By David Ayliffe
Nothing makes you feel your age more than trying to deal with a telephone/internet company about a problem. I’ve known 20-year olds who have aged decades just from one small attempt at resolving a billing dispute. Met one just the other day in a nursing home. Thought he was well into his 80’s but when he kept taking selfies in strange positions I started to wonder. Apparently his experience of Telstra customer service not only aged him prematurely but when he lost the plot entirely “telco dementia” set in. They say, it can’t be treated you know.
The trouble is that whilst I will exaggerate a little in this piece, most of you phone and internet users reading it will see no exaggeration at all, and that is such a worry. I can see you quietly nodding in agreement.
So, what’s the problem?
In my case I began writing this whilst in the very act of trying to communicate to customer service and sort out my minor problem with my wonderful telco Telstra. “Telstra, can’t help but love you … but!
Sarcasm? Don’t be silly. And of course, no exaggeration intended.
Today my casual chatting (as I write) – and some people say guys can’t multi task – is to a succession of Telstra robots and employees after visiting the Telstra shop where I was told that what Telstra personnel had told me wasn’t correct and they knew better.
It’s OK. I don’t really mind today. I’ve decided I’m not going to get angry and I’ll use this writing exercise as a distraction. After all, it’s not the staff I’m dealing who are to blame. It’s the men and women that I can’t talk to – the people at the top driving their Porsches, travelling first class and luxuriating in offices with wonderful views.
No, I’ve got plenty of time. I’m only 65 and I’m not planning to die for a while. I am in fact hoping to live and work till I’m 90 when I’m determined I will retire whether I want to or not. Being one of the few with not enough super on which to retire, I’m determined not to be a burden on the Government as I remember oh so well the pleadings and preachings of a previous treasurer of this Imperial outpost, the formerly Honorable Joe Hockey and his illustrious leader (“Sir Philip of Australia, Duke of Edinburgh” now also formerly Honorable Tony Abbott who encouraged all of us not to be leaners on society but lifters. Speeches that are enshrined in Hansard and our hearts.
Joe and Tony, I want you to know wherever you are in Washington or at the beach or wherever else, I’m lifting, oh I’m lifting hard, and I’m not going to stop.
Sorry I digress.
It was all my fault in the beginning. And probably at the end too.
I dropped my phone and cracked the screen. The Samsung S9 is a beautiful piece of equipment but like me, it doesn’t work well with a cracked screen. So, with the phone screen cracked, my head began to reel in dollar signs. Then comfort flooded me… No worries, I thought. Three years ago I decided it was time to not be a leaner on Telstra, that poor mega rich company in Australia, but a lifter. So instead of continuing on a buy plan where Telstra provided me with the phone and data and I paid a monthly fee and then at the end of the period they talked me into upgrading to the next wizz bang creation for another two year period, I decided to do something just a little bit different.
The salespeople were so convincing when they offered a Lease Plan. Fantastic. Not only would I have the same service, and phone that I would have on the other plan, but at the end of the plan I wouldn’t have to worry about what to do with the old phone that I owned when it was replaced by a new one because I wouldn’t own it at all. Brilliant. I would simply give it back to Telstra. Would I save money? No. Once again the sales person was very helpful I wouldn’t save money – after all what is money worth in our economy anyway? – no I would have the opportunity of upgrading to the next wizz bang phone after only 18 months and with just a small $200 cost added to my bill. Wonderful eh! Or if I was patient I could have a new phone and new plan at the end of the current plan where, remember, I would have the benefit of not owning the phone I had leased for that period and simply giving it back.
Now, if you are feeling confused perhaps that was my excuse when I elected to go for this plan. The biggest benefit I thought at the time was the replace or repair concept that meant if something went wrong – say, I dropped the phone – it would be replaced or repaired at no cost.
Wonderful. So, if I haven’t lost you already you might recall this brings me to the predicament that has kept me on the phone or text to different Telstra robots and minions over the last several weeks.
Through all this time I was so confident that the Telstra I loved so much wouldn’t let me down. They had my back. I just didn’t realise they had my balls as well! You see, something happened between the last Lease Plan and the current one. Probably my fault I’m sure, but, it seems that my repair or replace option was no longer current and that’s why my negotiations with them took on Trumpian proportions – where, in the end it wasn’t me but Telstra (“do I have a deal for you”) who win every time.
This prompted me to make several calls to contact one of the Telstra robots who always ask my name, my number, the colour of my underpants and whether I have had a bowel action this morning, before they put me through to a human being.
My discussion today did have a relatively happy ending. Not so of course if I couldn’t drive or was infirm which you will see later.
I have made several attempts to resolve this problem and what has angered me before, and rather amused me today was the fact that every call meant I had to start at the beginning because there seemed no easy record of my complaint for staff or robots to access.
Most of the human beings you deal with appear to be very nice people. Certainly the ones you text don’t seem to exhibit any personality flaws, but then again it is hard with text to determine a personality at all, let alone gender, hair colour or nose rings.
I’m not going to bore you with the succession of conversations, texts etc that have gone on over many weeks now. Suffice to say I went to the Telstra Shop in Ringwood today to drop off my phone for the repair that billing staff had told me in August that they would cover because of the misunderstanding over my errant repair or replace policy. It had taken me a little while to find someone who could lend me a phone for the period as the shops no longer provide loan phones. (Remember those days…nostalgia hurts eh).
I had to have a loan phone even if only for a few days to run two small businesses that help me keep on lifting for Joe, and not leaning on Australia. I work as a disability support worker – trying to help others not lean too much – and I’m a Marriage Celebrant where I try and give couples a lift up into their happy future. (Dad joke. Not very good!)
The employee in the shop told me that despite my protestations that I had been told my phone could be repaired at cost to Telstra, even if billed to me first, was not possible. The phone on a Lease Plan would be replaced with a new phone and a new plan. I objected I don’t want a new plan. I don’t want to be with Telstra when this plan ends. I want to run a business with carrier pigeons or Morse code or some other form of communication like SHOUTING rather than deal with Telstra – even though it’s “Telstra, can’t help but love you… but!
All of this prompted me not to get upset or angry as I might have in the past, after all, who was to blame the person in front of me or the people I can’t speak to in their (spiritually speaking) ivory towers.
No, as soon as I got in the car I made a hands free call to Telstra for my hour long drive home where I spoke to a few robots, who sounded very nice but I soon learned were recorded voices who asked me my name, my number, the colour of my underpants and whether I had had a bowel action this morning, before they put me through to a human being.
I stayed on that call with various people and robots, none of whom had records of my previous discussions even though my phone and name had been provided to each one. Finally, the line dropped, and I just drove home quietly without talking to robots or humans and was happy indeed. Perhaps it was God.
Then after reaching home I did what a text had told me to do. I went to my computer where I logged in to the Telstra web page and then chatted with another person who I discovered was a robot because of the questions about my underpants and bowels. Once again, even when chatting (not talking) – and so you understand clearly “chatting” is not chatting, it’s texting – I was put through to my first human being on text of the afternoon. I know this because I asked whether the person was human or not and Mark replied that he was, and not only that but, “100%”. That was encouraging because some of my family might question whether I’m 100% human. Anyway, with each person I had to explain (type) my story over and over again to be sure they understood what my problem was. And I worked very hard to keep myself calm, at peace and in control all through it. After all, Cody, Mark, Gerard and James were not the problem. The problem was the people I couldn’t speak to who were too busy enjoying the views from their lovely offices, travelling first class and driving their Porsches or equivalents.
The people I spoke to were also Testra customers (as one of them told me) so they knew not only how to endure the suffering of others, but to suffer themselves. Although I’m sure being insiders they would have found easier ways to solve their problems than me.
It was James who finally brought the curtain down. He not only managed to find the original record of my conversation on August 23rd (19 days before) about this issue and the resolution proposed at the time, which I now know couldn’t work, but he then found a way to fix it properly. So, as soon as I can, I will take the offending phone to a Samsung shop where the screen will be repaired. I will ask their assistance in setting up the loan phone I have from a friend or use one of theirs so my aged and disabled clients can still enjoy my assistance and those planning weddings can still be wed.
And Telstra will be in its tower watching us, and all will be well with the world.
With all the ongoing frustrations of modern life I’m afraid I can’t help but wonder how different things could be. A few years ago, I met a man who had similar struggles with Telstra and his response was different to mine. He started his own small Telco to onsell products provided by Telstra and others and maintain an Australian based support network to ensure that problems that arose could be dealt with swiftly. His company was so easy to deal with and made happy customers as easily as rabbits make rabbits.
He ran the company for a few successful years. There’s a lot of money in telephones and associated services and finally sold to another company and I’ve since lost track of what has happened with them.
It seems incredible to me that a company as large as Telstra can’t operate more efficiently and with greater benefit to us, who literally, pay the bills.
I think my scenario could have worked much better. Let me dream a little. It could have been something like this:
It is August 23rd this year when I make my first call to Telstra to get help in regard to my broken screen problem. A pleasant-sounding voice answers. I will discover that this is a robot. More specifically it is a recorded voice linked to computer programs. I’m asked whether the call is for 1. New Business (Sales), 2, Technical Support and 3. Accounts and 4. Something else.
I’m tempted to select 1 for new business knowing that the carrot of making a sale will mean faster response time, but no, I select 4. for ‘Something else’ and the Robot then asks me for my name and phone number after which the call is redirected. Immediately, my phone number and name has been forwarded to a human being who is able to see details of my account and any reason for the call that I have already given. Importantly, the person will see a summary of my previous interactions too, if any, with Telstra, and so may ask me whether those were resolved satisfactorily as this may well be the reason for the call. If that is not the case they proceed to ask how they can help. Rather than several calls, several robots, and several customer representatives each of whom have to ask me to repeat my details and my problem to them – with this system, any department at Telstra that answers my call and has these details forwarded to them will be able to see the problem and know whether they can help or whether it needs to be forwarded to another department. I hope this is making sense. It’s called communication, and Telstra and its competitors are all in, (surprise, surprise), the communications game.
Put simply if modern technology was used appropriately by modern companies the experience of customers dealing with those companies could be handled much more easily and overall be much more sweet to the taste.
When the last woman I spoke to on 23rd August proposed a resolution to my problem that involved Telstra shops, perhaps communication of that resolution could have been automatically forwarded to the shop of my choice and staff there would have had the opportunity of advising that it wouldn’t work. This would have saved me hours of further negotiations and time and fuel in travelling to and from the Telstra shop or indeed other shops. It certainly would have been good for my mental health.
Of course, this is not only a telecommunications company problem. Similar issues occur with many companies who happily take our money and provide little by way of customer service in return. I could mention government departments but don’t want to depress you completely.
I wonder whether anyone has ever done time and management studies, or cost accounting on organisations like Telstra and their customer service? In my case alone the problem was not huge however I guess I spoke to up to a dozen people over those weeks and chatted to half a dozen. How much does all that cost? Yet this was just a broken screen on a mobile phone for heaven’s sake. I could have paid for it to be fixed, even though I don’t own and will never own this phone under its current plan and it would have been settled much more quickly. This would in fact have been a lot easier for me, but was it the right thing to do. What then of the major issues that people have and the difficulties they have in getting a satisfactory outcome. I think of some of my intellectually disabled clients who talk about how hard it is to get their problems understood when they have an issue with a mobile phone, an internet provider or (forgive me) Centrelink! The cost to the community of corporate and government stupidity must run into the billions and then there’s another question that arises.
In chatting with James the last of my Telstra customer service people today I wrote: “Would love to know if Telstra provides excellent mental health support for you and your team. You must need it!” I wasn’t being rude and James thanked me for my concern and replied that yes Telstra does and supports the “Are you OK” campaign.
That’s great but I really wonder how much Telstra as a workplace could be improved by greater efficiencies and a better communication mechanisms across departments and to customers as well. The cost savings financially and emotionally could be enormous. Again, this is not just about Telstra as there are many companies that I could name that could similarly be improved but Telstra as the leading communications company in Australia, should be leading the way.
Telstra, can’t help but love you … but, I’m on the lookout for a small to medium telco company that provides the sort of service that is still possible in the 21st century but eludes corporate giants that only want profits and don’t care how they get it. If I can’t find one, maybe like my friend Damien I might start one. It can’t be that hard.
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