Complaints made about phone and internet services are typically taking longer than 60 days to resolve, the industry’s ombudsman has revealed, and an increasing proportion of complaints are coming from SMEs.
That is according to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman’s (TIO) Annual Report 2018–19, which was published on Wednesday (25 September).
It revealed a 21.1 per cent fall in the total volume of complaints about phone and internet services compared with the previous financial year. Yet that still amounted to 132,387 complaints being received from across Australia.
Of those, the vast majority (112,895 or 85.3 per cent of complaints) came from residential customers, with 19,165 complaints coming from small businesses.
However, while the overall volume of complaints coming from businesses fell by 6.2 per cent, they made up a greater proportion of all issues lodged than the previous year, going from 12.2 per cent in 2017–18 to 14.5 per cent last year.
According to the TIO, the greatest frustrations SMEs had were either delayed action or no action being taken by their service provider over a particular problem they had flagged. Service and equipment fees was the next biggest complaint, followed by having no phone or internet service at all.
Despite its comparatively small population, the Northern Territory was the source of 17 per cent of complaints made by small businesses — more than any other state or territory. That was followed by Western Australia (15.3 per cent of complaints) and NSW (15 per cent).
The TIO also flagged 53 potential systemic issues with service providers, with a further 33 resulting in the provider making changes to its systems, practices or processes as a result. A further 18 incidents were referred to regulators for possible action.
Internet more problematic than mobile
Overall, internet services were the most complained about telecommunications issue in 2018–19, with 43,164 lodged.
Mobile services were the next most complained about, with 40,103 complaints lodged.
According to the TIO, the two types of services have now switched places in terms of the number of customer gripes they attract, with mobile services having previously been the chief source of complaints.
A total of 11,635 complaints were made about either connecting to the NBN or switching NBN service providers, while more than double that number (23,362) were made about service quality on the NBN.
Major slump in resolution times
Of even greater concern was the length of time that it is taking telcos and ISPs to resolve customer complaints.
The TIO said that in 2018–19, less than half (47 per cent) of the complaints it received had been resolved within 60 days. That was well down on the more than three quarters (77 per cent) that had been resolved within the same time frame only a year earlier.
‘Complexity in technical, small business issues’
Ombudsman Judi Jones said it was “good news” for both customers and the telecommunications industry that the volume of complaints had fallen, continuing a downward trend. However, she expressed concern at resolutions often taking longer to achieve.
“The volume of complaints coming back to us unresolved shows an emerging picture of complexity in technical and small business issues,” she said.
“Some measures we have taken to address this are the formation of specialist teams to handle these escalated complaints, and working closely with the phone and internet providers to better understand the barriers to resolving these issues.”
Ms Jones added: “Change and complexity in phone and internet products and services mean our role remains a vital one — today and well into the future. We continue our commitment to delivering a best-practice complaint handling service for the telecommunications industry and consumers.”
Overall telco complaints by state and territory in FY2019
All states and territories recorded a year-on-year fall in the number of complaints about telco services:
- NSW: 42,868 complaints, down by 19.1 per cent
- Vic: 37,926 complaints, down by 20.4 per cent
- Qld: 25,102 complaints, down by 23.5 per cent
- WA: 11,845 complaints, down by 21.4 per cent
- SA: 9,828 complaints, down by 22.4 per cent
- Tas: 2,068 complaints, down by 30.7 per cent
- ACT: 1,989 complaints, down by 19.3 per cent
- NT: 696 complaints, down by 33.2 per cent
Volume of complaints by service provider
As would be expected, the volume of complaints generally followed the size of the service provider and their market share. The 10 companies listed below accounted for 92.7 per cent of all telco-related complaints lodged with the TIO in FY2019:
- Telstra: 66,402 complaints (50.2 per cent of total). Volume down by 19.5 per cent year-on-year.
- Optus: 31,629 complaints (23.9 per cent of total). Volume down by 22.2 per cent.
- Vodafone: 6,784 complaints (5.1 per cent of total). Volume down by 30.4 per cent.
- iiNet: 5,663 complaints (4.3 per cent of total). Volume down by 26.6 per cent.
- TPG: 5,380 complaints (4.1 per cent of total). Volume down by 13.9 per cent.
- Dodo: 1,863 complaints (1.4 per cent of total). Volume down by 40.3 per cent.
- Southern Phone: 1,366 complaints (1 per cent of total). Volume down by 8 per cent.
- MyRepublic: 1,286 complaints (1 per cent of total). Volume down by 29.2 per cent.
- Primus Telecommunications: 1,267 complaints (1 per cent of total). Volume down by 33.9 per cent.
- M2 Commander: 1,096 complaints (0.8 of a percentage point of total). Volume down by 30 per cent.
Small businesses and consumers with an unresolved complaint about their phone or internet service can lodge a complaint with the ombudsman online or by calling 1800 062 058.
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.