Despite continued talk of improved customer service, many telecommunications providers have yet to provide swift resolution to customer issues a new report from the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) has found.
The report, conducted by the TIO, surveyed about 500 consumers who lodged complaints with the TIO between July and August last year. Of these more than half indicated that they had contacted their service providers five times or more to resolve an issue before turning to the TIO for a resolution.
TIO ombudsman, Simon Cohen, who was appointed to the role in April 2010, said consumers who came to the TIO reported spending substantial time and effort attempting to solve their complaints.
“They report being transferred from department to department, not being transferred to supervisors and, perhaps most frustratingly, getting no solution or a broken promise for their efforts. They are – by any measure – resilient consumers,” Cohen said in a statement.
Of those surveyed, 106 said they had contacted their provider once or twice, 127 said they had contacted their provider three to four times, 80 said they had contacted their provider five to six times and 200 said that they had contacted their provider on seven or more occasions before contacting the TIO.
According to the report, 60 per cent of consumers reported spending three or more hours unsuccessfully trying to solve their complaint before approaching the TIO, while 20 per cent said they spent over nine hours trying to resolve their complaint.
39 per cent of consumers reported contacting the TIO as their provider had failed to offer a resolution to their issue, another 39 per cent said they had approached the TIO as the outcome promised to their complaint had not been actioned and 16 per cent stated they had been offered a resolution that they were not willing to accept.
The report found that once these complaints were lodged with the TIO, about 90 per cent were easily resolved when referred to the right contact within the service providers.
“Most of these cases should not have come to us in the first place,” Cohen said. “The fact that they are most often resolved by referral by the TIO to the right department is strong evidence that these consumers can be treated better.”
Cohen recommended introducing clearer avenues for consumers to make complaints, and ensuring all employees can recognise when a complaint is being made and who is best able in their company to deal with it.
“A key to the success of the TIO’s Level 1 referral process where most complaints… can be resolved quickly is the directing of complaints to an appropriate and expert complaint handling department or contact point,” the report reads. “If these departments had been reached before the consumer came to the TIO, our services, in many if not most cases, may not have been required at all.”
Service providers should equip employees with the skills to take the appropriate action on complaints including an accurate record of consumer contacts, training employees about consumer complaints and putting in place efficient processes to refer complaints to the correct department.
Earlier this year painted a similar picture with the TIO registering a significant increase in received customer complaints in the six months to December 2010.
Following this, Cohen flagged an increased effort to change the internal processes and structures to better communicate with telcos in handling and resolving complaints.
“Beginning next month, we will refocus our investigation process to prioritise the use of conciliation first,” he told attendees of the Commsday Summit in March.
The Australian Communication and Media Authority (ACMA) also took action, releasing its Reconnecting the Customer draft report which also focused on addressing the industry’s poor customer service. The report found codes of conduct and the action of individual service providers would be unlikely to change the number of customer complaints lodged with the TIO each year.
Not surprisingly, ISPs were sceptical of the recommendations made by the report for lifting customer service, which included mandating improved advertising practices, improved product disclosure, transparent customer care reporting, and the provision of tools such as automated email or SMS alerts and fixed expenditure points.
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