Almost 200,000 telco complaints in Aussie in the past year

17.8 percent year-on-year increase in complaints to Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman in Australia

For all the talk of reforming telecommunications customer service in the past year, almost 200,000 new consumer complaints were received by the office of the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) in the last 12 months.

Detailing the 17.8 per cent year-on-year increase in complaints, the chairman of the TIO Council, Andrew Dyer, said many consumer complaints could have been resolved directly by telcos had consumers been able to contact the appropriate department of their service provider.

“Sadly, an increasing number of customers are unable to make the appropriate connections with their provider, or their discussions with the provider are ineffective, and are contacting the Tio instead,” Dyer said in the TIO’s 2010-11 Annual Report (PDF).

“Industry needs to provide stronger leadership in both determining and eliminating the root causes of customer complaints as well as ensuring that their customers can readily contact their complaint handling department to enable an expedient resolution.”

Discussing the source of the increased complaints ombudsman, Simon Cohen, said mobile phone-related issues were the major culprit -- up more than 50 per cent to more than 112,000 new complaints.

“While the well-publicised network and customer service issues affecting Vodafone in early 2011 were the cause of much of this increase, this company was not alone in receiving more complaints,” the report reads.

“Credit management issues generally, including complaints about unexpectedly high bills, continued to increase. There were better signs towards the end of the financial year, with new complaints decreasing somewhat in the fourth quarter.”

According to TIO chairman of the board, John Rohan, the increase in complaints during the year put stress on existing ICT systems to the point where the agency needed to move develop a work-around.

“The increased demand …placed additional stress on the core business IT platform,” the report reads. “Short term solutions allowed the current system to meet demand but the need for the replacement of the ageing system became clearer. Considerable work has now been completed on this major project which will be implemented before the end of 2011-12.”

Cohen also noted that the increase in complaints occurred despite the national debate – particularly the ACMA’s Reconnecting the Customer enquiry which ISPs such as Exetel rejected -- about the right changes for customer service and complaint handling in the industry.

Cohen said that for the TIO’s part the agency had raised more than 50 systemic problems with telcos and ISPs ranging from sales and transfer practices to billing and credit management issues.

In August, the TIO said despite the continued talk of improved customer service, many telecommunications providers have yet to provide swift resolution to customer issues. In July, consumer advocacy group the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) said Australian telecommunication providers would have to face up to mandatory regulation of their industry and the introduction of measures such as standard pricing for data costs.

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