Telco complaint numbers drop to new low: TIO

The Telecommunications Ombudsman has reported that during April to June 2015 there was a 9.7 percent drop in complaints per 10,000 services in operations.

The number of complaints about the service of telecommunications that were made to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) has dropped to an 18-month low, according to the latest Telecommunications Complaints in Context report.

The TIO reported during April to June 2015 for all participating providers, there were 6.5 complaints per 10,000 services in operations (SIO), a 9.7 percent drop compared to January to March 2015 where 7.2 complaints were reported per 10,000 SIO, and a 14.5 percent difference compared to results produced during April to June 2014.

The TIO said the results reflect the overall decrease in TIO new complaints, which reduced by 10.5 percent during 2014-15.

"This is the lowest level of new complaints since 2007-08," it said.

Complaints per 10,000 SIO continued to decline for Telstra, Vodafone, and Pivotel, to 6, 6.3, and 1.8 respectively during the same period. Telstra recorded its best complaints in context result to date, a 13 percent reduction from January to March 2015.

For Vodafone, it was the sixth consecutive quarter where complaints continued to drop, from 8.6 last quarter, and down from 14.3 in April to June 2014. According to the Communications Alliance, Vodafone is now displaying performance better than the average among all participants in the contextualised complaints reporting program.

Errol Van Graan, Vodafone director of customer service, said the result of the latest report is proof of the company's efforts to improve the experience for customers.

"It's very pleasing to see our customers are even happier with their Vodafone experience, with the ratio of complaints in the April quarter less than one third of that just 18 months before," he said.

"Our aim is to be best-in-business, and while we will continue working hard to achieve that, it's encouraging that our ratio is now below the industry average.

"We attribute this result to our continued investment in our strong network and customer service operations, our award-winning bill shock initiatives and more simplified products."

In September, Vodafone secured a deal with TPG worth more than AU$1 billion that will see TPG shift its 320,000 mobile customer base from Optus' network to Vodafone, and also provide dark fibre services to Vodafone for 15 years.

Vodafone along with Telstra secured AU$185 million in government funding in June to build or upgrade 499 mobile base stations in Australia as part of the mobile blackspots program. The new or upgraded stations are expected to cover more than 68,600 square kilometres of extra or new mobile coverage, and 150,000 square kilometres for mobiles with external antennas to 3,000 blackspots in total.

Similarly, Telstra's director of customer service Steve Bannigan said the results for April to June demonstrates the company's progress on customer service.

"We're really encouraged by this result, particularly as we grew our customer base by 850,000 services over the course of the year," he said.

"It's still six complaints too many and we have a long way to go, but we've been working hard to improve the experience our customers have with us and it's good to know we're heading in the right direction."

On the other hand, Optus and Amaysim were the only telcos during the quarter that saw complaints per 10,000 SIO increase. The TIO said during April to June 2015, there were 8.5 new complaints per 10,000 SIO from Optus customers, up from 7.3 reported during January to March.

"Optus has told the TIO that an increase in landline and internet fault complaints during April-June 2015 was a factor that contributed to this increase," the TIO reported.

The Communications Alliance further added Optus acknowledged there was an increase in new complaints to the TIO for the year ending June 2015, compared to the previous years, saying it was driven partly to weather impacts, network issues, and a significant rise in mobile data usage on its 4G network.

In response to the rise, the Communications Alliance said Optus has implemented a number of initiatives to improve the experience for mobile and fixed-line customers, including faster delivery of usage alerts, enhanced front-line education, and additional field technicians.

For instance, in August, Optus combined its one frequency-division duplex (FDD) and two time-division duplex (TDD) 4G LTE spectrum bands in Newcastle to offer significantly higher-speed mobile data downloads that have so far reached 317Mbps. The company also launched 4G+ in Melbourne in September. There are plans to deliver the service in Sydney CBD, Brisbane, and Adelaide in the new year.

Optus had also announced during the year there were plans to shut down its 2G network from April 2017 to shift its customers onto the 3G and 4G networks.

The telco also launched its "WiFi Talk" app to enable its customers to make and receive calls and texts to landline and mobile numbers globally via a Wi-Fi connection.

Earlier in the month, Optus laid claim that it was providing 100 percent of the Australian population with mobile coverage after the launch of its SatSleeve satellite service, as long as the customer is within line of sight of the satellite.

SatSleeve+ connects across Apple, Samsung, Huawei, Sony, HTC, and LG devices, turning them into satellite phones when using the iOS and Android SatSleeve app. The app then automatically connects voice, SMS, and data users to satellite services when out of range of the traditional mobile network after a one-off initial setup process.

"Optus reports that these initiatives have been well received by customers and that complaints decreased in the July-September 2015 quarter," the Communications Alliance said.