Service Canada needs to improve its service to small business: Nearly a third of calls do not receive adequate information

Toronto, January 8, 2019 – Nearly a third of calls to Service Canada did not provide complete or accurate information to small business owners, according to a new secret shopper study by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB). CFIB shared the results with Service Canada and encourages them to make a commitment to improve their services in 2019.

“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. “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.”

The study found that 41 per cent of all calls were redirected to another government agency, requiring callers to hang up and go through the waiting process again, without the assurance that they will receive the information they need. Only 34 per cent received complete and correct information on their first call.

CFIB’s Service Canada Call Centre Report Card examined the customer service and accuracy of information provided by both the general Service Canada line and the Employer Contact Centre. CFIB representatives from six provinces placed a total of 205 calls to both lines over a period of two months asking questions typical of small business owners looking for information on five scenarios related to Employment Insurance and Labour Market Impact Assessments. They evaluated and rated the level of service along a number of criteria, including ability to connect with an agent, wait times, accuracy of information, accountability and agent professionalism. 

“Ease of access to accurate, complete information is very important to busy small business owners,” added Pohlmann. “They often don’t have HR specialists or lawyers on staff, so the burden of understanding and applying government regulations they face is disproportionately high.”

The study also found that:

  • Service Canada agents only provided their first names to callers, making it difficult to hold them accountable for their answers and service.
  • The average hold time for 1-800-O-Canada was less than a minute and about five minutes for the Employer Contact Centre – both within Service Canada delivery standards.
  • A majority of agents were professional and courteous, with only 6 per cent of calls ranking “poor.”

A resolution to do better in 2019
CFIB recommends that Service Canada improve its training process to ensure agents have the most up-to-date information and hold them accountable for the information they provide by having them provide their ID numbers to all callers without being prompted. Service Canada can also increase access to information by raising awareness of specialized lines like the Employer Contact Centre and allowing questions to be sent electronically. Finally, Service Canada should implement a system for agents to directly transfer calls to the correct department, so callers don’t have to hang up and go through the waiting process all over again.

“This report highlights the gap between what is expected of small business owners and the resources that are available to them,” concluded Pohlmann. “We hope Service Canada commits to working with us to improve their services so that small business owners can be confident in getting the support they need.” 

For media enquiries or interviews, please contact:
Milena Stanoeva, CFIB

About CFIB
The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) is Canada’s largest association of small and medium-sized businesses with 110,000 members across every sector and region. CFIB is dedicated to increasing business owners’ chances of success by driving policy change at all levels of government, providing expert advice and tools, and negotiating exclusive savings. Learn more at