Aussie telcos hit with record complaints

SYDNEY – Complaints against Australian telecommunications providers are skyrocketing with no end in sight, according to the industry ombudsman.

The Telecommunication Industry Ombudsman (TIO) office received 102,463 complaints last year, up from 55,515 in 2003, and is expected to set another record by year’s end.

TIO Deirdre O’Donnell said the office has almost doubled its staff to 170 to handle the deluge, since she took the job 12 months ago.

“About 80 percent of break-downs between consumers and telcos happen because of a lack of communication,” O’Donnell said. “I am the busiest ombudsman in Australia. There were about 200,000 complaints registered between 19 ombudsmen from industries like energy, insurance and banking, and I alone had 75 percent of that in 2007 alone.

“The complaints are across the board and it sends a very bad message about the industry.”

O’Donnell, a former Western Australia state ombudsman also known as “the queen of pain,” played down the influence of the proliferation of broadband and mobile devices on the figures, and said the industry has continually ignored challenges by the TIO office to lift their act. There are about 19.7 million mobile phones in use according to TIO figures.

“It is a simple fix for most of these problems which stem from not calling customers back, and giving them a run around” she said. “It should be embarrassing.”

The office took a record 5,100 complaints last week, a increase of one third over the previous high. O’Donnell said the complaints are “absolutely the same” as those received by utility industries. She said companies need to give customers “ownership of the bill” which requires better customer service for billing enquiries and active education of users to ensure they understand the potential costs of a service.

The office is set to launch a campaign to reward telcos for good customer service within a month, however O’Donnell was mum on how it will operate, noting that it will “target CEOs.”

The TIO loses about one industry member per week, according to O’Donnell, which she puts down to market consolidation.

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