• TIO complaints generally down for Broadband
  • Overall complaints about telcos up
  • Customer service still needs work across the board

The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) recorded fewer complaints about broadband services in 2010, despite an overall rise in telco complaints.

Overall, new complaints to the ombudsman rose by 17.8% to 197,000, triggered by a 51.4% increase in complaints relating to mobile services. In comparison, new complaints about broadband are down 13.1% to 37,092.

In its report, the TIO said "This may be attributed to the industry offering affordable internet plans with generous data allowances, either as part of bundled packages or standalone deals."

Most internet providers recorded sharp declines in customer complaints to the TIO regarding internet services, including Dodo, with a 70% drop, TPG, down by 69% and Virgin, down by 71%.

Customer satisfaction

The figures show broadband providers across the board are improving their complaint handling and customer service, resolving issues before they get to the ombudsman.

Several ISPs use their reputation for good customer service as a selling point in their marketing campaigns, and the figures from the TIO reveal how deserved these reputations are.

By looking at the approximate number of customers for the ISPs who reveal their figures, we can work out the percentage of customers who made a complaint to the Ombudsman.

iiNet and Internode have a very similar number of complaints when their sizes are taken into account, at around 0.19% of their customer base resorting to the TIO. In contrast, budget provider TPG sees around 0.51% of its customers making a complaint. Bigpond falls somewhere in between at around 0.36%, while Optus is just below at 0.28%.

The latest Roy Morgan survey, which asks customers how satisfied they are with their ISP, ranked ISPs in a similar order.

The August survey found Internode customers were most satisfied with 93% 'Very' or 'Fairly' satisfied with their service, closely followed by iiNet with a 90% satisfaction rate.

Both Optus and TPG recorded a 77% satisfaction rate, while 72% of Bigpond customers were satisfied.

The trouble with smartphones

The TIO puts the jump in complaints around mobile phones down to Australia's enthusiastic adoption of smartphones, which come with complicated caps and potentially expensive data plans.

While most broadband providers no longer charge excess fees for extra data used on a fixed-line ADSL2+ or cable connection, slowing the connection speed instead, going over the data limit on a smartphone can be extremely costly.

The TIO has recorded many cases of 'bill shock' where customers receive bills running into thousands of dollars because they failed to understand the consequences of using data, especially while overseas.

Telcos can slash the number of complaints by following the lead of fixed-line broadband providers and introducing shaping speeds once a data limit has been reached, improving their customer service and ensuring their plans are big enough to satisfy data-hungry Australians.