ACCAN Customer Service Project (25 August 2009)

4.3. Level of detail

The majority of customer service charters are only 1-2 pages in length, including pictures and logos. They typically include 5-6 ‘promises’, a section on complaints, a section on privacy and a section with contact details. Some service charters in the communications sector are less than 10 lines in total.

Most of the promises are very high level. A common example is that the organisation will promise to respond to inquiries ‘promptly’. No other details are provided so the consumer is left to interpret the meaning of promptly. In a subsequent dispute regarding delays, the service charter is unlikely to be of any assistance.

A small number of service charters provide a few extra details. However, the inclusion of extra detail does not always lead to an improvement for consumers. Some service charters set out very detailed targets, but the targets are in no way challenging or difficult to meet. Indeed, they are probably lower than the expectations of consumers dealing with a reasonable organisation. For example, consider the Bromley Council (UK) service charter target regarding emails:

When you e-mail us:
We will aim to send a full reply in less than 5 working days.
If the matter is urgent, we will respond faster.
We will make sure that our departmental e-mail boxes are checked at least once a day during working hours.[18]

If the Bromley service charter had simply promised a ‘prompt’ response, consumers may have actually expected a faster response than 5 days. Consumers may also expect that a dedicated customer inquiry email box is checked more than once a day.

In some rare cases the charters provided useful promises in sufficient detail to enable a consumer to make claims that are likely to be relevant to current consumer complaints. One notable charter in the communications sector is the AAPT Customer Charter,[19] which contained extremely detailed and helpful promises on many of the issues faced by telecommunications customers today. Examples include:

  • We will not demand payment of genuinely disputed amounts whilst a complaint is being investigated;
  • We'll tell you all relevant information before we suspend, restrict or disconnect you and we'll ensure that the way we tell you is clear and able to be understood by you; and
  • We'll review our decision to restrict or suspend without notice if you request it and if we have made a mistake we'll reconnect you without charge.

These promises compare favourably with more general promises to ‘be courteous’ that are common in other communications sector charters.

Overall, the study found that the majority of service charter promises fell into three categories:

  • High level promises with no detail (very common);
  • Detailed promises with exact targets (less common), but with the targets set at very low, unchallenging levels; or
  • Sector specific promises (rare, although common in the transport sector).

[18] London Borough of Bromley, Customer Service Charter, London, 2008, <>.

[19] AAPT, ‘Our customer charter’, Regulatory Compliance, Sydney, 2009, <>.