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.