The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) is "actively investigating" reporting the total number of customers a telco has alongside its annual number of complaints to provide a better understanding of the complaints received, according to ombudsman Simon Cohen.
The TIO yesterday revealed that mobile phone problems have caused a record number of complaints to be sent to the office in the last year. It received 197,682 complaints in 2010-11, an increase of almost 18 per cent on the prior year. Vodafone was the main telco singled out, accounting for 32,000 from over 112,000 mobile phone complaints, an increase of 222 per cent on the previous year.
Telstra saw a 3.2 per cent decline in complaints, resulting in a total of 28,351 mobile-related complaints.
While comparing a telco's complaint figures year-on-year enables readers to see how the company is tracking against itself, it is difficult to determine how the telco is performing against its competitors as figures on total customer numbers are not included in the TIO's statistics. For instance, while Telstra reported 28,351 complaints, it has over 12.2 million mobile customers. This equates to 0.0023 per cent of customers complaining to the TIO. Whereas, at last reporting, Vodafone, with 7.2 million customers and 32,000 complaints, has 0.0044 per cent of customers complaining.
Cohen told ZDNet Australia that reporting customer numbers is something the ombudsman was investigating.
"I'm very conscious of a community interest of how we might do that and we're actively exploring how that might occur," he said. "I think it's not as easy as it sounds. In going down a path like that we need to make sure of not only our own confidence in that approach but also the confidence of our key stakeholders."
Reporting accurate customer numbers would be a challenge as customers move from operator to operator. In the same year that the TIO reported record complaints against Vodafone, the company also lost 345,000 mobile customers. Similarly, as Telstra saw a decline in its complaints, it added a total of 1.66 million new mobile customers. In addition to this, the total number of mobile customers reported by telcos in Australia outstrip the total population of Australia. All this would make it very difficult for the TIO to work out an accurate method of reporting total customer numbers, Cohen said.
"The devil will be in the detail. The concept sounds goods and how you actually make that meaningful in the context of our information is going to be the critical question," he said, adding that the TIO was consulting with peer ombudsman offices on their methodologies for reporting.
The TIO was also looking into how to investigate complaints from customers that involve a problem on the wholesale level, Cohen said. For instance, if a complaint against a retailer was brought before the TIO that centred around a problem with the wholesaler. Cohen said the TIO was working on dealing with all parties involved.
On Telstra's bucking the trend in seeing a drop in complaints, Cohen said that Telstra's shift to an emphasis on customer service from CEO David Thodey was key.
"One of the things we've seen with Telstra in the last 12 months is unquestioningly a commitment from the CEO to do better in customer service and to do better in complaint handling," he said. "I'm aware, through briefings in those areas, of the efforts being made to try and make sure that consumers are getting through to expert complaint-handling areas, so that their problems can be solved."