Business·GO PUBLIC

Rogers employees say managers turn a blind eye so call centre workers can lie and cheat customers

Rogers employees say the pressure to hit targets is so high, they feel they have to upsell, mislead and outright lie to customers to make sales.

'We do not believe the concerns raised represent our values or sales practices,' Rogers says

Rogers employees at this call centre say they're under extreme pressure to upsell customers, often at the expense of ethics. (Guillaume Lafrenière/CBC)

Call centre employees working for Rogers Communications say the telecom company is pressuring them to try to make a sale on every call — even to elderly people who don't understand or need certain products or services.

In emails and interviews with Go Public, dozens of Rogers workers say they're under "extreme pressure" to hit sales targets or risk termination.

Their claims come on the heels of Bell Canada workers revealing similar pressures to upsell customers, often at the expense of ethics.

"You're supposed to look at a customer's account and sell them cable, home phone, home security, a credit card — whatever is missing," says an employee who currently works at Rogers' major call centre in Ottawa and has asked CBC to conceal his identity to avoid retribution in his workplace.

He says even when people are off sick, their sales targets aren't adjusted unless they go on short-term disability, "so you're at home, trying to get better, but stressing about how you're going to keep your job."

He admits when he is "desperate" to earn sales points, he signs up seniors for internet service, and then tells them a technician is going to come to their house "to install a modem for their TV" — modems are required for internet, not TV.

"We're giving internet service to customers who actually do not have a computer," he says.

This Rogers call centre worker says he is pressured to lie to customers and sign them up for unnecessary products to keep his job. (Christian Patry/CBC)

He also admits to not telling [mostly older] customers about installation fees for TV and internet ($49.99 for both), internet activation fees ($14.95) or cellphone activation charges ($25) and to sneaking extra products or services onto a bill.

"Even customers who have home phone service, I say, 'How about I add a second line for your home phone and I'll give you a discount for your other product?' Which makes no sense.

"It feels really bad," he says. "But you have all this pressure on you. All your managers are around you, telling you to sell, sell, sell."

Jessica Robinson recently quit working at the Ottawa call centre after seven years.

She, too, says employees are expected to try to sell on every call, even when customers want to cancel services, complain about malfunctioning products, or are grieving the loss of a partner.

"When I had my interview ... they actually asked me 'If an elderly lady calls in to cancel her sports package on her TV because her husband just died, are you going to convince her to keep it and add more?'" says Robinson.

Robinson says she dealt with a lot of calls from customers who were angry about confusing or increasing bills, a concern echoed by other past and present Rogers workers.

"They teach us how to be empathetic. To say things like 'I understand how frustrating that must be,'" says Robinson. "I'm like, why? We're the ones screwing them over."

Former Rogers employee Jessica Robinson, seen here holding her five-year-service recognition award, says she went on stress leave three times due to the pressure to make sales. (Jessica Robinson)

'Most managers know'

Rogers employees who contacted CBC say the pressure to mislead customers comes from their managers, who turn a blind eye to sales reps who are selling a lot of products or services, by not monitoring their calls as closely as others.

"Managers know these reps are unethical," says James Woodward, who worked in a Rogers call centre just over two years ago. "So they try not to listen to those calls."

He says managers are less focused on customer satisfaction than they are on making money.

"I would get five cellphone activations in a day and sell a bunch of cable products, and then my manager would say, 'No credit card?' It was always what I didn't do."

Woodward says he was expected to try to sell a product or service even when customers were just calling up to say, "I hate you guys!"

He admits to misleading customers, especially at the end of the month if he was shy of meeting his sales targets.

Customer service suffers

Many of the Rogers employees Go Public spoke to say the pressure they're under to make sales actually prevents them from providing good customer service.

They described how they "drop" calls when it becomes clear a customer is calling to cancel a service, because it will count against their sales targets.

"That's why most customers have to call in three, four, five times to get a problem resolved," says the employee currently working at Rogers' Ottawa call centre. "This is normal."

Rogers takes concerns 'very seriously' 

No one from Rogers Communications would give an interview, but in a statement to Go Public, spokesperson Paula Lash wrote, "While we do not believe the concerns raised represent our values or sales practices, we take them very seriously and we will work with our team to respond to these concerns."

Lash also wrote that sales targets are achievable and that employees may be placed on performance improvement plans, which can lead to termination, for a variety of reasons including low attendance, concerns about behaviour, customer feedback, low sales, or a combination of reasons.

Sheldon Nider says 20 years of loyalty as a Rogers customer didn't pay off when a sales agent upsold and misled him. (Erica Johnson/CBC)

'It's bait and switch' 

Sheldon Nider believes he was deliberately misled and confused when he called Rogers a year ago.

The 72-year-old from Richmond, B.C., says he wanted to upgrade his phone and find out whether he qualified for a 25 per cent corporate discount.

He says a sales rep told him he did qualify, but then talked to him for an hour and a half, convincing him to add a phone for his granddaughter, while Nider tried to make notes and keep track of various fees and offers.

When he received his next bill — a 17-page document — he discovered it was $135 more than he had initially been paying, and that he now didn't qualify for the corporate discount.

"I think it's a bait and switch because they bait you with a discount, then switch it and don't give it to you. It's as simple as that," says Nider.

In an email to Nider, Rogers acknowledged a sales agent "misinformed" him, but did not offer the 25 per cent discount he was seeking.

Sheldon Nider shows Go Public reporter Erica Johnson his lengthy and complicated Rogers bill. (Christer Waara/CBC)

After Go Public made inquiries, Rogers credited Nider's account about $360 for other issues, and replaced his granddaughter's phone after it cracked, but Nider says his bill is still unclear. He's still stuck in an expensive contract that wasn't properly explained, and says Rogers did not address his concerns about "troubling" sales tactics.

CRTC urged to hold telecom inquiry 

Recent allegations and previous Go Public stories revealing high pressure sales tactics at Bell Canada have prompted an Ottawa-based advocacy group to call on the CRTC to hold a public inquiry into telecom sales tactics.

The executive director of the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) says there are no regulations around sales practices, and no requirement that telecoms sell customers products that are suitable.

PIAC executive director John Lawford is urging the CRTC, the federal telecommunications regulator, to hold a public inquiry into telecom sales practices. (CBC)

"It's completely appropriate for the CRTC to say, 'We're going to set out rules,'" says John Lawford. "I think it'd be quite eye-opening to have an open, public consultation at the CRTC about sales practices of big telecom companies."

In a letter to the CRTC, Lawford wrote that many of the aggressive sales practices appear to target vulnerable consumers, including older Canadians, grieving spouses and blind customers.

A spokesperson for the CRTC, Patricia Valladao, acknowledged receiving PIAC's letter, but would not comment further on an inquiry. 

She did acknowledge that the Wireless Code governing telecoms does not address sales tactics, and encouraged consumers who feel their wireless provider hasn't provided clear and accurate information to them, to "try to resolve the issue with their service provider."

If that fails, Valladao suggests contacting the Commission for Complaints for Telecom-television Services, which mediates disputes between customers and their telecom providers.

'Stop pressuring us' 

Many of the dozens of Rogers and Bell workers Go Public spoke to had similar recommendations when asked what it would take to improve customer service and curb unethical behaviour.

"They should take the pressure off the sales people," says the current sales rep in Rogers' Ottawa call centre we interviewed.

"Stop increasing our targets. Stop pressuring us to try to make a sale on every call. And remove these [performance improvement] plans to get you fired."


Erica Johnson

Investigative reporter

Erica Johnson is an award-winning investigative journalist. She hosted CBC's consumer program Marketplace for 15 years, investigating everything from dirty hospitals to fraudulent financial advisors. As co-host of the CBC news segment Go Public, Erica continues to expose wrongdoing and hold corporations and governments to account.

With files from Enza Uda