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How telcos must handle complaints

There are rules and guidelines that telcos must follow when managing consumer complaints.

Understand the complaints rules

There are rules that you need to follow when dealing with complaints. These rules are set out in the Telecommunications (Consumer Complaints Handling) Industry Standard 2018 (the Standard).

The rules say that as a telco you must: 

  • try to fix any complaint when you first speak to a consumer
  • fix urgent complaints within 2 working days
  • have a written complaints-handling process
  • explain how you plan to fix problems within 15 working days
  • take all agreed-upon action within 10 working days
  • keep a record of all complaints
  • monitor complaints and identify emerging issues.

If you have more than 30,000 services in operation, you must also ensure you abide by the Telecommunications (Consumer Complaints) Record-Keeping Rules 2018. There are additional record keeping obligations you must meet.

What is a complaint?

The Telecommunications (Consumer Complaints Handling) Industry Standard 2018 (Complaints Standard) defines a complaint as:

… an expression of dissatisfaction made to a carriage service provider by a consumer in relation to its telecommunications products or the complaints handling process itself, where a response or resolution is explicitly or implicitly expected by the consumer.

This shows that there are 2 elements that must be present for something to be considered a complaint:

  1. the consumer has communicated some form of dissatisfaction, unhappiness or frustration about the telco’s products or how they are handling a complaint
  2. the consumer expects you to provide a response or resolution to the matter. The consumer may ask for this directly or it may be reasonably inferred from the situation and/or their communications.

The consumer is not required to specifically state that they are making a complaint. If you are not sure if something should be recorded as a complaint, ask them. You must make this clear to staff and include it in your complaints-handling process (see subparagraph 8(1)(l)(i) of the Complaints Standard).

An initial contact from a consumer to request information or support, or to report a fault or service difficulty is not a complaint. It will be considered a complaint if the consumer advises that they want it treated as a complaint unless it includes an issue that is the subject of legal action.

When to record a complaint

The following scenarios should help you understand when to record something as a complaint.

Scenario 1:

You are contacted by a consumer who is dissatisfied that you have not taken some action. For example, the consumer is unhappy because:

  • you transferred them to a new department that you said would deal with their issue, but that department was unable to assist
  • you agreed to credit the consumer’s account for a billing error, but this did not occur
  • you have not escalated a call to a manager as requested
  • you promised a call-back, but this did not happen.

Each of these examples should be recorded as a complaint, because:

  • the consumer has clearly expected a response or resolution, which has not occurred and
  • the consumer is dissatisfied.

Scenario 2:

You are contacted by a consumer who says they have no service, and they are unhappy about the lack of service and/or your response. For example, the consumer says:

  • they have no service because of your mistake that hasn’t been fixed
  • they are upset about the lack of information about the issue and asks when they can expect a resolution
  • they are unhappy about a potential loss of business due to a lack of service and want compensation
  • they have no service, and it hasn’t been fixed in the expected timeframe.

Each of these examples should be recorded as a complaint, because:

  • the consumer indicated (either directly or indirectly) that they were expecting a response in relation to their issue and
  • the consumer has indicated dissatisfaction or unhappiness.

Scenario 3:

You are contacted by a consumer who disputes a charge for a service or equipment and expresses dissatisfaction about the situation. This can include one-off or recurring charges. For example, the consumer says:

  • they have been charged too much for the service
  • they have been charged too much for a handset
  • they have been charged for a service they didn’t receive
  • they dispute a third-party charge on their bill
  • they dispute charges but can’t identify from the bill exactly what they are disputing
  • they dispute a charge for connecting or reconnecting a service
  • they dispute charges on a mobile or internet service for excess data.

The consumer in the above examples would reasonably expect a response.

It is the consumer’s indication that they are unhappy or dissatisfied that makes each of these examples a complaint, which should be recorded.  

Other examples that should be recorded as complaints

You are contacted by a consumer who is unhappy that:

  • their service drops out, or works one day but not the next and they have called more than once about the issue
  • their data speed is slower than they are expecting to receive for what they are paying
  • there is a delay in connecting their service which has left them without service, so they have to rely upon backup services
  • they took time off work to be on-site and the technician didn’t turn up for their appointment.

Other common indicators used by industry to identify a complaint include when the consumer:

  • expresses dissatisfaction, disagrees that the issue is resolved or wants to know if there is another way to fix the issue
  • asks to escalate the matter to a manager, supervisor, team leader or CEO
  • mentions the TIO, ACMA, ACCC or Privacy Commissioner
  • advises they intend to raise the issue with the media or a local, state or federal representative
  • threatens legal action or says they will take the matter to the small claims tribunal
  • advises of negative comments they’ve made online or to friends and family
  • explicitly states they want to make a complaint.

Remember, if you are uncertain, ask the consumer if they want to make a complaint. If the answer is yes, it should be recorded as a complaint, even if it is resolved on first contact.

When it isn’t a complaint

You are contacted by a consumer who is asking for information or support. For example, the consumer says:

  • they need help to find the self-service portal on the website
  • they are reporting that they do not have internet access.

If the customer does not express any dissatisfaction or unhappiness, no complaint should be recorded.

If you are not sure if the consumer is dissatisfied, ask them.  Some consumers may not appear frustrated or will hesitate to express dissatisfaction due to personal or cultural factors. However, they may still feel unhappy with a situation, especially one requiring more than one call to resolve.

Urgent complaints

A complaint is urgent if:

  • the consumer is in financial hardship according to your financial hardship policy
  • it is about a service for which the consumer receives priority assistance
  • you have or will disconnect the service and have not followed the correct process.

You must resolve urgent complaints within 2 business days.

What to include in your complaints handling process

The Standard contains all the information you need to develop a complaints handling process. 

It gives you the minimum requirements to:

  • make it easy for a consumer to make a complaint
  • meet time frames to respond to and resolve complaints
  • make the process transparent for consumers.

You must help consumers formulate, make and progress a complaint, including if they:

  • have a disability
  • come from a non-English-speaking background 
  • are suffering from financial hardship.

You need to keep a record

You must keep systematic records of complaints from consumers.

This record must include:

  • the name and contact details of the consumer making the complaint (or their representative)
  • a unique reference number or a way to identify the individual complaint
  • details of the complaint and the issues raised
  • the resolution proposed by you or the consumer
  • the due date for the consumer to respond to the proposed resolution
  • the results of any investigation
  • the reasons for your proposed resolution
  • the consumer’s response to the proposed resolution, any reasons given by the consumer, if they have requested the proposed resolution in writing, and that this request has been made
  • the agreed resolution, including any commitments with the date advised to the consumer
  • that you have completed any required actions
  • copies of any correspondence sent by or to the consumer regarding the complaint.

Key time frames

The Standard contains all the actions and time frames you must include in your complaints process.

Action Time frame
Acknowledge you have received a complaint

Immediately, if the consumer complains in person or by phone

Within 2 working days, if the complaint is in writing (including email)

Resolve urgent complaints Within 2 working days
Resolve most non-urgent complaints Within 15 working days
Implement the resolution you agree Within 10 working days 

If you can’t meet a time frame, you must tell the consumer before it has passed, including:

  • the reason for the delay
  • when you expect to resolve the complaint 
  • what they can do if the delay is 10 working days or more.

Monitoring complaints

Telcos need to track complaints to identify emerging issues. At least every 3 months, you must formally classify and analyse complaints. You can do this more often if you choose.

This helps you:

  • identify and address recurring problems 
  • record progress in addressing these complaints.

If you do not follow the rules

We monitor the industry and investigate telcos that break the rules.

If this is the case, we may take enforcement action against you. This could result in a formal warning, direction to comply, an infringement notice, or court proceedings.

We publish our enforcement outcomes on our website.


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