From September 2010, we saw a considerable increase in complaints about Vodafone’s coverage and customer service that later became the subject of extensive media coverage and consumer campaigns.
We analysed complaint data to ascertain what the key issues driving complaints were and what consumers sought as a resolution. We contacted Vodafone requesting information about what was causing the coverage problems, what steps it was taking to fix these problems and what steps it was taking to address individual complaints.
Vodafone outlined a program of works aimed at upgrading its network over the next 12 months and agreed to put more resources into handling and resolving customer complaints. The number of new complaints about Vodafone’s mobile services spiked in January 2011 with 5,712 new complaints received. Although complaint volumes have steadily declined, with 2,783 received in June 2011, we remain concerned that they are significantly higher than a year ago.
We continue to monitor Vodafone complaints and have requested regular updates on further works or outages impacting their network or customer complaint handling processes. We also continue to investigate individual complaints about coverage problems on a case-by-case basis.
In April 2011, we became aware of an issue in which consumers were having their mobile number transferred away without their authorisation followed shortly by a large sum of money taken out of their personal bank accounts. We discovered the affected consumers had a feature on their internet banking that sent them a unique code via SMS for them to authorise an external funds transfer. This meant that the bank was sending the code to the new holder of the number.
The Systemic team undertook an assessment of TIO complaints and found customers of a number of service providers were being affected by this issue. Most had amounts transferred out of their bank accounts averaging $10,000. Although the number of complaints was not large, given the level of financial detriment and the likelihood that consumers would not be aware that the issue was related to an unauthorised mobile phone transfer, we took immediate action to ensure all relevant authorities were aware of the issue. This included state-based consumer affairs offices, the ACCC, Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) and the Australian Federal Police. This information was then used by these agencies to advise their staff, stakeholders and the public of the prevalence of the issue.
The Systemic team also recognised that a consumer calling the TIO may not be aware that it can take up to two hours for an unauthorised transfer of a mobile service to be reversed. In that time, the consumer’s bank account may be at risk of being accessed again and further amounts taken. The team developed advice that our staff could provide to consumers who contacted the TIO with this issue. In this way, we ensured that we took all reasonable action to minimise consumer detriment. We have not heard of this issue reoccurring since May 2011.
In early 2010 we identified that a large number of Telstra complaints weren’t being resolved by referral because Telstra did not implement the resolutions it proposed. For example, agreed credits weren’t being applied.
We contacted Telstra seeking information about its complaint handling processes and any mechanisms in place to ensure that agreements were actioned. We also met with Telstra for a demonstration of its complaint handling process. The issue came to the attention of Telstra’s CEO, who communicated to staff the importance of honouring every commitment made to customers in the course of resolving a complaint.
Telstra revised its complaint handling process to proactively follow up unresolved complaints. It also changed its systems to allow case managers to apply credits to bills immediately. In the past, credits could take up to two billing cycles to appear, resulting in consumers believing that a promised credit had not been applied.
As a result of these changes, complaints about Telstra failing to action undertakings dropped by more than 50 per cent over the following six months.