ACCAN Customer Service Project (25 August 2009)

2.1. Defining service charters

Service charters generally operate in an unregulated environment, with no definitions and only limited guidelines or standards for their development or operation.

The general community understanding of a service charter is that it is a short document outlining an organisation’s commitment to customer service and containing specific promises regarding standards and services.

However, when the content of service charters is examined, there is such a broad and diverse range of promises and approaches that a single definition struggles to cover the entire range. Some charters target retail consumers, others target business and professional clients. Some charters include high-level commitments, others contain specific detailed promises.

There is a temptation to avoid definitions and say that anything that is labelled by an organisation as a service charter is therefore a service charter. However, there may be dangers in allowing service charters to continue to develop free from definitions, guidelines or regulations. One service charter examined in this study (Origin Gas) is labelled as a service charter, but is written as a standard set of legal terms and conditions. It does not actually contain any consumer promises and should not be categorised as a customer service charter.

Some useful definitions of customer service charters are available:

Economic Regulation Authority Western Australia, Customer Service Charter Guidelines:
A charter can be broadly defined as a published statement containing:
  • A list of customer entitlements;
  • Details regarding a licensee’s services; and
  • Information relevant to the relationship between the customer and the licensee.[1]
Australian Public Service Commission:
A service charter is a short publication that informs the client about the agency's services, outlines relevant avenues of communication, details relevant service standards, and outlines client rights and responsibilities including feedback and available complaint mechanisms.[2]

It is important to note that there are also examples of ‘charters’ developed by consumer representative organisations. These are very different instruments that set out consumer rights as a tool for advocacy and reform. Examples include:

  • Draft Australian Charter of Communications Rights
    Consumers Telecommunications Network (CTN)
  • Charter of Consumer Rights in the Digital World
    Trans Atlantic Consumer Dialogue[3]
  • Draft Charter of Consumer Digital Rights
  • Charter of Health Consumer Rights
    Consumers Health Forum of Australia Inc (CHF)[5]
  • Consumer Charter for Global Business
    Consumers International[6]

There is a significant difference between the standards contained in these consumer driven charters, and the customer service charters developed by organisations.

[1] Economic Regulation Authority, Customer service charter guidelines, ERA Western Australia ,August 2006, < Service Charter Guidelines.pdf>.

[2] Australian Public Service Commission, The Australian experience of public sector reform, APSC Australian Government, Canberra, Last updated 3 July 2004, <>.

[3] Trans Atlantic Consumer Dialogue, Charter of Consumer Rights in the Digital World, TACD, London, March 2008, <>.

[4] CHOICE, Choice campaigns for you: our campaign achievements, Sydney, 2008, <>

[5] Consumers Health Forum of Australia, Charter of health consumer rights, Canberra, 2007, <>.

[6] Global Policy and Campaigns Unit, Consumer Charter for Global Business, Consumers International , London, October 2007, <>.