The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman has today released a damning report into telecommunications customer service, despite the fact that the industry has just released a draft new Telecommunications Consumer Protection Code to improve customer satisfaction.
The ombudsman today released its annual report, which said that mobile phone problems have caused a record number of complaints to be sent to the office. It received 197,682 complaints in 2010-11, an increase of almost 18 per cent on the prior year.
"The record number of complaints made to the TIO is disappointing. Customers who have complained to us have been frustrated not only by mobile telephone problems, but also by deficient customer service and complaint handling," Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman Simon Cohen said in a statement.
Over half of the new complaints received by the ombudsman were about mobile phones. This was a rise of 51 per cent on the previous year. Mobile phone coverage and drop outs were the problems that riled consumers the most, according to the ombudsman. Other complaints had to do with a lack of information being provided to consumers around charges — for example, the number of complaints about mobile internet charges rose 26 per cent.
Again, Vodafone gained star billing in the report, with the ombudsman receiving 32,000 from over 112,000 mobile phone complaints about the mobile telco; triple the complaints related to the telco last year.
Vodafone had issues last year when its network became congested, limiting customers' service. However, the complaints seem to have come to a head, peaking in January, as Vodafone Hutchison Australia (VHA) CEO Nigel Dews said earlier this year.
Vodafone today acknowledged the sharp rise in customer complaints during the first quarter of this year, saying that it had taken steps to improve the network — it is investing millions in network upgrades — and its customer service.
It said that adding 300 staff to contact centres has seen wait times decrease, and that it was continuing to work on efficiency. Extended customer service hours, virtual hold and the My Vodafone portal were all additional measures that the telco has taken to improve its service.
Telstra's complaint levels fell slightly over the year, recording a 3.2 per cent fall. Most of its complaints were landline related. Optus saw a 4.9 per cent increase, although the last quarter of the year saw a stiff increase in complaints. Vodafone's sister telco under the VHA umbrella, 3, registered a 40.5 per cent increase in complaints, similar to TPG's 42 per cent rise, although TPG's were mainly internet-related complaints, while 3's were mobile. iiNet had a large number of complaints in the October-to-December quarter of last year. The number of complaints, which were mainly landline related, has only gradually fallen back, leading to a 173.2 per cent rise in complaints for the year. Dodo only registered a small increase in complaints, with 1.9 per cent more than last year, while Crazy Johns went crazy with a 168.7 per cent increase.
"There has also been an alarming increase in the number of consumers with high debts, because they could not monitor their usage adequately, the majority using mobile phones," Cohen said in a statement.
Landline, internet and mobile premium services complaints fell this year. The number of investigations also fell, which the telecommunications industry ombudsman took to prove that its processes to help telcos and consumers solve their issues are working.
The rise in complaints led to the telecommunications ombudsman hiring more people, taking on 65 more staff than it had on 30 June 2010.
Most of the complaints that the ombudsman receives are closed after the TIO transfers the complaint back to the telco. Investigation and conciliation lead to 8.8 per cent being closed in 0 to 76 days, and 2.7 per cent being closed in 77 to 172 days; 0.2 per cent were closed in more than 172 days.