Chris DeGoeas is a frustrated customer of Bell Mobility. Now that wireless numbers are portable, he plans to go elsewhere.
"I don't want to be handcuffed to a company that does little or nothing to help you, knowing you have to stay," says the home- repair contractor, whose number is in all his advertising.
Last August, DeGoeas got a notice saying he would be getting a single bill that consolidated his Bell wireless and home-phone services. To keep them separate, he had to call a toll-free number.
A consolidated bill arrived in October, despite his instructions. It seems Bell had no record of his call, even though he wrote down the name and identification number of the customer representative.
"Over the next four months, I spent countless hours trying to get this resolved. Sometimes I waited on hold for 45 minutes, only to be disconnected." DeGoeas has separate bills again, but he's still itching to leave. Once he contacted me, Bell fixed the problem and offered a two-month credit on his home phone and $30 on his cellphone.
Goodwill gestures are something new for Bell Canada, part of a campaign to polish its image and show customers it cares.
"Our ultimate goal is to serve everyone appropriately. We regret the times we don't," says Bell spokesperson Paolo Pasquini.
"But there's a fine balance. We're in a competitive industry and we're resetting the cost structure, while trying to deliver quality service to the customer."
Will this charm offensive succeed? I have my doubts.
Like a large ship going full steam and not easily steered in another direction, Bell has lagged in customer service.
But rerouting calls to India probably won't help.
Bill Maguire, a Bell ExpressVu client, returned from a holiday this month to find no satellite television signal. He called and spoke to a call centre in India.
After a 62-minute chat produced no solution, he was asked to climb on the roof and check the wiring to the dish.
"I told the service agent that I was in my 80th year and had no intention of climbing on the roof," Maguire says.
Bell fixed his satellite connection after he contacted me. Finding the installation was wrong from the start, it gave him a month's credit on his bill and a reversal of the $75 service fee.
Maguire had already dealt with a call centre in India when he had a problem with his Bell Sympatico online service.
"People there are unfamiliar with our climate and social outlook," he says. "Every time, it takes over an hour to even come close to resolving a problem, as they leave you hanging on the phone to ask questions of someone or read their manual."
Paul Bigras, a Bell Sympatico customer, was also rerouted to India when he called for help with his email.
"The person required three attempts to find my personal information in her system," he says. "She kept me on hold five minutes while she spoke with a technical rep, only to hang up on me mid-sentence, while asking more questions. I got hung up on another three times over the next three hours.
"The irony here – Bell being first and foremost a telephone company – is that while we're on hold, we're constantly reminded of how important our calls are. Or are they?"
The Indian call centres take calls that were already outsourced to Canadian call centres, Pasquini says.
"The issue is less about an international vendor than it is about a customer not being served appropriately. Whether that occurred at a vendor in Canada, a vendor in India or even at our own call centres, we will seek to remedy the situation, and use it as an example of how we can improve service in general."
Ross Baker called Bell's technical service about the intermittent static on his home phone.
Given an 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. window for service – isn't that rather large? – he booked a day off work. But the night before, he got a computer phone message, saying all was well and his appointment was cancelled.
"Ironically, when I called back, I had almost too much static to make myself heard," he says. "After 45 minutes trying to find a supervisor, I had no satisfaction and was treated like dirt."
A customer service rep gave him a 1-888 number to escalate his complaint. Guess what? The number was out of service.
Baker had a technician come to his home at 10 a.m. on the day he booked off work, once I got on the case. But he is concerned about "the undertone of exasperation that emanated from all the customer service people who had to manage the resolution of my issues."
What do you think? Has Bell's service improved? All advice is welcome and I'll publish the highlights in another column.