Monday, September 20, 2010

Telcos try to shift blame to customers

TELCOS are blaming technology-challenged customers for the surge in complaints about phone and internet services. The Communications Alliance and the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association - representing the nation's telcos - have admitted to a government inquiry that "there are problems in areas of customer management".

Gold Coast software engineer Kim Holley [above] has no trouble keeping up with the technology; her beef with Telstra BigPond is over a simple billing error.

Every month since March, Ms Holley has been charged a late payment fee for her internet account, even though her bills are direct-debited to her credit card. "I've probably spent at least two hours per month on this issue and I really would love to bill them for my time," she said yesterday.

"It's more the annoyance because I have a very busy travelling schedule for work, which is why I set up direct debit in the first place, and the bigger risk is they could turn off my service while I'm overseas."

Ms Holley said call centre staff assured her each time that the problem had been fixed. "Then it happens again, but every time I phone they have no record of me having called about the problem previously. I shouldn't have to explain the entire problem to them over and over and over again."

Telstra's director of customer service and satisfaction, Jules Scarlett, yesterday said Ms Holley's case would be investigated urgently. [Isn't publicity wonderful?]

Complaints against Telstra fell from 31,255 in the three months to September last year to 21,270 in the three months to June, she said. Telstra's share of industry complaints had dropped from 51 per cent to 45 per cent during 2009-10. "But this number is still too high so we're focused on making the improvements needed to simplify our business and better serve our customer," she said.

Industry-wide, complaints about phone and internet services fell 6 per cent last financial year, ending a seven-year cycle of soaring complaints to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman. The Ombudsman fielded 215,154 complaints from consumers in the year to June, down from a record 230,000 in 2008-09, according to confidential data provided to the industry.

Despite the fall, complaints have more than doubled in three years, and quadrupled in a decade. And as customers often complain about more than one problem - such as the failure to rectify an initial billing error - the number of issues totalled 481,418 in 2008-09.

ACMA has threatened to regulate unless the telco industry improves its customer service through the existing voluntary self-regulatory code of conduct.


Monday, September 6, 2010

Telecommunications regulator tackles telcos over poor service

Telcos are threatened with binding standards as customers make four complaints every minute. And as the big gorilla of the industry, this applies particularly to Telstra

PHONE companies' slack service to customers is unacceptable and they need to "do much better".

The Australian Communications and Media Authority has warned it will impose binding standards for customer service unless the industry improves its self-regulatory code of conduct, The Australian reports.

Authority chairman Chris Chapman said the existing poor standard of customer service was unacceptable. Mr Chapman said telecom customers' "exasperation and frustration" was shown by the "unacceptable trend line" in consumer complaints to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman.

The ombudsman has been receiving complaints about billing, faults and connections of landlines, mobile and internet services at the rate of 1850 issues every weekday - or nearly four per minute.

"The banks used to be like this, but have lifted their performance over the past 10 years," Mr Chapman said yesterday. "I'm saying to the telco industry, your time has come." The telcos' customer service "is unacceptable and they've got to do much better".

The telecommunications industry is reviewing its three-year-old consumer protection code, which will require ACMA's approval next year.

At the same time, Mr Chapman said, if ACMA chose to impose its standards on the industry, telcos could be penalised for poor service. "We will invoke a standard in the event the code didn't provide sufficient consumer safeguards," he said. The standard would "open up telcos to a whole raft of enforcement possibilities". There would be a dramatic increase and toughening of the sanctions that existed under the voluntary code, he said.

Mr Chapman condemned the industry for failing to enforce its existing code of conduct. And he called for a "paradigm shift" in the way telcos treat their customers. "At the moment there is a disconnect between the provisions of the code and the outcomes, and the outcomes aren't good enough," he said.

"The future communications environment is going to be even more complicated than in recent times. "The industry will have to be even more creative and clever in the way it looks after customers."

The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network said yesterday the telcos' existing industry code was "not worth the paper it's written on". "We need a commitment from the industry that it is prepared to comply with the code and issue public reports on its performance," acting chief executive Teresa Corbin said.