How good are Australian telcos at customer service? Well, with 48.7% of complaints to the Telecommunication Industry Ombudsman (TIO) in the 2016/2017 annual report related to customer service, it appears there is a lot of room for improvement.
While we all have our own experience of customer service from our telcos, the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network wanted some specific data on how the major companies compare to each other in regards to customer service, and how they rate on a range of criteria relating to how customers feel they have been treated. The report is titled “Can You Hear Me?” and was released on Monday 23 of July.
What the Report Covers
The survey commissioned by the ACCAN spoke to 1,347 customers of 10 telecommunications providers. Out of the major telcos, 210 customers were with Telstra, 203 were with Optus and 205 with Vodafone. The people surveyed had contacted their telecommunications provider within the last 12 months to resolve an issue. The providers that were included in the study were chosen as the top 10 providers based on market share, and the sample of respondents was weighted to reflect how much market share the company held.
Fieldwork was conducted over the period 26th February – 14th March 2018. The inquiry did not attempt to look for reasons or explanations about why the customers felt satisfied or dissatisfied, but was designed to simple gather and compare data across a variety of areas and companies. The main priority was to look at each provider and how they were meeting the needs of customers, but the study also looks at overall results.
Even though the study was not specifically looking for reasons why customers might be happy or unhappy, it was able to look at how a customer rated their customer service experience and compare similarities between people who were happy and unhappy. For example, a much higher percentage of happy customers had their queries resolved on the first contact, whereas customers who needed more contact were understandably less happy.
People who have a negative experience with their telco are much more likely to report spending longer to resolve a problem, need to contact their provider more frequently, are transferred more often, and have to repeat the information more times. It’s easy to imagine why these factors could contribute to a negative experience for customers.
The most common reasons for making contact with their service provider were having a service issue/outage (37%), a general enquiry (33%) or a billing issue (28%).
- At 70%, Virgin has the highest customer service rating, although they are now no longer in the market.
- 61% of Vodaphone customers had a positive experience
- Just over 50% of TPG/iiNet, Amaysim and Dodo/iPrimus customers were happy
- Regional provider Skymesh got 46%
- 43% of Optus customers gave a positive rating
- 42% of Telstra customers were happy with their experience
- Belong and Active8Me were the equal lowest overall with only 36% of their customers reporting a positive customer service experience.
After Optus announced that Virgin would be closed down, their results are no longer directly relevant to the market. However, their results do highlight what it takes to be a top-rated telco for customer service. Virgin customers reported spending less time on the phone waiting to be connected to a person or department who could help them and were more likely to have their problem solved on the first contact, compared to all other providers.
Vodafone is the highest rated provider, with 61% of customers happy with their experience. Customers with Vodafone spend less time trying to get their problem resolved, don’t need to follow up as many times, and are more likely to have their problem solved the first time. Their customers rated them highly on basic customer service skills like being treated with courtesy and professionalism, as well as the accuracy of the information they were given.
On the other hand, Telstra scored the lowest out of the major telcos. Customers often needed to make contact several times before the issue is resolved. The customer service staff were also named as an issue for customers.
How Customers Contact Their Telco
66% of respondents say they prefer to contact their provider over the phone. Only 13% like to make contact in person, and website chat is slightly less popular at 12%. Email, web form query, and social media were only preferred by 4%, 3% and 2% of customers respectively.
While the phone might be the most popular way to contact a telco, it’s far from the most efficient. People who phoned their providers contacted them an average of 2.7 times, had 3 transfers on average, and spent an average time of 1.2 hours on the phone before they could talk to someone who could help them. Almost half weren’t told a wait time or offered a call back.
The most efficient and effective way to resolve an issue is visiting a store. Customers who chose this method spent a shorter period of time communicating with their provider (8 days instead of 21 days), and need to make contact less often.
Some customers didn’t use the method of communication that they personally preferred. Those customers reported problems with finding the right details to access their preferred method of communication. One in four found it was difficult to find the right details. Other problems included the method of communication being unhelpful in a previous contact, difficulty getting through to someone who could help, and response time being too long in a previous interaction.
Can You Please Repeat That?
For customers who needed to speak to their providers on multiple occasions, more than half had to repeat information about their query. One in four reported providing their case information on more than five occasions, although the average was 3.7 times. 42% reported that their provider did have access to information about their case.
At the time of the survey, 81% of customers had had their query resolved. Vodafone customers were more likely than average to have their complaints resolved at 89%. 42% of customers did not have their problem solved within the first contact.
Customers need to contact their provider 2.6 times on average before their complaint is resolved – but Telstra customers have a much higher average, needing 3 contacts before the issue is resolved. Activ8me, Virgin and Vodafone only require 1.6 calls on average to resolve a query.
When customer’s issues are unresolved, they’re likely to escalate the matter to try to get the matter resolved. Language requirements not being accommodated is another big reason for a customer to escalate their complaint. 30% of customers report escalating their query, either by escalating the matter with the provider (such as asking to speak to a manager), lodging a formal complaint with the provider, or lodging a complaint with the TIO.
Over half of the customers who wanted to lodge a complaint with their provider found it was difficult to find information about how they could do this. It’s a mandatory requirement that telecommunications providers who receive a formal complaint must suggest a solution within three weeks. However, only 46% of people who made a formal complaint said they had received a proposed solution within that timeframe.
Key Areas of Improvement
Finally, consumers were asked to identify areas they thought their telco could improve in. Obviously responses varied, but there were some common themes. Improving the customer service staff was indicated as a priority with 42% of people suggesting that telcos work on this area, including addressing areas like customer service, communication and attitude. Timeliness was an issue for 19% of people, working on cost issues, and getting technology to work as it should. Language skills were indicated as an issue by almost one in five respondents, which often related to call centres based overseas.
Poor customer service actually costs customers, who have to spend their own time and effort to try and resolve problems. Even very straightforward queries such as changing plans, updating contact details and making general enquiries about the account needed significant time and effort to resolve.
The ACCAN suggests that now is an excellent time to update the standards required from Australian telcos, with a review of the Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code underway and a new ACMA Complaints Handling Standard in place. With competition in the world of telecommunications heating up, issues that cause customers to look elsewhere need to be addressed quickly. This report should cause telcos to review the area of customer service, and create better circumstances for telco customers. What is certain is that the current standards do not appear to be high enough.