The Commerce Commission released its Consumers Issues report for 2017/18 on 27 November 2018. Citing telecommunications as the most complained about industry, the Commission noted that a common complaint theme centered on the complexity of what is available in the market. The report also noted that billing is a key complaint feature in telecommunications complaints, which is consistent with international research looking at consumer issues across 28 countries.
This is also consistent with the complaint trends seen by TDR. Complaints related to billing consistently top the complaints seen by TDR. When you dig a bit deeper into billing and customer experience-related complaints received by TDR, three of TDR’s top complaint trends for 2018 are:
early termination charges, and
advice given at the point of sale.
With the Christmas holidays now over and lots of “new year” deals and bundles still available, it is a good idea to think about what this means for consumers and for telecommunications providers.
From TDR’s perspective, the combination of these complaint trends is consistent with complexity of product offerings and what can feel like an overwhelming amount of choice for consumers. It can be hard for consumers to understand the difference between plans and bundles. Equally, it can be hard for providers to know precisely what information a consumer needs to make the best choice. What can occur is misunderstandings about what is being purchased and what the ramifications of those choices are.
Here are TDR’s top tips for consumers and for telecommunications providers to help make the point of sale process go smoothly:
Before going into a buying situation, assess what you need based on what you are already using. Do you mostly use data? Or are you more likely to use your device for mobile calling? Do you work from home, play online video games, or primarily use movie and music streaming apps? Are you a casual user of data, mostly limited to email and occasional social media posts? Understanding what you need will help you narrow the field of choice and will also help your telecommunications provider know the right products and plans to recommend.
Consider if there are any big changes you’re expecting in the next twelve months and how that will affect what you buy. If you’re planning on going on an extended overseas trip in six months, getting locked into a 12-month plan may not be what you need. The plan rates are generally higher for casual, month-to-month or pre-pay service, but you generally avoid the sting of an early termination fee.
For telecommunications providers, ensuring that questions related to points 1 and 2 are asked of consumers can help clarify exactly what a consumer needs and help both of you accurately assess the best way to provide service.
Review the Terms and Conditions before signing on the dotted line. Ask to see all potential charges and have the sales person explain them to you. If you hear something that sounds different from what is written, either ask for further clarification or get it in writing. Ask to see clauses related to early termination and talk with the sales person about what that means for you. Finally, make sure you understand the complaints process and check to see that the provider is a member of TDR.
For telecommunications providers, make this a standard part of the sales protocol, if not already included.Consider additional documents that provide clarity to consumers about what happens if they have to change their plan or terminate early.
If you are considering a bundled service, understand what it means if you want to “unbundle”. For example, if you’re combining mobile and broadband services, what happens if you want to change your mobile plan or use a different broadband provider? It’s important that both consumers and providers have a mutual understanding about what the consumer is trying to accomplish and what will happen if the consumer’s needs change.
Remember that if you experience a problem, know that it is okay to complain and to ask questions. If you continue to have issues with your provider, TDR is just a phone call or email away. TDR is here to help.