The extra hour of daylight in the evenings signals the imminent approach of summer and hopefully some sun – a rare sight in Wellington of late. However, it also means an even earlier start for those getting up for the world cup rugby matches. Daylight saving also coincides with a new-look newsletter for our scheme members, which I trust will offer an improved experience for you. Please let us know what you think – not only about format and layout, but also content. We want to be able to provide something that is of benefit to you and will happily respond to your suggestions.
We are very pleased to profile a self-confessed geek: Matthew Harrison from Primo Wireless. Primo has been a member of the scheme for a number of years now, and is our only Taranaki-based member. As with most of our members, we are happy to report that we have a very cooperative working relationship with Primo, although we are yet to deal with any complaints from Matthew’s customers.
On scheme membership matters, we are delighted to welcome Digital Cloud as a member of the scheme, our first Manawatu-based member. We will begin advertising their membership once they are compliant with the Code. We also introduce Clare Marks, who will be assisting with the management of the scheme and who replaces Nikki Astwood.
This issue continues the story of the development of telecommunications, and covers the years 1914-1948, taking in two world wars. We also take a close look at unreasonable complainants and offer some advice on how to deal with them. We update you on what’s happening with the TDR Service Recognition Awards, and Jay Clarke, our resident practitioner reminds you about Positions Statements and the value in referring to them when they have relevance to the complaint at hand.
Please look out for our annual report for last year, which will be published on our website on 30 September 2015.
Also on that date, we will be launching our new and improved website, upgraded so as to be legible on mobile devices. Its look and feel has been refreshed. Let us know what you think once it goes live on 30 September.
Story: Telecommunications - Post and Telegraph, 1914–1945
Telecommunications in the First World War
The outbreak of the First World War meant that for the first time military priorities, like the censorship of telegrams and cables, had to overrule civilian ones for the government.
Military personnel could send and receive telegrams at cheaper rates, and the telegraph service was used to spread war news more quickly. Summaries were posted in outlying Post and Telegraph (P & T) offices. Some rural postmasters used the telephone for this purpose, for subscribers easily contactable via party lines, as at Kāwhia from September 1914.
Second World War
The advent of another world war saw strict censorship and, later, even greater employment of women in communications. There was a huge influx of women under the 1942 industrial conscription, or manpower regulations, with some 4000 employed by the Post and Telegraph Department by 1943. Abroad, 2nd Division signallers supported New Zealand forces in Crete, the Middle East and Italy. In the Gilbert Islands, eight of the Signal Corps radio operators, deployed as coast-watchers in July 1941, were among 22 New Zealand and British servicemen killed by the Japanese in October 1942.
The Murray multiplex
By 1925 telegrams sent between main centres were using the ‘Murray multiplex’, a higher-capacity, machine-printing system. It was invented by an expatriate New Zealander, Donald Murray, who had installed a prototype between London and Edinburgh some 20 years earlier.
Growing phone use
Between 1910 and 1950 the number of telephones grew more than tenfold – from around 33,000 to more than 350,000. Much of the growth took place in the interwar years.
Increasing suburbanisation was met and fostered by the spread of exchanges into suburbs. Enhanced carrier technology allowed more calls to be carried on each line by the use of wireless frequency modulation techniques. Private (from 1925) and rural (1929) automatic exchanges – PABXs and RAXs – increased government, commercial and rural use of phones. In 1922/23, telecommunications revenues outstripped postal revenue for the first time.
P & T abroad and in New Zealand
Some 62 wireless telegraphists served in Mesopotamia (Iraq) during the war. By 1918, 850 female ‘temporaries’ were employed, many as telegraphists, to replace men on war service. The war also delayed the installation of rotary automatic telephony equipment until 1919, when the Masterton exchange trialled it. Ten years later main centres had all gone automatic.
Radio telecommunications from the 1920s
The 1920s also saw the tremendous expansion of radio for telegraphy, made possible by advances in short-wave radio. From 1921 to 1986 the P & T was the licensing authority for the use of radio frequencies for any purpose. From 1924 to 1930 it substantially upgraded its own maritime and general communications radio stations.
From 1936 ‘aeradio’ helped the navigation of fledgling passenger air services, and in 1937 the army even used radio-telephones to coordinate a mock battle. New Zealand subscribers could call the UK from 1931, but a three-minute call set them back nearly seven pounds – at least double the weekly wage for most.
Clare is originally from the UK and moved to New Zealand in 2006. Clare worked for 15 years at the Ministry of Justice in the UK, and then for 3 years on arrival in New Zealand. She also practised law in the UK for a time, and has recently completed a degree in Business Management.
Clare joined FairWay in 2009, as a manager in the ACC dispute resolution scheme and is currently Scheme Director for the Residential Advisory Service Scheme, where we deal with insurance disputes arising from the Canterbury earthquakes, and has recently begun to take on some of the responsibilities associated with the TDR scheme.
Clare is very keen to explore how advances in technology and social media can assist us to deliver the service and engage with our customers and clients. Clare spends a lot of her time outside of work keeping fit and active, and is passionate about running.
The TDR team are currently working towards hosting the TDR Service Recognition Award. The award would represent an annual award issued to the scheme member determined to have achieved the best service towards customers considering complaints handling. There has been an indication from TUANZ that they intend to reinstate an annual award which could be issued concurrently with the TDR award. As such, an important distinction for the TDR Service Recognition Award is the focus on complaints through TDR. A working group between TDR and scheme members has been striving to finalise appropriate and fair criteria that can be agreed upon across the scheme. The working group has outlined and agreed upon five criteria that would provide an accurate representation for service recognition, consisting of: proportion of complaints resolved early; grading from TDR Team; grading of scheme manager promotion; scheme participation and compliance with Customer Complaints Code.
At this stage the intention is to run a pilot of the awards to finalise measurement approaches and iron out any issues that may arise and we are on track to do so across this month.
Unreasonable conduct by complainants appears to be increasing, both in propensity and seriousness.
It’s not just being difficult, frustrated or upset or expressing views that are uncomfortable. Chronic complainants are people who feel passionately about their cause, are uncompromising, and cause undue disruption. At FairWay we have become attuned to handling unreasonable conduct over the years, particularly with the high volume of ACC claim reviews and care of children disputes in the Family Dispute Resolution service where the stakes and emotions are often high. Interestingly though, we find unreasonable behaviour from quite a number of complainants in the TDR service, where issues tend to be of lower value and switching of providers is relatively easy.
Why this increase?
There is no doubt there is an increase in consumer awareness about their right and ability to complain. This has come about mainly for two reasons. Firstly, consumer law is predominantly principles-based, requiring judgment calls as to what constitutes fair and reasonable conduct, unfair trading, oppressive policy, proper disclosure and fair promotion, etc. This judgment is increasingly given to dispute resolution schemes to decide, if the parties have been unable to resolve issues themselves. Secondly, organisations are now choosing to promote complaints processes as part of their value proposition, inviting feedback to better connect with their customers to improve advocacy and business process. TDR scheme members need to promote their complaints process and dispute resolution scheme in order to comply with the Customer Complaints Code. The societal changes around entitlement and individual rights, increased access to knowledge through the Internet and options to change providers for little or no cost, an inability to manage conflict, financial stress, frustrations dealing with some organisations’ own poorly resourced call centres, and of course the ease to complain or vent through social media without having to front, have all played a part in providers dealing with unreasonable behaviour of their customers.
They won’t go away. Organisations need to learn to deal with them.
Who are these people?
Many unreasonable complainants display narcissistic or histrionic personality traits. They of course don’t know this, and don’t ever consider they are being unreasonable. None of them reading this article will recognise that it is being written about them. Narcissism is seen as reluctance to follow the directions and rules of process which results in large amounts of documentation, self-representation and a lack of empathy to others in the system. They have an inability to see or understand the impact their behaviour has on others, and will often present with hyper-vigilance or an ongoing concern that the entire system is conspiring against them. They are mostly male and reasonably intelligent, yet display volatile emotions and see themselves as victims, unable to take rejection on any decision not in accord with their own belief.
Communications are often complex, voluminous and vague, without objective cause and sometimes an obsession with minutiae. They will often continue to lodge complaints, frequently as a slight variation over a similar unsuccessful complaint and will try to “mess with your mind” claiming bias and procedural flaws, focus upon jurisdictional issues rather than substantive matters, refusing to take notice or conversely challenging every point. The histrionic personality displays a pervasive pattern of excessive emotion and attention-seeking, and is often a persuasive victim. They are uncomfortable in situations where they are not the center of attention, display rapidly shifting and shallow emotions, use their physical appearance to draw attention to themselves, or use an impressionistic style of speech which lacks detail. Often dramatic, exaggerated histrionic personalities can be easily influenced and will often depend on supporters or advocates. Both “types” are not happy people, often full of internal conflict that will choose targets to blame. Yet their behaviour is mainly about them — not you and the issue being discussed is simply an expression of their state of mind.
What are the implications?
There are several implications for organisations to consider. Firstly, health and safety — a need to keep employees protected from physical harm and psychological stress. Unpleasant encounters that are not managed well can sap time and energy, leading to a reduction in commitment to service, loss of self- esteem, absenteeism, burn-out and staff turnover. These can manifest in negative word-of-mouth and affect the reputation and ultimately profitability of an organisation. Then there is the disproportionate amount of time and other resources taken up, leading to less time available for more “genuine” complainants. The complainant is also doing themselves a disservice. There is the possibility of reciprocal behaviour or avoidance from the employee which can escalate the issue, leading to non-resolution of any valid component. The complainant’s own physical and psychological health could deteriorate over time, and this can spill over to their friends and family.
How do we deal with unreasonable complainants?
Thankfully only a small percentage of complainants exhibit unreasonable behaviour. However, organisations need to have protocols in place to deal with potentially harmful situations. Staff do need to know about them, and that they will be supported. It requires a team approach and the protocols need to set boundaries that must be enforced when breached. The protocols could include limiting contact and written communications only. While these people try to involve as many people as they can, it is important to restrict contact to one or two people to avoid fragmented management and opposing approaches. Detailed record keeping is essential.
On a personal level, you need to recognise that it is not your fault. The sustained personal attacks are not about you as a person. You are not the first person to be attacked, so don’t defend yourself. On the phone or in person, do a stocktake to see if you need protecting, emotionally, physically or legally, and call on your protocols and supports if needed. You’re not alone. Avoid blaming them. Use empathy, pay attention and give respect. Respond quickly to any misinformation and set limits on misbehaviour. Let them vent and don’t interrupt their anger. You can be firm, but stay calm, don’t antagonise them; be brief, and informative. Gently confront them, restate or reframe to show understanding and see if you can find some agreement. You can say “NO” and discontinue the engagement if the conduct persists. Above all, SMILE.
If your decision is to disengage with the complainant, remember that under the Customer Complaints Code (clause 19.11) TDR can refuse to accept a complaint if it is being pursued in a manner that is frivolous, vexatious, or trivial, or if the customer has been or is being abusive, threatening or indecent towards the scheme member or TDR staff. Unfortunately it would seem unreasonable complainant conduct is here to stay; at least until we all learn to manage conflict well. Unreasonable conduct is not acceptable and should not be normalised. On the other hand, there will be differences of opinion (there is no progress without them) and poor service that needs addressing. Complainants must be given the opportunity to have their say, which in most cases will lead to an improvement in customer advocacy and business processes and services. Understanding the environment and characteristics of the players and the impact on employees and organisations provides some insights on how to manage unreasonable conduct.
FairWay provides training and coaching in Working with Complaints, Complainants and Difficult People.
Scheme Member: Primo Wireless
Profile: Matthew Harrison
1. How did you get into the Telecommunications industry?
After working in Auckland for a number of years at both Xtra and Mighty River Power I had a good understanding of an ISP and how a network runs (albeit a power network).
Longing to move back home to Taranaki I made the move and found a job working for Powerco in the control room, where I learnt more about networks and systems, however this was a temporary job and I soon found myself working as a computer technician and dealing with many frustrated rural people about how slow their dialup was or how expensive their satellite was, wireless technology was emerging with 802.11a/b/g becoming more common and outdoor high powered radios became available to make use of the 2.4ghz and 5ghz gurl spectrum, thus PrimoWireless was born when I connected my friend to our adsl connection in town, then his neighbours, and then his road, and it has continued to grow into a proper telecommunications company now offering wireless, fibre, and copper connections to Taranaki.
2. Tell us the most amazing question/challenge you have had in dealing with a customer.
I don’t really deal with customers directly these days, but as someone who builds and expands our network, the biggest challenge we face is customers frustrations that we can’t always help them, it’s hard to have an understanding of what we do, and how we do it. Now that we have a more physical presence with offices in New Plymouth and Hawera, many vehicles on the road and the good name we have built in the region it is kind of expected of us to cover everywhere, but we don’t have millions of dollars to cover everywhere and as we are usually the last chance for decent internet I can fully understand their frustration, they have been let down before and are left with dialup or satellite if they are lucky. This is a very regular occurrence for us in rural areas of Taranaki. However it’s the best feeling in a world when we do cover a new area when no one else does, it's life changing for some of these families and farmers, it literally opens up a whole new world to them.
3. What do you see as the next step in social media for the Telecommunications industry?
Social media is becoming a major part of the sales, marketing and customer service parts of our business, more and more customers contact us via facebook or twitter, we love to interact and show our customers what we have been up to, we are lucky to go to some of the best parts of Taranaki. The views can be spectacular and we love to share this via social media, but as the for the rest of the industry this is hard to say… social media has changed so much in the last 10 years, it seems only yesterday I was tricking new IRC users to /join #,# - now you would lucky to find an IRC network that works as everything has changed. So what’s the next big thing? I would perhaps consider the idea of more integration, (think IoT) we are already seeing this emerging concept where perhaps one day everything will be connected to the internet, although security will be a major hurdle I think we could see our social media lives linked more closely with our IRL lives, we are seeing this now with home automation systems using apps on our phones, it won’t be long before some of this is standardised and included as an everyday part of our lives…..
4. What is the most technological development that has occurred in the residential Telecommunications market and why?
UFB was a game changer, we were the first to jump onto the UFF network in New Plymouth and it there was no looking back, this has to be the single most important development that has happened to New Zealand internet, PrimoWireless were the first ISP in NZ to offer residential 1gig plans, going from a WISP that once serviced a few friends, to being able to be on a level playing field with any of the big boys was an awesome step forward and it has enabled us to grow beyond our wildest dreams, the UFB network enabled us to expand our wireless coverage because of reasonable costs and the dfas was much cheaper than ever before, it enabled us to build a NOC in the CBD of New Plymouth and connect to our various upstream providers without the need to have equipment in Auckland.
5. What are your interests outside of work?
Outside work? I don’t think that can actually exist can it? Being that I’m a geek, I work for myself and I love my job (I wouldn’t still be doing it for over 10 years if I didn’t) but also being the owner and manager plus running the network is well more than a full time job, however I do love to travel and now I have staff my job allows me to do just that, being able to visit different places around the world excites me. I look forward to seeing more of it in the years to come, you can make some amazing and lifelong friends when travelling the world and being able to see the different cultures and lives of others.
In the role of TDR Complaints Resolution Practitioner for nearly 7 years I usually turn to the ‘Position Statements’ – in the first instance – for a guide as to how to consistently resolve the complaint for both the customer and the scheme member. Complaints are rarely so simple as to fit neatly / solely into one or other of these 17 categories, but generally the complaints I have helped to resolve are linked in some way to these issues. I encourage all scheme members to draw the attention of their front line staff to these ‘Position Statements’ for a quick and easy guide to early resolution of complaints, before they even escalate to ‘complaint level’ with the TDR Team. Under the heading, on the TDR website, of “Common Complaints and Outcomes” are the following statements (which appears, in some instances, to have been overlooked or forgotten) - TDR receives a lot of complaints with a common theme. Because of this TDR has developed ‘Position Statements’ about these complaint types, to show both consumers and scheme members how TDR approaches these complaints and how TDR is likely to respond. See the ‘New Zealand Telecommunications Forum Customer Complaints Code’. Please note that, even if the complaint falls into one of these categories, one can still talk with TDR about it. The 17 Position Statements cover the following issues;
Billing & Fees
Back billing - charging a consumer for services that have happened in the past