Ombudsman Simon Cohen told journalists there was an 18% decrease in complaints overall - 35,000 fewer complaints than last year - with a "substantial decrease" in mobile phone related complaints.
The total number stood at 158,652 complaints and Cohen attributed the decrease to three factors - a recognition from industry CEOs of the importance in strong customer service, the new Telcecommunications Consumer Protections Code which came into effect in September 2012, and a renewed focus on compliance from operators.
Mobile phone complaints dropped a massive 25.6% while landline complaints decreased 9.3% to 33,940, and internet complaints increased marginally (1.9 %) to 31,431. Billing and payment issues, customer service complaints and overall fault concerns all reduced in 2012-13.
“This is the second successive year we have seen telco complaints decrease, and complaints to the TIO are at their lowest since 2008-09,” Cohen said.
Vodafone received its lowest level of complaints for three years, but Cohen wasn't able to specify whether this was due to a lower customer base or network improvements. He did say there was "still a substantial number of coverage complaints" in relation to Vodafone.
There were significant rises in complaints about Internet faults (18.3%) and landline faults (19.1%), which Cohen attributed to extreme weather events and disasters.
The decrease in complaints was also recorded despite a 58% increase in consumer awareness of the TIO. Aided awareness of the Ombudsman’s office had increased from 36% in 2008 to 57% in 2012.
Victoria was the 'most whingey' state with 7.8 complaints per 1,000 people, compared with a national average of 6.8. There were also "very few" complaints around the NBN, though Cohen said this "reflected the modest rollout of the NBN last financial year."
For more, including complaint statistics around controversial MVNO Kogan and industry reaction, continute to page two.
The Ombudsman reported that more than half of the complaints made to the TIO in 2012-13 included customer service issues, and the vast majority of these were resolved quickly by referral to senior complaints handlers within service providers.
“The high number of simple complaints resolved by TIO referral demonstrates ongoing opportunities for telcos to improve how they deal with customer complaints,” Cohen said.
Coverage-related concerns – about reduced or no reception, poor voice quality and dropped calls – remained the main reasons consumers complained about their mobile services. In 2012-13, 25,770 consumers made a complaint about this these issues, a 13.5% decrease when compared to 2011-12. Coverage was an issue in 28.2% of new complaints about mobile services.
ACCAN CEO Teresa Corbin said the numbers were an improvement but still needed a lot more work.
“This significant drop in TIO complaints shows that enhanced consumer protections introduced with the TCP Code and a new focus on fixing customer service issues by industry is beginning to have the desired effect," she said.
"But it’s important to keep some perspective - the 158,652 new complaints are coming off record highs and are still considerably higher than the number of complaints dealt with by the financial ombudsman, which includes the banks.
“Complaint figures are starting to go from the stratosphere back down to Earth but there is still significant room for improvement. Mobile service issues were the cause of more than half of all new complaints and almost 26,000 people complained about mobile coverage. Fixing mobile coverage issues should be a priority as this continues to be the top issue in all of the top 10 complaints postcodes. Additionally, it is concerning that more than half of the new consumer disputes included a customer service complaint about issues such as broken promises or wrong advice.
The Ombudsman agreed with the sentiments, telling iTWire 150,000 complaints is "still a lot", and that "one in five complaints includes a gripe about a broken promise, and that really shows there's substantial room to improve."
Meanwhile troubled MVNO Kogan, which no longer operates, received around 800 complaints to the Ombudsman, mostly around its controversial 'Acceptable Use' policies.
"There have been some issues presented to customers who subscribed to MVNO services during 2012/13," Cohen told iTWire.
"We've seen some big issues around how customers have been transferred into those services, the acceptable use policies, and some issues around customer service and complaint handling, so those sorts of factors have seen an increase in the proportion of complaints from small providers, in relation to the overall trend of a decrease in complaints.
"There are some challenges in meeting consumer expectations with the product they're actually going to receive, and I think also in ensuring that the business model for those services is a sustainable one."
Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association CEO Chris Althaus said the 25.6% fall in mobile complaints was a major reduction and provided industry with important feedback on its ongoing efforts to improve customer service.
“These figures show that our industry is definitely heading in the right direction over the past 12 months with a strong performance in addressing customer service issues, but we know that we must keep pushing hard on this key task to try and ensure lasting improvements in customer service,” he said.