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Technology

Complaining about complaints systems

March 6, 2007

When Toronto writer Carol Purpura called her phone company several months ago to resolve a billing issue, she found herself tackling another concern as well.

"When I said I felt the information the customer service rep had about my bill was incorrect, she became quite abusive with me," Purpura recalls. "I spoke to the supervisor and told that person to listen to the tape-recorded call. They did and my issue was dealt with in five minutes."

Purpura isn't alone in her complaints about the complaint system at technology-based companies.

The Canadian Council of Better Business Bureaus (CCBBB) says four of the top ten industry complaints for 2006 involved internet services, internet shopping, cell phone and phone companies. In 2005, the situation was the same.

"It's safe to assume complaints about these products are increasing just because these sectors are growing," says Doug Simpson, CCBBB president. "There are a huge number of businesses on the internet, as well as telephone services and the two are often converging."

Although the CCBBB has not compiled statistics on the difficulties people encounter when attempting to complain, Anne Hart, dispute resolution supervisor for the BBB of mid-western and central Ontario, says it's a big issue. Customers often have to navigate complicated answering systems and then deal with customer service reps who aren't knowledgeable.

"It's often hard to get a hold of someone who knows what they're talking about and also do something for you," Hart says. "You're going to be on the phone forever. We get a lot of complaints about that. We know who to contact, so we call the right person and they will look into the problem."

Hart says a lot of companies get so busy with the offers they have made they don't have the staff to take care of the volume of customers they've attracted. "That's not the customer's fault. If companies are busy they need to hire more staff," she says.

Purpura complains that these companies "have all this technology at their disposal but they're reluctant to use it. When I call them for service I have to go through 15 minutes of 'push 1, push 2, push 7, hold on,' music on, music off and when I get a real live person they don't know what to do.

"If I were running the phone company," she says, "I would not want an automated system taking care of my business. Look at the four-person office and see if you can draw a direct link between customer service and solving a problem."

When people finally talk to a customer rep, complaints are varied.

As far as cell phones go, people often don't understand the package they've purchased or how to work the phone. Hart knows of one family who purchased a cell phone and then used it to access the internet. When they received their first bill totalling more than $3,000, they were told it was because they were accessing the internet so much.

"Do your research," Hart warns. "Look at all the different companies and see if one company offers something better than another."

Telephone complaints usually involve billing issues. When it comes to internet shopping services, people are not sure who they're dealing with and sometimes receive goods too late or not at all.

Hart says that at the moment there is not much legislation to help consumers, although if the BBB gets a complaint about fraud, it sends it to the internet fraud department.

Regarding internet services, complaints involve confusion about bundling services.

With the use of tech toys by younger kids, there are additional issues.

"I don't know how well we as a society have done in teaching young people how to properly conduct the purchase of a long-term service contract," Simpson says. "This is why there's such an interest in short-term telephone cards: You spend your dollars, you get it. Once you get into contracts people have a difficult time understanding them."

Another problem is that younger people use technology differently.

"Teenagers regard these things in more of a throwaway way than you or I would," Simpson says "Often, irate parents are on the phone trying to solve issues around wet or lost cell phones, damaged MP3 players and so on."

Technology companies have a big task ahead of them, but it seems the problem is more than just solving people's complaints — it's also solving the complaint process.

"If you frustrate a customer in dealing with a problem you are going to lose that customer and there's a great deal of competition out there," Simpson warns. "It's in the company's interest to try to deal with it."

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