The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) has announced record levels of complaints against telcos for the first three months of 2011, with Vodafone making up the lion's share of complaints received.
A whopping 14,670 of the massive total of 59,532 complaints received by the ombudsman in the first three months of this year were about Vodafone — as a result of the company's ongoing issues with call handling and 3G network connectivity. This 96 per cent increase in complaints on the previous three months came from a peak in January, with fewer complaints recorded in February and March.
In late February, Vodafone announced that it would overhaul its ageing Ericsson 2G and 3G network infrastructure and replace it with new Huawei radio equipment at over 8000 base stations over the next 18 months. Work on this project began on the Central Coast of New South Wales late last month.
But the complaints weren't limited to Vodafone, with customers railing against all telcos an average of 31 per cent more than the previous 3-month period, with a 50 per cent increase in complaints relating to mobile phone services. The TIO noted that the focus of many of the new complaints was around customer service issues: "inadequate assistance, long wait times and failing to act on customer requests, in addition to concerns about wrong advice".
"The sharp rise in new complaints to the TIO point to a grim quarter for consumers," ombudsman Simon Cohen said in a statement. "We have never received so many complaints. We received increased complaints about landlines, internet services and a 50 per cent increase in mobile telephone complaints."
The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) said that the industry shouldn't just blame Vodafone for its problems.
"The industry will point the finger at Vodafone and say, yet again, that there is no problem. The truth of the matter is that complaints about customer service and complaint-handling issues continue to climb across the board," ACCAN CEO Teresa Corbin said in a statement.
"This disastrous result at such a critical time would be laughable if the impact of this industry's inability to get it right didn't affect so many millions of Australians every single day. Communication services are vital and every telco customer in Australia has a horror story about dealing with telco providers — no matter who you have a service with."
Corbin said that not even banks recorded this level of complaints.
"Even the banks — which draw ire from just about everyone — only receive 23,000 complaints in a whole year a year about the way they do business. The telcos get 60,000 in a single quarter — there's no doubt this is the worst industry to deal with in the country."
The TIO's role is currently under review by the Federal Government. In submissions to the review published last month, the three big telcos have all suggested that the ombudsman's funding system based on complaint escalation levels may not be appropriate and should be re-examined.