Telco complaints fall as NBN complaints rise

Overall complaints to the TIO for mobile, internet, and landline services have reached an almost 10-year low, while complaints are on the rise for NBN services.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) has published its quarterly complaints statistics, revealing that while overall complaints are at their lowest number for nine years, complaints about the National Broadband Network (NBN) have risen.

NBN complaints grew by 4.6 percent quarter on quarter to reach 2,262 during July to September 2015.

While delays during connection to the NBN decreased by more than 14 percent, down to 447 complaints, this signalled an increase in proportion, making up 34.9 percent of internet connection delay issues from all internet service providers (ISPs), rising from 24.1 percent last year.

NBN has argued, however, that with a greater number of premises having been connected this quarter, complaints as a proportion have dropped.

"The number [of] complaints is actually going down if you consider the rapid rise in connections this year," an NBN spokesperson told ZDNet.

"At 2 July this year, 489,158 premises were active on the network, and that grew to 612,433 by 1 October, or the end of the quarter, a rise of 25 percent."

Industry body the Communications Alliance added that the drop in migration complaints suggests customer migration onto the NBN is improving.

"The figures also point to a greatly improved experience for consumers who are migrating their services to the National Broadband Network. NBN-related complaints to the TIO rose by 4.6 percent during the quarter, but the number of active premises connected to the NBN rose by 26 percent during the same period," said CommsAlliance CEO John Stanton.

"Clearly, the efforts of service providers and NBN Co, combined with the government's Migration Assurance Policy and the migration guidelines put in place by Communications Alliance are combining to greatly reduce the incidence of issues when customers shift their services onto the NBN."

The TIO's annual report had revealed a sharp 68.6 percent increase in complaints by consumers about the NBN. Connection delays made up 1,360 of NBN complaints, while 595 were about fully unusable services and 384 were about missed connection appointments.

In order to minimise connection delays, the government released its draft Migration Assurance Policy in July, outlining plans on how to migrate customers onto the NBN, and how Telstra will disconnect its copper and hybrid fibre-coaxial (HFC) networks thereafter.

The draft policy drew on industry consultation as well as the migration experiences of the initial 31 rollout locations, and called for migration data and information to be shared between Telstra Wholesale, NBN, RSPs, and application service providers in a "timely, accurate, and consistent" manner in order to mitigate delays.

Acting Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman Diane Carmody added that NBN's increasing rollout has not led to a parallel increase in complaints, statistics-wise.

"It is encouraging to see that as the rollout of the network speeds up, we are receiving fewer complaints about one of the main issues consumers have been reporting to us for more than a year," Carmody said.

Overall complaints to the TIO, meanwhile, numbered 26,023 during the quarter -- a 14.8 percent decrease from the 30,539 complaints recorded during the same period last year.

Issues with mobile services made up 40 percent of all complaints, while complaints about internet services contributed to 32 percent, and landline issues made up the remaining 28 percent of all complaints.

Billing and payments accounted for the highest proportion of all complaints, at 44.3 percent, followed by customer service, at 39.8 percent; faults, at 30.4 percent; complaints handling, at 26.9 percent; contracts, at 23.9 percent; credit management, at 17 percent; connections, at 12.1 percent; and other issues, at 5.9 percent.

Mobile complaints fell to 10,340, a substantial drop of 31.2 percent year on year from the 15,034 recorded over July-September 2014. Complaints about excess data charges also decreased, down 50.3 percent from 2,524 in the same quarter last year to 1,254 this year -- the lowest number in almost six years.

While complaints about internet services numbered just 8,454 for the quarter, 1,663 complaints logged were in regards to slow data speeds -- 66.3 percent more than last year. The primary issues for this topic included slow speeds during peak hours, and not receiving the speeds they signed up for.

"The causes of slow data speed can vary, and may include the distance from the consumer's house to the exchange, and congestion during peak hours when more people try to use the internet," Carmody said.

Billing and payment were the most commonly complained about issues, making up 44.3 percent of all complaints. Disputes involved the total bill amount, having to pay a monthly bill for an unusable service, excess data charges, and termination fees.

Landline complaints, meanwhile, were down 16.4 percent from the 8,644 recorded last year to 7,229 during this quarter. Connection delays were the primary complaint made about landline services, at 1,038 complaints.

There were 46 telecommunications service providers with more than 25 complaints during the quarter, with Telstra leading the way at 11,988 complaints, trailed by Optus, at 5,109; TPG at 1,114 and iiNet at 1,072, for a combined number of 2,186; Vodafone Australia, at 2,081; Dodo, at 847; Virgin, at 380; M2 Commander, at 344; Primus, at 227; Vaya, at 178; Southern Phone and Spintel, both at 136; Exetel, at 111; Internode, at 100; and NBN, at 97.

ACN, Adam, Amaysim, Australian Private Networks, Blisstel, Boost Tel, Business Service Brokers, Club Telco, Comms Service OPS, Crunch, Ello, Engin, Foxtel, Fuzenet, Intelico, Lebara, Live Connected, Lycamobile, Medion, My Net Fone, Next Business, Smart Business, Just Telco, Letz Talk, Total, TransACT, VHA, and Westnet also saw complaints number more than 25.

Of Telstra's total complaints, 4,222 were for mobile services, 3,832 for internet services, and 3,934 for landline services. The most complained about issue for its landline and mobile services was billing, with faults seeing the most complaints for internet services.

The TIO's Annual Report 2014-15, published in October, revealed that while Telstra, Vodafone, TPG, and Virgin all improved their complaints statistics, Optus, iiNet, and M2 all increased substantially.

Optus saw an increase in total complaints of 31.5 percent, from 14,144 during FY14 to 18,601 in FY15, while iiNet customer complaints were up by 26 percent, from 3,051 complaints in 2013-14 to 3,844 in 2014-15.

All three of M2 Group's telco brands also saw substantial rises in complaints. Complaints about Commander were up a massive 73.6 percent, from 864 in FY14 to 1,500 in FY15; Primus was up 18.5 percent, from 1,072 to 1,270; and Dodo was up 17.3 percent, from 3,187 to 3,737.

Meanwhile, Telstra, Vodafone, TPG, and Virgin all saw an improvement in their customer complaint numbers. Complaints about Telstra decreased by 4.3 percent, down to 55,529 for 2014-15, while Vodafone's dropped by 46.2 percent, from 35,876 to 19,311; TPG's by 5.4 percent, from 4,759 to 4,501; and Virgin's by 38.9 percent, from 3,460 down to 2,115.

In an effort to improve customer access to complaints statistics, Macquarie Telecom on Monday announced that it will begin providing live data on its Net Promoter Score (NPS).

"NPS is rapidly becoming the standard measure of customer satisfaction for businesses around the world, and Macquarie Telecom's experience shows how powerful it can be if the feedback from customers is communicated in real time," said Macquarie Telecom CEO David Tudehope.

"From today, every person in the business can see how we are performing in real time, and now, our customers will, too."

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