01.Mobile phone repairs
Mobile complaints on the rise
- CHOICE tests of mobile phones generally find they’re robust and reliable, but when something goes wrong, repair times and customer service can leave a lot to be desired.
- Some consumers who contacted us had been denied their legal rights and given misleading and inaccurate information.
- Consumer complaints to regulators are very high.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) receives more complaints about telcos than any other industry, with a substantial number relating to mobiles. And in the last year, complaints about mobiles to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) jumped by 4.1% to over 54,000 — over 1000 complaints per week on average. And that followed an 29% increase in the previous year. (Those figures include complaints about issues such as billing, premium SMS services and privacy, which we don’t look at in this report).
Customer service standards in particular seem to be on the slide: complaints increased by 107% in 2005–06, on the back of a 145% increase in 2004–05. Faulty mobile phones are a problem too, with over 8100 complaints in 2006-07, according to the TIO.
The industry, through the Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA), argues the increase in complaints about faults is due to changes in how the TIO records complaints. It also says the overall number of complaints represents a fraction (0.3%) of Australian mobile subscribers. To us, though, that’s still 54,000 unhappy customers. (There are 19.8 million mobile services, with 79% of consumers owning or using a mobile).
Please note: this information was current as of June 2008 but is still a useful guide to today's market.
To find out more about the difficulties consumers face, we asked online and magazine readers to tell us about the problems they’d experienced when their phone needed repairing. Customer service isn’t always bad, but overall the 80 or so emails and letters included many stories of poor standards of customer service, lengthy repair times and a host of other problems.
What we found
- Long waiting times for repairs.
- No loan phone (retailers aren’t obliged to provide a loan phone. Some do, though you may need to leave a deposit).
- Consumers being denied their legal rights by retailers.
- Bad customer service.
- Ineffective repairs.
- Companies 'passing the buck' and giving consumers the runaround.
- Customers being blamed for damage they believe they didn't cause.
- Details such as contact lists and photos erased during the repairs process.
- Consumers locked into contracts forcing them to pay monthly fees while their phone is being repaired - and sometimes for faulty phones that can't be fixed.
CHOICE has real concerns about the mobile phone industry’s complaints handling, repair times, customer service and warranty exclusions. Consumers aren’t getting the response they’re entitled to from some retailers and when they get knocked back, many don’t know where to turn. We think this industry needs a clean-up, including:
- Wider jurisdiction for the TIO, making it a one-stop shop to help consumers who have mobile phone complaints. Currently the onus is on consumers to find out whether they’re covered by the TIO or their state consumer affairs/fair trading department, which makes the process more complicated and encourages them just to give up.
- Introduction of a mobile phone customer service guarantee covering timelines for fixing faults and handling complaints (one already exists for landlines).
- Strong action by fair trading agencies where retailers systematically try to avoid their responsibilities to consumers — such as saying physical damage isn’t covered by the warranty even when the consumer didn't cause the damage.