Telstra has said it is taking "disciplinary action" against some of its partners after concerns about the ways a number of its products and services were being sold to vulnerable customers.
The move follows concerns that were brought to the telco’s attention, in which "a small number" of partners had sold mobile devices and plans to customers that couldn’t afford them or were inappropriate for their needs, Telstra group executive consumer and small business, Michael Ackland, said in a blog post.
This included sales to Indigenous people living in remote areas and cases in which the normal checks and balances typically required by Telstra were not conducted.
In June this year, an ABC report revealed that many Indigenous Australians were facing huge Telstra bills after they were signed up to unaffordable contracts. This prompted an investigation by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) into Telstra's sales practices and whether it breached Australian Consumer Law.
“We have recognised and grappled with the gravity of this issue and understand the impact to the customers involved was significant,” Ackland said.
“That’s why we’re taking significant steps to strengthen our processes, as even one instance of this happening is one too many.”
To rectify the issues, Ackland said Telstra has responded to complaints raised with the company and is working individually with customers toward a resolution.
Ackland said Telstra is also taking significant disciplinary action against partners found to have breached their agreements with the telco.
“While the number of impacted customers are a small portion of our overall customer base, we made a decision to implement significant changes to our processes and plans, reflecting how seriously we take any instance where we let our customers down this way,” he said.
Specifically, the new measures include implementing contact centres specifically for rural and remote Indigenous customers with staff specifically trained to cater for their needs; widening its external credit assessments; additional training for front line staff to refresh their awareness of acceptable sales practises and; reaching out to customers to make sure they’re on the right plan and providing proactive customer support.
Furthermore, the telco is also concentrating on introducing new plans that eliminate causes of high or unexpected charges such as excess data; enhancing its performance monitoring tools and deepening its engagement with financial counsellors and other groups on its sales approach to make sure its processes are sensitive to the needs of all customers.
“We have also embarked on a wide-reaching program that covers not just what happens in-store, but also the design of our products and services, and how we recognise and support customers who themselves in positions of vulnerability,” he said.
A recent report by the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) identified 53 potential systematic issues, ranging from poor sales practices resulting in consumers obtaining products and services they did not want or understand, plus failing to provide consumers with product and service usage information.