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Operators accused of negligence and mistrust over billing issues

Alex Yau
January 30, 2017

Analysts warn customers will move to rival networks if problems aren’t addressed immediately

UK operators have been labelled ‘negligent’ by industry analysts following Ofcom’s decision to fine EE £2.7 million over recent billing issues.

Ofcom issued the penalty this month after EE incorrectly billed 32,000 subscribers who called its customer services line while roaming the EU. This led to incorrect charges of more than £245,000.The regulator also fined the operator £1 million in July 2015 for failing to handle complaints adequately.

The recent action follows Vodafone’s £4.6 million fine in October after it encountered problems migrating 28.5 million customer accounts from seven billing platforms to one. It resulted in various customers being charged incorrectly or placed on the wrong tariff.

According to the latest figures from the Ombudsman Services, there were 28,635 complaints in the telecoms sector last year, an annual increase from 17,917. Over 11,000 of last year’s complaints were billing related, a rise from 7,410. Mobile-specific complaints rose from 9,852 in 2015 to 15,801 last year.

Analysts claimed such instances create the potential risk of consumers losing trust in their current provider and moving to major rivals.

CCS Insight operators principal analyst Kester Mann told Mobile News: “Instances like these happening several times can make customers disillusioned and seek an alternative. Operators need to be more careful because there can potentially be long-term damage to their brands. It shows negligence and indicates more can be done. These things shouldn’t happen.”

Unacceptable mistakes

Canalys research analyst Ben Stanton agreed, adding: “These mistakes are unacceptable and it does suggest negligence. Only the likes of EE and Vodafone will know where these problems are coming from and any incentive to prevent them has to come from the fines. They have to be big enough for any preventative measures.”

Head of regulation at uSwitch, Richard Neudegg said: “Even small mistakes like these can affect consumer confidence, which is why they need to be knocked on the head immediately. Consumers take into account how well businesses respond to these issues.”

A Vodafone spokesperson outlined recent improvements made to its customer service operations, including the recruitment of 1,ooo new staff and thousands of hours of training that has helped reduce customer complaints by half.


“Last year we made a huge investment in identifying and fixing IT system issues which were impacting customers, hiring an additional 1,000 new UK-based call centre personnel and giving more than 190,000 hours of training to improve how we identify and resolve individual customer problems.

“This focus meant we were better at handling and resolving customers’ issues fairly, consistently and in a timely manner, leading to a 50 per cent reduction in customer complaints over the year.

“Our highest priority in 2017 is to build on that positive momentum and make our customer services best in class. We are confident our continued investment in people, systems and training this year will help us achieve that ambition.”

An EE spokesperson also revealed it has made a number of additional improvements to better support customers in the event that billing issues arise.

“Providing the best network experience and best customer service for EE customers in store, online and over the phone through our UK and Ireland- based centres are our top priorities.

“Following the billing issues a small proportion of our customers experienced between 2014 and 2015, we have made a number of additional improvements to our systems and policies to allow us to better support our customers in the rare occasion that billing issues do occur.”

An O2 spokesman concluded: “We relentlessly focus on these things, giving customers more reasons to choose and stay with us while growing the value of our customer relationships.”

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