Adrian Weckler, Technology Editor with the Irish Independent joins us in studio for Episode 5, to give his tips when dealing with telecoms companies:
How to get the best out of them when you have a problem
(i) One way of speeding up correspondence is to use social media. All telecoms firms now have highly reactive Twitter 'helpdesk' accounts that normally respond rapidly to publicly tweeted queries. It means signing up to the service (if you're not on already) but it can cut through a lot of the bureaucracy.
ii) In many cases, you can trigger a more elevated response rate by saying that you're cancelling the contract based on non-compliance by your provider. For example, if the problem is coverage or internet speed, it may negate performance terms on their part, allowing you to terminate the contract. This usually fires them into action.
What to look out for when signing up to a new service/contract
(i) But beware introductory pricing traps: Some providers will advertise 'bundles' at a seemingly great price of ¤30 (or so) per month -- but some people genuinely don't realise that that reverts to ¤45 per month or ¤55 per month after an initial 3 month or 6 month period and that you're tying yourself into a 24 month contract on that basis.
This week The Consumer Show tackles the issue about which we get the most complaints: Telephone and internet service providers.
Reporter, Tadhg Enright has gone on a road trip around the country to hear about your frustrations with cold-call and doorstep sales tactics and problems with customer service when you try to put things right.
We'll meet Nuala Ward from Newbridge who will say she was sold an Eircom bundle on her doorstep but the sales rep didn't point out that it came with a download limit.
Ruth Donnegan from Dundalk was also signed up by Eircom on her doorstep where she says a sales rep told her she could later switch her payments from Direct Debit to BillPay but she hasn't been able to do so and has been charged missed payment fees.
Aoife Monaghan states that a Vodafone sales rep on her doorstep in Dunleer told her that she was nearly out of contract with Eircom and free to switch to Vodafone, when she actually wasn't. She later cancelled the contract she signed with Vodafone but Eircom said it was too late to avoid a cancellation fee which could only be avoided by signing another contract with a provider she'd already wanted to leave.
ESRI economist Pete Lunn studies trends in the telecoms sector and told The Consumer Show:
"Because the market is very complex, consumers find it difficult to know when it would actually save them money to switch, and that's one of the reasons why doorstep selling and cold calling works quite well. Someone is saying to them with quite a lot of certainly 'you will save money if you come to us' and people tend to find that persuasive. They also find it difficult to say 'no'. The companies know that... consumers are confused and struggling to compare different products and that's why [these methods] are effective."
Last year, the majority (40.3%) of telecoms complaints received by The Consumer Show were against Vodafone. Complaints about Eircom and its subsidiary brands, Meteor & eMobile, added up to a similar percentage (40.3%). 3 Ireland accounted for 9.6% of complaints and 4.8% were about O2.
84% of complaints involved the standard of customer service. 39% of complaints involved the terms and conditions of a contract and 6% involved doorstep or distance selling.
STATEMENTS FROM TELECOMS COMPANIES
EIRCOM SAID: We would like to apologise to Ms Walsh for the poor customer care experience she had with us. While our records do show that the data has been used we do accept that Ms Walsh's query was not handled as well as it should have been. In light of this and in recognition of any unnecessary stress caused to Ms Walsh we will refund the disputed amount on Ms Walsh's bill as goodwill gesture. Our customer care team has contacted Ms Walsh to apologise for her experience and to let her know the steps we have taken to resolve the matter for her. We have also advised Ms Walsh on how to manage and keep track of her data usage.
EIRCOM SAID: We are so sorry that Ms Donnegan had such a bad experience when dealing with our call centre. We are also sorry that the commitments we made to rectifying mistakes were not carried through. We were unable to reach Ms Donnegan by phone at the time of responding to this query but a member of our customer care team has emailed Ms Donnegan to advise her that we have removed all disputed charges and we have also included a credit on her bill in recognition for the poor customer service experience.
EIRCOM SAID: A member of our customer care team has spoken with Ms Monaghan. We have explained the importance of carefully reading the terms and conditions before signing any new contracts. We have also taken Ms Monaghan through her current eircom contract and explained the charges associated with her current package. Ms Monaghan has told us she is satisfied with the outcome and is happy her query has been resolved.
VODAFONE SAID: We have been in touch with this customer, resolved the issue to her satisfaction and apologised for any inconvenience caused. Her experience is unusual and is not the standard that we provide to our customers. This issue happened over 12 months ago and since then we have introduced a customer order quality checklist which provides advice to customers if they are changing providers.
EIRCOM SAID: We're sorry to hear that Ms. Ward had such an unsatisfactory experience with us. We have contacted Ms. Ward directly and we have released her from the contract. In addition, as a gesture of goodwill for the misunderstanding regarding the additional data allowance charges we have issued a credit for the full amount queried.
Mobile coverage overview: Vodafone Ireland is completely upfront and transparent about its network coverage in all areas throughout the country. All existing and potential customers can review detailed maps on the level and type of service they should experience in their area on www.vodafone.ie/coverage.
Due to the nature of mobile services, Vodafone cannot guarantee specific service levels as service is subject to device capability and network. Connection speeds can vary with local conditions, the number of users in the area, the device being used, and general internet traffic. Under our standard contract terms we do not permit a refund or a break in contract for a poor network experience, however, we investigate complaints on a case by case basis.
Coverage in Kerry:
Vodafone Ireland has significantly invested in its mobile network throughout Kerry to enable customers there to enjoy a greatly enhanced experience. 99% of our Kerry sites have now been upgraded and over 80% of these sites have been activated for enhanced data services with the remaining sites due to be activated over the coming weeks.
The upgrade programme will deliver mobile data services to areas where, to date, there have been voice services available. This means that everywhere a customer can make a voice call today they will now get a strong data experience. In addition to introducing faster data, customers are now enjoying a much improved experience making and receiving voice calls. We can see that customers in the area are already experiencing a 35% improvement in connecting calls and a 50% improvement in maintaining call connection.
With the introduction of data in these areas, customers with High Definition Voice mobile phones will now be able to make and receive HD Voice calls. This means a crystal clear voice call experience, exclusive to Vodafone customers.
4G in Kerry:
In tandem with these upgrades, Vodafone has also launched 4G services in parts of Kerry such as Tralee, Killarney, Listowel, Killorglin, Kenmare, Castlemaine, Milltown, Rathmore, Ballybunion, Dingle and Ventry. Vodafone currently has the widest reaching 4G coverage nationwide with six cities and 150 towns already connected. 4G will deliver a step change in customer experience with speeds faster than fixed uploads, faster downloads and live streaming with little to no buffering.
Customer experience during network upgrades:
The network upgrade programme is a major undertaking and involves completely replacing all of the existing equipment on every site to deliver enhanced services. Vodafone Ireland understands some customers may have experienced impaired services during these upgrade works and greatly appreciate their patience during this period.
Customers with outstanding issues:
Customer feedback on coverage is an extremely powerful tool for us - we not only use it to guide our network upgrade programmes but also for building and rolling out our strategy across Ireland.
If customers continue to experience issues despite the fact that we have upgraded the network in their area, then we urge them to check the coverage maps on www.vodafone.ie/coverage to compare their experience against the type of service they should be getting. Further queries should be referred to our customer care line on 1907. If a customer calls us with a coverage query, we can update them on activity in their area as we constantly ensure our care teams are aware of any upgrade or maintenance work in all areas. If there is no issue in that customer's area and there is no perceived individual customer device or account issue, then this feedback is given to our network monitoring team who will analyse this data to ensure that the customer's feedback is matching the experience that we expect they should have. Where necessary, our networks team can address any issues and make tweaks to the network to ensure that service is restored or improved.
We have posted an open request on our social media channels to customers to feedback on any coverage issues, which included a specific call out to customers in Kerry. As a result, we have received approximately five complaints regarding customer issues in Kerry via social media, each of which we are currently addressing.
Next steps for Kerry:
We take all customer feedback extremely seriously including recent feedback from our customers in Kerry. As a result we have assembled a dedicated team, with particular focus on areas where coverage has been reported to have deteriorated in recent months. It is in Vodafone's interest to resolve any and all customer issues where possible as our customers are at the heart of everything we do.
Regarding Donal O'Donoghue's individual issue, we can confirm that we are in touch with Donal and we are working to resolve his issue to his satisfaction.
3 SAID: In this case, there was a breakdown in communication between Three's satellite service provider, Digiweb, and the customer, which delayed the service process. A member of Three's Customer Care team followed up with the customer last week and an engineer site visit took place yesterday (Tues 3rd June). The engineer identified a technical issue with the on-site satellite dish, which was affecting the customer's internet speeds. We can confirm that the issue is now resolved and as a gesture of goodwill, we have offered one month's free line rental, which the customer was happy to accept.
The Consumer Show receives more complaints about telecoms than every other issue put together. Last year alone there were 33,000 issues about telecoms raised with the regulator's office, ranging from allegations of overcharging, to the cost of roaming charges and faulty handsets.
Dr Pete Lunn, Behavioural Economist with the ESRI, believes complaints about telecoms are rising sharply, and this rise seems to be linked to the complexity of the products which are now on the marketplace. With consumers being asked to choose between the physical handsets or modems, plus the software which runs on these appliances, as well as the billing options they want, the issues become very complex.
Lesley Hewson from Kilkenny spent 11 days in Canada in January. Before she left, she arranged a roaming facility with her mobile phone provider, Meteor. She only used her mobile to see if emails had arrived - she did not open any emails or download attachments. She was shocked to receive a bill for ¤1400 plus VAT- her normal bill is ¤30 per month. Lesley now understands that her phone was downloading data automatically, without any action on Lesley's part. On speaking to Meteor, they confirmed the data usage amount and whilst they could not tell her what it was updating, they could outline that most of it occurred during night-time hours - when she would have been sleeping. Meteor insisted that Lesley would have to pay the charges. She complained to ComReg who raised the matter with Meteor, but Meteor were adamant Lesley must pay the roaming charges.
Dr Pete Lunn feels the 'bill shock' some consumers unfortunately experience could be avoided by suppliers allowing consumers to check their data, text or calls usage with one easy click.
Amanda Dunne signed up for a Vodafone Home Phone and Broadband package last year for ¤38, switching from Eircom. On sleeping on it, she changed her mind and cancelled the following day, thinking she would be fine within her 7-day cooling off period. They told her that it had been cancelled. Amanda then started getting letters requesting payment, which she ignored, but when she got a Final Demand for ¤93.31 she called them and they said she was still signed up to Internet, even though she did not have a modem and had cancelled her account. They said they would discount ¤19.99 as she did not receive the modem, but she would have to pay ¤73.31 and that if she didn't pay she would get a bad credit rating. Even though she did not think she was obliged to pay, Amanda did so as she was afraid her credit rating would be affected. When The Consumer Show contacted Vodafone, they apologized for the inconvenience Amanda experienced and have refunded her accordingly.
Statement from Meteor:
We must comply with data protection which means we are unable to comment on this customers individual case.
Meteor has some of the best value data roaming, we were the first operator in Europe to abolish roaming charges in Europe enabling our customers to pay the same for calls and texts when roaming as they would at home.
Offering our customers the best value when roaming is of the utmost importance to us, we have included on the Meteor.ie website information about automatic data connections which may seek websites or download e-mail automatically and the terms and conditions surrounding this.
To help our customers there is an advisory section on turning off data on mobile phones to prevent such cases arising: www.meteor.ie/terms_and_conditions/automatic-data-connections/
Statement from Vodafone:
I can confirm that the issue has been resolved to the customer's satisfaction and we have apologised to the customer for the inconvenience caused. We have robust processes in place however, in this particular instance the process was not followed correctly so we have taken the a series of steps to ensure that the process is adhered to in the future.