Consumer and small business complaints about phone and Internet services lodged with the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman grew 6.2 per cent in FY18. However, the TIO, which today released its annual report, said there is cause for optimism, with complaints dropping 17.8 per cent in the final quarter.
Ombudsman Judi Jones said that complaints “appear to be turning a corner”.
“Declining complaints across all landline, mobile and internet services are a positive indicator of recent industry, government and regulator efforts to address the disruption to telecommunications products and services of the past few years,” Jones said.
However, the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) said it was “frustrated” with the overall increase in complaints.
“Although the last quarter has shown improvement, this is the third year in a row that the complaint numbers have climbed,” said the group’s CEO, Teresa Corbin. “It is time to draw a line in the sand – consumers deserve better from their telco providers.”
Overall, more than 167,000 complaints were made to the TIO during a 12-month period.
More than 58 per cent of the 25,000 complaints about connections or changing providers related to NBN services. When it came to service quality, 47 per cent of the 57,000 complaints related to NBN services.
In the second half of FY18 the TIO received around 5900 complaints related to NBN connections or changing retail service providers (RSPs), down from 8700 in the first half. Quality complaints related to NBN services dropped to 13,000 in the second half, down from 14,000 in the six months to the end of December 2017.
During the year total premises connected to the NBN grew from 3.39 million to 4.04 million, meaning service quality complaints dropped from 4.1 per thousand premises to 3.2. In the period covered by the report RSPs asked NBN Co to resolve around 2100 of the complaints lodged in relation to services delivered over the NBN.
Earlier this year the TIO revealed that complaints related to services delivered over the NBN grew 203.9 per cent in the six-month period ending 31 December 2017.
“The recent downward trend correlates with a number of actions from government, industry, regulators, and my office – all of which were designed to improve consumers’ experience and reduce complaints,” Jones wrote in the report.
The government said that a number of initiatives were helping reduce telco complaints, including a roundtable focused on improving customer experience it staged with NBN Co and industry CEOs, the introduction by the Australian Communications and Media Authority of its Complaints Handling Standard for telcos, changes to wholesale pricing by NBN Co, and the broadband speed monitoring program run by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.
“I’m very pleased to see that as a result of this work, consumers are receiving improved service from the telecommunication industry,” said communications minister Senator Mitch Fifield.
“We have spoken to retail service providers, we’ve listened to end users and we are now seeing positive results.”
Shadow communications minister Michelle Rowland welcomed the trend downwards in the final quarter of FY18 but added that “there is still much to do”.
“Consumer interactions remain too complex and poor customer service continues to leave many in the community wondering where the buck stops,” she said.
“As far as Labor is concerned there is no room for complacency,” the Labor MP added. “NBN Co and retail providers need to maintain a concerted effort to deliver sustained improvements.”
In a statement NBN Co noted the drop in NBN-related complaints in the second half of FY18 compared to the first six months of the year.
“The rollout of the NBN access network represents one of the biggest and most complex transformations in Australia’s history,” said the company’s chief customer officer, Brad Whitcomb.
“It’s a huge undertaking, so it’s pleasing to see the collaboration between NBN Co and the wider industry to help improve the customer experience is starting to bear fruit.
“Over the past year in particular, we focussed our efforts to improve those aspects of the customer experience within our control, keeping the consumer at the forefront of our decisions.”
The NBN Co executive said although “there is always more work to be done to drive better experiences for Australians as they transition from the old network to the new network” there had been progress on a number of fronts, including cutting congestion on the network, connecting new services in agreed timeframes and ‘right first time’ installations.