Pandemic exacerbates Pinoys’ telco woes

Richmond Mercurio - The Philippine Star

Special Report

MANILA, Philippines — Customer complaints on telco services went up sharply in 2020, driven largely by the pandemic-induced changes in work, school and business setup.

No internet service, poor cell phone reception, dropped calls and slow customer service response are just a few items on the long list of woes besetting Filipino consumers.

These woes became more rampant when the pandemic struck, as reflected in the surge in customer complaints swamping the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) starting last year.

Data provided by the NTC to The STAR showed that the agency received a total of 14,605 telco complaints in 2020, a 74 percent jump from the 8,417 lodged a year earlier.

Customers from the National Capital Region accounted for the bulk or 12,365 of the complaints last year – a 144 percent spike from 5,061 in 2019.

The surge started in April last year, Pandemic... From B1

with the NTC receiving a total of 1,013 consumer complaints in NCR in that month alone.

The government started imposing quarantine measures in Metro Manila in mid-March last year to slow the spread of COVID.

From April to December 2020, the NTC was getting an average of 1,227 complaints from consumers in NCR, even reaching a high of 2,253 in July last year. This was a huge increase compared to a monthly average of only 422 in 2019.

Poor customer service of the telcos drew the ire of most people last year, with 10,962 of the complaints from NCR and 814 from the regions stemming from the said concern.

Billing problem was next on the list of complaints for customers from NCR, while it was intermittent and poor internet for those in the provinces.

Aside from these, other type of complaints that flooded the NTC include bill shock and data charges, text spam, vanishing load, unwanted call or text  and fair usage policy.

The NTC attributed the rise of consumer complaints to a number of factors, including lockdown restrictions, workforce disruptions, change in the behavior of consumers, IT challenges, and implementation of agile operations.

The service providers, it said, were challenged to improve access to service and provide temporary financial reliefs.

“Customers relied heavily on phone and internet services to work, study, and connect with their loved ones. Some consumers updated their plans to get higher data or faster internet speed. Others encountered existing service issues, for example, slow internet speed, that prevented them from working or studying effectively while at home,” the NTC said.

“Business owners moved to home-based operations that caused them to request for the removal or suspension of phone and internet services connected to their business premises,” it said.

With lockdowns still in place this year, however, customers continue to encounter various problems with their telco services.

Data from the NTC showed that the number of consumer complaints received by the agency in the first half reached 8,354, nearly the same level of 2019’s total and already more than half of last year’s outcome.

The bulk or 6,176 came from customers in NCR, while the remaining 2,178 were from consumers in the regions.

Top complaints remained to be poor service, billing issues, as well as intermittent and poor internet.

Telcos and internet service providers have previously admitted that the lockdowns indeed posed challenges at the customer service front, as well as on their efforts on repairing and fixing lines.

But after the initial delays caused by the COVID  lockdowns last year, telco giant PLDT Inc. said its Home business has seen marked improvement in responding to calls related to installation and repair concerns through its hotlines and customer support channels.

PLDT said various platforms have also been in put place to ensure that the company remains accessible to its customers and be able to provide their needed assistance while keeping them as well as its employees safe amid the pandemic.

Globe Telecom Inc., for its part, has introduced digital solutions like the Globe One app and the Globe At Home app, and implemented a no-inbound agent service model so that the limited BPO employee agents manning its hotlines can focus on the more complex and trouble-shooting transactions.

Globe has also increased its technician partners, implemented mandatory enforcement of COVID-19 safety protocols, and utilized all remote means possible to address the concerns of its customers.

Fast-growing fiber internet provider Converge ICT Solutions, meanwhile, has introduced a new omnichannel customer relationship management system which allows the company’s contact agents to handle customer requests and complaints via various touchpoints.

Believing that self-help is a key factor to swiftly and efficiently address customer issues, Converge also added a new feature on its mobile application wherein registered subscribers could monitor the health status of their routers, specifically the speed and temperature of the device.

It said this allows the subscriber to detect possible causes of unreliable connectivity and provide first aid using step-by-step instructions presented in the mobile application.

A bill which aims to require telecommunication companies and internet service providers to give refunds for service outages and interruptions has already been filed in the Senate.

Senate Bill 2092 seeks to amend Republic Act 7925 or the Public Telecommunications Policy Act of the Philippines passed into law in 1995.

Under the bill, public telecommunications entities and internet service providers must, “on a pro-rated basis, provide a refund credit to a customer, or adjust a customer’s bill, who has experienced a service outage or disruption for an aggregate period of 24 hours or more within a month.”

The refund credit granted shall likewise be granted to customers subscribing to a service on a prepaid basis.

The bill has secured the support of the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT).

DICT Secretary Gregorio Honasan has said that in support of responsible delivery of telco services to Filipinos, it is only just and necessary that Filipinos get the quality of service they pay for.

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