ACCAN calls on ACMA to impose penalties on telcos

Vodafone in the firing line with a 96 per cent increase in complaints

The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) has called on the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) to impose penalties on telecommunications companies with poor customer service following the release of statistics from the TIO finding a massive increase in complaints against Australian telcos.

In a statement released today in response to the TIO’s data on complaints received in the past six months, chief executive of the consumer body, Teresa Corbin, said telcos had failed their customers across the board.

“Why should a customer have to resort to the Ombudsman in order to get Telstra, Optus, Vodafone – and all of the other players recording multi-million dollar profits – to resolve customer service and complaint handling problems?," Corbin said in a statement.

"There’s no other industry that has failed its customers so comprehensively over such an extended period of time."

Corbin said the number of complaints received by the TIO, which equated to 671 calls per day from July to December last year, must result in the ACMA stopping self-regulation by the telcos.

“We’re calling on the ACMA to introduce a complaint-handling standard to bring this industry into line," Corbin said. "Today’s record number of complaints, the latest in a line of historically high figures, is further evidence that the industry cannot be allowed to continue to regulate itself.”

The TIO's figures indicated that the second half of 2010 dealt an especially harsh blow to Vodafone, with complaints against the telco increasing 96 per cent; an increase of 5370 complaints for the period.

While the TIO said the crux of the problems Vodafone were facing stemmed from a lack of 3G coverage and reports of poor service, complaints about long waiting times and customers being unable to contact the telco at all also arose.

“Customer frustration with Vodafone is understandable,” TIO Ombudsman, Simon Cohen, said in a statement. “It is one thing to have a service problem, but what is particularly concerning is when consumers cannot contact someone to have their problems sorted out.”

Vodafone has defended itself against figures issued by the TIO, with Vodafone Hutchison Australia chief executive, Nigel Dews, today responding to the figures.

Vodafone said had hired some 300 extra staff members as part of its customer service team in order to ease customer concerns, but still had more work to do.

“While numbers of customers contacting the TIO has reduced recently, we have more work to do,” Dews said.

“We want to make sure we provide a service that our customers are happy with, and we have large teams of people and significant resources dedicated to improving our network and service."

Follow Lisa Banks on Twitter: @CapricaStar

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