ACCAN hails Fifield’s return to Comms portfolio

The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network has welcomed the reappointment of Senator the Hon Mitch Fifield to the position of Minister for Communications and the Arts in Prime Minister Morrison’s newly formed Cabinet.

“As the peak body responsible for representing all Australian telecommunications consumers, ACCAN looks forward to continuing to engage with Minister Fifield and his office to ensure better outcomes for consumers and small businesses,” said Teresa Corbin, ACCAN CEO. “We welcome Prime Minister Morrison’s pledge to listen to Australians and engage on the issues that are important to them. In our recent submission to the Consumer Safeguards Review, ACCAN has called for better regulation on telecommunications to protect the interests of consumers.”

ACCAN also welcomed the appointment of Senator the Hon Bridget McKenzie to the role of Minister for Regional Services, Sport, Local Government and Decentralisation.

Teresa Corbin (1)

“We are pleased to have the opportunity to work with Minister McKenzie to highlight telecommunications issues and equity of services in regional, rural and remote Australia,” said Corbin.

“We also look forward to providing our insights and recommendations to her office in regards to relevant policy matters, such as the Regional Telecommunications Review.”

“Regional Australians are faced with unique challenges when it comes to accessing affordable and reliable telecommunications services. We hope that Minister McKenzie will continue to be a vocal advocate for closing the digital divide that has historically existed between Australia’s regional and urban centres,” added Corbin.

Earlier this month, ACCAN completed a submission for the Regional Telecommunications Review which outlined emerging or persistent issues for regional telecommunications consumers and provided recommendations on how these might be addressed.

Among the key issues identified were affordability challenges faced by low income regional consumers, the need for a renewed commitment to further funding for investments in infrastructure that reflect community needs and aspirations, and the case for a comprehensive approach to digital inclusion for Indigenous Australians living in remote communities.

New ACCAN report urges more action from regulator as Australian telcos score poorly on customer service

The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network has unveiled  a new report, reviewing the customer service provided by ten Australian telco providers. Key findings from Can You Hear Me? include consumers being unimpressed by the amount of time before getting a resolution to problems, with ACCAN calling on the Australian Communications and Media Authority to take a fresh look at customer service across the sector.

“It takes an average of 13 days, but for those with harder to resolve issues averages blow out to 2 months. The results confirm customer experiences of having to contact providers multiple times about an issue, repeatedly explaining the problem, and disappointing levels of first contact resolution. It also shows that escalating an issue to a formal complaint can be difficult,” said ACCAN.

Teresa Corbin (1)ACCAN CEO Teresa Corbin said poor customer service by the industry saw costs shifted from providers to customers spending far too long trying to resolve issues.

“We found customers are spending days trying to sort out very straightforward things like changing a plan, updating contact details, and general account inquiries. This is not acceptable. It’s time to shift the balance back to telcos so that customers are not carrying such heavy costs to maintain their essential telecommunications services.”

Corbin said ACCAN recommended a new review of customer service by the industry and the regulator, the Australian Communications and Media Authority.  “There’s an opportunity to do this now with the current review of the industry Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code, and a new ACMA Complaints Handling Standard,” she said. “We’d like to see more concrete obligations in the Code, and more active enforcement by the regulator.”

Specifically, ACCAN proposes reduced timeframes to resolve issues, reduced wait times to contact customer service staff, increased first contact resolution, and improved training and performance of customer service staff.

The survey found telcos performing poorly across the industry. Rankings varied between providers , with 61% of Vodafone customers saying they had a positive experience, followed by customers of TPG/iiNet, Amaysim, Dodo/iPrimus (just over 50%).

Telstra and Optus customers gave rankings of 43% and 42% respectively., while lowest ranked were Belong and regional provider Active8Me, both getting positive scores of only 36%.

Another regional provider, Skymesh, was rated more positively at 46%.  The highest scoring provider  – no longer in the market -was Virgin at 70%.

Other findings included;

19% of respondents reported their issue to be unresolved at the time of the survey. For these people the average number of days spent seeking a resolution increased to 60 to date.

Methods of contact: going in store will get you a resolution the fastest (average of 8 days), followed by social media (average of 15.5 days), online chat or messenger feature on the provider’s website (average of 19.6 days), phone (average of 23.3 days), and email on average 30 days).

Phone contact is most preferred (66%) by respondents, but respondents reported this involved contacting their provider on average 2.7 times, an average of 3 transfers, and spending on average 1.2 hours on the phone before reaching the right person. Less than half (46%) of these respondents reported being told the wait time to speak to someone whilst on hold and only 48% were offered the option of a call-back.

Re-providing information: 58% of respondents said they needed to re-provide some (34%) or most (24%) of the details of their issue on subsequent contacts (86% for Virgin customers). 26% said they needed to repeat their case information more than five times.

Making a complaint: 55% of people who looked for information on how to lodge a complaint with their provider said the information was difficult to find. Of those who lodged a complaint with their provider, only 18% found the process easy.

Complaining to the TIO: 24% of respondents wanted to, or did lodge a complaint with the TIO. Only 3% proceeded with lodging a complaint to the TIO. Potential reasons for this could be: 48% of those who either wanted to or had complained to the TIO reported it was difficult to find information from their provider about how to do so.

Of those who escalated their query with their provider or lodged a formal complaint with either the provider or TIO, 32% said their provider discouraged them from taking the matter to the TIO. 48% of those looking for information from their provider about lodging a complaint with the TIO said it was difficult to find.

“We’ve all got our own experience of telco customer service, but we wanted to quantify this and give consumers some idea of who is providing the best service across a number of metrics,” said Corbin. “Nearly half the complaints received by the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman last year identified customer service as an issue, so we know it’s a source of considerable frustration.”


ACCAN calls for ‘urgent reforms’ as telco complaints soar 28.7% year-on-year

The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network is calling for urgent reforms as complaints to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman have risen by 28.7 percent in the six months to December 2017, compared to the same period the previous year.

The Australian telecoms consumer body said the TIO’s latest statistics reinforced the need for urgent industry action to put customers first.

“Continuing high numbers of complaints shine a spotlight on weak consumer protections that have existed in telecommunications for some time. This is upheld by the fact [that] complaint number increases are across the board in mobile, fixed line phones and broadband services,” said ACCAN CEO Teresa Corbin.

“Arguments about whether complaints are the responsibility of the wholesale provider (NBN) or retail service providers do not help consumers resolve these problems quickly. ACCAN strongly supports the new raft of ACMA rules that are badly needed – particularly the new complaint handling standard and complaints reporting rules,” she added.

“These will ensure more transparency about the number of complaints to retailers, not just those that are escalated to the Ombudsman,” Corbin said, “we urge the industry to positively embrace these initiatives. The new reporting regime and greater regulatory oversight of complaints handling has the potential to build more trust in the telco industry as a whole.”

While ACCAN emphasised its support for the new measures, it did say that further changes were needed.

“In addition to the new retail measures the government is currently working on, we’ve been calling for reform at a wholesale level, that guarantees timeframes for connections, fault repairs and appointment keeping by NBN, as well as reliability performance measures,” said Corbin. “Retailers can’t deliver good customer service without end to end network guarantees. The right rules have to apply at all levels of the delivery chain.”

ACCAN welcomed Minister Fifield’s announcement of the Terms of Reference for a Consumer Safeguards Review but urged the government to act post-haste.

“Telecommunications is an essential service; we can’t survive without our phone and internet services and we need to make sure the right consumer protection is in place across all levels of the industry to reflect our dependency on them,” said Corbin.