Telco service complaints tumble as TCP code takes effect

Customer initiatives and stronger compliance by industry also contribute to reduction

The new TCP code has contributed to a large reduction in the number of complaints to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) in the 2012-13 financial year, according to ombudsman Simon Cohen.

The TIO received fewer complaints in the 2012-13 financial year than it has in each of the last five years, according to a TIO annual report released today.

“A clear commitment from telcos to do better by their customers, an improved industry code and a focus on compliance are paying dividends,” Cohen said.

The TIO report follows a telco industry paper released earlier this month by the Communications Alliance showing modest improvements to telecom customer satisfaction over the last quarter.

Cohen said he expected the TCP code to continue driving down the number of complaints in 2013-14. The new code was rolled out in a phased approach this year, but the ombudsman noted that telcos implemented several of the requirements ahead of schedule.

“This year with the implementation of the new international mobile roaming standard ... we should continue to see a reduction in complaints about unexpectedly higher bills and some of those disputed charges that we see on mobile services.”

In 2012-13, the TIO received 158,652 complaints, an 18.1 per cent reduction from the previous year, according to the report.

Mobile accounted for most of the reduction, with the TIO seeing a 25.6 per cent decrease in the number of complaints about mobile phones. There were 91,331 mobile phone complaints in total, accounting for 57 per cent of TIO complaints in the financial year.

At the same time, landline complaints decreased 9.3 per cent to 33,940 and Internet complaints dropped 1.9 per cent to 31,431. The TIO noted that extreme weather events were to blame for many of the landline and Internet complaints.

Telstra, Optus and Vodafone, which account for about 80 per cent of all complaints, all reduced their number of complaints. Ombudsman said the telcos have all made customer service a business priority.

Telstra had the most complaints of the top three telcos, but the number decreased 7.6 per cent from the previous year to 57,298.

The number of complaints about Vodafone, which has been trying to convince customers that its service has improved, dropped 24 per cent to 42,729. However, TIO said Vodafone continues to receive a high number of complaints about mobile coverage (18,945) and complaints about call dropouts actually increased 12 per cent in 2012-13 to 5,043.

The number of Optus complaints sank 36 per cent to 26,629 in the 2012-13 year. That was a big turnaround after the number of complaints increased in 2011-12 by 47 per cent to 41,602.

Many of the mobile complaints (28.2 per cent) had to do with network coverage, including reduced or no reception, poor voice quality and dropped calls, the TIO said. However, the number of those complaints (25,770) was 13.5 per cent less than 2011-12.

The TIO said billing and payment issues, customer service complaints and overall fault concerns all reduced in the financial year.

However, Cohen said telcos can still improve their handling of customer complaints. He said more than half of the complaints to the TIO were about customer service issues and most were resolved through referrals to senior complaint handlers of the service providers.

“There are still too many complaints that consumers are unable to resolve with their telcos, and there remain many opportunities for telcos to serve their customers better so that they don’t need to come to the TIO.”

The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN), which earlier this month called the TIO the “busiest ombudsman” in Australia, agreed that it’s not time for telcos to declare victory.

“Complaint figures are starting to go from the stratosphere back down to Earth but there is still significant room for improvement,” said ACCAN CEO Teresa Corbin.

“This significant drop in TIO complaints shows that enhanced consumer protections introduced with the TCP Code and a new focus on fixing customer service issues by industry is beginning to have the desired effect.”

“But it’s important to keep some perspective—the 158,652 new complaints are coming off record highs and are still considerably higher than the number of complaints dealt with by the financial ombudsman, which includes the banks.”

Follow Adam Bender on Twitter: @WatchAdam

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU, or take part in the Computerworld conversation on LinkedIn: Computerworld Australia

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