Sharp Rise in Canadian Bill Accuracy Complaints

The annual report from Canada’s Commission for Complaints for Telecom-Television Services (CCTS) makes grim reading for revenue assurance practitioners.

Another trend in 2017-18 was a large increase in the number of times customers raised concerns about being incorrectly charged for their monthly price plan. A total of 4,370 such issues were raised, representing an 87% YoY increase. This is the second-most raised issue in our complaints, accounting for 14% of all issues raised, and is increasingly a larger proportion of all issues raised.

As with other countries, Canadian telco billing is a major source of unhappiness. Unlike other countries, the Canadians have the advantage in that the relevant authorities provide more detailed analysis than is made available elsewhere. The 4,370 issues with incorrect monthly charges were a subset of the 12,306 issues with billing overall. ISPs received most complaints about inaccurate monthly charges, followed in turn by wireless providers, local exchange and VoIP firms, and television providers. The 4,370 complaints relating to inaccurate monthly charges compares to 1,257 complaints about one-off charges like activation fees, and 1,512 complaints relating to cancellation of services and charges billed after cancellation.

The Canadian telcos differed greatly in the number of complaints they received about billing inaccuracies. Customers of Bell Canada generated 2,088 complaints about errors on monthly bills, which was almost as many as every other Canadian telco put together. That Bell Canada have a disproportionate problem with billing accuracy can be inferred from their customers only generating one-third of complaints across all categories. The next worst provider was Videotron, whose customers complained about monthly billing accuracy on 487 occasions during the year. This is a lot for a relatively small firm; Videotron has less than 2 million customers, whilst Rogers received slightly fewer billing accuracy complaints despite having more than 10 million customers.

A few case studies are provided in the CCTS report to illustrate typical issues with charging accuracy. They make depressingly familiar reading for professionals who have experience in this field.

A customer… agreed to obtain a bundle of services, including home phone, internet and TV, for $111 per month. She called her service provider to complain, informing it that she was being billed $131 per month. The provider informed her that she was not eligible for the offer priced at $111 per month, so she contacted the CCTS, asking us to help ensure that the provider bill her the amount she had agreed to pay or allow her to cancel her services without penalty.

It beggars belief that some telcos still treat customers this way. Telcos should not offer a tariff until they are sure the customer is eligible for it. And if the customer is not eligible, they should not simply charge a higher amount and wait for the customer to complain!

A customer… complained to his wireless service provider that he had been billed more for his wireless service than he had agreed to pay. After numerous attempts to fix the problem with his provider, he continued to be incorrectly charged and made a complaint to the CCTS. During our investigation, we found that the customer was supposed to be receiving a discount of 30% from his regular monthly price but that this discount had not been applied…

Discounts are such a common source of error, there is no longer any excuse for applying them incorrectly, or failing to apply them as promised. A telco should not adopt a discount scheme unless it is capable of correctly implementing it in practice.

Despite some serious failings, it is clear that Canadian telcos also suffer plenty of complaints which are without merit. Telcos should always keep in mind that even if they delivered perfect billing accuracy there will be customers who complain anyway, as this case study illustrates:

An internet customer… complained to the CCTS that she had been billed $12.50 per month for an “unlimited internet” feature that she never requested. The unlimited internet feature was an add-on that was billed in addition to the cost of the customer’s monthly internet service and that increased the customer’s data allotment by up to 60 GB per month. The customer requested that her service provider issue a number of credits to her account totaling approximately $600. During our investigation, the provider submitted evidence demonstrating that the customer had indeed requested the unlimited internet add-on feature, which had been on the customer’s account since 2015. The CCTS also found that the customer’s internet usage was high, averaging about 210 GB per month… In addition, we informed her that had the unlimited internet feature not been on the account, she would have incurred about $1,800 in internet usage overage charges during the last three months alone.

The CCTS deserves praise for the amount of information they share. The ability to compare telcos helps to motivate professionals to concentrate on genuine priorities, as well as allowing customers to make informed choices. The inferior performance of Bell Canada and Videotron should cause them to focus resources on the root causes of errors that upset customers.

Other countries can also learn from the CCTS. It is pitiful to see telecoms bodies in countries like the UK adopting such broad and vague categories for complaints that it becomes fiendishly difficult to pinpoint the most serious issues. Whilst Canada’s CCTS supplies data that is useful to many stakeholders, other countries seem motivated to control the flow of information so the authorities can spin any message that suits them.

Another reason to praise the CCTS is their balanced approach. When telcos make mistakes, they deserve criticism. However, not every complaint is justified. It was heartening to see the CCTS provided an example of a billing accuracy complaint where the customer was in the wrong.

Because the CCTS is both transparent and fair, their advice deserves to be listened to by telcos everywhere, not just by those in Canada. Put simply, they tell telcos not to make promises to customers if they do not intend to keep them. And when telcos make a promise, they should keep a record of it. Some might think these recommendations are obvious, but this data shows that telcos still need to be regularly reminded about the basics of billing accuracy.

You can obtain the CCTS 2017-18 annual report here.

Eric Priezkalns
Eric Priezkalns
Eric is the Editor of Commsrisk. Look here for more about the history of Commsrisk and the role played by Eric.

Eric is also the Chief Executive of the Risk & Assurance Group (RAG), a global association of professionals working in risk management and business assurance for communications providers.

Previously Eric was Director of Risk Management for Qatar Telecom and he has worked with Cable & Wireless, T‑Mobile, Sky, Worldcom and other telcos. He was lead author of Revenue Assurance: Expert Opinions for Communications Providers, published by CRC Press. He is a qualified chartered accountant, with degrees in information systems, and in mathematics and philosophy.