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Ombudsman Cynthia Gebert

A message from the Ombudsman

Here we are at the end of my first seven months as Ombudsman – And what an exciting time those months have proved to be. It has been wonderful getting to know the hard working and dedicated teams that make up the TIO. They are the strength of the organisation, and I am proud of all the great work that we have accomplished together in 2022.

The past year has continued to see the trend of declining complaints coming to my office. Complaints dropped 33.4 per cent in the last financial year. Telcos have continued to improve internal dispute resolution processes for their customers and this has been reflected in the complaints we receive. In particular, fault and connection complaints have decreased by 29.8 per cent compared to the previous year.

But there is always the need to continue to adapt and change to meet the evolving telco market and consumer expectations. Despite the decrease, customer service issues continue to cause a high number of problems for consumers. Those customer service issues that are still appearing in complaints should be far from an Ombudsman scheme, leaving the TIO as an office of last resort.

These issues represent an area for telcos to focus on and do better. Consumer expectations are continually evolving, and it’s important that we and the industry keep up with evolving market. If our processes don’t reflect the needs of the community, we aren’t performing our function.

We began some important initiatives this year to ensure we are operating as effectively as possible. We always strive to make our service accessible to all Australians. In the last year, we launched an Auslan Video Interpreting Service, information in 37 different languages, and translated our consumer videos into five different languages. We’ve also trialled new and different ways to collect information from consumers, different approaches to progress complaints faster, and new dispute resolution techniques.

Earlier this year we also began our Fairness project, which included the development of a framework that embeds fairness and satisfaction in our tools, processes, and culture. We have already received valuable feedback from our fairness surveys to consumers and telcos, and we are using this information to continually improve our processes.

Work has also begun on the recommendations resulting from the Independent Review into the TIO. In 2023, we’ll be implementing both smaller and larger scale recommendations from the Independent Review, and we’ll be progressing Project Echo, our technology refresh project, to support and enable these recommendations.

Some of these recommendations include:

  • ensuring every aspect of our complaint handling process works for the users of the process,
  • considering bypassing the refer back process, where appropriate,
  • improving the efficiency of dispute resolution processes, and
  • capturing more information at the start of a complaint to result in more timely outcomes.

I’m excited for the next twelve months at the TIO. We have plenty to do, and I’m looking forward to the challenges that the current telco landscape provides us. Along with the rising cost of living pressures, economic changes, and an increasingly complex telco market, the year ahead provides us, the government and the industry with opportunities to re-examine how best to serve you, the consumers.

I would like to thank all stakeholders for their continuing interest and input into our work. I wish you a safe and restorative holiday season.

Cynthia Gebert