Bell and Rogers defend sales practices at CRTC hearing

Canada's biggest telecommunications companies got their turn to speak on Friday in a five-day probe by Canada's telecom regulator into aggressive sales practices in the industry.

CBC reporting helped lead to hearings into aggressive sales tactics from telecom giants

Telecom employees told the CBC that misleading tactics were widespread. (William Thomas Cain/Getty Images)

Canada's two biggest telecommunications companies got their turn to speak on Friday in a five-day probe by Canada's telecom regulator into sales practices in the industry.

Officials from BCE Inc. and Rogers Communications Inc. addressed a panel at the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission on Friday, their first chance to participate in the five-day public probe by the regulator.

The probe was prompted by CBC reporting that uncovered evidence of misleading and aggressive tactics being employed at those companies and others, in an attempt to get customers to sign up for new services, or more services that they don't necessarily want.

Hundreds of telecom employees told the CBC about overly aggressive sales tactics, and misleading attempts to get customers to sign up for new services. Hundreds of customers subsequently complained about similar tactics to the regulator, once it asked for public comment.

After public consultations, the CRTC has been holding a public investigation into the issue this week, one that will culminate with the appearance of the two biggest companies in the industry on Friday.

But it was rival telecom Shaw that began the day's proceedings. The Calgary-based company said in its experience, door-to-door sales done by third party resellers are one of the biggest problems for overly aggressive selling. But Shaw rejected the notion that the industry itself has a systemic problem.

"Focusing a recommendation or remedy on door-to-door sales would address the most significant area of risk and consumer vulnerability,"  senior vice-president Paul Cowling said.

The CRTC is investigating telecom sales practices after CBC reporting uncovered widespread allegations of misleading tactics. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

Then it was Rogers' turn in the spotlight, and they began just before midday. One by one, officials at the company disputed the notion that misleading tactics are widespread.

"We simply do not tolerate bad faith and unethical sales practices," said Kim Barrington, Rogers' director of consumer affairs.

The company says all of its employees undergo rigorous training to ensure that their sales tactics are appropriate. Rogers says it monitors and reviews 100 per cent of all telephone sales calls, and uses other tactics such as mystery shoppers to keep tabs on what happens in store.

Rogers says its employees don't have an incentive to mislead to upsell because most of their compensation is fixed, and if a customer cancels a new service within the first 90 days, whatever variable compensation the sales agent may have gotten for the sale would be clawed back.

"There's not a lot of motivation to sell somebody something they don't want or need," vice-president of channel marketing Melissa Marsh said.

"Selling our customers products or services that they do not want or cannot afford is just bad business," added David Watt, the company's senior vice-president of regulatory affairs.

Bell disputes allegations too

Bell's turn to speak came in the afternoon, and the company's executives made statements similar to Rogers.

"We want to assure you that misleading and aggressive sales practices are not tolerated at Bell," said Rob Malcolmson, the company's senior vice-president of regulatory affairs. "Staff at all of our stores, including partner retailers, receive training that emphasizes how fundamentally important it is to understand a customer's needs and avoid pushing customers towards products or services they do not want."

Bell says its compensation is structured similarly to Rogers in that most salespeople are paid at a fixed structure. Any variable compensation would be clawed back if customers end up cancelling the service soon.

And anyone who orders service by phone or in person gets a follow-up survey from the company within 24 hours to review how they did. In the past year, the company has gotten more than 600,000 such surveys, Bell's vice-president of corporate stores, Nancy Tichbon, said.

"There are areas we have where we always want to to better," Tichbon said, "but on the overall level of satisfaction we do get it right."

With files from The Canadian Press