Australia’s five largest telcos received more than 88 million enquiries in 2017-2018 and while callers on average waited just under two minutes to speak to someone, one telco’s callers were forced to wait an average of more than six minutes.

The figures, from Australian Communications and Media Authority customer service performance monitoring shows picking up the phone was the most common way for consumers to make contact with their telcos, accounting for 80 percent of customer enquiry contacts, but 8.1 percent of us abandoned a call.

For those calling, the average wait times varied by telco over the course of the year from 44 seconds in the September 2017 quarter for three telcos to more than six minutes in the March 2018 for Telco E.

The report doesn’t identify the individual telcos surveyed who were issued with statutory notices to provide performance data, however Telstra, Optus, Vodafone, TPG and Vocus are Australia’s largest telcos.

Under the Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code telcos are required to ensure customer service enquiries are dealt with in a ‘timely and effective manner’, keeping average wait times to a minimum and aiming to resolve customer service enquiries at first contact.

ACMA chair Nerida O’Loughlin says “We’re shining a light on how the big telcos deal with customer enquiries.

“We consider that telcos can be doing more to give their customers a consistently good customer service experience,” she adds.

Telco E’s average weight time for the entire 2017-2018 period was a sizeable 4.19 minutes – far in excess of any of the other telco’s surveyed, who ranged from just 0.51 seconds to 2.10 minutes.

Unsurprisingly, Telco E also clocked a hefty 15.3 percent call abandonment rate for the full 2017-2018, and 21.2 percent during the March 2018 quarter when it was recording those six minute waits.

Those tenacious enough to hang on, however, were more likely to have resolution to their issues on the first contact with Telco E having a substantially higher rate of first contact resolution than the other telcos surveyed, at 86.0 percent, compared to between 62 percent and 74.0 percent for the remaining telcos.

Call abandonment for the remaining four telcos sat at between 8.2 percent and 4.9 percent for the full year.

“It is clear some consumers are waiting too long for their calls to be answered,” O’Loughlin says.

The ACMA notes that telcos have different strategies for responding to customer service enquiries, which can impact on individual results and may not allow for direct comparisons between the telcos.

“For example, a strategy focusing on resolving enquiries at the first contact may impact on wait time,” ACMA says.

Says O’Loughlin: “The data indicates telcos have different priorities – some have a high rate of first contact resolution, but at the same time have relatively long call wait times.”

Beyond phone enquires, web chat enquiries were most popular, increasing to 15 percent of enquiries for the year. Social media accounted for just 2.7 percent, with email coming in at 1.5 percent.

Australian regulator puts telcos on notice on ‘misleading advertising’

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commision has put telecommunications companies on notice to ensure their advertising is clear and transparent.

The telcos may face court action from the regulator, including much higher penalties – with the ACCC warning that it may bring proceedings against executives who knowingly approve misleading advertisements.

Earlier this year the ACCC began investigating Optus, Vodafone and Telstra’s use of the term ‘unlimited’ to promote mobile data plans, concurrent with private litigation brought by Optus against Telstra in the Federal Court.

Between March and June 2018, Optus, Vodafone and Telstra advertised mobile data plans with a headline claim of ‘unlimited’ mobile data, but the services had speed caps imposed on particular uses or after a certain data threshold was reached (among other limitations):

Optus’ ‘unlimited’ plan imposed a 1.5Mbps speed restriction on tethering, streaming and downloads. Heavy data users could also be de-prioritised during congestion.
Vodafone’s ‘unlimited’ plan provided an initial data allowance at usual speeds, after which all usage was speed capped at 1.5Mbps.

Telstra’s ‘unlimited’ plans provided 40GB at usual speeds, after which all usage was slowed to 1.5Mbps and slowed further during busy periods. The headline claims were, in most cases, qualified with disclaimers that were not sufficiently prominent or clear to explain to consumers the existence and impacts of the limitations, in the ACCC’s view.

The Court considered Telstra advertisements with the tagline “One word for Australia’s best mobile network. Unlimited”, and found they were misleading or deceptive in contravention of the Australian Consumer Law.

The Court found they falsely conveyed to consumers that Telstra provided plans offering unlimited usage of its mobile network when in fact its services, including mobile data services, were always subject to use limitations and exclusions.

Following the Federal Court’s findings and the ACCC’s interactions, all three retailers ceased using the headline claim of ‘unlimited’ to advertise their mobile data services.

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ACCC Chair Rod Sims

“Telecommunications companies should be wary of using absolute claims like ‘unlimited’ where that does not give a true picture to consumers of what is being offered,” ACCC Chair Rod Sims said.

“We have taken a range of actions against telecommunication companies for misleading consumers. It is about time they showed more respect for their customers and the Australian Consumer Law,” added Sims.

“With much higher penalties now available for breaches of consumer law, I hope they will take their obligations more seriously,” Sims said. “From now on consumer law penalties will seriously affect their bottom line, and we will not hesitate to seek the highest possible penalties.”

Penalties for contraventions of the ACL increased on 1 September to the greater of A$10 million, three times the value of the benefit received, or where the benefit cannot be calculated, 10 per cent of the annual turnover in the preceding 12 months. Penalties against individuals under the ACL also increased from A$220,000 to A$500,000 per breach.


Telcos need to build new capabilities to capitalize on US$1B blockchain opportunity: GlobalData

As telcos continue to struggle across the board with dwindling revenue and profitability, blockchain is being billed as the next $1 billion opportunity. However, they must adapt their networks and train personnel to take advantage of blockchain capabilities, ranging from the elimination of hated roaming fees to accelerating the broad availability of connected device services like drone deliveries, says leading data and analytics company GlobalData.

Of late, blockchain is generating many headlines, mostly related to cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and the prospect of a new paradigm for fully secure transactions. Market projections point to a billion dollar telco blockchain market in the next five years. Looking ahead, consulting stalwart Accenture sees the potential for a $1 trillion global telco blockchain ecosystem.

Even with the wide variance in market forecasts, there is a broad industry consensus that blockchain will grow significantly and play a powerful role in transforming the telco business model and overall industry.

Operators on a global scale are gearing up to capitalize on a variety of blockchain capabilities. Several of them are far along in testing blockchain to address immediate opportunities such as eliminating widely loathed roaming fees.

Major operators such as BT, Colt, HGC Global, Telefonica and Telstra are already engaged in a high-profile blockchain trial aimed at accelerating the settlement process of their wholesale services. Verizon is financially backing blockchain specialist Filament with the goal of using blockchain to ease the use and payment of connected device services such as drone-based deliveries and monitoring.

Ron Westfall, Technology Analyst at GlobalData, says: “Through blockchain-enabled direct communications to mobile device SIM cards, mobile operators would love to offer their voice and data services to international travelers visiting in their coverage areas. The operators benefit by accessing a vast new customer base of travelers while also avoiding costly integration into third-party systems or spending heavily on upgrading inflexible legacy systems as well as building new complex systems.”

However, operators have traditionally struggled to sell anything beyond voice minutes and data bytes.  Blockchain requires a level of technical know-how and marketing sophistication that will not come overnight.

Westfall concludes: “Telcos must show they can use these ongoing blockchain trials to quickly deliver new services and features. They need to hire and train personnel that understand blockchain technology and adapt their networks to take advantage of distributed ledger capabilities.  The evidence indicates some operators will be ready to use blockchain-enabled capabilities like initiating the widespread elimination of roaming fees toward the end of 2018.  Longer term, and if done correctly, the ramifications for the telecom market are immense, as operators as well as their customers and partners stand to gain significant customer experience and financial gains from blockchain-powered, fully trusted and streamlined communications and transactions.”

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.”