TIO: ISPs should do more to resolve customer complaints

Most complaints to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) could be resolved with better customer service from the provider, according to the TIO.

Research from the ombudsman found 90% of complaints to the service about customer service or complaint handling were easily resolved when referred to the right contact within the Internet Service Provider (ISP) or phone provider.

Ombudsman Simon Cohen said: "Most of these cases should not have come to us in the first place. The fact that they are most often resolved by referral by the TIO to the right department is strong evidence that these consumers can be treated better."

The TIO recorded 87,264 complaints in the six-month period between June and December 2010, a 9% increase on the previous six months.

Complaint handling issues

While the rise could partly be explained by mobile phone coverage issues, particularly relating to the problems experienced by Vodafone customers, the TIO was concerned by a significant jump in the number of complaints about customer service and complaints handling.

According to the TIO, customer service and complaint handling overtook billing and payments as the most prominent complaint issues over the second half of the year.

The ombudsman highlighted a worrying trend in telephone and internet companies failing to follow through on promises to resolve consumer complaints, or giving consumers incorrect or inadequate advice.

In order to investigate the problem, the TIO conducted a survey of more than 516 consumers who lodged complaints about customer service or complaint handling with their service provider over a seven week period from July 1 to August 19 2010.

"Consumers who come to the TIO report spending substantial time and effort solving their complaints," Mr Cohen added.

"They report being transferred from department to department, not being transferred to supervisors and, perhaps most frustratingly, getting no solution or a broken promise for their efforts. They are – by any measure – resilient consumers."

Customers 'call five times or more'

The survey found more than half of the consumers (55%) surveyed reported contact with their service providers five or more times before ringing the TIO and most consumers (60%) reported spending three or more hours unsuccessfully trying to solve their complaint before approaching the TIO.

One in five (20%) reported spending more than nine hours attempting to resolve their complaint, the TIO said.

The most common reasons for complaining to the TIO were because there was no solution offered by the service provider (39%) or a promise to resolve the complaint was not kept (39%).

Better training needed

The Ombudsman has recommended better training, so employees can recognise when a complaint is being made and when to escalate it to an experienced complaint handler.

Some ISPs pride themselves on their complaint handling. iiNet and Internode stood out in the TIO's last report on complaints statistics, recording a drop in complaints to the ombudsman.

Consumers experiencing problems with their phone or broadband service must attempt to resolve the issue with their provider at least once before approaching the TIO for help. In most cases, the TIO can resolve the issue by escalating the complaint for the customer, but in some cases the ombudsman will launch an investigation.