Complaints about telecommunication services in Australia have continued to skyrocket in a wake-up call” for the industry, with issues related to the NBN more than tripling in the past 12 months.
A Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman report on the complaints in the last six months of 2017 was released today, and unsurprisingly shows that Australian residential consumers and small businesses are increasingly unhappy with their landline, mobile and internet services.
Complaints as a whole have increased by nearly 30 per cent to nearly 85,000 in the first half of this financial year, and are on track to greatly eclipse the 150,000 complaints received in the 2016-17 financial year.
Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman Judi Jones said the growth in complaint numbers is a major concern.
“It shows the industry still has work to do in delivering great customer service. It should be a wake-up call,” Ms Jones told InnovationAus.com.
“Sometimes it isn’t even a matter of looking after the individuals but making sure the service they’re selling and promoting match what consumers need,” she said.
Complaints about the NBN soared, this time by more than 200 per cent to nearly 23,000 in just six months. Of these complaints, about 14,000 were about service quality and nearly 9,000 about delays in establishing a connecting.
This huge jump in complaints needs to be taken with context though, Ms Jones said.
“Obviously it’s in the context of a roll-out. A surprising thing for some people might be that complaints about services over the NBN are only 25 per cent of our complaints. It gets a lot of hype, but there are bigger problems in the industry than services being connected to the NBN,” she said.
“But it’s still concerning that many people had an issue. There’s a lot of work being done in the space and a lot of levers being applied. When we come to the annual report hopefully things will have improved.”
The complaints encompass those made against retailers who deliver services over the NBN and regarding NBN Co in general. The vast majority of NBN-related complaints came from residential consumers rather than small businesses.
In contrast to last year’s report, the majority of overall complaints were about mobile phone services, with 25,000 received by the Ombudsman. This was closely followed by complaints about internet services, which clocked in at about 24,000.
The number of complaints regarding telecommunications services increased in every Australian state and territory, most significantly in Queensland and Western Australian.
New South Wales topped the list with nearly 27,000 complaints, closely followed by Victoria, which submitted nearly 24,000.
The latest report follows the trend set by the annual 2016-17 report released in October last year, which saw complaints increase for the first time in five years.
The Telecommunications Ombudsman has the authority to make legally binding damages of up to $50,000, and a recommendation of fines up to $100,000.
Despite the continual increase in complaints received, there are growing concerns that few Australians are aware of the role and powers of the Ombudsman.
Ms Jones acknowledged these concerns, and confirmed the Ombudsman had recently launched an awareness campaign to “simply tell people where to complain when a problem is unresolved”.
This campaign was trialled in Western Australia and Queensland, and will be rolled out nationally later this year.
“It’s really important that consumers and small businesses know that they should talk to the telcos in the first instance as early as possible and if they can’t it’s important they know they can call us. We’re free and independent, and we can assist in resolving a complaint,” Ms Jones said.
The Ombudsman’s research found that only 12 per cent of people who had a “serious issue” contacted the office. It has revealed that those from lower socio-economic backgrounds and culturally and linguistically diverse communities are less likely to know about its offices’ role.
“Our research found that the consumers who probably most need us are less likely to know about us and less confident about making a complaint in the first place. That’s the challenge we’re working on,” Ms Jones said.
The Telco Ombudsman was granted new powers last year allowing it to force all the parties involved with a dispute to work on finding a resolution.
“If the complaint is on a Telstra or Optus network we can now require them to participate to help them to resolve the complaint where relevant. That’s working really well and has helped us to resolve more difficult complaints,” Ms Jones said.