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Vodafone complaints climb higher than Telstra's

Vodafone has attributed its sudden jump in consumer complaints to the Ombudsman on 'administrative matters', although it experienced an outage this quarter.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

According to the Australian Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) statistics for July to September 2016, consumer complaints about Vodafone Australia have jumped higher than those about Telstra.

Every quarter, the TIO, in conjunction with Communications Alliance, publishes a Complaints in Context report covering landline, mobile, and internet service complaints from residential and small business consumers.

Vodafone, which had previously enjoyed several years of consistently low complaints numbers, saw its number increase substantially over the year, from the 4.1 complaints per 10,000 services in operation (SIO) reported last October to 6.2 this year, and almost two-thirds more than last quarter's 3.8.

Vodafone attributed the rise in complaints to "administrative matters", pointing out that its complaints number remains "in line with the industry average".

"In the year to date, Vodafone's escalated complaints, which are cases where the TIO believes a satisfactory response has not been provided to a customer, are at record low levels. Further, the total number of Vodafone cases received by the TIO in the year to date has reduced by almost one third year on year," a Vodafone spokesperson said.

"Complaints rates can and do fluctuate for various reasons from time to time, and we are committed to working with our customers to understand their rights and responsibilities."

Vodafone's rise in complaints may also be due to the 4G mobile outage it experienced in September, which affected data, voice, and text messages.

The 4G outage was caused by a router issue, which subsequently led to a large number of customers attempting to use the 2G and 3G networks, with a high level of congestion following.

During the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) conference last month, Vodafone chief strategy officer Dan Lloyd said the telco concentrated on bringing down complaints by implementing a complete "mind shift" across the business.

"What we really did was a mindset shift, so I think historically, the company viewed complaints as something that you needed to manage, rather than signals that there's something that you really need to think about and probably need to change," Lloyd explained.

"And we've now set up a very systematic process where our frontline teams have a route direct to the top of the company to tell us dynamically what is it customers are complaining about, and then we have forum that doesn't simply ask how can we make those annoying customers go away, but asks what is it that we could fundamentally change?

"It's out of that process that we made big changes to our products and services, made big changes to our credit policies, made big changes to our whole complaints-management system, and I think it's only when you make that fundamental mindset shift that you can drive the sort of amazing productions that we've driven over the last few years."

Over the quarter, complaints about all telcos numbered 6.2 per 10,000 SIO, up from last year's 5.5 but down slightly from last quarter's 6.4.

(Image: Screenshot by Corinne Reichert/ZDNet)

Optus VP of corporate and regulatory affairs David Epstein, addressing the overall drop in telecommunications consumer complaints, said it is as a result of the industry "maturing".

"In essence, it's a function of the industry maturing, and understanding that it's no longer in an environment where there might be two or three customers waiting," Epstein said last month.

"It's about retention, it's about service, and people just won't cop it. The other thing is, it's probably an industry, because it grew up with the TIO almost from the very start of the mobile period, that to some degree informally outsourced its complaints processes rather than taking accountability for its own actions.

"Overall, customer service is getting better, it's getting more consistent. Telcos are getting more approachable, and working out ways to reach out to their customers. There are, however, some ripples in areas; I don't think as an industry we've quite worked out how to solve the issue of interface with the NBN just yet. There's a lot of manual processes, there's a lot of feeling the way through."

Optus, which saw the most complaints this quarter, had 7.2 per 10,000 SIO -- up from 6.7 last year but down from last quarter's 7.7 complaints.

Telstra's complaints have continued rising year on year, from 5.5 during the same quarter last year to 6 this year, although down from last quarter's 6.8 complaints per 10,000 SIO, apparently having recovered after its seven outages during the first half of this year.

Amaysim's complaints also rose slightly, from 0.9 last year and 0.8 last quarter to 1.1 this quarter.

Communications director Ged Mansour last month said that after acquiring Vaya for AU$70 million in January, Amaysim managed to bring down the "huge level of complaints" associated with the former company by introducing a new workplace culture.

"It's about instilling a culture of simplicity and a culture of compliance across the industry, whether you're big or small," Mansour said.

"And we dove in straight away, and while we see Vaya as the real price fighter, whereas Amaysim is more about the customer experience, there was some basic things that we could do straight away, like remove unnecessary fees, make some of the plans easier to understand, make the plans even more powerful for customers that really are wallet conscious.

"As a result, we saw complaints through the TIO drop by 80 or 90 percent when you look at year-on-year comparisons."

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