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Vodafail provides report to ACCC, ACMA

Vodafone accountability website Vodafail has opened up a new and dramatic front in its ongoing war against struggling mobile telco VHA, submitting a 30-page report to Australian regulators on what it considers to be the telco's failings.
Written by Renai LeMay, Contributor

Vodafone accountability website Vodafail has opened up a new and dramatic front in its ongoing war against struggling mobile telco VHA, submitting a 30-page report to Australian regulators on what it considers to be the telco's failings.

The report, dubbed Vodafone's situation: yesterday, today and tomorrow and available online (PDF), was put together by Sydney resident Adam Brimo over the past month, using data collected from user submissions to his Vodafail website since it was established in early December. Brimo has submitted the document to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and the Australian Communications and Media Authority.

In the document, Brimo said that the aim of publishing the report is to provide "an insight into the scale and complexity" of VHA's network and customer service issues over the past few months since October 2010, as well as the potential causes of those issues, and potential resolutions.

For example, the report documents that Vodafail.com has received some 146 complaints about customers not receiving voicemail or SMS messages on time; that 446 Vodafone customers didn't like its automated voice response system (dubbed 'Lara') and that some 6242 customers had complained that they did not have phone or data reception in an expected coverage area.

"Vodafone's current situation appears to be the result of underlying network issues [and] poor customer service exacerbated by the difficulty customers have both in getting in contact with Vodafone and the lack of accurate information being made available by Vodafone," Brimo wrote in the report.

The report unfavourably contrasts the geographical areas where Vodafone claims it has coverage with areas where Vodafone customers have reported coverage problems (typically concentrated in cities) and derides the telco's customer service skills.

According to Brimo, possible causes of VHA's woes include technical and business philosophy problems stemming from its creation via the merger of Vodafone and Hutchison's Australian operations, poor communication with customers, and the possibility that VHA acquired too many new customers thoughout the past year while not investing sufficiently in its network to support them.

In the report, Brimo noted that there would be no "immediate solution or resolution" that could fix VHA's problems overnight.

"However, there is no doubt that a number of the problems Vodafone is experiencing could have been alleviated through better communication with its customers," he wrote, comparing VHA's handling of its crisis unfavourably with similar corporate issues suffered recently by the likes of Skype and the National Australia Bank.

Not all of the Vodafail report is based on hard statistical evidence from complaints on the site, however. Brimo said in the report that some of his information was provided by anonymous VHA employees — and "therefore cannot be verified".

The report contains anonymous emails from persons that Brimo claimed are VHA employees. Brimo has said that much of his speculation as to the possible causes for VHA's problems is based on first-hand research and publicly available information rather than official information provided by VHA itself.

The report also contains a number of opinionated or speculative statements. For example, Brimo notes that a number of staff appeared to have left after the VHA merger. "This reduction in costs may have been a desirable result for VHA as a significant portion of the synergies in the merger would be a result of fewer retail stories and fewer staff," he wrote.

VHA has been contacted for a response to the report, but has not yet made a statement on the issue.

However, over the past month a number of the company's executives have publicly apologised for the problems, and the company has posted frequently on its Vodafone blog to update customers on actions it was taking to remedy problems.

Despite this, advocacy group the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network slammed VHA's response to the crisis, describing the situation as an "information vacuum".

"Adam deserves all of our thanks for his effort in setting up the Vodafail.com website and taking a month out of his life to run it," ACCAN director of policy & campaigns Elissa Freeman said in a statement released with the report. "Prior to Adam setting up Vodafail.com, many customers thought they were alone in experiencing problems because Vodafone failed to let people know what was going on."

The advocacy group claimed that Vodafone had not only damaged its own reputation by "failing to be up-front with its customers", but had also "damaged the industry as a whole".

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