Ombudsman blames outsourcing for poor customer service

Poor customer service by Australian telecommunications companies is often caused by outsourcing, Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman John Pinnock said today.

Releasing the 2005 annual report for the telecommunications industry, Pinnock said complaints have risen by a third, with phone companies providing Australia's worst customer service.

This includes selling faulty handsets and not tackling serious billing problems.

The ombudsman handled more than 100,000 separate complaints in the past fiscal year, from almost 79,000 calls.

Pinnock said an increase in "industry activity" was pushing complaints up in all areas, as new products, services and billing schemes entered the market.

Customer service was a widespread problem, often caused by outsourcing, he said.

"In the mobile area, faults have gone up by almost 100%, billing complaints have gone up by 112% and customer service complaints by 145%," Pinnock said.

He said many of the complaints related to handset faults, particularly in third-generation (3G) mobile phone technology.

In land-line and Internet use, bad customer service was also a standout.

"It's the customer service increase that we're worried about, and this generally reflects people's inability to get things done by their provider," Pinnock said. "To the extent that you outsource ... it's just that one step further removed from your customer base.

"No matter how well you try to control that by various protocols with your agents, there's a loss of customer knowledge or an absence of customer knowledge ... even within Australia," he said. "Across the board, all of the large companies have problems with customer inquiries and customer complaints."

Pinnock said billing complaints stemmed from companies not properly itemizing their charges.

Pinnock said complaints were consistently much higher in the telecommunications industry than in banking, insurance and finance.

Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association CEO Graham Chalker said that the number of mobile phone subscribers in Australia was nearing 19 million and that the report should be looked at in context.

"The TIO's Annual Report says there were 40,254 complaints about mobile phones in 2004-'05. This is 0.2% of total subscribers," he said.

Chalker said the industry had developed a new code to make contracts simpler and fairer and was working on a new credit management code.

This story, "Ombudsman blames outsourcing for poor customer service" was originally published by Computerworld Australia.

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