NorthwesTel prepares for competition
Past practices not good enough, president says

by by Nancy Gardiner
Northern News Services

NNSL (Feb 03/97) - The president of NorthwesTel says what bothers him most is "NorthwesTel's customer service."

This, says Jean Poirier, "is the company's biggest priority."

Next is working with employees in dealing with customers. "It's prompted by the reaction of customers and our own employees," Poirier said in an interview in Yellowknife last week.

"Let's face it, it's the advent of competition -- with more choice you have to improve your customer service," he said.

Already, the telecommunications company is "losing revenue to legal and illegal competition in the Northwest Territories." Calling cards provided by other companies, fraud and the possibility of resellers entering the foray are serious concerns.

"The CRTC (Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission) will have to devise a model where competition can be allowed into the North but some sort of formula would be needed so that service is maintained in the NWT," Poirier says.

If competition is allowed, resellers could buy capacity on NorthwesTel's network, but he said the tariffs wouldn't be enough to make up for the loss in long distance charges.

In terms of affordability and access to services, however, NorthwesTel has provided "pretty much the same level" as competitors in the rest of Canada, he said.

The company has been busy implementing its new strategic plan. It anticipates other companies competing in the North since they've already asked the CRTC to put an end to the monopoly.

Poirier was also critical of some of the way NorthwesTel downsized in 1995-96. "The 811 access was terrible. But it has improved by moving into new quarters with a new answering system to help us manage the workflow."

In order to keep tabs on this, NorthwesTel has enlisted a Montreal firm to ask customers on a regular basis about their satisfaction with the quality of service provided.

NorthwesTel employs 600 people, with most of them based in Whitehorse, Iqaluit and Yellowknife.