Complaints are a gift – it’s the putting it right that matters

Oct 13, 2023

Kiwis aren’t very good at complaining. 

I don’t mean they don’t complain when they should – rather that they aren’t good about complaining in a way that will help change the thing they’re complaining about. 

As a waiter I used to have to ask “How was your meal?” and then tease out of the customer that in fact they hadn’t enjoyed the steak or the fries had been cold. All this on the way out of the restaurant when it’s far too late to make any difference to the meal. 

If you’d told me earlier we could have (and would have) fixed it up for you. Now, all we can do is the always-tetchy dance about refunds. 

That’s partly why I’m really glad to see the latest Telecommunications Dispute Resolution annual report with its increase in the number of disputes brought to the scheme.  

The TDR has been operating since 2007 and in all that time it has largely flown under the public’s radar. Customers who had reached a deadlock with their telcos and couldn’t see a way forward didn’t necessarily know the scheme existed and certainly didn’t think it would be of any use – and I say that as someone who used to sit on the board and would encourage anyone and everyone to use the scheme when they needed to. 

Earlier this year, MBIE and Consumer NZ released its biennial national consumer survey that found most Kiwis were oblivious to their rights under the law and that most people didn’t know about any dispute resolution schemes other than the Disputes Tribunal. 

That’s why I’m very pleased to see this year’s TDR report which says the number of complaints received by the scheme has risen by 64%. 

This is, of course, largely off the back of increased spending on marketing of the scheme itself. We’ve now seen TV commercials and a lot of online and print advertising alongside the usual reminders on telcos’ websites and bills. That’s all helped raise consumers’ awareness of the TDR and means when they need to use it, they know it’s there. 

While that jump might seem huge, and it is in proportion, we’re still talking about relatively few complaints – 3725 for the year. That is very good news considering how many mobile phone connections there are (somewhere north of 5 million) and how many fixed line connections there are (around 2 million). When you consider how many times a day you use your mobile or your fixed line connection it’s good to know the industry does get it right most of the time. 

This year we have revamped the governance structure of the TDR and put in place a new constitution, a new terms of reference and a new board. The whole scheme is now operated at arm’s length from industry and I hope we will gain a new level of insight into the types of complaints that are systemic in nature. Those are the ones I really hope we can get our teeth into – if we fix things that are happening on a regular basis then we can reduce the overall number of complaints and make a better experience for our customers. 

After all, if complaints are gifts of unsolicited feedback we should act on them and make the product better for the next person, shouldn’t we? As a wise man once said, it’s the putting it right that matters. 

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Paul Brislen.

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