Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Ombudsman hits phone companies for a record $28 million as complaints soar

PHONE companies paid a record $28 million in fines to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman after the worst year for complaints against mobile, fixed and broadband operators.

The biggest phone companies contributed $24 million of that total. The TIO's annual report for 2010-11, released yesterday, revealed it received about 200,000 new complaints in the period, an increase of 18 per cent. This was despite a TIO campaign in 2009 to improve customer service, which saw a mild decrease in complaints in 2009-10.

Individually, Telstra received 78,950 complaints, Vodafone Hutchison 54,600, Optus 28,323 and iiNet 2974. The increase in iiNet's complaints was attributed to its acquisition of AAPT's residential customers.

The Ombudsman, Simon Cohen, singled out Vodafone for increasing the overall number of complaints after it recorded a 222 per cent increase in complaints against it during the financial year, at 35,563, up from 11,040 the previous year.

A Vodafone spokesman yesterday said it had improved network performance and service since late 2010 when it was flooded with complaints about coverage.

"Some of the network issues at the start of the year, and the ensuing rise in the number of complaints we received, impacted customer service," the director of customer service and experience at Vodafone Hutchison, Cormac Hodgkinson, said yesterday.

"This was difficult for our customers to endure, so we changed the way we operate to make things easier for our customers."

The company added 300 call centre staff, improved self-help portals and fast-tracked a significant upgrade to its overall network infrastructure.

Mr Cohen said he would like more powers to report companies to the communications regulator if systemic issues arose out of customer complaints.

Mr Cohen said the TIO was "actively exploring" whether it would report each company's customer numbers, which would give more meaning to the volume of complaints recorded against the company.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority may be more successful at tackling poor customer service through its threats to introduce court-enforceable standards if the telecommunications industry does not voluntarily improve customer service standards.


Friday, August 12, 2011

Telcos' customers put through the wringer when they complain

PHONE and internet customers are spending more than nine hours battling their providers to resolve serious complaints.

Half of them are shunted between four or more departments in the process, an ombudsman's report will reveal today, the Herald Sun reported.

The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman survey of more than 500 customers who lodged complaints with the watchdog last year found that 100 of them were forced to endure more than nine hours of pleading their cases.

A third of customers surveyed spent more than six hours trying to resolve their problems. More than half spoke with their provider five or more times before going to the ombudsman, and 31 per cent of problems dragged on for more than three months.

Findings included:

MORE than half of respondents asked to speak to a supervisor but 65 per cent were refused and most were told one wasn't available.

ALMOST 40 per cent said their telco promised to help but did nothing.

ABOUT 60 per cent were not told when their problem would be resolved.

Customer service and complaint handling overtook billing and payments as the most common of the 170,000-plus complaints to the ombudsman last year.

The ombudsman, Simon Cohen, said the time telcos took to deal with complaints was a concern, but nine out of 10 cases could be resolved quickly once customers were referred to the right person.

"If that happened even more often there would be much less need for consumers to have to come to us at all," Mr Cohen said. "And I think that would be something that would be in everybody's interest."

Australian Communications Consumer Action Network chief executive officer Teresa Corbin said mandatory standards for handling customer complaints - such as time limits - were needed.

The measures were recommended in an Australian Communication and Media Authority draft report that is due to be finished this month. "I think the industry almost counts on customers to give up," Ms Corbin said. "They have had years to fix this. Time's up, telcos, it's time to improve your customer service once and for all."

Industry body Communications Alliance chief executive John Stanton said the industry was aware of the issue and working to address it.


Thursday, May 19, 2011

Another Telstra bungle upon bungle

Toowoomba mother hit twice with $91k phone bill

A $91,372 phone bill has Highfields mother of two Kym Ford at breaking point. Kym Ford is tired of getting the run-around by Telstra over a ridiculously large, $91,372 bill.

The Telstra bill, comprising mainly unknown SMS charges, is a mystery to Ms Ford. She contacted Telstra's complaints department to have the charges cleared and was told the “simple computer glitch” would immediately be corrected. But a month later she received another bill which this time had an outstanding balance of $91,412.98.

Ms Ford again contacted Telstra. “I was told that the first bill would be credited straight away and the complaint was closed,” she said. “But then they told me the second time that nothing had actually been done.”

Ms Ford said it just took some simple maths to shed light on just how ridiculous the charges were. At 25 cents a text message, she would have had to have sent 365,488 messages a month or eight messages every minute.

The ludicrous phone bills were not the last of Ms Ford's worries. After returning from holidays in January, she found an iPhone waiting for her complete with a bill of $1100. Ms Ford said she had never ordered or signed-up for the iPhone. “I sent it back to them straight away as I had only just signed up for this phone that I have now,” she said. “Now I'm receiving late charges for overdue amounts for this mystery iPhone.''

The overdue charges for the iPhone have added up to $340 which Ms Ford said was adding to the financial pressure she was already feeling. “As a single mother of two with a house to pay off, I'm afraid the overdue fees will affect my credit rating,” she said. “I don't understand why it's such a problem; all of the calls were recorded.”

A Telstra representative said the charges applied to Ms Ford were still being investigated and she would be contacted shortly. “It appears that the charges may be a result of fraudulent activity,” the representative said. “The customer may have replied to an email or phone call requesting her details.”

The representative said all of the charges relating to the iPhone would be waived.