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.


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