How to make a complaint about your mobile service

19 November 2013

Unfortunately, when it comes to formally complaining, some of us don’t know where to begin. We’ve all experienced occasions where our problems weren’t taken seriously, were dismissed or inexpertly handled, and where a simple matter dragged on for weeks or months due to incompetence and passing the buck.

Having been on both sides of the fence – as a complaining customer, and as an employee tasked with fixing people’s problems – here is a simple step-by-step guide to ensuring that that your voice is heard.

Who to complain to

  • It's usually easiest to start at the bottom - if there's a specific employee who is familiar with your problem, reach out to them first. Otherwise, you'll just need to start with whoever happens to answer your phone call.
  • If you're not confident with the problem-solving ability of your initial point of contact, you can ask to speak to a supervisor or manager. But it's best to give the front line staff a chance to address your complaint first, before escalating it higher up the ranks.
  • If you're not satisfied with the response from your telco, you can contact the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman - the TIO is a free third-party dispute resolution service for both consumer and small business customers who have an issue with their internet or telephone service. The Ombudsman has the authority to make Binding Decisions up to $50,000, which telcos are legally obliged to implement.

  • Do the prep work

    • Gather all the relevant information and evidence that supports your complaint - a copy of your bill, your service contract, records of calls made, any misleading information provided by your telco company, etc.
    • Know what exactly it is that you want your supplier to do to redress the problem, be it a refund, an adjustment to your bill, a better service plan or even a simple apology.
    • Check your provider's website or any documentation you have from them and understand their complaints handling policy. Most of them will offer both a phone number and email address for consumer complaints - we recommend starting with a phone call, as it's a lot harder to be brushed off when speaking to someone directly.

    Making the complaint

    • You may want to speak to an employee in person if your provider has a retail store nearby, but often the staff on hand are trained in sales and products only, and may not be able to resolve your problem themselves and will direct you to your telco’s complaints line anyway.
    • Clearly state that you have a complaint when you call, and try to remain polite and calm - this may be hard under the circumstances, but immediate rudeness and disrespect towards a hapless call centre operator will not work in your favour. Ever. The nicer you are, the more inclined they’ll be to help you.
    • Keep a record of who you spoke to, when you talked to them, and what they said they would do to resolve the problem. Maintain a log of calls made and received, keep any email or letters, and always write down any reference numbers you're given.

    What NOT to do

    • Don't get angry. Especially at employees who are trying their best, and have nothing to do with your reason for complaining. Intimidation may work on inexperienced staff members who want to avoid confrontation, but it may also see your paperwork mysteriously go missing or your complaint remain unaddressed for weeks if you decide to hassle an employee with a little less tolerance for the intolerant. Be warned.
    • Don't make empty threats straight away. By that, we mean threatening to end your contract, to go to another telco, or to contact the media (just don't, ever). If the situation isn't fixed immediately, you can bring up taking your business elsewhere later - but at least give your telco a fair chance to solve the problem first.
    • Don't complain for the sake of it. Making formal complaints every time you have a bad connection or your internet service is slow won't get you anywhere.
    • Don't assume everything is automatically your telco's fault - we wonder how many complaints are made by people who didn't read their contract before signing, or check their handset setup guide, or do some other form of research first which would have easily resolved their complaint (or avoided it in the first place). Of course companies make mistakes and should be held accountable - but so do customers.

    Following it up

    • Telcos should aim to resolve your complaint immediately if possible, and finalise any refunds within 30 days. If you are unhappy with the solution offered, or if things aren't moving quickly enough or at all, contact the provider again and ask to speak to a manager or supervisor.
    • State that you are frustrated with the service so far and ask if there's any more that they can do. Let them know that you are prepared to escalate the dispute to the ombudsman.
    • If these steps haven't worked, contact the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman . You have the right to ask for their help if the complaint is not resolved to your satisfaction. The TIO has the power to investigate complaints and, if they make a decision in your favour, make your telco reimburse or compensate you.
    • Before contacting the TIO it is essential that you give your provider a reasonable opportunity to address the complaint themselves first - the Ombudsman exists as a final option when other avenues have failed.

    What about using social media?

    No longer just a forum for young people to showcase their terrible life decisions, companies are now using social media - Facebook, Twitter and even Instagram- to promote their brand. Of course, this has led to a relatively recent phenomenon of users monopolising the social media page of a company to post complaints - known on Twitter as 'bashtagging' - and drum up as much negative publicity as possible. And if that complaint goes viral and gathers thousands of likes and comments from other users, a company has a problem.

    So it's no wonder then, that complaining via social media can actually get you a quicker response than submitting your problem through email. It's instant, public and can lead to a telco being 'held hostage - being pressured to either fix the problem, or look like a jerk who can't provide proper customer service.

    So is it ever okay to complain through Facebook and the like? Maybe if you've exhausted all other avenues, but if you immediately jump to social media as soon as you're dissatisfied with your service, you're probably more interested in generating attention than actually getting your problem solved. Good etiquette means raising complaints privately and giving the company a chance to help you before you decide to call them out in 140 characters.

    Although some people love to complain – and will do so about virtually anything – for most of us, reporting unsatisfactory service or a problem can be awkward, intimidating and something we’d rather avoid.

    But when you know that you’re in the right (such as being overcharged, being given incorrect information or when the service you signed up for just isn’t meeting your expectations), the best thing you can do is make your telco aware of the issue.

    Not only will it resolve your problem, it will hopefully improve service overall and ensure the same thing doesn’t happen again, either to yourself or another unlucky customer.

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