ACCAN Customer Service Project (25 August 2009)

1. Executive Summary

[ Galexia Dots ]


This project provides advice and an opinion on mechanisms to enhance customer service in the Australian communications sector, including:

  • The efficacy of a proposed customer service charter for the telecommunications industry with enforcement provisions; and
  • The effectiveness of the current consumer codes, and code development and review process.
Key findings

This research project made a number of key findings regarding the efficacy of customer service charters in the communications sector:

  • Voluntary stand alone service charters (one per organisation, with no common template or guideline) have not proved useful to Australian consumers in the communications sector to date. EDR schemes do not appear to receive complaints based on charter breaches, the presence of a charter does not necessarily indicate good customer service, and there are very few current charters in the sector.
  • Industry and consumer interest in charters appears to have peaked in the late 1990s and then waned. The current profile of private sector customer service charters (both in Australia and overseas) is low. It may be difficult to re-invigorate the charter movement – skills and expertise in those areas has moved on to focus on the development of codes of conduct and other regulatory tools.
  • The content of customer service charters is inconsistent and very poor from a consumer perspective. It is unlikely that there is anything in a charter that would help to address current consumer issues in the communications sector. A large proportion of consumer complaints (e.g. to the TIO) involve product and service issues that fall outside the content of charters.
  • There is a considerable disconnect between consumer expectations of the content of service charters and business expectations of the content of service charters (as evidenced by examples of private sector charters in Australia). Key consumer issues such as affordability are not even mentioned in service charters.
  • For those consumer issues that might be covered by a charter (e.g. timely response to an inquiry) the content of charters is written at such a high-level that they are unlikely to provide any additional consumer rights. Where service charters merely restate existing requirements, their value is limited.
  • Service charters do not generally include arrangements for enforcement, sanctions, remedies or compensation. They will have little impact amongst organisations who are currently causing consumer concerns, unless backed up by considerable enforcement powers.
Key recommendations

The clear conclusion from this research is that customer service charters are not an appropriate regulatory option for the communications sector in Australia at this time.

In particular, customer service charters compare unfavourably with other regulatory tools such as codes of conduct. Although codes of conduct have not been working effectively in the Australian communications sector in recent years, there are significant initiatives under way to improve the code development and approval process, and to re-invigorate code monitoring and enforcement. Those initiatives would appear to offer significantly more promise than diverting efforts to the development of service charters.


The research project included a detailed review of literature and of policy / best practice guidance in Australia and internationally, backed by the collection and analysis of current examples of customer service charters.

  • Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN)
    The project was commissioned by ACCAN – the new peak body for consumers and consumer organisations on issues including telecommunications and the Internet.
  • Galexia
    The project research and writing tasks were undertaken by Galexia. Galexia is an independent consultancy specialising in law and technology.
  • Advisory Committee
    The research project was guided by input from an Advisory Committee consisting of experts in consumer protection and communications regulatory issues. Members included:
    • Catriona Lowe, ACCAN Board (Chair)
    • Keith Besgrove, Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy (DBCDE)
    • Kathleen Silleri, Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA)
    • Christina Spurgeon, Queensland University of Technology
    • Simon Cleary, Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman
    • Gerard Goggin, UNSW, ACCAN Board.