Would somebody PLEASE answer the phone?

Fewer than two thirds of Canadian telcos respond to all online inquiries and more than a third share their customers’ personal data without permission, according to a recent survey of carriers across the country.

The survey, conducted by The

Customer Respect Group Inc., of Bellevue, Wash., saw Rogers Communications Inc. score best, while Aliant Communications Inc. had the lowest overall score. In general, Canadian telecom firms did worse than their U.S. counterparts did in similar surveys by the same research firm earlier this year.

Roger Fairchild, president of Customer Respect Group, said his firm did two surveys of U.S. telcos this year, in February and August, and the industry average improved slightly in that time. He said the telecommunications industry’s overall ratings are slightly below the average for all the industries the firm surveys.

The rankings are based on such factors as speed of response to online customer inquiries, the simplicity and ease of navigation of the companies’ Web sites, whether sites are customer-focused and friendly and the companies’ privacy policies. Customer Respect Group evaluates companies by studying their Web sites and sending test inquiries to determine response time.

The Canadian survey included 11 companies. Rogers ranked with nine points of a possible 10, followed by Bell Canada with eight and Microcell Solutions Inc. with 6.8.

The other eight companies in order of ranking were Cogeco Cable Inc. (6.2 points), Sprint Canada Inc. (6.0), Telus Corp. (5.7), Allstream Corp. (5.5), 360networks Corp. (5.2), Shaw Communications (4.9), Videotron Ltee. (4.7) and Aliant Corp. (3.5). The Canadian companies averaged 6.0 points, while the average of the latest U.S. survey was 7.0.

Fairchild said Rogers and Bell scored best on principles and transparency — including privacy issues — and Telus and 360networks were also strong in this area.

The survey found 73 per cent of telecom firms post privacy policies on their Web sites to explain how customers’ personal data will be used. Of those, 25 per cent do not collect data or use it only for internal purposes, 38 per cent share it with affiliates or subsidiaries, and 37 per cent share data without customer permission.

It also found that 18 per cent of the firms surveyed — that is, two of them — did not respond to any customer inquiries. Two others responded to only half of the inquiries received — one within 48 hours, the other after four days.

Ross McKerlie, vice-president of e-business at Rogers Communications, said his company has spent a lot of time on making sure customers get prompt responses to online inquiries. The effort paid off with Rogers receiving a perfect 10 score on this measure, Fairchild noted, adding that Videotron also did well on responsiveness.

McKerlie said Rogers incorporated more than 700 customer suggestions in the last redesign of its Web site, and is planning another redesign now. “It’s not a perfect 10 yet,” he said, “but we’re still working on it.”

Lynn Coveyduck, public affairs manager at Aliant, said her company would look at the issues raised in the survey and try to use its advice in improving the carrier’s Web site. “This is one other tool that we’ll be able to use to make our online experience better for customers,” she said.

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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