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Dealing with telecoms pain points

The Commerce Commission wants to find and fix the pain points people have when dealing with telcos.

It’s a job the commission was given as part of a new regulatory regime introduced in 2018.

On the whole the customer experience with telcos has improved over the last decade.

Much of that improvement is down to increased competition.

Level playing field lifts performance

The arrival of 2degrees as a third mobile company and the demerger of Chorus from Spark have done much to level the playing field. This, in turn, meant companies have to work harder to retain customers.

Yet the magic of market forces has yet to improve all aspects of dealing with telcos.

Now there’s an opportunity to tidy up the loose ends.

Telecommunications Commissioner Tristan Gilbertson says: “We’ve been given a clear direction and new powers to improve outcomes for consumers.”

Remaining pain points

To get an idea of the remaining pain points, the Commerce Commission organised a consumer survey.

It found that 77 percent of those surveyed are satisfied with the service they get.

The numbers are broken down by brand. Customers are least happy with Trustpower and Vodafone, they are happiest with Skinny, 2degrees, Warehouse Mobile and the little local service providers.

The 77 percent satisfaction number does not sound as good if you flip it to find 23 percent are not satisfied.

Catching up with everyone else

Yet it is close to being in-line with other industries. Surveys here and overseas show customer satisfaction in general tends to range from around 80 percent to 90 percent, with a few rogue industries underperforming.

What’s more, it is a huge improvement on where satisfaction numbers would have been in the past. I’ve seen non-public surveys showing more people are unhappy than happy.

Which is great.

The survey shows customers tend to be happy with things like coverage, availability, speed, stability and price. They are less happy with customer service and technical support. Service quality has been a problem for years.

This should surprise no-one. New Zealand’s telecommunications companies have spent a decade competing on price, coverage and technical performance. None of them have ever thought to focus on providing the best possible customer experience.

Service problems

More than half the people surveyed (56 percent) said they had reported problems with their service in the last two years.

That’s not good. Worse, of those who reported a problem more than half (54 percent) said it took a lot of effort to deal with the company.

Again Vodafone was the poorest performer. Two-thirds of the company’s internet customers (66 percent) had a problem. Almost half of mobile customers (44 percent) had ‘issues’. One in five Vodafone customers had a billing problem.

Industry body the TCF (Telecommunications Forum) published a glass-three-quarters-full blog post from CEO Paul Brislen looking at the Commerce Commission research. He says the industry is already addressing some of the issues and that overall it is doing OK.

It is certainly heading in the right direction, but the TCF and its members,  shouldn’t rest until telecoms is just another unremarkable industry. It remains the most complained about sector in the New Zealand economy.

Outstanding pain points

Which brings us to the outstanding pain points the Commerce Commission would like to address.

Top of the list is dealing with a service provider. Anyone who has done this knows it involves spending a long time waiting for a call to be answered.

Skinny, the Spark brand that makes a point of providing little in the way of personal customer support, rates high. The more self-service and automation, the less need to talk to a customer service representative, the happier the customer.

The Commerce Commission would like to hear from consumers about their experience and to know which aspects of retail service quality it should deal with first. You can provide feedback at the Commerce Commission website.

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