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Tuesday, 20 April 2010 17:36

ACMA puts telcos' customer service under scrutiny

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The ACMA is to conduct a formal inquiry into customer service and complaints handling in the telecommunications industry in response to what it says is a growing volume of complaints to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman.

ACMA Chairman, Chris 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."

The announcement came the same day that communications minister, Stephen Conroy, announced that he would amend the Telecommunications Act to beef up consumer protection. https://www.itwire.com/it-policy-news/regulation/38425

Chapman added: "As part of the inquiry, I will personally brief CEOs of the larger service providers (representing 90 percent of the TIO complaints) and ask for their support. As the learnings emerge from the inquiry, I will seek their collective agreement on enforceable strategies for lowering the number of complaints to the industry ombudsman about complaint handing."

He also foreshadowed other regulators with roles in the telecommunications sector joining the ACMA in a regulatory forum with the possibility of their respective roles being somehow combined into some overarching regulatory regime.

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"As regulators, we need to turn the mirror on our structures and roles. I do not believe the current regulatory 'alphabet soup' of ACMAs, TIOs, ACCCs, DBCDEs, CAs and TISSCs (along with the state Offices of Fair Trading) is leading to the best solution for some of the bigger problems."

He added: "In the short-term, I will be seeking to work with my colleagues at the ACCC and the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy and with consumer groups, led by the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network, to identify emerging issues in telecommunications and develop appropriate regulatory responses. This is best done in collaboration."

Chapman said the enquiry would also "be determining how consumer expectations of customer service might be satisfied in the NBN-delivered broadband world."

Allan Asher, CEO of ACCAN welcomed the news saying: "Consumers have been suffering from shoddy customer service for too long. We are pleased that finally the regulator is getting serious about telcos abusing their customers."

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However, he suggested that poor customer service was due more to lack of will by service providers rather than major underlying problems. "These aren't complex issues, they are simple and should be easy to fix. The only conclusion that can be drawn is that telecommunications companies just do not care about consumers," he said.

Asher added: "Last year's 'connect.resolve' campaign by the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) focussed attention on complaint handling and customer service. Despite intensive scrutiny, the industry still recorded a 130 percent increase in complaints related to complaint handling, and a 118 percent increase in complaints about customer service to the TIO."

However, according to Communications Alliance CEO, John Stanton, (who took up the post yesterday and who should know more than most about customer service having previously been CEO of People Telecom) the level of complaints to the TIO is falling. "The welcome recent reduction in complaints to the TIO, and the sharp fall in complaints about Premium SMS services show that, while current regulatory arrangements are not always perfect, they can and do produce positive results," he said.

 


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