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Fewer Australians complaining about telcos

Complaints to the Australian Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman have recorded an almost 20 percent year-on-year drop, according to the latest statistics.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

Australians are complaining less frequently about their telecommunications company to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO), according to the latest statistics.

The statistics revealed in the latest TIO Talks report released today states that there has been a 19.2 percent drop in overall complaints, year on year.

In the last financial year, there were 158,652 complaints, despite a total of 50.6 million services in operation, with the biggest decline in complaints coming from mobile services by 27.8 percent, while complaints about landlines dropped 2.4 percent, and complaints about internet services dropped 0.8 percent.

"The clear trend over the past three years is for fewer complaints per services in operation," TIO Simon Cohen said in a statement.

"The rate of increase in services has slowed, while TIO complaints have reduced. This trend is evidence that the increased focus on customer service by telcos is reducing the need for consumers to contact the TIO to resolve disputes."

In the last three months of 2013, there were 33,351 complaints made about telecommunications providers, representing a 6.7 percent decline compared to the previous three months, and a 12.9 percent year-on-year decline.

There were 2,812 new complaints about mobile coverage for the quarter, a decline of 30 percent, which the TIO said was the lowest level since the July quarter of 2010, prior to Vodafone's infamous network issues.

Call dropouts and slow data complaints also saw a decline, and overall complaints about mobile providers dropped to 18,234 for the quarter, representing a 4.9 percent reduction in complaints.

Cohen said that the drop in complaints was a tribute to the attention that mobile providers had paid to customer service.

"Complaints about mobile coverage have more than halved over the past six months," he said.

"It is a positive story for an industry that has very publicly committed to doing better by its customers."

Landline complaints dropped by 9.2 percent in the quarter to 7,701 new complaints, and internet service complaints dropped by 9.1 percent to 6,984 in the quarter. Cohen said that complaints about fixed-line services were at their lowest since the last quarter in 2006.

Vodafone complaints rise

Despite a good quarter for the telecommunications industry as a whole, and in a time when Vodafone is looking to win back customers, the telco recorded a rise in complaints for the last quarter of 2013 from 8,627 to 9,388.

Vodafone explained to ZDNet that the rise was associated with a change in crediting for customers who complained about network coverage. Vodafone has implemented a new internal network coverage checker, and customers who are believed to have network coverage in their area, but have still complained to the telco about coverage are not immediately credited when threatening to complain to the TIO.

Telstra, as the largest fixed and mobile provider, recorded the most complaints overall, with 13,403 for the quarter, relatively evenly distributed across landline, internet, and mobile services. The company recorded a drop in complaints compared to the previous three months, with 14,235 complaints in July to September 2013.

Optus recorded the lowest complaints of the three major telcos, at 3,312 complaints in the last three months of 2013, down from 3,805 complaints in the previous three months.

Optus subsidiary Virgin also recorded a substantial drop in complaints, down from 1,255 between July to September 2013, down to 818 between October and December 2013.

iiNet, TPG, and Dodo also reported modest declines in complaints for the last three months of 2013.

The drop in complaints overall for mobile companies was welcomed by the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association. CEO Chris Althaus said that the drop in complaints about coverage showed that the AU$10 billion investment in networks across Australia has paid off.

"The big fall in complaints about mobile coverage not only reflect the industry's investment in networks, spectrum, and technology, but also highlights industry's intense focus on customer service," he said in a statement.

Consumer lobby group the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) said more still needs to be done, in particular for customers exceeding their monthly data limits.

"The combination of smartphones, tablets, 4G speeds, and the abundance of apps means consumers can chew through their data allowances quicker than ever," ACCAN spokesman Mark Callender said in a statement. "We're concerned with these increases in data bill shock."

Optus' new plans automatically see customers bumped up to an AU$10 per month higher plan when they exceed their data limit, while Vodafone and Telstra still offer customers data packs when they near their monthly limit.

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