Bell ordered to pay Montrealer $1,000 over ‘Kafkaesque’ customer service

The judge said service providers must ensure customers can easily cancel their contracts without imposing “an undue burden.”

A Quebec Court judge has ordered Bell Canada to pay a Montreal customer $1,000 after ruling he was subject to a “Kafkaesque” experience while trying to cancel his satellite television plan.

“Requiring a customer to endure a seventy-five minute telephone conversation in order to resolve a problem that, on the surface, seems relatively simple, creates undue inconvenience,” Huppé ruled.

The case dates back to May of that year, when longtime customer Gilles Tessier first contacted the company in hopes of cancelling his plan.

According to the decision, an employee confirmed over the phone that Tessier’s subscription would be cancelled as of the next day. However, in June, Tessier noticed his credit card had been charged for the service up until mid-July.

When he called the company back on July 2, he was met with what the judge described as the “Kafkaesque” customer service: Over the course of more than an hour, Tessier would be transferred multiple times and speak with six different employees.

On a first call, Tessier explained the situation and provided his customer information  —  name, date of birth and account number  —  before being transferred to the loyalty department.

After being asked to repeat his information and the reason for his call to the next employee, he was put on hold until the call abruptly cut out.

When Tessier called back, he stayed on the line as he was transferred from department to department, growing increasingly exasperated.

After making it through to an employee in the cancellations department, the decision says, a 37-minute conversation followed during which there was “clearly a complete lack of understanding between the two callers.”

Instead of solving the issue, the employee transferred Tessier to the company’s department that approves new connections  —  despite him trying to cancel his subscription, not sign-up for a new service.

“Mr. Tessier is surprised by this, and rightly so given the purpose of his call, but nevertheless explains his situation,” the judgment states, noting he was then transferred back to the cancellations department.

Tessier was finally told his initial cancellation request from May was on the company’s records but hadn’t been carried out. His credit card was reimbursed.

He sued Bell Canada for his troubles in 2022, seeking $8,000 in damages.

Huppé ruled the customer service could have been better but noted he did not doubt each individual employee was acting in good faith.

“However, the fact the employees were continuously bouncing the call back and forth without resolving Mr. Tessier’s problem … points to a dysfunction in the services offered,” Huppé wrote.

The employees, he added, “clearly applied a protocol which they are not free to deviate from but which has a cumulative effect of dehumanizing the service Bell provides.”

Bell Canada did not return a request for comment on this article.

Huppé rejected Tessier’s request for $8,000 in damages but nonetheless ordered Bell to pay him $1,000 to compensate for the inconveniences.

He noted that, under the Civil Code of Québec, service providers such as Bell must ensure any customer can easily cancel a contract without imposing “an undue burden on them.”

The judge ruled the company didn’t deliberately ignore Tessier’s initial request to cancel his plan, but rather erred in not carrying it out.

“This error was corrected,” Huppé wrote, “albeit in an unduly laborious manner.”

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