Telco ombudsman aims to rectify industry opposition

Internal review, process changes at TIO to provide greater information access to consumers, providers

The telecommunications industry ombudsman has signalled increased efforts to change internal processes and structures in an effort to better communicate with telcos and service providers in handling and resolving complaints.

Simon Cohen, who stepped into the ombudsman role in July last year, said he had spent his first months in the role working to solve complaints from service provider about his department. That included changing billing procedures and eradicating some charges for telcos, as well as sparking an internal review of the body to simplify structure and procedures and a wider review of some 50 issues across the telco industry on complaints management.

“Beginning next month, we will refocus our investigation process to prioritise the use of conciliation first,” he told attendees of the Commsday Summit in Sydney this week.

“While we will manage the conciliation process, we will put consumers and providers in charge of finding the solution to the complaint.”

The initiative, Cohen said, was aimed at reducing the number of investigations the ombudsman would have to launch against telcos. However, he said investigations would continue should providers fail to resolve consumer complaints themselves.

A revamped case management system to be developed by Resolve and implemented by next year, would also provide a more effective way of inputting and handling the more than 87,000 complaints the ombudsman received annually.

The management system will ultimately feed to an internet portal allowing service providers to lodge documents and response directly to the ombudsman, which Cohen told Computerworld Australia would also “spearhead” the body’s social media strategy.

“We think we can improve our game here by improving the information we give consumers the first time, reducing the need for further contact,” he said.

Since coming to the role, the former ombudsman of the Victorian public transport system has had to face increasing opposition from telcos and service providers on the body’s independent dispute resolution service.

Small service provider Exetel launched legal proceedings against the body last year, with ISP chief, John Linton, labelling it a highly bureaucractic “rogue organisation” that had failed to solve the issues it attempts to remedy.

Telstra chief executive, David Thodey, also used his presentation at the Commsday Summit to  call for a united telco voice against regulators attempting to impose customer service restrictions on industry players.

His comments came in direct opposition to an external review of the ombudsman body by the Federal Government, which communications minister, Senator Stephen Conroy, said would aim to provide greater powers for handling consumer complaints.

Cohen told Computerworld Australia the body would continue to attempt to improve its service, but would continue to have a role in handling complaints where telcos had failed.

“Being the independent referee is sometimes a tough job - we have to make tough calls,” he said.

Follow James Hutchinson on Twitter: @j_hutch

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU

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Tags Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO)Commsday Summit 2011TIO Simon Cohentelcos

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