Why AusPost is copping a roasting
A DAMNING report about Australia Post has found the organisation continues to have "persistent delivery issues" so bad - from lost items to "sorry we missed you cards" left when people were at home - that the public body has received more than one million complaints in a single year.
Commonwealth ombudsman Michael Manthorpe said he suspected gripes were actually far higher, but customers gave up in frustration in the face of a convoluted and complex complaints process.
The ombudsman, which scrutinises the work of public bodies, drew up the report into delivery complaints to see how Australia Post was faring following three previous reports into the same issues. Its conclusion? Must try harder.
MORE THAN ONE MILLION COMPLAINTS
The report gave an example of how the "complaints" page on the Australia Post website didn't actually give people the option of leaving a complaint.
The 64-page review also heard claims staff could often be "defensive", with one employee refusing to give compensation for a lost parcel because "for all we know, it could have contained rocks".
Another customer was told their complaint was actually "feedback" and so wouldn't be investigated.
One housebound customer found a notification card left for them when it was clear they had never left the house.
The ombudsman said complaints to Australia Post were only slightly fewer than those received by the UK's postal operator, despite Britain's Royal Mail delivering three times as many items annually.
"If Australia Post put more effort into rapidly resolving, rather than resisting complaints, it would deliver better outcomes for consumers," Mr Manthorpe said.
COMPLAINING A SUREAL AND COMPLEX EXPERIENCE
In its latest annual report, Australia Post revealed an astonishing 1.1 million of its customers complained last year, up almost 16 per cent on the previous year
"While the scales of Australia Post's operations need to be borne in mind to put complaint numbers in perspective, the fact that more than one million people have complained is cause for concern," the ombudsman's report said.
The number could be even higher, he said, but some people may have given up trying as complaining to Australia Post could be a surreal Kafkaesque experience.
A page on its website that invited people to "send us a complaint or compliment" led to a drop down menu, but none of the many options involved a complaint.
Even when people did manage to lodge a complaint, sometimes they were informed it was no such thing.
"I was told … that my complaint was not a complaint, it was feedback and that feedback will be entered into the system and the case closed," one person told the inquiry.
The perennial bugbear of delivery staff making no or little attempt to deliver a parcel, and instead leaving a card directing people to pick up their parcel from the post office, remained prominent.
This was despite the organisation instigating a new "Knock and Call Out" policy in 2014 where a staff member should knock three times, call out "Australia Post", and wait at least 30 seconds before leaving a card.
'YOUR PARCEL MIGHT HAVE CONTAINED ROCKS'
One carding complaint in particular was highlighted by the ombudsman: "A customer who was housebound due to surgery purchased an item online. Australia Post advised him by email that his parcel had left the post office and would be delivered that day.
"The complainant was at home all day, but no one knocked and late that afternoon he received another email that a delivery had been attempted at 3.56pm. When he checked he found a card had been left."
Australia Post, in its 2017 annual report, said that carding was on the decrease with rates down to 10.7 per cent from 15.7 per cent in 2015-16.
But when items were lost, customers often had trouble receiving compensation. Compared to overseas post offices, Australia Post was relatively stingy.
Compo for lower value deliveries could be up to NZ$250 ($180) in New Zealand but was capped at just $50 in Australia. The UK's Royal Mail paid up to GBP500 ($700) for lost or damaged higher value items; in Australia the limit was $100.
What amount a customer might receive was entirely subjective and could depend simply on the staff member.
"For complainants with similar circumstances, some are fully compensated, some partially and others receive no compensation at all," Mr Manthorpe said.
Staff appeared to be "defensive" rather than explore a practical outcome, the report said, citing a comment made by an Australia Post employee as reported to ombudsman: "For all we know, your parcel could have contained rocks".
Mr Manthorpe said when four out of every five cases the ombudsman investigated received appropriate compensation, "it is clear that the internal complaint-handling process is not effective in resolving these disputes".
The ombudsman recommended Australia Post make it easier for customers to lodge complaints online, make it clearer that delivering parcels to some addresses - such as flats - was inherently more difficult and might lead to a card being left, and improve the consistency of advice to customers when it came to compensation.
In a letter to the ombudsman, Australia Post CEO Christine Holgate said she recognised and acknowledged the common themes in the report warrant reflection.
"I want to make it as easy as possible for customers to engage with Australia Post, and to encourage transparency," she said.
The company accepted five of the six recommendations and has partially accepted the other, reported AAP.
Mr Manthorpe said 4000-plus complaints had been escalated to the ombudsman.
"While this number seems small when compared to Australia Post's 1.1 million complaints (0.4 per cent), we are mindful that behind every complaint stands a frustrated customer who has to deal with the consequences of an unresolved dispute."
In a statement to news.com.au, an Australia Post spokeswoman said: "We have worked closely with the Ombudsman following his review and we support the recommendations his office has made.
"Although Australia Post successfully serves and delivers to millions of customers every day, we know we do not always get it right and we recognise the number of complaints received last year was not good enough.
"Improving how we serve our customers and striving to be excellent in what we do is a key strategic focus for Australia Post as we go forward."
The organisation said it was looking at new programs such as after-hours deliveries and improved parcel tracking.