Aussie ISPs and telcos warned to overhaul consumer protection rules

Advocacy group, ACCAN, issues the warning following a telco customer survey

Australian ISPs and telcos have been put on notice that they must lift customer service standards following a call from the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) that consumer protection rules be overhauled.

ACCAN's call, which also seeks a thorough inspection of whether the current self-regulatory system is working in the best interests of consumers, follows the release of a survey of its members into the state of ISP and telco customer service.

According to the survey, excessive periods spent on hold, multiple internal transfers and poor communication skills by front line staff are major concerns held of Australian telecommunication customers.

ACCAN acting chief executive officer, Teresa Corbin, said the results showed customers were “fed up” with the way they were treated by their service providers.

“Customers are forced to endure long periods spent on hold and being transferred from operator to operator,” Corbin said. “Add to that the frustration experienced by a customer who cannot make themselves understood or understand the person at the other end of the line.”

Corbin said that consumers blamed management, rather than call centre staff, for not providing adequate training for staff and for not giving these staff the authority to resolve simple issues.

The call follows hotly on the heals of a report compiled by the Cyberspace Law and Policy Centre from the University of NSW which also found the Australian communications sector’s complaints process is “unacceptable”

“Time’s up for the telcos,” Corbin said. “We’re very hopeful that the ACMA’s customer service inquiry will bring about real change so that the past dark decade or so of appalling customer service can be consigned to history.”

The call will come as no surprise to Telstra (ASX:TLS) with the company’s chief executive, David Thodey, noting in June that the telco’s need to become more focused on its customers, a shift he said could take as long as five years.

The Australian Telecommunications User Group (ATUG) has also been vocal in its calls for the telco sector to lift its customer service.

In June, the ATUG claimed the take-up of services on the National Broadband Network (NBN) could potentially be hindered by poor telecommunications customer service and the high level of consumer complaints it has received in recent years.

ATUG managing director, Rosemary Sinclair, said she expected the problems to magnify under the NBN.

“The industry assures me I’m worrying about nothing... but if consumers have been burnt so far, it is going to make them uncertain about the NBN and take-up will be less than required to ensure that transformation and productivity,” Sinclair said.

“I think there needs to be a rethink of the role of the TIO [Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman] which is a statute that has been in place for a long time. The cost-benefit equation may be better if the industry puts a bit of money into the TIO without having to invest so much into fixing customer service problems.”

Despite this, the TIO in July flagged accessibility as a major focus with the appointment of new TIO, Simon Cohen, and claimed new technologies were needed to ensure the telco sector complaints were handled.

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