God bless ombudsmen and women.
Hard on the heels of the Commonwealth Ombudsman lashing Australia Post for accruing 1.1 million complaints in the 2016–17 financial year, Australia’s telecommunications industry has been told to overhaul its consumer complaints systems.
Speaking on Monday on the findings of a survey of almost 3000 people across Australia, telecommunications industry ombudsman Judi Jones says one in two Australians have had phone and internet issues in the past year.
She said that as many as “10 million Australians are having issues with their phone or internet service”. And once complaints had been communicated, close to one-quarter had not been resolved four months later. That was “far, far too long to be without an essential service”, she told The Australian.
She added that her research indicated that only 12 per cent of people who had serious issues had contacted her office.
Ms Jones also reported that official complaints about National Broadband Network services had leapt 159 per cent in the last six months of 2017. Most related to speeds that telcos had promised but could not deliver.
Telstra has announced it will offer new customers a chance to get out of their broadband contracts early without penalty under its planned “NBN Satisfaction Guarantee”.
Ms Jones was appointed telecommunications industry ombudsman two years ago. She said that when she started the role “we were at the end of five years of declining complaints”. “Now, we’re living in a different time when complaints are rising consistently year on year across every category from billing and payments to customer service.”
She said complaints weren’t confined to one company and issues existed “across the board”.
She said telecommunications companies needed to learn to listen to disgruntled consumers.
“The industry needs to decide whether it invests in paying for my office to continue to handle the increasing numbers of complaints or it could invest that money in improving its own service delivery and improving internal complaints processes.”
Ms Jones advised anyone with a complaint to raise it with their provider immediately. If they couldn’t get satisfaction, they should call her office.
In delivering the findings of the survey in Sydney on Monday, Ms Jones described the following case study.
“I want to tell you Sarah’s story.
“Sarah lives in Strathfield – here in Sydney. After some time without a job, Sarah was excited to have found one.
“Now that she has certainty of income, she decides to transfer her mobile plan from prepaid to post-paid.
“Sarah goes online and fills in what she thinks is the right form. After submitting it, she thinks she might have done the wrong thing, so she calls her telco to check.
“After spending an hour listening to messages and hold music, Sarah talks to someone who tells her it was the right form, but she will need a new SIM card for the new service. They will send this to her, but it will take a couple of days to arrive.
“The package comes during the day (when she is at work) and with no one home, the courier sends the package back to the warehouse near the airport for collection.
“Sarah has to wait a while until she feels she can ask her new boss for some flexi-time and be able to leave work early to pick up the SIM. She finally collects the package – only to find the envelope is empty – no SIM card.
“Sarah calls her telco again and this time enjoys 106 minutes of wait time. The person she eventually speaks to apologises and tells her they will send another SIM card out.
“Sarah is now without a service as her prepaid plan has ended.
“In desperation, Sarah decides to go to the telco’s city shop in her lunchtime, only to be told that the switch should have been easily made online and that a new SIM was not even required.
“The helpful staff member says, ‘You should always come in – the call centre people have no idea what they are doing’.
“If it weren’t for the cancellation fee – Sarah, by now furious, would have cancelled her new service then and there.”
Have you had reason to call your telco with a problem? Did it take long to get through?