Rogers employees are shedding light on tactics they use at call centres, to push products and services on unsuspecting customers.
On the heels of a CBC News story earlier this week, more than two dozen past and present workers from call centres handling the telecommunication giant's customers have written Go Public, describing work environments that are "toxic," "intense," "high pressure" and geared to make a sale with every customer.
'It was a calculated game of misery.' — Former Rogers call centre employee
An employee who worked at a Rogers call centre in Brampton, Ont., for four years before leaving in 2015 says he and his colleagues were instructed not to mention cancellation fees from other providers when a customer switched to Rogers. CBC has confirmed his employment history, but is not identifying him — or some others in this story — because they fear they will lose their jobs.
"Because these fees were not charged by Rogers itself, we were told to gloss over them as quickly, vaguely and incoherently as possible," he writes. "Often while the customer was speaking at the same time."
Another trick, he says, was to secretly reduce certain services — such as the number of television channels a customer received — so he could add new services, such as a home phone line they didn't necessarily need, but that earned points toward his monthly sales target.
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"It was a calculated game of misery," he says. "How much could you lower their existing services so they wouldn't immediately notice, while at the same time adding as much in new services as you could?"
He says when he expressed concern over these practices, his manager reminded him that he worked in sales, and said, "It's not your job to care."
You're not talking to a manager
He mentions another trick, designed to get customers to go away when they were asking for something that would affect sales targets.
When those customers would ask to speak to a manager, he says agents would just transfer the call to a fellow agent, who would repeat claims that there was nothing they could do to resolve an issue.
'My doctor was very worried I'd have a stroke.' — Debbie Sears, former call centre employee
"The goal," he says, "was for the customer to be so frustrated, speaking to someone who couldn't do anything more than you, that they ended the call."
In emails and interviews, frustrated past and present Rogers employees say many of the tactics used to push products and services are underhanded.
Nicole McDonnell worked for three years at a third-party call centre in London, Ont., that handled Rogers customers. She quit three months ago.
"The things that go on behind closed doors would leave you speechless," she writes.
McDonnell says she saw agents make additions, such as cellphone activation charges, to customer accounts without their knowledge.
She says agents would sell phone protection insurance for $12 a month but not mention that, if a customer makes a claim, there's a replacement fee of up to $200.
And, she claims, managers would approve cellphone sales even when someone's credit check came back as poor or possibly fraudulent.
"The first thing you have to do is sell."
Debbie Sears handled Rogers customer calls from her home in Kingston, N.S., through a third-party company.
'Grown men would be crying.' — Former Rogers manager
"We were constantly being threatened that we would be fired if we did not upsell — add a home line or a cellphone to the account," she says. "It was a pressure cooker."
"They expected you to sell on every call. And you were told time and again, 'Never take no for an answer. Push, push, push!'"
"I have a hard time selling something that's useless to them [customers]," says Sears. "I told them right from the start, and they said, 'Oh well, you'll get used to it.'"
She didn't. Instead, Sears says she started having panic attacks before starting work, and her blood pressure went "through the roof."
"My doctor was very worried I'd have a stroke," she says. "When I got laid off [for not selling], they did me a favour."
Former manager speaks out
A former Rogers manager also contacted Go Public, admitting he was one of the people who put pressure on workers in the Ottawa call centre.
He says the pressure to upsell was so intense in 2015 that a Rogers memo (provided to Go Public) directed leadership to put more than two-thirds of all the call centre workers on a "performance improvement plan" — to encourage them to sell more, or risk getting terminated.
"Every day we'd have a meeting about sales targets," he says. "A big part of my job was to manage out the low performers. Witch-hunting those people."
On the other hand, he says, top sellers were protected — even if they behaved unethically.
"Senior leadership [at his call centre] would often issue directives to the team managers to protect their top-level performers by turning a blind eye," he says. "Protect the tops."
He says the sales pressure was so intense he was reluctant to keep people on after their probationary periods if they were struggling to hit their targets.
He'd tap them on the shoulder five minutes before the end of their shift — "because we wanted to squeeze every last minute out of them" — and then lead them to a private room where he'd fire them.
"Grown men would be crying, desperate because they couldn't sell enough," he says. "But sales was everything."
He himself was laid off, after voicing concerns about what he felt were unethical sales practices.
Rogers gives employees talking points
Go Public has obtained an "alert" sent to technical support, customer service and Rogers Business employees by the company, suggesting responses to customers who may have questions after reading our earlier story.
'Public shaming is the only way a company will make changes.' — Lia Moody, labour lawyer
The memo instructs employees to say that Rogers helps customers "choose products and services that fit their needs and budgets"; that the company wants "to be clear and fair with customers every time they contact us"; and that if an issue arises, "we work to make it right with customers."
In a statement to Go Public, Rogers' spokesperson Paula Lash wrote, "there is no tolerance in our organization for unethical practices — this applies to every team member, at every level."
She also said Rogers has processes in place to address possible issues that might arise.
"For example we regularly review a large number of sales calls every month to ensure we are being clear and fair with our customers," wrote Lash. She added, "We are very proud of our team and their incredible commitment to serve our customers each and every day."
Customer fights Fido
David Kehoe thinks the pressure to meet a sales goal was behind a recent and frustrating experience with his cellphone provider, Fido, which is owned by Rogers.
He says a sales agent told him he could get a $50 a month plan with 3 GB of data, which was cheaper than what he'd been paying, so he agreed. But she put him on hold, and came back saying she couldn't put him on that plan. But that there was a $60 plan with 6 GB available.
"It felt like a bait and switch," says Kehoe, so he took to Twitter.
This is such arbitrary bullshit. The 'new' plan offers things I don't need at a price point I don't want. Why don't Canadian mobile providers offer greater consumer flexibility? Because they want us to keep paying higher rates.— @iTripped
That caught the eye of a Fido customer service rep, who offered him the original $50 plan.
But when Kehoe got the confirmation email, it said he was signed up for only 1 GB, not 3 GB.
He got angrier on Twitter. Over the next two days, various Fido reps responded. He had to stick with the $60 a month plan, they said, but they finally offered him a credit of $240 to pay for the extra $10 a month he'd have to pay over two years.
"If I hadn't checked to make sure what they offered is what they delivered, I would have been stuck," says Kehoe. "Customers shouldn't have to fight so hard to make sure they get what they're promised."
In an email, Rogers told Go Public the dispute "was a genuine case of an honest mistake."
'Shocking and appalling'
Vancouver labour lawyer Lia Moody says she's been following the Rogers employees' allegations, and finds them "shocking and appalling."
"The fact that they are asked to upsell to a senior — asked to contravene their ethics — is wrong. And it's something Rogers isn't permitted to do."
Rogers says those tactics are not condoned, and that employees must follow a code of conduct.
But Moody says, judging from the accounts of former and current employees, it appears that what's happening on the floor at various call centres "contravenes what Canadians consider their ethics and values."
If an employee feels their ethics are compromised by workplace demands she says, they should put their concerns in writing to their employer.
If nothing improves, Moody says a legal remedy can be "constructive dismissal," in which an employee resigns and seeks severance, though she admits that's not feasible for everyone.
"I think it's important that people are speaking out. Public shaming," she says, "is the only way a company will make changes."