The ACCC today announced it has reached an agreement with Telstra to improve its compliance with Australian Consumer Law (ACL) after an investigation into representations by Telstra to consumers who complained about faulty mobile phones.

Although Telstra has ACL compliance programs in place, the ACCC was concerned that Telstra may have misled consumers on some occasions about their consumer guarantee rights in relation to faulty mobile phones, leading them to believe that they were not entitled to a refund, replacement or repair, when may have been available under the ACL.

The ACCC identified around 400 complaints, from around Australia, made during the period 1 January 2011 to 4 November 2013.

It is a timely reminder for all businesses about the importance of training staff in consumer rights in relation to refunds and warranties.

“Customers rely upon the statements that salespeople make in-store which is why these statements cannot mislead consumers without breaching consumer law. All businesses should ensure that their staff training programmes explain a business’s obligations under the Consumer Law,” said ACCC Deputy Chair Dr Michael Schaper.

“This investigation highlights the importance of businesses educating their staff, and consumers, that consumer guarantee rights are in addition to the business’s own policies and any voluntary warranties.”

Schaper said that Telstra has been working with the ACCC to address these concerns, improve customer experience and to continue to improve its compliance with the ACL.

“The ACCC encourages all businesses to consider whether their ACL compliance measures may be improved to ensure that consumers are not misled about their important consumer guarantee rights,” Schaper said.

In a statement from Telstra, it acknowledged the concerns raised by the ACCC and said it is working constructively to address them.

“Providing a positive customer experience is our number one goal.  We know how frustrating it can be when a device doesn’t work, so we work hard to ensure people can have their problem fixed in line with their rights, including those provided under the Australian Consumer Law.  We apologise to any customer who encountered difficulty when  they tried to resolve an issue with their faulty device,” the statement reads.

Telstra said its return policies and processes already comply with the law, but they are committed to improving the process.

“We already run consumer guarantee training and compliance programs for our staff and we will now be expanding these programs to get it right with our customers every time.  In addition we will be building a dedicated consumer guarantees page on our website, publishing more in-store information on consumer guarantees and updating our education materials for staff.

“We understand the number of complaints received by the ACCC represented a fraction of the total mobile phone returns we received in the same time period.”

The ACCC said that Telstra began implementing its commitments in stages from September this year. The commitments below may provide a useful model for retailers’ own staff training. They include:

  • Providing induction and, at least, annual consumer guarantees training for relevant Telstra staff, including guidance on how to deal with common customer scenarios when managing faulty mobile phone returns.
  • Conducting annual independent assessments of relevant Telstra staff’s awareness of consumer guarantee rights when returning faulty products, including random sampling of a number of Telstra owned and licensee retail stores and hundreds of contact centre staff who are likely to manage customer interactions or questions about faulty products.
  • Maintaining a consumer guarantees web page for consumers, which will include information about the consumer guarantees regime and how consumer guarantees interact with Telstra’s policies and products.
  • Maintaining in-store information for consumers about their consumer guarantee rights in relation to faulty products with helpful signs at service desks.

More information about consumer rights and guarantees is available here.