Telstra – why do you hate us so much?

By Branko Miletic

To be fair, with the limited choice we have in this country in terms of digital content providers, Telstra is hardly the worst example of bad service, and usually I find its service (and products) to be quite good.

But the recent experience I have endured at the hands of Telstra’s so called customer service department has left me little choice but to highlight a retail culture at the company, which I think may need a total overhaul.

In mid August of 2010 (that’s right, last year) I signed up for Telstra’s BigPond Home Bundle whereby you combined your home phone, Foxtel, Broadband and got a T-Hub or T-Box plus other goodies all for one fixed price.

All good- except after I signed up, I heard nothing from Telstra for about 2 months. So by October (still last year mind you), I decided to give Telstra customer service a ring and ask them what was happening. The rep on the phone said she would look into it and call me back in “a day or so”- but I got no answer for a couple of weeks.

By this time I was a touch annoyed so I rang my media contact at the telco over an unrelated matter and just happened to quip about my recent experience. To his credit, within 24 hours, I got a phone call from a ‘manager’ who said would handle my case personally. OK, so far, so good.

After talking to this guy we arranged to have all my ADSL, phone and other connections switched over. I must mention Telstra did change my Foxtel service over almost immediately but it was the ADSL I was most worried about as I rely on it to make my living and my wife also needs it for her study.

Since my provider (TPG) said I have to give 1 month’s notice, we settled on a date and my Internet was cut off exactly 1 month later. Whilst waiting for the switchover, I called Telstra to find out the progress and was promptly told “3-5 days but could be anything up to 1 fortnight, depending on how things go”.

Panic set in- I asked, nay, begged for this process to be speeded up as I have deadlines, articles and other things I needed to do online. Telstra blamed TPG, TPG in turn blamed Telstra- all over sending someone in a van to my local exchange and flicking a switch.

So I called both of them and said I want the whole process to be put on hold until further notice. TPG restored my connection in a day and a half. I then called Telstra and explained that I need a much faster turnaround.

That was in December of last year. 1 month later (January 2011), I got a call from Telstra, from a woman claiming to be in the technical section- I explained the above story and she said she would call back on the following Monday with a solution, She never called back. I then called Telstra back, some 2 weeks later wondering what had happened to this person- and I got another customer service rep on the line who informed me that indeed there really was way of speeding up my ‘churn’ as they call it to a 24-hour turnaround.

He even managed to arrange the delivery of the T-Box (which I still pay $5 per month to this day) and said he word organize the modem and once I registered it online, they would take care of handling all the technical issues with TPG.

I agreed and the rep said he would get back to me in a “couple of days” to finalise everything whilst also mentioning that I should ring up TPG to cancel my ADSL. Now being a bit wary of Telstra’s promises by now, I figured I would wait for this latest rep to call me back and confirm all is well and ready to roll and then I would cancel my TPG subscription.

And yes, you guessed it – he never called back. I finally had enough. Since then I have had 5 separate phone calls from Telstra ‘customer service’, 3 of which were from a Filipino call centre at around 8 pm at night and 2 local calls, all of who were asking when can they ‘finalise the order’. So last week I finally gave up- after 8 months of this I could no longer stomach this kind of incompetence.

Yes, it’s almost Easter 2011, and Telstra is still calling me asking what is the story with my order. In fact they sent me a letter last week saying if they have not heard from me by April 25, they will automatically cancel my order.

I am not sure who runs this part of the company but this has gone beyond the usual Telstra bashing scenario- in my mind, this has highlighted serious and endemic structural, procedural and cultural flaws in our biggest and oldest Telco – flaws which I am sure are not isolated just to the particular people I was dealing with.

The fact is I have heard many horror stories concerning Telstra and have never really given them much thought- I figured that for every horror story there must me 1000 happy endings.

However this experience has shown me that the problems with Telstra are not the result of a rogue employee, or bad technology, but rather due to a system that really needs to be looked at.

Or perhaps the company has done some secret deal with anger management therapists as after this episode, I think I may need to go and see one.



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