New Zealand's telecommunication companies are lacking in customer service, with a new survey finding a quarter of consumers had a billing dispute in the past year.
Consumer NZ's telco survey, released today, also found that about a third of consumers who had switched to ultra-fast broadband in the past year had encountered problems.
The most common complaint was installation delays, which was an issue for 23 per cent of those surveyed.
Other problems included incorrect installation and damage to property during installation.
"One out of every four consumers has encountered a billing dispute with their internet company in the past year," said Consumer NZ chief executive Sue Chetwin.
"To make matters worse, ironing out disputes can be incredibly frustrating. Nearly two-thirds of consumers experienced lengthy delays to speak with a customer service rep."
The country's two largest telcos, Spark and Vodafone, came out at the worst rated in the survey, while smaller providers, Flip, Slingshot and Orcon made up the top three.
Telecommunications Users Association of New Zealand chief executive Craig Young said the results showed the big players could not afford to be complacent with so much competition coming through from smaller providers.
"If their customer service stats show that less than 50 per cent of people are satisfied then they've got some significant work to do to maintain their customer share.
"As a younger generation comes through who are used to being in a more competitive market and are more willing to shift around, they start to become the significant decision makers."
Any mistake the big companies made tended to be magnified to a greater extent than with the smaller providers, Young said.
Of the seven internet companies in the survey, Flip rated best for overall satisfaction with 64 per cent of its customers stating they were very satisfied with the service they received.
Slingshot and Orcon were next with 58 per cent and 53 per cent of customers, respectively, very satisfied.
The country's two largest telcos, Spark and Vodafone, trailed the field. Only 43 per cent of Spark customers and 41 per cent of Vodafone customers were very satisfied with their retailer. Both companies also scored comparatively poorly when it came to value for money.
Among mobile companies, Skinny Mobile had the most satisfied customers, with 69 per cent very satisfied with the service they received.
Skinny's parent company, Spark, had an overall satisfaction rating of 53 per cent.
Vodafone again lagged behind the other major mobile companies with a satisfaction rating of 50 percent. Its customers were more likely than most to strike unexpected charges and inaccurate bills.
Vodafone acting customer operations director Steve Rieger said the company took the satisfaction of customers extremely seriously.
"With a significant share of the country's phone and internet customers, we always aim to provide a great service experience. Sometimes our best efforts may not reach the high standards we set ourselves. When we are made aware of an issue, we put maximum effort into making it right," Rieger said .
"Information provided by the Consumer NZ survey further enables us to review and understand the nature of customer concerns, in addition to our own regular customer insight surveys. As a result, we are able to put in place systems to improve the way we communicate with our customers, including an ongoing focus on simplified invoices."
The company conducted a minimum of 40,000 plan checks every month and continued to invest in its customer care team, which was now over 1000 staff strong.
Spark said that customer service remained a top priority and it knew what work it had to do.
"During the year we significantly increased resources in our customer service areas, which has been helping bring our call wait times down.
"We have also been investing in more digital customer service options, including smarter digital channels that allow us to proactively contact customers when there's a fault, so they don't have to get in touch with us, as well as better online functionality."
Many of the customer service issues the telco encountered last year related to the copper network and these were being resolved as customers upgraded to fibre or wireless broadband.
"Feedback shows that customers get a much better service experience on these technologies."
2degrees said it took enormous pride in offering customers choice and great service.
"In terms of this survey it's good to see our customers independently endorsing what they are also telling us. Although truth be told the broadband rating looks a bit light when you compare it to our own research and that of other leading independent research firms like Canstar - 2degrees won the Canstar Blue most satisfied broadband customers award for 2016. But we will take it on the chin and look for future improvement in what is an ongoing growth and success story for us."
Taryn Hamilton, general manager of Vocus Consumer, which incorporates Slingshot, Orcon and Flip, was thrilled with the result.
"We do our own tracking and this pretty much matches what we see but to have an independent body like Consumer NZ is finding the same thing is pretty satisfying."
Trustpower head of markets Paul Bacon pointed out that his company won the 2016 Canstar Blue Phone and internet bundle award.
"The rapid growth of our broadband customer base continues and is further endorsement of our offering. We are always looking for ways to improve our service and will be looking closely at the consumer results alongside our own research to ensure we do everything we can to deliver what our customers want."
NZ's telcos: how they fared
Flip: 64 per cent overall satisfaction
Slingshot: 58 per cent
Orcon: 53 per cent
Trust Power: 52 per cent
2degrees: 44 per cent
Spark: 43 per cent
Vodafone: 41 per cent
Average: 47 per cent
Skinny: 69 per cent overall satisfaction
2 degrees: 59 per cent
Spark: 53 per cent
Vodafone: 50 per cent
Average: 54 per cent