Telco customer service in Australia is getting better, sort of: ACMA

customer service
Credit: Olivier Le Moal /

Customer service in Australia’s telecoms sector has been improving in certain aspects since the revised Telecommunications Consumer Protection Code (a.k.a. the TCP Code) took effect in 2012, but the sector still has a ways to go, says a new report from the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA).

Among the good news, the incidence of consumers receiving unexpectedly high bills has fallen from 33% to 19% since 2013 for post-paid mobile phones, and from 26% to 10% over the same period for product bundles. For those unexpectedly high bills, the extra amount consumers have to pay has shrunk from A$94 ($68) to A$60.

The report says more consumers have a clearer understanding about the cost of communications services, and are better able to plan and budget accordingly. More of them are monitoring their expenditure with SMS alerts and apps. SMS alerts are up from 67% in 2013 to 78% and use of apps is up from 31% to 46% for post-paid mobiles over the same period.

Meanwhile, overall incidence of making a complaint has decreased from 36% to 31% in the last three years, with a significant decrease in complaints related to mobile phone services.

However, said acting ACMA Chairman Richard Bean, some perennial customer service issues remain, and service problems are emerging as consumers engage with new technologies and services. “

For example, consumers’ experience of complaint resolution rates and timeframes for resolving complaints remains largely unchanged over the past three years,” Bean said.

Other problem areas include consumer problems with internet streaming due to slow or poor connections, and some consumers being caught out using their mobile data allowance when they thought they were using their home Wi-Fi connection (reported by 15% of customers who had received an unexpectedly high bill).

In a separate study looking at consumer migration to new technologies, another bright spot for telco consumers is that the vast majority understand how to connect to the national broadband network, with 82% finding it easy or not difficult to connect.

Both residents and businesses reported that costs of the NBN were less than or comparable to those paid prior to connecting, although less than a third of residential and business customers change their service providers when connecting to the NBN.

“The ACMA’s research shows that as consumers adopt new technologies and they become mainstream, we see consumer service expectations change,” Bean added. “These changing expectations align with recent Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) complaints data highlighting a 35% increase in new complaints about internet services over the last financial year.”

ACMA says this research is informing its targeted compliance and education priorities for 2017. One particular compliance priority will be to ensure retail service providers are adhering to their requirements under the TCP Code as more customers migrate to the NBN.

It will also inform potential enhancements to the TCP Code when it is reviewed later in 2017 and will assist the ACMA in working with the telco industry to ensure continuous improvement of customer care as the communications service environment continues to evolve.

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