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Telco service in ComCom sights

Sarah Putt, Contributor. 16 August 2018, 8:24 pm

The Commerce Commission cited Retail Telecommunications as its "top priority focus area" last week and today we found out why.

According to a NZ Herald report, the top three telcos in the country - Vodafone (298 complaints), Spark (257 complaints) and 2degrees (115) - make up the top five of the most complained about companies in New Zealand from January 2017 to the first quarter of this year.

Meanwhile, the Telecommunications Disputes Resolution Service, which is administered by the Telecommunications Carriers Forum (TCF), tells a different story with regards to the telcos that attract the most complaints. Between 1 January to 31 March 2018, it received 666 complaints and enquiries. Its measure is "all complaint and enquiry activities per 10,000 connections per provider this quarter" and the top five telcos with the highest number of complaints are Vocus (2.7), Trust Power (2.5), Vodafone (1.0), 2degrees (0.7) and Spark (0.5).

But regardless of how it's measured, retail telecommunications is under the regulator's spotlight, with the Commission noting that as almost every New Zealander uses a mobile or fixed line phone and broadband, the telecommunications sector impacts a huge number of consumers.

"This year the areas of service quality that we expect to focus on are billing, contract terms, marketing and switching. In each area, we will continue to use a variety of approaches such as enforcement, constructive engagement with companies to improve compliance, and further consumer outreach initiatives," the Commission notes, adding "We also expect to implement new consumer provisions from amendments to the Telecommunications Act, including industry codes to address issues of retail service quality."

The Commission's approach has met with approval by technology commentator Bill Bennett, who refers to service quality as "something of a black hole in the telecommunications sector."

"Improved service quality was one of the objectives of the 2009 reforms. It was just as big an issue then," Bennett writes on his blog.

"At the time Telecom NZ divided into what is now Spark and Chorus. The planners thought telcos would compete on service quality after the industry separated into wholesale and retail layers. Instead they raced to the bottom on price.

"Few if any telco's offer a high service quality option today. Consumers are free to choose between various levels of indifferent service. They range from near-hostile to grudging customer support."

Bennett points out that Spark's Skinny brand, which has minimal service, often rates highly by on service quality by its customers

"Skinny doesn't have a traditional call centre. Instead it handles everything online. Not offering much customer service, means Skinny customers don't expect much. Their illusions are never shattered.

"Of course Skinny targets a particular demographic: mainly young tech-savvy people looking for a bargain. It's a market that prefers not to use call centres. Moreover, younger New Zealanders have no recollection of a time when support seemed better."

It is an interesting state of affairs when an online service trumps a person on the line. Or maybe not. I must say that I much prefer the self-service at the supermarket. Sometimes it's just easier to deal with a machine.


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