Class action 'no damage' to telco

VODAFONE Australia's chief executive says the mobile carrier's brand has not been damaged by a customer class action, and has expressed doubts the case will ever get to court.

VODAFONE Australia's chief executive says the mobile carrier's brand has not been damaged by a customer class action, and has expressed doubts the case will ever get to court.

The class action was first announced in late 2010 and was resurrected on Tuesday by a law firm representing customers unsatisfied with Vodafone's mobile or wireless broadband coverage.

Asked about the impact of the customer class action on Vodafone Hutchison Australia's reputation, Bill Morrow said it had "none at all".

"Most people see that there is not a class action suit actually filed or [any] attempt to actually gather one. The 23,000 [signatures] is the same number that they had reported back in 2011 . . . I don't believe this is something that is going to turn into a class action suit and I don't think it is damaging to our brand," he said.

The comments come as Vodafone announced it would try to differentiate its customer service from other telcos by doubling the number of staff at its call centre in Tasmania. This comes a week after Telstra announced it was moving 648 jobs to call centres in the Philippines and India.

According to the Community and Public Sector Union, senior Telstra management told staff at its Sensis subsidiary that "Australians will get better customer services from Manila or India. They have better technology and innovation."

Vodafone expects the 750 additional jobs to add about $45 million to the state's economy annually. It has received substantial funding from the federal government, including $4 million for recruitment, training and the accommodation of new staff. And the state government will kick in $850,000 for infrastructure costs and payroll tax concessions for new employees.

Mr Morrow said the message had come through "very clearly" that Australians wanted to talk to someone in Australia.

"The bottom line is that we have been listening to our customers," he said. "This breaks [the] industry trend, but we think it is the right thing to do. This is not an issue about cost because it is a service that customers are asking for.

"This was expected. It is all a part of the multi-year plan that we put together and have had approved by our board. They [the board] understand that in order to get the return on their investment this sort of thing is going to happen."

Earlier this week, one of Vodafone Hutchison Australia's joint shareholders, Hutchison Telecommunications Australia, announced a full-year loss of $394 million, following a loss of $168 million in 2011.

Hutchison also revealed 443,000 customer accounts were lost in 2012. Vodafone now has about 6.6 million active accounts on its network, down from a peak of 7.4 million in mid-2010.

Mr Morrow said customer growth would be the first sign his turnaround plan was working, and he expected to see customer numbers increasing later this year.

Vodafone Hutchison Australia is a private company jointly owned by Hong Kong-based Hutchison and the British Vodafone Group.

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