i-think Twenty-Two

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Telstra's Complaint Process (Part 1)

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Recently I’ve had some issues with my Bigpond Cable internet connection. Even more annoyingly I ran into far too many roadblocks while getting it fixed. These roadblocks culminated in a long letter to Telstra listing my grievances.

(Please redirect this complaint to the necessary area)


I recently experienced issues with my Bigpond Cable internet connection. The problem was an issue on the street. Despite spending over an hour on the phone trying to explain the situation the service representative who eventually came out was not made aware of any of the information that I had provided your operators despite assurances that they would. Fortunately the service representative that came out was competent enough to investigate and resolve the issue (which was a connector on the street).

So my first complaint is that the information that I provided was not given to the service representative despite assurances otherwise. Either your process is flawed, I was lied to our your operators were incompetent. (Or all of the above).

My second complaint is that it took nearly a week to send a service representative to my home. That length of time is ridiculous and I hope that you work to reduce that time, especially for long-standing customers on the highest level plans who are already paying a premium for your alleged service.

As the outage was going to be so long I requested temporary access to a complementary (free) dial up account. After being shunted between multiple operators I was finally put through to someone who claimed they could help me. Yet in order to set up this free account I was asked what I believe to be very probing questions to check my credit rating (e.g. marital status). Why is this information relevant for a free account? Furthermore, why is this information relevant when I already have an account that I am paying $139.95 a month for? Perhaps your levels of bureaucracy and rolls of red tape complicate this, but to require this information for a free account is absurd. That is my third complaint.

This morning I received notification that my online bill was now ready. When I checked it I was not surprised to see another example of the incompetence of your staff. I was charged for the dial-up account during the period. That is my fourth complaint.

So it seemed necessary to once again inflict the pain of your call centres on my ears. I called the number (13 22 00) as listed on your bill and was answered by a wonderful piece of voice recognition technology. It asked me what I was calling about, I responded “Wrong charge” and it offered me great rates on STD calls. When it asked again it was fortunately able to recognise that it was a billing enquiry. Unfortunately the machine then insisted on getting a phone number, a piece of information that is not relevant to my bigpond bill at all. When I answered “No number” the machine showed its dry sense of humour it listed a series of seemingly random digits and asked if it was correct. Finally I think the machine gave up and I was transferred to what I can only assume to be a living breathing person. Unfortunately the machine was nicer and had more personality. When I explained the situation (the extra charge if you’ve forgotten) she informed me that I had called the wrong number and she gave me a new number to call. This is where my fifth complaint comes in. I asked why I had to call another number as I had called the number printed on the bill. I was beginning to feel like I was still talking to a machine when the operator responded again to call the other number. She had not answered my question at all. I asked to speak to a supervisor and she told me to call the other phone number. It seemed as if your operator was taking cues from the voice recognition system and was stuck in an infinite loop. I asked why she couldn’t put me through and yet again I was told to call the number. When I ask a question I expect it to be answered (and furthermore I expect it to be answered truthfully) even if the answer is “I don’t know”. I hope that honesty isn’t too much to expect from Telstra.

So I finally gave up and called the other number and spoke to a lovely operator who I hope (but I’m not yet convinced) removed the charge from my bill. Finally someone who seemed competent and was friendly. As she had sorted out my billing issue so well I thought I would ask her about another issue that concerned me about my bill, the credit card surcharge (my sixth complaint).

I accept that there is a credit card surcharge for the bill (despite the fact that I’m already paying a premium), but what baffles me most about this charge is that it is charged on the next bill. This leads to an exciting bit of maths known as compound interest (it may be known inside Telstra as squeezing the customer). I’ll use an example to explain what I’m saying.

Let’s say the total of the bill is $100. I pay that by credit card. My next bill includes the credit card surcharge of $0.69 (0.69%), so comes to a total of $100.69. I then pay that by credit card. My next bill has a surcharge of $0.694761 (I’ve listed all the decimal places to emphasise my point). Over time the absolute value of the credit card surcharge gets larger and larger. Although this is a very small amount I believe this to be crooked behaviour and if there isn’t already a law against it there should be. This is a practice I would like to see Telstra stop. If you must charge a credit card surcharge it should be charged at the time of the transaction and be inclusive (and therefore not compound on to the next bill).

Let’s get back to that dial-up account again for my seventh complaint. Naturally I needed to get the access number for the connection (I’d already been given the user name and password). I also wanted to see if there was any additional settings that I might need to configure. Speaking to your technical support person it was a real challenge to just get the access number, but rather I was quizzed on the type of modem, told to click particular buttons, etc. I wasn’t asking how to set up a dial-up account, but rather the information to connect to one. Eventually I was able to convince the operator to go off script and give me just the raw details, but I shouldn’t have to fight to get that. I understand that some people need this extra help, but others don’t and you can make better use of your time (and mine) if your operators take their cues more from the customer than their script.

Finally I’d like to talk about the quality of your dial-up service. Actually I don’t think I can use the word ‘quality’ in that sentence. Your dial-up service and ‘quality’ are miles apart. In case you hadn’t picked up yet, this is the subject of my eighth complaint. It was slow, terribly slow, slower than dial-up should be. Slower than my old 28.8 connection. I was lucky if I could sustain 1KB/s. It was unreliable, packets were dropped constantly and many pages refused to load (including your bigpond homepage which is so bloated it’s painful to use on broadband). How anyone can justify paying for dial-up is beyond me. I hope for the sake of the sanity of your remaining dial-up customers that this is not the norm.

Thank you for getting to the end of this complaint (hopefully you haven’t just skipped to the end) and hopefully you will be able to take some lessons from this to improve your service in the future. I would expect from you a response to each of the eight complaints I have listed above and what you plan to do to improve the service so I do not continue to experience this level of frustration. I don’t believe this is too much too expect from a large organisation such as Telstra and taking this step would go a long way to demonstrating a commitment to customer service and restoring what little faith I have left in your company. I would also expect whatever response you provide to be honest and free of marketing hyperbole.

Thank you for your time,

Rhys Parry

Due to the wonderful boilerplate disclaimer on the bottom of their response I won’t include the actual response, but rather paraphrase the key points.

  1. There was a boilerplate one sentence apology.
  2. They suggested I call their customer service hotline. Ironically this is the number I put in my original email and had issues with the service.
  3. They also gave me a separate phone number to call for my Bigpond specific issues.

Most interestingly they seem to have completely missed the first line of the letter which asked for it to be forwarded to the necessary area.

I am currently writing a reply which I shall post soon.