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Telstra, can’t help but love you … but!

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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  1. Keitha Granville

    I am sad to report that they are probably all the same. They have your money, they have no interest in helping you after that, it’s all about the money, the next sale. Service? Don’t make me laugh.

    And government departments? Now you’re making me cry.

    I have a simple phone with a prepaid service, $10 per month unlimited txt and calls 10gb data . I am retired so all that is fine for me, and any problems I have had have been solved quickly by the company, Amaysim.

    Internet and VOIP home phone handled by MATE.

    We have swapped in the past and will not hesitate to swap again if we are unhappy with any level of service. But even that doesn’t make any difference, they just don’t care. They are too busy jetting off on their holidays, or choosing the new Porsche.

  2. king1394

    Quite a saga, but such a common set of experiences, no matter which of the major telcos you may be with. In Telstra’s case, I think that allowing franchisees to use the Telstra name is very deceptive. The shops generally are only interested in selling their products and do little to assist customers with problems

  3. Terence Mills

    I have worked out the Telstra disconnect.
    It is all to do with the fact that Telstra Customer Service is handled out of the Philippines – saves money and avoids the necessity of employing Australians – and they are very efficient. Where the problem arises is if something has to be done on the ground in Australia as it is then passed over to a contractor which means, in the Telstra parlance no care and no responsibility.

    Telstra don’t actually employ anybody in Australia anymore beyond the sales team at the Telstra Shop who are remunerated on a commission basis in accordance with their sales performance and the last thing they want to do is answer any questions which do not concern buying a new product with a super whammy camera.

    We are in what is called a mobile black-spot so when the government handed out several hundreds of millions to overcome these black-spots we assumed that we would be given a mobile service that didn’t require an external aerial (as we have now). But apparently the black-spots that were to be fixed were left to the service provider to nominate and in our case Telstra’s computer said NO so we still persevere with our external aerial.

  4. Baby Jewels

    Tell me about it. Been on NBN for about 9 months then in June got cut off without explanation, for 15 days. Counted the hours on the phone being told lies and promises that were immediately broken – 27 hours. I kid you not. I was frequently in tears. So my neighbour said, “Move to Telstra – we have no probs with them!” So I broke a promise to myself never to go near Telstra and signed up. My biggest nightmare was about to begin. 1 month after signing up for internet/phone line combo, and a week after connection, I realised I hadn’t received any phone calls – without telling me, they gave me a new number, my old number which I’ve had for 30 years, still with the previous supplier. So then had to deal with both suppliers. Nightmare. 6 weeks later, still no #, and my internet has been cut off for the past 10 days, again without explanation. Now, I’m very civil to them but at this point, it’s been another 13 hours hanging onto my mobile and still no idea when/if I’m going to get internet and phone line again. Using mobile hotspot, costing $30 a day in extra data (I run an online business.) Of course, they are continuing to direct debit me for services I don’t have. I’m on their top level. I swear, it’s worse than a third world country. Meanwhile my daughter who lives in the mountains of Bali, runs an IT company with fibre to the premises…and great mobile reception (mine isn’t strong enough to send a photo.)

  5. Michael Taylor

    I am no longer with Telstra for my internet. Ditched them about a decade ago. Phoning them was a nightmare.

  6. Grumpy Geezer

    Telstra – my last employer before i threw the towel in out of BS fatigue.

    Here’s what happens.

    50% of an average employee’s time is spent putting together PowerPoint slide packs on how to improve stakeholder engagement and the customer journey. Moving forward.
    15% is dreaming up bullshit about KPIs (Key Performace Indicators) some of which are related to improving stakeholder engagement. Moving forward.
    20% is spent in meaningless meetings. Many of which are about someody else’s PowerPoint pack on improving stakeholder eagagement. Moving forward.
    10% is spent phaffing in the funky breakout areas drinking coffee and talking about your KPIs.
    5% may be related to actually doing something for a customer.

    Telstra has let their engineering resources fade away – replaced by wet-behind the ears, foetus’s with markeing degrees, no life experience and 197 apps on their iPhones. That’s why Telstra’s networks kept falling over.

    Customer service is off-shored to Bangalore and the Philippines. These folk may work hard but they are just following flow-charts and have no authority or insights to do anything outside the box. Moving forward.

    So, now you know.

    (I use TPG)

  7. Zathras

    I’m also an ex-Telstra/Telecom/PMG refugee, albeit from the Engineering area but I can understand where the problems arise.

    Those off-shore operators, although quite intelligent and well-educated, are limited in their ability to resolve certain issues.
    They work to a flow-chart and if they reach a dead end, they simply start again from the top in the hope that you made a mistake.

    They aren’t really paid enough or have the in-depth knowledge to go beyond that option and reluctantly hand some problems “up the line” because it may reflect on their own performance statistics.

    That phenomenon isn’t restricted to Telstra.

    Back in the Analogue Mobile era when OPTUS were simply reselling Telstra’s network, their OPTUS Help Line would call the Telstra Help Line to resolve OPTUS customer problems and relay the information back to the customer, adding delays but creating the necessary illusion of OPTUS having their own network.

    I once had an ADSL problem where my telephone line became faulty line but not my ADSL internet access. The operator could remotely test the line OK and insisted that all must be well. However I knew enough about the hardware to explain that anomaly but couldn’t convince him and had a big problem having it addressed.

    In “the olden days” such matters would be resolved easily but now they have to negotiate a complex array of external Contractors.

    Ironically, Telstra employees are also subjected to getting foreign help desk information for their own IT systems. Karma?

    As well as the money-saving fragmentation of customer support resources they are plagued by the 21st century corporate phenomenon of staff having lots of authority but little responsibility plus the middle management fetish for measuring abstract levels of performance to justify their own existence.

  8. Kerri

    Your article rang so many bells. Oh so many bells.
    One small recommendation if it is not breaking moderators rules.
    There is a small company called MKC who do mobile and screen repairs. They used to have a shopfront in Burwood during that crucial period of my life when my two teenagaers seemed to drop their phone every other week.
    Now they have 3 shops in the city I think?
    Repair while you wait. Reasonable charges. Never had a single issue with them.
    Unlike a recent trip to Telstra where hubby decided older child needed financial independence and should be removed from our 3 person “shared data” scheme.
    It no longer exists says Telstra dude. Now we are all on new plans that don’t quite fit the bill.
    Should never poke the hornet’s nest.

    disclosure I have no affiliation with MKC other than my enduring gratitude for efficient and affordable repairs.

  9. Janine McMahon

    30 years ago Telstra was winning workplace health and safety awards, think at that stage even techs were employees. customer service was fine and profits were returned to coffers to help pay for items such education or health. Fast forward telstra shares were sold in T1 in 1997 to help lnp reach a budget surplus, they also facilitated T2 &T3. Since then jobs have gone offshore to the cheaper call centres, we no longer have income from Telstra, costs have increased and service is lacking. during privatisation Telstra become a shell of itself and I promised it is not worth the trip back I do not owe them loyalty.

    Makes me wander if the federal government has privatised without informing the public.

  10. Zathras

    Not only do taxpayers have no income from Telstra but we now have to actually pay them to continue their Customer Service Obligation as well as increasing mobile coverage area – things that used to be internally funded.

    Telstra was sold to create the Future Fund whose only purpose is to pay the pensions of politicians and public servants. The mug taxpayer is left to pick up the tab for services that were once provided by Telstra.

    When it come to privatisation generally any farmer will tell you you can milk a cow every day but you can only eat it once.

  11. Pingback: Telstra, can’t help but love you … but! — The AIM Network – telechoice

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