Each year, the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman compiles its annual report statistics and reveals which ISPs and phone companies have generated the most consumer complaints. The big losers this year? Vodafone in particular, and mobile providers in general. Here are eight useful things you can learn from the annual report.
Picture by Robert S Donovan
1. We're getting better at complaining
A total of 197,682 people complained about their provider to the TIO in the 2010-2011 financial year, a rise of just under 18 per cent on the previous year. (In the previous year, complaints had dropped by 5 per cent.)
2. Not everything gets investigated
The TIO investigated 20,635 cases — just over 10 per cent of the number of complaints. That doesn't mean it isn't doing its job: the TIO will generally only investigate a case after options for complaining to the provider have been exhausted, and 90 per cent of cases are resolved as a "level one" complaint without formal investigation. (In practice, merely mentioning to a provider that you're considering going to the TIO can be an effective strategy, since if an investigation is launched it costs the provider money.)
3. Vodafone topped the charts
Given its well-publicised network woes and its slowness in fixing them, it's no surprise that Vodafone was the most-complained about company, scoring 32,000 complaints across the year. But it wasn't entirely alone . . .
4. Mobile phones caused the most complaints
Of those 197,000-odd complaints, 112,000 were about mobile services (which means 80,000 weren't about Vodafone). Roughly half of the total (56,475) were about service faults, which was up 180 per cent on the previous year. Clearly, our expectations are often not matched by reality, no matter who our carrier is.
5. Bill shock is a big issue
10,469 people complained about "inadequate bill controls" for mobile services, which is TIO-speak for "I just got slugged with a massive bill I wasn't expecting". Complaints about internet-related charges rose by 26 per cent. This should improve in the next report, given that new regulations should require telcos to do a much better job of informing consumers on potential costs and when they are nearing monthly spending limits from February next year.
6. Nothing sucks as much as mobile
Complaints about landline provision, broadband services and premium mobile services (AKA rip-off content delivered via text message) were all down on the previous year. Complaints about ISPs dropped 13 per cent, landline services complaints dropped 1.7 per cent and premium services complaints dropped 45.6 per cent. That said, usage of the latter two categories is declining anyway.
7. Promises are rarely kept
42,300 consumers mentioned that commitments to fix issues with their services weren't actually kept. (Make sure you keep notes when talking to any provider, identifying what they have promised and when they say it will happen by. That information will be essential if you do want to escalate a complaint to the TIO.)
8. The TIO can't regulate everything
The TIO apparently regularly gets complaints about the Yellow Pages and the cost of iPhone applications, neither of which falls into its remit. Given that Yellow Pages is owned by Sensis (part of Telstra), we can maybe see how people get confused, but the iPhone example is weirder.
What area of communications would you most like to see improvements in? Share your ideas in the comments.