Why? Because customers don’t think about dispute resolution when they’re buying a product or service. Why would you? You’re thinking about price, about capacity, speed, whether the service will meet your requirements, what goodies and extras come with it and so on. You’re operating in good faith on the basis that the thing you’re buying will live up to the description on the box it comes in.
Sadly, sometimes that isn’t the case – which means you need to be able to challenge your provider and, if that doesn’t work out, take your complaint to an independent third party to resolve.
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Telecommunications Disputes Resolution
For most New Zealand telecommunications customers, that third party is the TDR (www.tdr.org.nz) but for some there is no telco-related dispute scheme because their telco hasn’t joined up. Instead, it’s off to the Disputes Tribunal, where you’ll get heard by a general dispute mediator rather than a specialist, or worse – you’ll need to get the lawyers involved. Both of those options require you to pay to get resolution – with the TDR you don’t. Complaints to the scheme are free, instead all costs are covered by scheme members. For the smaller ISPs that means paying around $1400 a year to belong. Hardly a huge cost for them to bear.
Telecommunications Forum (TCF)
All members of the TCF must join the TDR so we can make sure the 95% of New Zealand consumers who are covered by our membership get the full benefits of a dispute resolution scheme.
Help on Hand
Each year around 2,000 people contact the TDR for help. Of those, more than 85% of issues are resolved between the telco and customer at that point, without formal mediation being required. We find that only 2% of complaints and inquiries require formal intervention to reach a resolution, something that’s very good to see. You can find out more about the TDR in its biannual report here.
Transparency is Key
By getting each telco to spell out whether or not they belong, customers will be able to make a fully informed buying decision. If you’re not bothered about a dispute scheme then that’s great, but for those who are, you’ll be able to see whether or not the telco you’re signing up with is a member or not and make your decision accordingly.
Last year the Commission asked us to take a closer look at the way the TDR scheme is run. As a result we’ve not only made a number of changes to the daily operation of the scheme, we’ve also embarked on a total review of how the scheme is governed and how it interacts with the industry. We’ll re-launch the service early next year and by then, hopefully most ISPs and telcos will make it clear whether or not they belong.
Paul Brislen is the CEO of the Telecommunications Forum (TCF)