Telecommunications

Complaints about telcos jump 40%, as SMEs have “zero certainty” when dealing with providers

Dominic Powell /

Calls are being made for legislation to ensure telecommunications connections are considered “critical business services” after complaints to the telecommunications ombudsman rose by more than a third in the last half of 2016.

In its six-monthly update released this week, the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) revealed it had received 65,970 complaints between July 1 and December 31 of 2016. Out of those complaints, 8606, or 13%, were from disgruntled small business owners.

The TIO reports the number of complaints is up 33.8% from the same six-month period in 2015, and is up 5.3% from the first six months of 2016. Nearly half of complaints were related to customer service, with the common areas of concern including billing and payments, faults, and complaints handling.

Internet services generated the most complaints, at 37.4% of overall cases, a number that’s up more than 50% from the same period in 2015. Then comes complaints about mobile services at 35.4%, and landline services at 27.3%.

The spike in complaints is indicative of the “serious issues” in the sector, believes founder of IT services business Combo, David Markus.

He told SmartCompany this morning many businesses are left with “zero certainty” when dealing with telcos.

“If a business asks ‘where’s my fibre connection I ordered’, the best information they’ll get from a customer service is a promise of an update tomorrow,” Markus says.

“The flow of information between the telcos and businesses are leaving businesses with zero certainty on the support they’ll receive.”

Markus believes the conditions are only getting worse for SMEs, with businesses that relocate offices often experiencing weeks of waiting time before having services connected, despite expectations connections will be available on arrival.

“Every time our clients relocate they’re hoping to have the connections in place by the time they arrive, but the telcos can only provide suggestions of a potential arrival date, there are no guarantees,” he says.

“There really is no such thing as a service level agreement saying ‘we will get this installed by a certain date’, and that’s not okay when we’re in an era where businesses are dependent on that data connection.”

Data should be a “critical” service like gas or electricity

Data should be considered a “critical business service” like electricity or gas, says Markus, who is calling for legislation to force telcos to install data connections in a certain time frame.

“[That legislation] would be terrific, even if it was just about getting technicians out, as communications with them are a disaster. Every time they promise to come they miss the deadlines they set themselves,” Markus says.

“Unless we get legislation along these lines, I can’t see things improving. Some basic standards and service level agreements would be a terrific thing.”

Across Australia, the TIO reports Victorians and South Australians lodged the most complaints to the Ombudsman, followed by the ACT and New South Wales. The Northern Territory and Western Australia fell to the bottom of the list for complaints.

For businesses trying to avoid issues with data connections when moving office or relocating, Markus advises providing your service provider warning “months in advance”.

“What we say to anyone who’s relocating is that they need to plan months in advance and give telcos plenty of warning,” he says.

“If you’re moving to a city office, a few weeks would probably suffice, but if you’re in the greater metropolitan area you should give as much warning as possible.”

“And God help you if you’re out in the bushlands.”

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Dominic Powell

Dominic is the features and profiles editor at SmartCompany.

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