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Only one-third of small business calls to Service Canada result in accurate, adequate information on the first try, a Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) study has found.

Overall, however, the Service Canada call centres scored a B-. The study praised the centres’ professionalism, but cited accuracy and agent accountability as areas for improvement.

From May to July 2018, CFIB reps in six provinces made 205 calls to the Service Canada call centre and the Employer Contact Centre. Only 198 calls went through. Of those calls, reps deemed 34% of the answers to be complete, 17% as incomplete and 7% as incorrect. Forty-one percent of calls were referred to another department.

“It’s alarming that so much of the information small business owners are getting from Service Canada could be incomplete or outright wrong,” said Corinne Pohlmann, CFIB senior vice-president of national affairs, in a release. “They’re looking to the government to make sense of the complex regulatory system it sets out for them. If Service Canada’s own agents can’t help them find the right information, it can be harmful to the small business and its employees.”

Service Canada provides support on issues such as employment insurance, records of employment and labour market impact assessments. The federation pointed out that many small businesses do not have HR departments and rely on the call centres.

In terms of accountability, CFIB callers found that Service Canada agents only provided their first names, and in 14% of cases, the agent said their name too quickly or not at all. The federation said that such practices make it “difficult to hold [call centres] accountable for their answers and service.” Instead, it recommends implementing a mandatory ID system for agents, similar to the Canada Revenue Agency’s system.

Other recommendations from the CFIB study include:

  • improving staff training, particularly on new developments in small business issues;
  • reducing the target time for an Employer Call Centre call to be answered from 10 minutes to five minutes;
  • sending callers webpages during calls, as opposed to after the call happens, so that callers can verify their understanding during the call;
  • allowing agents to directly transfer calls between departments so callers do not have to hang up and start again.

The federation also assessed the CRA’s helpline in 2010, 2012 and 2016, giving it a C- all three years.