If you have a problem with your telco – a contentious bill, a faulty line or slow broadband speed – you want it fixed. Daniel Pilkington finds out how to go about making a complaint – and getting a resolution.
Making a complaint is easy, right? Just phone up the offending telco, tell them what’s up, and they’ll sort it out. It sounds easy in theory, but what about in reality? During my research into the ins-and-outs of the complaints end of the telecommunications business, I decided to check it out.
I called an unnamed major telecommunications company (hint: they may have just changed their logo and now appear to be marketing themselves as Young and Hip). As with most large companies, my first point of contact is not actually with a person; it’s a voice recognition system that asks me my business with Teleco….mmunications company A.
“Complaint,” I reply, sternly, as if the programmed telephonist can gauge the anger levels in my voice.
“What are you complaining about? Landline? Mobile? Broadband?” the programmed voice asks.
“Everything! Bills, service, the works…” I growl.
Within seconds I’m back on hold, nodding my head to bland 1970s rock (Young and Hip? Update your hold music before you spend millions on a brand, aye?). I’m then informed by a recorded message that someone who breathes will be looking after me soon.
Another break in the play and a recorded voice asks if I’m interested in taking a 90-second customer service survey at the end of my call. Perhaps, at the end of the call I might, but right now I’m in the mood to complain.
After another 2-3 hits from a bygone era slide past my ears, I’m all of sudden greeted by [name changed to protect anonymity] Julie.
“Hi, I’m Julie, how can I help you today,” she says.
“Well, Julie, my name is Dan and I’ve got a problem.”
“What is the problem, Dan?”
“I’m not happy with you blokes, the bills, they’re too high and the service isn’t up to scratch.”
So now the process has started – we are at the first stage of the complaints process. And it’s a process that must start from here.
All the telcos I have contacted to research this article have stated that providing the best customer service is important, customer complaints are taken very seriously, and they will do everything they can to resolve it within their means.
Most have a graduated scheme of processing complaints, essentially weeding out the minor ones at contact centre level. Anything more complicated is handed on to a manager of higher standing at the contact centre with more appropriate skills to deal with the problem.
It’s like those fire danger signs around the country – when a customer service representative fails to the deal with the complaint it’s as if the dial moves from blue to green, from no-risk to some-risk.
The manager may not be available straight away. There is a high chance that he or she will have to contact you “over the next 24 hours”. This is rather disappointing, especially if you’re frothing at the mouth waving an engorged mobile/broadband bill. If the call is returned but the problem isn’t resolved, that fire danger sign dial moves from green to yellow – your complaint is upgraded to the contact centre manager.
If the contact centre numero uno can’t resolve it, the complaint is shunted to another department that handles complaints, and the dial moves to orange on the fire danger sign. If that fails, according to ‘Julie’, it’s the turn of the legal department.
The complaint has now hit burning red and it’s time to call in the fire brigade – the Telecommunications Dispute Resolution Service (TDRS).
Disputes Resolution Service
Formed in November 2007, the TDRS was set up by the industry to provide an independent solution to customer complaints.
The TDRS is free to consumers. You can contact the TDRS if you have a problem with your phone, fax, mobile phone, Internet connection, cable or digital TV, or moving from one telco to another. However, the TDRS does not deal with issues surrounding pricing, 111 calls or network coverage.
How do I make a complaint?
Complain directly to your telco (the TDRS can’t process a complaint unless it has first been to the telecommunications provider).
If you are unable to reach an amicable solution with your telco, then you complain to the TDRS – www.tdr.org.nz or phone 0508 989898.
The TDRS contacts the telecommunications provider in an attempt to get a resolution – this is a Level 1 complaint.
If the TDRS is unable to resolve the issue, they arrange for consultation between you and the telco – this is a Level 2 complaint.
If consultation fails, then a mediated session is arranged – this is a Level 3 complaint.
If the mediated session fails, an independent third party is brought in to judge the process and give a decision – this is a Level 4 complaint.
During this process, expenses are met by the telco and the TDRS, not by the consumer.
How effective is the service?
The service currently receives more than 400 inquiries a month. TDRS chairman David Russell says most complaints are processed at an early point and only once has a complaint progressed to TDRS Level 4.
The TDRS recently conducted a survey of more than 200 people who had used the service and found that 86% said the process was fair and impartial, while 93% said they would recommend the service to their friends.
In March, the TDRS released its first annual report detailing its work during its initial year in operation. And from the results of the report, it looks like New Zealanders like complaining – especially about money.
The TDRS received 1396 calls in its first year – it was expecting about 1000. The majority of the calls dealt with billing (34%), with most dealing with disputed amounts and responsibility for payment.
The next two most common types of complaint were about customer service (18%) and faults (15%).
Unfortunately, 38% of the year’s total calls were unable to be progressed because the consumer hadn’t first made their complaint to the telecommunications company.
Why aren’t all telcos members?
Membership to the Telecommunications Disputes Resolution Service is voluntary and not all telcos have signed up (see table on page 97). Among them is CallPlus/Slingshot, who pulled out of the service after being initially supportive. General manager Mark Callander says it left because the “the current TDRS process does not allow customer complaints to be fairly reviewed from both parties”.
“We just weren’t happy with the service,” he says. “Any complaints going through the TDRS simply result in customer credits being issued to prevent escalation and further costs to providers, such as Slingshot.”
So Callander pulled the plug, choosing instead to upgrade Slingshot’s internal complaints process.
“What the TDRS has done is make us focus on how we deal with complaints ourselves. We now deal with everything in-house and have a 100% resolution rate.”
He says he will consider re-joining the TDRS if a number of changes are made to bring it in line with a similar scheme in Australia.
TDRS chairman David Russell says the cost to the company is based on the number of complaints laid against the company and the level they progress to – which is incentive to resolve issues and have fewer complaints in general.
“There will always be some consumers that will try to have the companies on, but there will always be true consumer complaints,” he says. “By having the TDRS, it allows companies to highlight problems with their own systems, so if they rectify those problems they will have a great benefit from the complaints system.
“It is not only a forum for consumers to complain; it is also a system that allows the companies an insight into the problems they may have in dealing with the consumers.”
Russell says Callander and the heads of the other TDRS defectors are treading a dangerous path.
“They run a risk, a big risk. I can assure those that opt out of the TDRS that the cost of regulated scheme imposed by the government is going to be much greater – to a factor of two, three or even four times that of the TDRS.”
He says while it might appear that the service is a proactive move by the country’s telecommunications companies, it was a somewhat forced hand. “If they hadn’t set it up, under the Telecommunications Act, it would have allowed the government to come in and mandate a system,” he says.
Despite not enjoying the full support of the industry, Russell says the TDRS will continue to soldier on. He says with the continual evolution of mobile and the Internet, and the increasing number of competitors in the telecommunications market, the need for the TDRS will grow.
What he would like to see happen is more of the companies “getting in behind” the TDRS by promoting the service to their customers.