Do disabled consumers get worse customer service?

A CRTC secret shopper program for telcos shows satisfaction was high overall, but revealed some troubling disparities.

A new report from the CRTC suggests that while the majority of potential consumers’ sales interactions with telco companies are positive, there is still a portion of the population who are not having their needs met – especially those with disabilities.

Observations from previous CRTC reports suggested Canadian telcos may have been engaging is misleading or aggressive retail sales practices. In response, the CRTC launched a process last year, commissioning a “secret shopper” aimed at the six largest telco providers in Canada – Bell, Rogers, Telus, Sasktel, Freedom and Videotron – across in-store, online and phone channels. The number of secret shopper visits were weighted to align with each company’s market share, as well as geographic and demographic factors.

The project’s results indicated that while the overall satisfaction rate of Canadian telco consumers was roughly 80% – across categories like “appropriate products or services recommendation” and “misleading sales practices” – one in five prospective consumers still felt they may have faced misleading or aggressive sales tactics, with 26% feeling they were not recommended appropriate products or services.

But what’s more is that people with disabilities were “significantly less likely” to feel like they had been recommended a product or service that was suitable for their needs (65%) versus those who don’t have a disability (76%), the report notes.

People who are deaf or hard of hearing had a rate of 88%, while blind or partially sighted shoppers had a much lower satisfaction rate of 64%. Deaf-blind shoppers had the lowest satisfaction rate at 50%.

The report is clear to point out that in scenarios related to smaller telcos or less-populated regions, the sample size of disabled shoppers was not big enough to draw definite conclusions about systemic issues across the industry. However, the suggestions in the report still point to some areas of much-needed improvement.

The report cited multiple possible reasons for the differing satisfaction rates, such as the fact that consumers with disabilities typically have lower customer satisfaction rates compared to non-disabled individuals – likely attributable to wider issues around accessibility in retail and sales settings. The report also notes that certain aspects of the sales process, like the online chats on the service providers’ website, are not always accessible to all Canadians who are blind, partially sighted or rely on assistive devices like screen readers to allow them to browse websites.

The report also states that while companies like Rogers and Bell advertise their capabilities of accommodating deaf shoppers with sign language interpreters during sales interactions, “in reality, the process appears to have proven to be prohibitively difficult for the secret shopper who tried to access this accommodation.”

When it comes to the reason for launching the project in the first place, 13% of shoppers felt that they were not given sufficient time to make an informed decision and 11% felt they were pressured by an employee to sign up or consider a product or service. Comparatively, 14% of people with disabilities felt pressured to sign up for a product, going up to 15% for those who were blind or partially sighted and 19% for those who were deaf-blind.

But one of the biggest disparities came after an initial offer was declined – 44% of shoppers with disabilities faced a salesperson’s persistence to overcome an objection, compared to 29% of those without disabilities.

As to whether or not the information provided by telco service providers was “clear” and “simple,” people with disabilities were significantly less likely to find the information as such (80%) compared to those who don’t have disabilities (90%). Disabled individuals were “much more likely” to find the information misleading (18%) compared to those without disabilities (6%).