Operator says “unacceptable” failures in processes led to £1 million Ofcom fine
EE has said “unacceptable” failings in its customer complaints procedures led to the £1 million fine it received from Ofcom, but claimed it had completely reshaped its procedures since.
The fine was levied following an investigation by the telecoms watchdog, which found EE had failed to provide customers with “accurate or adequate” information about their right to take their complaints further.
Ofcom rules state that customers must receive written details of their rights to take complaints to “alternative dispute resolution” (ADR) within eight weeks.
The regulator maintains this allows consumers to refer complaints that cannot be resolved with their provider to an independent body, which can reach an impartial judgement.
Complaints can be taken to ADR if they remain unresolved after eight weeks or if a stalemate is reached between the customer and the provider before that time period.
Access to this is free for customers, and all communications providers offering services to individuals or small businesses with up to 10 employees must be a member of one of two approved ADR schemes.
The two ADR schemes are the Communications and Internet Services Adjudication Scheme (CISAS) and Ombudsman Services: Communications. EE is a member of the former.
Speaking exclusively to Mobile News, EE chief of customer services Francoise Clemes (pictured) said the operator had first became aware of the issue in 2013, before Ofcom had launched it’s investigation.
“We realised there was an issue before Ofcom even launched the investigation. This is clearly not an excuse, and we realise that at that time we probably hadn’t moved on enough. We put in place a massive plan to tackle that.
“Our service at that stage was probably not good enough overall, and we have made significant progress. We completely reshaped the way we were dealing with complaints. We retrained the entire service organisation and put in place massive controls to make sure we were controlling that in a strong way.
“We have now halved our mobile complaints going to Ofcom, which was very good, and our customer satisfaction went up during the period. We know we’re doing the right things and tackling the issue.”
A spokesperson for Ofcom said that while EE has made progress in reducing mobile complaints, it remains the most complained about provider due to growing complaints numbers across fixed line and broadband.
The Ofcom spokesperson added: “While complaints about EE’s mobile service have reduced by around 50 per cent in the past year, complaints about EE’s broadband and landline services have rapidly increased by around 50 per cent and 30 per cent respectively.
“Out of all the major providers included in our Quarterly Telecoms and Pay TV Complaints EE generated the most landline and broadband complaints.”
Vodafone was the most complained about mobile operator during Q1 of this year with 0.14 complaints per thousand customers between January and March. EE received 0.10 complaints per thousand customers during the same period, an improvement on Q4 2014 of 0.12 and significantly less than its Q2 2013 peak of 0.19.
EE said part of the reduction in mobile complaints was related to the cancellation of a number of its offshore customer service partnerships. The operator has brought thousands of jobs back to the UK from call centres in Manila and Mumbai.
Clemes said the operator had made a number of changes to improve its customer services, including the introduction of 100 per cent call recording, a £50 million investment in IT and training last year and a three-hour weekly meeting with senior staff to discuss ways to improve.
EE refused to confirm whether anyone had been sacked due to the problems, which related to complaints between July 22, 2011 and April 8, 2014, but Clemes said it was not linked to the merger between Orange and T-Mobile that created EE.
“I wouldn’t necessarily blame the merger,” she said. “The service wasn’t up to scratch back then, but it is now.
“We are 100 per cent committed to becoming the leader in service as soon as possible. We have the entire organisation reviewing that on a weekly basis.
“We have a three-hour meeting every Monday morning to go through that. What we do know is that we are ahead of our plans and we can improve fast. When I look at Ofcom’s trend, complaints are still going down. That trend is important to me. We’re not where we want to be, we’re not number one, but we’re confident that we can get there soon.”
Ofcom hit Three with a £250,000 fine in October last year. TalkTalk and subsidiary Tiscali were fined £3 million in 2011 for charging customers for services they never received, while ITV was subject to the regulators largest ever fine – £5.7 million for abusing premium rate numbers.
The penalty is payable to Ofcom and then passed on to HM Treasury. EE is required to pay the penalty within 20 working days of receiving the decision.
Ofcom consumer and content group director Claudio Pollack said there had been “serious failings” in EE’s complaints handling processes, adding the regulator treats any breach of the rules “very seriously”.
“It’s vital that consumers can access all of the information they need when they’re pursuing a complaint.
“Ofcom imposes strict rules on how providers must handle complaints and treats any breach of these rules very seriously.
“The fine against EE takes account of the serious failings that occurred in the company’s complaints handling, and the extended period over which these took place.”