Ofcom, the UK regulator, can breathe easy. It only took 11 successive quarters for Vodafone billing complaints to fall to the level when they were not significantly worse than those of every other UK mobile provider. Perhaps some of the staff working at the regulator will be congratulating themselves that their tough stance on billing accuracy regulations spared some Vodafone customers another two-and-a-half years of incorrect bills.
Vodafone were tied with BT for being the worst postpaid mobile performers during the second quarter of 2017. Ofcom received 11 complaints per every 100,000 customers of both companies. This was more than double the industry average of 5 complaints per 100,000 customers, but significantly less than the record that Vodafone set in the fourth quarter of 2015, when billing errors helped to lift them to 32 complaints per 100,000 customers.
BT might console themselves that they have only had lousy complaint statistics for two quarters in a row, because that is as long as they have been offering a postpaid mobile service that Ofcom has needed to monitor. Vodafone has many more years of experience of upsetting customers.
Once in a while Ofcom will change the way their complaints metrics are produced, without warning or proper explanation. Presumably they do this to make it even harder to interpret what little data they share with the public. The innovation in this quarter was that Ofcom has added a new category when classifying the complaints they receive. As a consequence, their report gave the following explanation for what causes Vodafone and BT customers to complain:
Vodafone and BT’s main complaint drivers were complaints handling, followed by issues around billing, pricing and charges.
So the cause of complaint is the poor handling of complaints? That seems a bit circular to me. A rational person must assume that the customers complained about something else before they complained about the way their complaint was handled. You might think the cause of the first complaint would be the real ‘driver’ of the number of complaints being generated. But not if you work for Ofcom.
I suspect this new category – complaints about complaining – is a way of breaking up the category that was causing most embarrassment for Vodafone and Ofcom. In the 10 previous quarters the top cause of Vodafone complaints was ‘issues around billing, pricing and charges’, which is a euphemism for ‘billing errors because Vodafone screwed up a migration to a new billing platform’. Obviously some of those complaints involved customers who were not just inaccurately billed, but whose subsequent complaints were not taken seriously. Splitting the categories means that Ofcom can pretend that incorrect billing is no longer the root cause of so many complaints, because they can assert the customer is complaining about complaining, and has presumably lost interest in the fact that their bill is wrong.
You can obtain Ofcom’s latest complaints report here, but you will learn nothing by reading it, which is exactly what Ofcom wants.