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7 September 2011
Deakin University's consumer behaviour expert Dr Paul Harrison appreciates the irony contained in his latest research which urges the telecommunications industry, a supplier of devices to help people talk directly and quickly to each other, to bypass the device and the jargon and instead talk face to face with their customers.
The recommendation is one of several contained in "Seeking Straight Answers – Consumer Decision Making in Telecommunications" to be launched today, 7 September, at the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) Congress in Sydney.
Senator Stephen Conroy, Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy will speak at the congress followed by Dr Harrison who will be the keynote speaker.
The report, funded by Deakin University's Centre for Sustainable and Responsible Organisations and ACCAN, took the unusual but unique step of tracking consumers as they purchased mobile phones and telecommunication products finding out what they actually do and what they actually think.
"Normally we ask people what they think they are thinking," Dr Harrison explained, "But in this case we ran the research in such a way so as to find out what they were actually thinking at the time.
"The picture revealed was one of wide-spread confusion, lack of trust and confidence, information overload and ultimately frustration, disappointment and inertia."
ACCAN Chief Executive Officer, Teresa Corbin said the research provided some excellent insights into the issues faced by consumers in navigating the telecommunications market.
"What it tell us is that there is a need for greater consumer protection to combat the confusion, information overload, stress and inertia that customers face when trying to sign up for products or services," she said.
Dr Harrison said there were a number of actions telecommunications companies and government could take to improve that picture, but one of the easiest for telcos is training their sales people to have a proactive conversation with the customer.
"Telcos can proactively provide information to consumers about network coverage, contract termination fees and cooling off periods in the knowledge that people consider this information relevant when they make a decision to buy," he said.
"Telcos may think that providing this information to people creates a sense of increased risk and the customer may not continue with their purchase, but our research suggests otherwise.
"In fact people would find it refreshing; it actually improves satisfaction and encourages consumers to view the information being provided as being more believable and trustworthy overall.
"Your sales people are key, so it is in your business interests to ensure they are well trained and have the tools and the skills to communicate this information."
As well as calling for policy makers to look at consumer decision-making through a more realistic prism, the report called for:
•acknowledgement that telecommunications were an essential utility, playing a central role in people's lives and involving a significant financial commitment.
•stronger consumer protections
•a customer friendly trial of unit pricing
•a one page critical information sheet with simple terms and conditions
•a review of whether the bundling of telecommunications products works for consumers.
"Current consumer policy assumes people, once given information, are rational decision makers, yet our research shows this is not the case," Dr Harrison said.
"Consumers' knowledge can be imperfect and they can be influenced by a myriad of factors when making a decision.
"More needs to be done by policy makers to understand the decision-making process and consumer behaviour, so that legislation can support consumers as they navigate the market."
Seeking Straight Answers: Consumer Decision-Making in Telecommunications. Deakin University and the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network 2011 - Link to full report
Paul Harrison is interviewed on ABC Radio's Life Matters - Link to podcast
The research was funded by the Centre for Sustainable and Responsible Organisations in the Faculty of Business and Law at Deakin University, and ACCAN.
Deakin Media Relations
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Australian Communications Consumer
Elise Davidson 0409 966 931