Once again, Australian telcos find themselves being criticised by regulators and consumer groups for their poor performance. This time over poor service, complexity of bills and overcharging on “freecall” numbers.
The frustrating thing with all of these complaint is they are nothing new, as shown by an earlier version of this article in 2007.
So the problems with phone and Internet companies remain and many customers, both consumers and businesses, are forced to go through the time wasting dance of dealing with call centres, complex contracts and often finishing with consumer protection organisations like the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman or other state and Federal authorities.
However there are ways of reducing the problems and improving your chances of resolving issues quickly and on your terms;
The first step when you realise you have a problem is to call them. This is the quickest and easiest way to resolve things. If you can solve the problem at this point, you will save a lot of time, money and frustration.
When dealing with any call centre, there are a few important things to remember. You must remain polite, you must never make threats and you should note everything. A lot of this can be easier said than done.
From the first call, you must take notes. Every time you speak to the call centre you must note the date and time you have made the call, the time they answered, the name of the person you spoke to, what you discussed, what was agreed (if anything) and the time the call ended. Any important discussions should be confirmed in writing.
Be Calm and Polite
At every stage of the process you must stay cool and polite. Do not lose your temper and do not abuse people. If you find the person you are dealing with is rude or provocative, or if find your blood pressure rising, then politely finish the conversation and call back later later.
Don’t Make Threats
Making threats will hurt your argument and draw the process out. Threatening people only makes their attitude harder or locks them into a position where they cannot negotiate with you.
Suing the ISP, complaining to the TIO, going to the media or calling consumer affairs are all options you have available should everything else fail but the aim is to settle the matter quickly and amicably without going to the time and expense of complaining to other authorities.
Do it in writing
It is important to confirm everything in writing. All too often people believe a matter has been settled only to find it is still a problem months or years later. Follow up any important conversations with a letter confirming the details including the time, date and person you discussed the issue with.
This is very important if you have reached an agreement settling a billing dispute. Confirm the details and the agreement in a letter sent by registered post to the organisation, any faxes or emails should be followed up by a letter.
Any emails about the matter should be printed out. Despite the claims of a paperless world, the only thing that really matters in disputes is what is written on paper.
Make sure you keep the full story in writing and this includes printing out emails and web pages.
Follow the ISPs complaint procedure
You may need to start a formal complaint within the organisation’s internal complaints or appeals procedures, the ISP or telco support line should be able to tell you how to do this. For smaller ISPs there may not be any formal procedures. A letter to the senior management may be necessary to get the right person to respond.
Contact the ISPs management
If the ISP doesn’t have a formal dispute procedure, or if it doesn’t respond, forward your complaints with copies of all the supporting documentation to the directors and Managing Director or CEO of the company concerned.
Generally directors and senior managers hate this and will make their displeasure known to the people responsible within their organisation. Again, be polite and respectful, make no threats and express your desire to settle the matter quickly and amicably.
Pay the bill
Some ISPs have a habit of calling in the debt collectors at an early stage. This complicates the matter and can also affect your credit record. Generally, it’s a good idea to pay any disputed amounts and then continue arguing about the facts of the dispute.
If you have direct debits with the ISP it may be necessary to stop these to avoid further disputed debits to your account. Do this in writing to the both the ISP and your bank with a cover letter informing them the direct debit has stopped. If you do this, make sure you are within your contract and you have a backup Internet service as the ISP will almost certainly stop your service immediately.
Complain to the TIO
If you are still unhappy, complain to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman. They like you fill in their web complaint form but they will accept phone calls and written complaints.
Keep in mind they will not help you unless you’ve already tried to resolve the problem with the provider, they also won’t assist if you’ve complained to other organisations which is another reason not to make threats earlier in the process.
Despite all of the above, it’s still possible not to have resolved the problem with an ISP. The next step is to complain to your state consumer affairs department or the ACCC. You can also seek advice from your solicitor or local community legal centre.
The aim with any dispute is to settle it quickly and amicably. The important thing is to contact your provider quickly if you have a problem. Internet providers can be difficult to deal with but with a combination of patience, persistence, good record keeping and a cool temper, you can resolve most problems on your terms.