The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) has released its 2011-2012 Annual Report into telecommunications industry service levels.
This report is released each year, and provides very useful data about how people are accessing the TIO's services, and about the nature and number of their complaints. This year, entirely by coincidence, the report's release comes just a month after the new Telecommunications Protection Code (TCP) was implemented. It is consequently too soon to say that the TCP has had much of an impact on the newly released figures from the TIO.
It should also be noted that the Australian telecommunications landscape is dominated by three providers - Telstra, Optus and Vodafone. Consequently the customer service records of these three providers has a very large bearing on the TIO's figures.
The good news is the overall complaints made to the TIO have decreased, by about 2% over the previous year - which is negligible - but by a more significant amount over the first half of this year. It would be nice to believe that the telcos are doing something right. In some ways they are. However, if the big three dominate telecommunications in this country, it must be conceded that Telstra dominates everyone. Telstra's performance can really skew the figures.
Complaints about Telstra continue to fall, as they have consistently in the years since David Thodey took over from Sol Trujillo, and insisted that under his watch the nation's premier telco would work to repair its damage image. It seems that his efforts are being rewarded. Complaints from Telstra customers have fallen by an impressive 21%. It should be acknowledged that Telstra was working from a pretty low base here, but it is still nice to see strong improvement in this area.
Complaints from Optus customers have risen sharply, on the other hand, by almost 47%. However, there is some cause for hope. Complaints for the most recent quarter are actually well down on earlier this year. This is particularly significant as the most recent quarter coincides with Optus' release of 4G services in selected metropolitan centres, suggested that the 4G rollout has gone quite smoothly for Optus customers.
Complaints from Vodafone customers have also risen, by a more modest 11%. The TIO notes, however, that the nature of the complaints has altered completely. Firstly it is worrying that Vodafone-related complaints have risen at all, given that last year could hardly have been worse for them, given the notorious network issues and much-publicised customer-service shortcomings. The newest data reveals that the complaints are now predominantly around delivery issues such as poor spend-controls and mobile data usage.
If we break down the complaints by service type, it can be seen that far more people contact the TIO about mobile phone related issues than about fixed line phones or non-mobile internet. This area has seen a sharp jump in complaints over the previous year. The most common areas are disputed billing (which is a somewhat vague term, admittedly), lack of management tools (perhaps reflecting greater community awareness of such things), and excess mobile data charges (no surprise there).
Relating to this somewhat, the number of complaints around fixed line internet services, particularly around credit management and financial hardship, have continued to fall. This part of the industry has had stronger provisions in place for some time - certainly stronger than the mobile sectors - and this has led to greater awareness and less hardship. This would certainly support the goals of the new TCP, which partially aims to bring some of these measures to the mobile sector of the industry.