Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Australia - ACMA launches inquiry into telco complaints

[the australian] THE communications regulator will launch an inquiry into the telecommunications industry following the rising cacophony of customer complaints to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman over recent years.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority will shortly launch the formal inquiry into customer protection in the telecommunications industry with the aim of addressing poor industry response to customer service complaints.

The inquiry will determine whether more direct regulation of complaint handling needs to be introduced and if standards should be established.

It could also include legislative changes to the telecoms regulatory regime that could see ACMA given new powers to issue multi-million dollar infringement notices on the spot.

"The poor complaint handling of the industry is legendary," ACMA chairman Chris Chapman told attendees at a telecoms conference in Sydney today.

“What spurred this increase is a matter of conjecture -- overly aggressive smartphone plans, an inevitable Wild West mentality when new opportunities spring up, outsourced offshore help desks, and perhaps greater customer scrutiny of their bills as they became more cautious in the economic downturn."

Last year the TIO recorded a 130 per cent rise in complaints related to complaint handling and a 118 per cent increase in complaints about customer service. In the same period complaints from consumers and small businesses about phone and internet providers rose 54 per cent.

“Many would share the ACMA’s concern about whether the current arrangements which underpin telecommunications consumer protection are really effective in dealing with the issues that concern consumers most," Mr Chapman said.

“The trend-line growth and sheer quantum of complaints about complaint handling and customer service -- up to 900 every working day -- reflects poorly on the entire industry.

“Whether this is evidence of a failing regulatory system or just a perception of that failure, I now believe this issue has to be confronted directly and urgently otherwise we will be talking about these same issues for years to come."

Mr Chapman said it was vital that expectations of customer service be satisfied prior to completion of the government’s $43 billion national broadband network.

He said he would be seeking the collective agreement from the nation’s largest telcos on enforceable strategies for lowering the number of complaints to the industry ombudsman.

Telstra -- which since the appointment of David Thodey as its chief executive has been fervently working to polish its tarnished customer service record -- welcomed the initiative to improve customer service across the industry and said it would work constructively with regulator on the inquiry.

"Complaint levels are still too high and must be reduced. We have set aggressive targets to do this and take responsibility for resolving all customer complaints directly with our customers," Telstra customer service and satisfaction director, Jules Scarlett, said.

ACMA launches inquiry into telco complaints

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