Since my appointment as Ombudsman, the TIO has focussed on making our services more effective for consumers and service providers.
We have introduced conciliation for complaints that are not resolved by referral. Conciliation allows the consumer and service provider to agree on a solution with the TIO acting as an independent and expert facilitator. As we report here, consumers have responded very positively to conciliation. In our recent survey, 97 per cent told us they were satisfied with our conciliation process, including 86 per cent extremely or very satisfied. Conciliation is proving faster and more effective at resolving complaints.
We have also introduced a new complaints management system, which should improve our efficiency and effectiveness over time. The system will increase our ability to understand the trends arising from complaints, automate some routine tasks and increase the quality of our work.
In addition, we have increased our engagement with telecommunications service providers, taking on board their feedback to improve our communication, complaint handling and billing processes. The endgame here is the same – to better resolve disputes between consumers and service providers.
We are also improving the way we highlight important issues for consumers and service providers. This includes making substantial and evidence-rich submissions to public inquiries and Code reviews. It also includes turning the spotlight on alarming trends or practices – such as the mobile phone and banking scam reported in this edition of TIO Talks – where our complaints show potential for real detriment to consumers.
In May 2012, the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy released its report on reforms for the TIO. The report reflects the important and very effective role the TIO plays in resolving consumer disputes. However, it challenges us to further assist service providers in improving their own complaint handling skills and services, and to increase the range of information we provide to the community.
The report aligns in this respect with the TIO’s own view that we need to expand our role and ever more effectively deal with systemic issues impacting on telco consumers. We have begun this process by changing our Vision – so that we focus not only on delivering an exceptional telecommunications dispute resolution service, but also contributing to better customer service and complaint handling within the telecommunications industry.
We are expanding our roles beyond resolving disputes – which will always remain our primary function – to encompass improving telecommunication services through systemic investigations and capacity building with service providers. And we are highlighting our job as an independent and expert public voice about practices and products that are impacting on consumers. A key element is building our relationships across the community, with consumers and their advocates, industry and its representatives, and regulators.
2012 and beyond will be an extraordinary time for telecommunications in Australia, with new technologies and services that continually increase consumer choice. For our part, the TIO accepts the challenge to be more effective, and to do more to assist consumers and service providers in solving the issues that will inevitably arise.