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Commerce Commission moves to address rising telecommunications sector complaints 

The Commerce Commission is asking for views on what telecommunications providers could be doing better to address increasing complaints about the sector.  

The number of consumer complaints is an indicator of consumer experience and, over the past year, consumer complaints and enquiries to the industry dispute resolution scheme, the Telecommunications Disputes Resolution Scheme (TDRS), and the Commerce Commission have increased.  

"The increase in complaints indicates that telecommunications providers need to lift their game to improve outcomes for consumers," says Telecommunications Commissioner, Tristan Gilbertson.

To get a fuller picture, the Commission is asking for views on the key pain points being experienced by consumers and what needs to be done to address them, across all dimensions of customer experience. This includes selecting and buying telecommunications services, the day-to-day performance of the service and provider, changing to another provider, and the complaints process. 

"We're asking for specific examples of the problems consumers are running into and views on how things could be done better. This will help us to understand what needs to change to make a meaningful difference for New Zealand consumers," says Gilbertson.

Recognising the importance of effective dispute resolution, the Commission is also calling for views on how the Telecommunications Dispute Resolution Scheme could be improved for consumers, as part of a formal review of these arrangements.  

"We look forward to working with industry and consumer stakeholders to produce a plan for improving consumer outcomes so we get satisfaction levels up and complaint levels down," he says.

A copy of the letter that was sent to stakeholder groups, including forms for providing views to the Commission, is available on the Commerce Commission website.   

In 2018, Parliament gave the Commerce Commission new powers and a clear direction to improve consumer outcomes in retail telecommunications markets.

This followed a review by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment that noted persistent high levels of customer dissatisfaction and complaints including issues of poor customer service, poor quality products (coverage and speed), difficulties with installations, misleading information and billing disputes.

The Commission has been given powers to improve retail service quality (RSQ) across all relevant dimensions including customer service, faults, installation, contracts, product disclosure, billing, switching, service performance, speed and availability.

The Commissions powers include the ability to review industry RSQ codes, provide guidelines to the industry on RSQ matters, and create Commission RSQ codes. The Commission must also review industry dispute resolution schemes at least once every three years.

More information on the complaints the Commission has received can be found in the Consumer Issues reports and Complaints Snapshot, available on the Commission website.

"We note that a complaint does not necessarily mean that an offence or any wrongdoing has occurred. We also note that larger industries are likely to generate more complaints because they have more customers, and high levels of publicity about an industry or issue can sometimes result in more complaints."

The Commission is required to review the TDRS at least once every three years. The TDRS was established by the New Zealand Telecommunications Forum (TCF) to provide independent resolution of disputes. Consumers can take disputes with their telecommunications provider to TDRS which then works to find a resolution between the telecommunications provider and the consumer. In the period July 2019 to June 2020 the TDRS received 2802 complaints and enquiries about telecommunications providers.

Feedback on consumer pain points and how they could be remedied is due by 26 February 2021, while feedback on the TDRS is due by 18 December 2020.

The Commission aims to consult on proposed solutions to specific consumer pain points early next year.