Canada Markets closed

If Canadians want wireless satisfaction, they help themselves

Shane Schick
Fin - Dashboard - CA

If you’re happy and you know it, you’re probably a Canadian holding a smartphone.

OK, that may be stretching it just a little bit, but amid all the grumbling about high rates for wireless plans, frustrations with lack of carrier competition and increased calls for codes of conduct and new consumer protection laws, data released by Toronto-based J.D. Power and Associates this week was almost shockingly positive.

The firm’s annual rankings of wireless carriers showed that, despite seeing an average increase of 13 per cent on their monthly wireless phone bill between last year and now, Canadians’ overall satisfaction with their mobile phone services actually grew.

J.D. Power surveyed some 13,300 Canadians and looked at seven different factors to determine its satisfaction rankings, which are organized in an index that tallies up points. For example, there was a 46-point increase in the way consumers rated their satisfaction with buying products and services online from the carriers, and a 14-point satisfaction in online customer care services.

The biggest finding, however, is that for the first time, those who use various self-service online tools to resolve phone problems – like using a carrier’s online chat tools, for example – are noticeably happier than those who call up their carrier or go into a retail store.

Adrian Chung, account director at J.D. Power & Associates, said that while satisfaction can be attributed to a number of different things, online self service may have progressed to a point where even the less tech-savvy among us can easily navigate their way to some help without the agony of being placed in a “hold” cue when they dial a contact centre. “Carriers are definitely doing a better job of answering that call,” he said.

The research may also reflect the fact that, with tablets and laptops frequently at hand in a knapsack or purse, access to those online customer service channels is greater than it’s ever been before. At least among some consumers, I suspect that they are developing the kind of digital literacy that allows them to problem-solve their way through the basic smartphone issues before they turn to a carrier. Then, once they do, they feel empowered using online self-service because they’re not sitting there on the phone waiting for someone to look something up on a desktop at the other end of the line.

This was always the vision for online customer service, and it’s almost weird to see it finally manifesting itself. Then again, Chung said it may be a little early to break out the party hats. “We look at customer satisfaction across a wide variety of industries,” he said, “and wireless is still towards the lower end of the spectrum.”

Pretty soon the CRTC is expected to come out with its proposed guidelines for wireless carriers to follow, which may provide ways to boost customer satisfaction still further. When I spoke with the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association’s Marc Choma about it recently, however, he suggested the industry isn’t waiting around for government decrees. “Some customers may not be aware of the many changes carriers have made to their service offerings over the last several years, but I am sure that gap in knowledge is and will be closing quickly,” he said.

So Canadians just have to learn more about their carriers, and access self-service tools to solve more problems on their own to be happy. And fork over an average of $77 a month compared to $68 last year. It’s great that satisfaction rates are rising, but if the old adage that you get what you pay for is true, there comes a point where it has to be asked: What exactly are we getting, other than the kind of training that would allow us to work for a carrier, rather than be served by them?