Australia

Telco complaints on the rise but industry making progress: Ombudsman

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There has been a 6.2 per cent increase in complaints to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman.

Customer anger over phone and internet services spawned 167,831 complaints to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman last financial year.

This was a 6.2 per cent increase from the previous year, according to its annual report released on Wednesday.

Unsurprisingly - being the largest telco - most complaints were about Telstra. Issues with Vodafone fell but Optus saw a 35 per cent increase.

Ombudsman Judi Jones told SBS News the most common reason for a residential consumer or a small business to contact her office in 2017/18 financial year was a problem with the bill.

"Then when you dig down further then the most common lower level issue is about customer service, it's about providers saying that are doing what they said they were going to do," she said.

Judi Jones talks to SBS News.
Judi Jones talks to SBS News.
SBS News

World Cup dramas 

Editor-in-chief of product comparison website Finder Angus Kidman blamed the World Cup for Optus' latest numbers.

"The World Cup problems are definitely going to be a big factor in Optus' numbers going up so much but we did see that across a lot of the big telcos they seem to have more trouble keeping their customers satisfied," he said.

Optus said it is making improvements by investing in customer initiatives like - online chat - and reducing wait times for those contacting the company.

While Telstra said its new T22 strategy aims to improve service by simplifying its products and structure.

While there were 14,500 complaints about establishing an NBN connection and 27,000 about NBN service quality, complaints in the second half of the year fell slightly.

Workers install the NBN.
Workers install the NBN.
SBS News

A positive experience 

When Scott Jeffries couldn't receive mobile coverage at his home, he took the issue to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman.

"They managed to put the carrier at fault, and basically had it that I was exited out of my agreement, without having much incurred cost, returned the hardware and continue on with my service with another carrier," he told SBS News.

He knew his rights, having worked in the telco space, and said his experience with the ombudsman was positive.

"I contacted them via the internet, and then I had a phone conversation with one of their people at two or three different times as the follow up from the telco bounced back and forth and then the resolution of the case was via an email". 

Optus saw a 35 per cent increase in complaints.
Optus saw a 35 per cent increase in complaints.
SBS News

Turning a corner

The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman said the industry may be turning a corner, with the number of complaints in the last quarter of the financial year down 20 per cent, compared with the previous three months. 

"That's around the changes that a lot of people have been making, the providers, the NBN co, the work the minsters have been doing, the ACCC, the ACMA, all are starting to put pressure on complaints."

Also today, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission said it is taking Optus to court - alleging it signed up customers for expensive and often unwanted content, like games and ringtones, without adequately informing them.

More than 240,000 customers have been affected - and the telco has also returned $12 million dollars so far.

Contacting the ombudsman

Anyone with a complaint is first encouraged to contact their provider.

"The first thing they should do is talk to the provider that's the best place and the best way for complaints to be resolved that's when the parties are likely to have easy access to the information," Ms Jones said.

If that doesn't work, contact the ombudsman. 

Or Mr Kidman said customers can try to "walk".

"That is a lot easier if you're on the NBN, because you do have a choice of other providers, and if they haven't satisfied you, you have a case for saying, don't make me pay out the contract, but the big lesson is, don't sign up for a long term contract if you can avoid it, because then you are trapped and you'll be stuck with those service problems potentially for a long time."

A totally issue free telco network is unlikely - because of Australia's sheer size.

More information: 1800 062 058 or tio.com.au

Additional reporting: AAP

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