor, or manager, or their director, it is something that we publish and encourage employees to use.
3754 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: Are there consequences for doing so and for being a whistle blower and if so what might they be?
3755 MR. SHAW: The only time there would be consequences is if there was a frivolous request that came in that -- you know, that wasn’t founded, or something along those lines. I can’t think of my tenure here that that would have ever happened.
3756 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: Okay. I’d like to talk a bit about third party sales agents. And you’ve referenced a call centre. Could you enlighten us as to how you have all of that organized? Do you use them? And maybe tell us about your call centre.
3757 MR. SHAW: Yes, we have -- our call centre is really three components of our call centre. We have a residential call centre inbound here in Whitehorse. We have a small business call centre located in Yellowknife, as well as our support desk in Yellowknife. So there’s three inbound call centres to deal with customers.
3758 We do use a third party outbound marketing firm from time to time to really market products and services, new television channels, and also assist us with the right size of the Internet for customers that may be going over their usage cap on a monthly basis.
3759 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: So you don’t do any door-to-door type sales or anything like that?
3760 MR. SHAW: No. We’d like to but we can’t find people to work at minus 40 and going door-to-door.
3762 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: Yeah, thank God for the Internet, right.
3763 MR. SHAW: Yeah.
3764 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: What about your compensation structure commission based, are you agents -- first of all, before that, are the call centre agents are they employees of Northwestel or is that something -- they’re all employees?
3765 MR. SHAW: They’re all employees, yes.
3766 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: Are people -- do people work on salaries or are they commission-based? What’s your compensation structure?
3767 MR. SHAW: In a call centre it’s they’re on an hourly salary. It’s an hourly wage structure. Call centre reps do have a team incentive plan which gets paid out once a year. You know, reps are compensated based on financial customer business plan matrix for the organisation. It's not direct compensated, you know, on a kind of per units or per service basis.
3768 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: Okay. Thank you for that.
3769 I'd like to talk for a couple of moments about contract clarity and here I'm wondering, do you offer bundles?
3770 MR. SHAW: We do.
3771 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: Okay. Do they cause you any particular headaches or problems in terms of clarity?
3772 MR. SHAW: A couple of years ago -- no, not today. Like a couple of years ago, we simplified our bundle structure and it's really based on the number of services you have and we, you know, reward customers with bundle of multiple services on a single bill.
3773 So if you go to our website, one of the things we've done here in the last year is we've put in what's called a “bundle builder” and it allows customers to actually add different products and services and see what their discount would be on a monthly basis. So again, it's trying to be clear with customers upfront that one service, two services, three services on one bill, what the bottom line total is and how the discount would appear by bundling the services together.
3774 So it's really trying to, you know, be as transparent and open with customers as we can be.
3775 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: Does that information appear on your website? Is that very transparent and visible to your customers as well?
3776 MR. SHAW: It is.
3777 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: Yeah. So it's all up there, okay.
3778 Do you have anything that resembles a trial period, a cooling-off period? I'm sure you've heard us talking about that with various intervenors.
3779 MR. SHAW: When we had wireless services, we did have a trial cooling-off period but typically for regulated services in the residential market, we don’t.
3780 Obviously if a customer has a service and they don’t like it, we're billing a month in advance and they can disconnect it at any time if they're not satisfied with the product and they get a rebate for any kind of future forward billing that we may have billed them.
3781 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: Okay. So do your customers get a written plain language summary of their contract and/or their sales offer?
3782 MR. SHAW: We don’t have residential contracts. The majority of our residential services are governed by the CRTC tariffs that we have.
3783 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: Okay. So there's no contract with you then. So they can cancel if they want without ---
3784 MR. SHAW: That's right.
3785 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: Okay.
3786 MR. SHAW: No penalty.
3787 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: Okay. There's only two more areas that I want to talk to you about and one of them of course is the CCTS. At what point or how do you notify your customers of their recourse, assuming that they do have recourse?
3788 MR. SHAW: So there's two components. One, the CCTS is front and centre. It's on our website. We also put it on our bills on a quarterly basis and educate the market on the CCTS. We've actually modified the CCTS -- CCTS marketing scripts actually have the CRTC as the other avenue just to prevent customers from using the CCTS for regulated products and services.
3789 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: So you make that differentiation for them right there so they're not wasting their time.
3790 MR. SHAW: We try to. If it's television or if it's internet over satellite backbone, you know, go to the CCTS. All of the residential services, here's the address for the CRTC.
3791 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: Okay. Well, thank you for that.
3792 The last area that I want to talk to you about is solutions. In your view, do we have some bad actors here? Do we a systemic problem on our hand? We've heard a lot this week. What are your views on that?
3793 MR. SHAW: My view right now is, you know, if you look at the number of complaints that have come in against the size of the telecom industry, I don’t see it there to be a big problem.
3794 Like obviously there are stories that have come out this week and there are stories on the interventions that, you know, if they happened at our company, you know, the less severe ones there would be a coaching discussion with the rep that it won't happen again or a process improvement. The more serious ones that you've seen kind of this week and into the series of customer interventions would result in disciplinary activity. And, you know, I'm expecting that a number of the large cablecos and telcos that are going to speak later this week have gone down that path with their employees.
3795 So you know, for me, you know, if you look at the total volume of the industry and the number of complaints that have come in, I personally, you know, as a consumer, I've had really great service from this industry and I haven’t really had this front and centre that there's an issue with aggressive selling in Canada.
3796 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: Yeah. So in your view, do you think there needs to be new industry-wide mandatory rules to address misleading or aggressive sales practices for all communication services?
3797 MR. SHAW: My personal view right now and our company view is, you know, as regulatory oversight has increased and there's been the Wireless Code of Conduct, the TV Code of Conduct, you know, there's this hearing, you know, it has placed a burden on the industry. It's placed a burden on small carriers like Northwestel. There's a cost regulation and, you know, for us right now I look at our market, I look at our organization, we haven't had a single complaint in this area in years.
3798 You know, we've been providing customer services from a corner store business strategy. For us to have regulatory oversight or for us to develop IT systems and processes and training I think is a cost that consumers are going to end up bearing. I think it's also frustrating for employees that they have a huge onboarding program into our call centres.
3799 If you look at a call centre rep, they have to know our products and services. They have to know our IT systems. They have to know regulatory procedures to follow. I think overlaying additional regulation without streamlining existing regulation is really not great from a company standpoint or a customer standpoint.
3800 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: Okay. Thank you for that viewpoint.
3801 My final question to you is, if any solutions were to be adopted, would it be more appropriate to take targeted specific action or are systemic actions needed? You partially answered that.
3802 MR. SHAW: From my viewpoint right now, like the CRTC has many mechanisms and the CCTS they have mechanisms in place today to take action on customer complaints. So you know, for me, I just really look at our company and, you know, the demographics of the market we're serving and I'm not seeing this as an issue for us.
3803 So if there is any regulation, one of the requests that we would make is to make sure that there is symmetry with some of the competitors that we operate with. You know, if we're held up to a higher level of standard, I would want other providers we're competing with to have the same level of oversight required and the same symmetrical regulation, that it's not just looked at in the larger providers in Canada.
3804 COMMISSIONER VENNARD: Okay. Those are all my questions and I thank you again for taking the time to talk to us today.
3805 MR. SHAW: Thank you.
3806 MS. MacLEOD: Thank you.
3807 THE CHAIRPERSON: Thank you very much for your submission.
3808 Commissioner Levy?
3809 COMMISSIONER LEVY: Good afternoon. I'm interested in just following up on two different areas. You talked about having a third party that does outbound communications for you. How do you regulate them? How do you make sure that they are following the codes that clearly you have placed on your inbound staff?
3810 MR. SHAW: Generally, the outbound group that we use, the scripts are developed by our marketing team in terms of what we're saying, what we're targeting. We have a “Do Not Call” list internally. So obviously, customers that have requested that they don’t want a call from us, we strip them out of the mix.
3811 We also look at the customers that have been called multiple times in the last year. We pull them out of the list and then they basically go through our marketing communication. They have scripts. They have training and they can execute on that outbound marketing campaign.
3812 In terms of compensation for the third party, it's typically based on top time. So you know, the more clear the marketing message, you know, the better the value would be for us but they're not compensated based on, you know, individual selling.
3813 COMMISSIONER LEVY: And just to follow up on a comment you made just a moment ago, you talked about rather than having new rules and regulations to streamline the existing ones, what are the perhaps one or two or perhaps three top streamlining issues that you think could be dealt with to have a real impact on the system?
3814 MR. SHAW: I don’t know if I can answer that right now. You know, we really looked at this and we looked at lot of the interventions and many of them are in the wireless base. You know, the Wireless Code of Conduct was a big issue for us when it came into place just from an IT investment standpoint. You know, for me, you know, I would look at ways that we can try to streamline existing regulatory bodies, make it clear for customers on how to engage, where to engage, what it -- what would -- you know, what recourse would look like.
3815 You know, for me, it's probably more about clarifying this to the customer and being really clear in the communications.
3816 COMMISSIONER LEVY: And finally, just to educate myself, how many different languages do you deal with across the north? You've talked about having English and Inuktitut, but I know that you must be dealing with some of the Dene languages and all of the rest of it.
3817 How many do you have to cope with on a day-to-day basis?
3818 MR. SHAW: I think if you look at the indigenous languages over the north, there's probably over 30.
3819 You know, we have community service techs that can usually speak a home language, so we have, you know, technicians that can speak southern Tishani and we have other technicians that are -- can speak different languages in the Northwest Territories. We obviously have a French population here.
3820 You know, if you look at the biggest language unilingual population we serve, it's in the far north of Nunavut and Inuktitut with something that we really felt that we needed to have as a service provider.
3821 We have an elder that calls in that English is not a first language or they have very broken English. That was really where we wanted to put some of the emphasis in terms of the organization in terms of service delivery.
3822 COMMISSIONER LEVY: Do you have to provide some of your contracts and other, you know, promotional information, et cetera in some of those language in written form as well?
3823 MR. SHAW: We don't today with the exception of Inuktitut. You know, our contracts are translated, our phone book is bilingual. All of our marketing collateral is translated.
3824 In the other regions we've done it kind of on a local basis if there's a targeted marketing campaign to a community, but we don't provide services formally in those languages in our Care Centre.
3825 COMMISSIONER LEVY: And of course, those all come at a cost.
3826 Thank you very much.
3827 MR. SHAW: Thank you.
3828 MS. MacLEOD: Thank you.
3829 THE CHAIRPERSON: Commissioner Lafontaine?
3830 No? Your questions have been answered?
3831 Others? No.
3832 Then I thank you very much for joining us today. Appreciate the input into the proceeding.
3833 And with that, we will recess for the day,
3834 resuming tomorrow morning at 9:00 a.m.
3835 MR. SHAW: Thank you very much. Good afternoon.
--- L’audience est ajournée à 15:19
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