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Optus sees massive spike in customer complaints

Optus has recorded a 47 percent increase in the number of complaints to the TIO in the last financial year.
Written by Josh Taylor, Contributor

Telstra and iiNet have led the way in a reduction in complaints to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) in the last financial year, but a massive rise in complaints about Optus has led to more mobile complaints across the board.

According to the TIO's annual report (PDF), the ombudsman received a total of 193,702 complaints in the 2011-12 financial year, with 122,834 of these complaints relating to mobile phones.

A 9 percent rise in total mobile phone complaints were largely due to Optus and its subsidiary Virgin, as well as Vodafone. Optus saw a jump in complaints of 46.9 percent, from 28,323 in 2010-11 to 41,602 in 2011-12, largely led by complaints about mobile services.

Optus told ZDNet it was concerned about the rise in the number of complaints but said that complaints were higher in the first quarter of the year, and the company accelerated the roll-out of its data usage alerts in order to address high complaints about bill shock.

Optus subsidiary Virgin recorded a 33.1 percent increase in complaints from 6,142 to 8,177, with the last two quarters of the financial year seeing a particularly high number of customers complaining to the TIO about mobile service issues.

Vodafone saw an 11.3 percent rise in complaints for the year, up to 39,588 from 35,563. Complaints for the financial year peaked between October through to December, and began to decline in the last quarter of the financial year by 25 percent.

Telstra, however, recorded a massive drop in complaints for the year, down 21.5 percent from 78,949 in 2010-11 to 61,991 in 2011-12. This represented Telstra's third year in a row of reduced complaints.

Overall, Telstra still has the lion's share of complaints being dealt with by the TIO; however, the company also has the largest market share in both the fixed-broadband market and the mobile market, with 2.6 million fixed-broadband services and 13.8 million mobile services.

Of the other providers, iiNet recorded a 26.4 percent decrease in complaints from 2,974 to 2,188, TPG had a 23.7 percent decrease in complaints from 4,797 to 3,662, Primus saw a 5 percent decrease from 1,110 to 1,055, and complaints to Crazy John's decreased 5.7 percent, from 2,781 to 2,622.

The Communications Alliance, the industry group representing telecommunications providers, said that the drop in overall complaints for the last quarter was "small but encouraging" for providers to build on, with the implementation of the Telecommunications Consumer Protection (TCP) code.

"Much remains to be done, as evidenced by the continued rise in complaints about mobile services and the fact that total complaints for the year fell by only 2 percent," CEO John Stanton said.

"But with unit pricing already in place, better pre-sale information going to consumers and many service providers already offering comprehensive spend-management tools to customers in advance of the code timelines, the industry is positioned for continuing service improvements that should translate into further improvements in customer satisfaction."

Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) CEO Teresa Corbin said that the drop in complaints is welcome, but that there is a long way to go.

"While any decrease in the number of customers experiencing problems is welcome, 193,702 people having to resort to the ombudsman to get their problem fixed is still far too many," Corbin said.

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