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Telecoms begin to reopen stores, will continue having fewer technicians visit customer homes

Telecoms begin to reopen stores, will continue having fewer technicians visit customer homes

BCE Inc. has recently reopened roughly 270 of its Bell Canada – seen here in Toronto on March 25, 2020 – The Source and authorized dealer stores – primarily in Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba and Alberta – and hopes to open another 250 this week as more provinces lift restrictions.

Melissa Tait/The Globe and Mail

Canada’s telecom companies are doing away with frequently touched demo devices as they begin to reopen their stores and will continue with pandemic-induced changes that will mean fewer technician visits to people’s homes.

Measures such as enabling call centre staff to work from home and using video support to help customers install their own devices have largely been successful, the major telecommunications providers say, and some are looking to continue offering these options after quarantine measures are lifted.

Rogers Communications Inc. said it’s planning to permanently increase its remote work force, after seeing how effective its team of more than 7,000 customer care and technical support agents has been at resolving customer issues from their homes during the pandemic.

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“We want to preserve the very best of how we’ve pivoted to serve our customers and protect our team, and weave these thoughtfully across our company as we come out the other side,” Eric Agius, chief customer officer at Roger, said in an e-mail.

The global health crisis has also accelerated an industrywide shift toward a self-service model, where customers are sent devices such as internet modems and personal video recorders and given instructions, or in some cases video assistance from technicians, to help install them. Rogers said its customers have embraced the change, which over the long term has the potential to reduce costs for telecom companies.

Rogers uses a model it calls “assisted self-install,” in which a technician nearby helps the customer install the gear – in one instance, a Rogers technician in New Brunswick climbed a ladder to give an elderly customer living on the second floor of an apartment building instructions through his window.

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“That model will evolve over time, over the longer term to something that is a complete self-install,” Rogers chief financial officer Tony Staffieri said during a conference call last month to discuss the company’s financial results.

Shaw Communications Inc., meanwhile, has laid off roughly 100 of its field technicians in British Columbia’s Lower Mainland as a result of the success it is has seen with self installations. The company said it doesn’t expect to return to its prepandemic model once health and safety restrictions are lifted.

In the short term, Canada’s telecom providers, who had left a small handful of stores open for emergency services, are focused on implementing health and safety measures as they gradually reopen more locations.

Street-level stores will open first, followed by those in malls. Kiosks, which pose a particular challenge for physical distancing, are set to open last.

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BCE Inc. has recently reopened roughly 270 of its Bell Canada, The Source and authorized dealer stores – primarily in Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba and Alberta – and hopes to open another 250 this week as more provinces lift restrictions.

The company is using many of the same tactics as other retailers to reduce the risk of coronavirus transmission, including enhanced cleaning, providing masks to its employees and installing plexiglass dividers between staff and customers. Hand sanitizer will be available at its store entrances.

“It’s important to slowly get back to some semblance of normalcy, and for some customers there is pent-up demand for communication tools,” BCE chief executive officer Mirko Bibic said in a recent interview.

Bell, Rogers and Telus Corp. will all be limiting the number of customers in their stores and either doing away with demo devices or shielding them behind displays, so customers shopping for new phones and tablets will no longer be able to hold them in their hands before buying – at least for now.

“Our team member and customer safety are our top priority, so in-store we will be providing a touchless experience,” Telus spokesperson Richard Gilhooley said in an e-mail.

Telus is also encouraging its customers to order their phones and have them delivered to their homes.

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And while retail staff begin returning to their posts, BCE said its office employees will continue working from home for the time being. “We’re going to stay the course until further notice,” Mr. Bibic said.

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