Australia's peak telecommunications consumer advocate has called on Telcos to reveal internal complaint data while setting targets for complaint reduction.
The call comes about three years after the industry was given an ultimatum from government to clean up its act or face regulation.
In an industry conference speech in Melbourne today, Australian Communications Consumer Action Network chief executive Teresa Corbin praised the industry for improvements since then.
The improvements have included a reduction in roaming charges, phasing out misleading terms like "caps", more readily available information about customer rights to contact the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO), critical information summaries at point of purchase and customer usage alerts.
But while complaints have trended down, there were still 40,021 new TIO complaints recorded from January to March this year, while the Financial Ombudsmen Service received just 7720.
Corbin said the TIO was regarded as one of the busiest ombudsmen services in Australia.
"Clearly there remains significant scope to drive down the level of complaints much further," she said.
"So ACCAN has asked telcos to set their own complaint reduction benchmarks based on how much better they think they can -- and should - do."
Corbin said reduced complaints could act as a competitive advantage. "They might like to set a comparable benchmark, like Origin Energy did in 2007 when it set a five-year target of reducing ombudsman complaints to 1.5 complaints per 1000 customers," she said.
"Or they might prefer to benchmark themselves to another industry -- it is up to them to decide." While most of the six recommendations from the Australian Communication and Media Authority's 'Reconnecting the Customer' inquiry have been implemented, implementation of the last recommendation, customer service performance metrics, is now more than six months overdue.
Further, a mystery shopper survey published by global auditing firm KPMG in July this year found the customer service experienced provided by Australian telcos ranked 19 out of the 25 countries surveyed, including being behind Nigeria and Indonesia. In June this year, Optus CEO Kevin Russell told ABC Inside Business that the "the industry in Australia in my view has gone backwards over the last five or six years in terms of how it treats its customers", while Telstra CEO David Thodey said recently: "I think this [improving customer service] is definitely a marathon and I have got through the first 10km. It is a big job." A recent Roy Morgan report found 34 per cent of consumers who have complained in the last six months were not satisfied with how their complaint was handled. Ms Corbin also raised concerns regarding recent suggestions that some protections seen as "unnecessary" might be rolled back "to reduce red tape", emphasising that any reductions in regulation needed to be done very carefully as there was still evidence of persisting consumer concerns. "There are many longstanding and important consumer protections, especially to more vulnerable consumers, such as those in regional and remote Australia, which must remain part of the telecommunications landscape for the foreseeable future," she said.
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