Consumer protection in the digital age | So Good News


In an age of political division and culture wars, few things unite people like our hatred of idle chats, call centers and endless hours on the phone that go nowhere.

For this reason, Spain’s plan to force companies to provide a real person to customers in time should win the vote, even if the proposal is not good.

But don’t expect such a move from the Canadian government, observers say. While policymakers here have recently gone to war with airline passengers, the government’s indifference to customer care remains even after years of customer frustration during the pandemic.

Overall, Canada’s consumer protection laws are “weak and poorly enforced,” said Gail Henderson, a professor at Queen’s Faculty of Law. “It’s like [Spain’s] It may help a little, but consumers also need governments to do better in providing access to reliable, affordable and mobile internet, and to help advance digital technology.”

Indeed, Canadians pay some of the highest wages in the world. That’s because policymakers on both sides of the aisle have taken a mercantilist approach since the 1980s. One of the government’s biggest priorities is not disrupting the environment for innovation and growth, especially in technology. Meanwhile, consumer protection has been on the government’s radar for years. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has not made good on his promise to create a new Canadian Consumer Advocate. “It’s still a broken promise,” said Daniel Tsai, an associate professor at the University of Toronto who teaches law, business, and technology.

But if Spain moves forward with its proposals, it could move the needle in the other direction, especially if it encourages similar action in the European Union, Tsai said. “Canadian consumers and members of parliament will have an incentive to fight for equal rights in Canada.”

Currently, there are no federal laws in Canada that require businesses to provide services from a living person, according to ISED.

As with many things in Canada, consumers are protected by a mix of federal and provincial laws, so it can be difficult to determine who has jurisdiction over different financial sectors. The Canadian Consumer Protection Act it covers the right to protection, information, and consumer education, as well as the right to demand reform. State and local laws focus on how businesses deal with consumers.

Spain’s intentions are ambitious – some say extreme. In May this year, the government unveiled its Customer Service Bill, which still needs to be approved by the Spanish Parliament before becoming law. Among other changes, it requires companies with more than 250 employees to provide a real live person during business hours, reduce the waiting time to three minutes and solve problems within 15 days. “The endless waiting times that cause frustration are over,” the Minister of Consumer Rights Alberto Garzón told reporters.

Companies can face fines of up to €100,000 for persistent violations or if the problem affects vulnerable consumers. Providers of essential services, such as utilities, telephone, and internet, will provide customer service around the clock.

How far this change in Spain will go is not known, mainly due to operational difficulties and strong opposition from businessmen.

“Implementing a three-minute wait time would require more investment in call centers, which could be passed on to customers,” said Camden Hutchison, an associate professor of law at the University of British Columbia. “For big businesses with a lot of customers, I think this is going to be very expensive.”

There are also questions about what the proposed bill will achieve in terms of job development. “If customer satisfaction is the most important thing for a company, wouldn’t it make good business sense to have that resolved? Do we really need laws to get a business to find a way to serve customers,” asked Joan Westland Eby, former mayor. of Bolton Est, Quebec, is a consultant on integrated policies and programs.

Whether it makes sense or not, study after study shows that customers prefer to talk to people. But the promise of low loans is a great incentive to go down the robot path, regardless of what customers want. Industry analyst Gartner estimates that the mobile industry could cut costs by $80 billion by replacing humans with AI chatbots.

Downsizing customer service departments benefits companies in two ways: companies enjoy lower costs and fed customers can absorb the losses. “Without specific rules, there’s no incentive for companies to take their expectations seriously,” said Jonathan Schachter, a consumer protection lawyer at Waddell Phillips in Toronto.

There are also issues of equity at stake. When companies offer their customers their old services, many are lost, especially when problems arise.

“There’s a concern that as companies try to move away from things like paper bills and traditional social media and put everything online, that some consumers are going to be left behind,” said Queens University’s Henderson, who says he’s stopped waiting. event. “But I’m going to be able to get some money back that I didn’t expect – most Canadians can’t afford it.”

That’s why consumer advocates say we should try to match Spain’s commitment to improving customer service in Canada. Ways to get big companies to publish support numbers is a good start. “Covering them can include vulnerable people,” Schachter said.

“It’s the right way, [firms] it can provide comprehensive telephone service to customers who need it without the high cost of requiring three minutes.”

Agnese Smith is a frequent contributor in London, England.


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