According to the latest annual report by the Commission for Complaints for Telecom-television Services (CCTS), the number of complaints from small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) rose 15 per cent over the past year, to the point where they now represent 10 per cent of all complaints against the telecommunications industry.

CCTS commissioner Howard Maker says that as more SMB owners lodge complaints against telecoms, it’s critical they be aware of their contracts’ terms.

CCTS commissioner Howard Maker told ITBusiness.ca said that while it’s difficult to draw conclusions from any one year, noting that the increased number of complaints could be a result of the organization’s various public awareness campaigns, he did observe that many complaints from SMB owners relate to early cancellation fees and contract auto-renewals, pitfalls they should be aware of given the role telecommunications services play in many businesses today.

“Telecom services are the lifeblood of so many businesses now,” he said. “To just take that for granted is certainly a risk for sure.”

The majority of small business complaints, Maker said, were related to contract disputes and local phone services, with business owners more likely to focus on contractually-based services than consumers – understandable, he noted, since small businesses tend to rely on fixed-term contracts, which are more likely to incorporate early cancellation fees and auto renewal clauses into their terms.

For example, many small business owners will enter a contract and fail to notice when it expires and is automatically renewed, he said.

“The customer complains and cancels it, and then you get an early cancellation fee,” he said. “That’s a big source of complaints.”

Though Maker said he couldn’t speak to the different practices of the more than 300 service providers surveyed by CCTS, he said the organization has observed many of them inserting a note into bills three months before they expire saying that if they don’t hear back from the customer the contract will be automatically renewed.

“Often the business owner doesn’t see the bill,” he said. “The bookkeeper is dealing with it and sometimes there’s gaps in the process there.”

Though CCTS has encouraged service providers to reach out in multiple ways, including direct phone calls to an SMB’s registered owner, which Maker noted “goes a long way to generating good will and avoiding disputes,” the onus is partly on customers, who should know when the end of their contract is coming up.

“It can be tough to keep track of these things, but it’s not rocket science to make a diary entry down the road that you have to look into it,” he said.

Awareness of contract terms is critical for any business owner, Maker said, but SMB owners especially should know when they have entered a two-year contract which expires on a certain date.

If nothing else, he added, they can always program a reminder into their phone.

With files from Brian Jackson.

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