Telcos "turning a corner" on customer complaints

By Dylan Bushell-Embling
Wednesday, 17 October, 2018

Telcos "turning a corner" on customer complaints

The Australian telecoms industry appears to be finally “turning a corner” on customer satisfaction and dispute resolution, according to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO).

Complaints to the TIO from residential consumers and small businesses dropped by 17.8% sequentially during the final quarter of FY18, despite rising 6.2% for the full year.

“The number of complaints about telecommunications services in Australia appear to be turning a corner,” Ombudsman Judi Jones said.

“Declining complaints across all landline, mobile and internet services are a positive indicator of recent industry, government and regulator efforts to address the disruption to telecommunications products and services of the past few years.”

For the full year, total complaints grew to 167,831, driven by an 8.7% increase in complaints from small businesses. This segment accounted for 12.2% of total TIO complaints for the year, with residential consumers making up the remainder.

Complaints about mobile services accounted for 30.6% of total complaints, internet services accounted for 27.8%, landline services made up for 11.2% and complaints about property made up 0.7%. The remaining 29.7% of complaints were recorded about multiple services.

NSW and Victoria predictably accounted for the majority of complaints, with the former accounting for 31.6% and the latter for 28.4%. This represents an increase from the prior year of 4.9% and 9.3% respectively.

Complaints also increased in Queensland (19.6% of total complaints, up 13.2% from last year), Western Australia (9% of complaints, up 10.7%) and Tasmania (1.8% of complaints, up 0.7%), but declined in the ACT (1.5% of complaints, down 5.6%) and NT (0.6% of complaints, down 0.1%).

Total complaints about establishing a connection to the nbn increased to 14,589 from 11,224 the prior year, but complaints per 1000 premises added to the network decreased to 9 from 9.2. over the same period.

Complaints about service quality on the nbn meanwhile reached 27,008, representing a decrease in complaints per 1000 premises added to the network of 3.2 from 4.1 a year earlier.

Communications Alliance CEO John Stanton said TIO data shows a consistent improvement in complaint volumes since February.

“Recent industry, government and regulatory improvements are starting to deliver a dividend for consumers. These measures, which are either the initiative of or supported by industry, demonstrate how seriously telcos are taking the need to improve consumer outcomes and drive down complaint numbers,” he said.

Such initiatives include the ACCC’s recent Broadband Speeds Guidance and the telecoms Minister’s CEO Forum.

“The strengthening of the enforceable Telecommunications Consumer Protections (TCP) Code — which is currently underway — will continue to improve service provision for telecommunications consumers,” Stanton said.

Meanwhile, nbn co Chief Customer Officer Brad Whitcomb said the TIO’s figures show that the number of complaints regarding establishing an nbn connection or changing provider fell 33% in the second half of the financial year compared to the first, and complaints about service quality fell 7% over the same period.

“Over the past year in particular, we focused our efforts to improve those aspects of the customer experience within our control, keeping the consumer at the forefront of our decisions,” he said.

“The outcomes of these efforts can be seen in our latest monthly progress report, which shows 94% of installations of nbn equipment in our control was completed right the first time compared with 86% a year earlier.”

But Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) CEO Teresa Corbin said that while the improvements in the fourth quarter are encouraging, this is the third consecutive year of rising complaint numbers.

“It is time to draw a line in the sand — consumers deserve better from their telco providers,” she said.

“Customer service continues to be an ongoing issue for Australia’s telco providers. On behalf of Australian telco customers, we will continue to work with the industry and regulators to push for better outcomes such as reduced time frames to resolve issues and increased first contact resolution.”

Corbin recognised the efforts of companies including Vodafone, iiNet, TPG, Dodo and Southern Phone who have seen a decrease in complaints, but said it was disappointing to see Optus and new nbn market entrant MyRepublic experience a significant rise in complaints. TIO figures show that complaints about MyRepublic grew 101.6% over last year.

But in its defence, MyRepublic issued a statement noting that the company only launched in late 2016, so the 2017–18 figures represent the first full year of data from the operator. The company has also faced significant challenges related to the nbn’s multitechnology mix, to the extent rivals such as Telstra have not, MyRepublic said.

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