Is Telstra broken or just disconnected ?

Having dealt with the major operators over many years, I have a jaundiced view of their advertising. The bold claims about customer focus and pursuit of excellence do not resonate with my own customer experience. Not in business and not as a residential customer.

In fact the very thought of making contact with customer service at Telstra raises the blood pressure and the call that follows often includes an apology to the operator who is only doing their job. For me the frustration builds during the 30 to 60 minutes which is the typical time taken to resolve even a simple issue.

  • from the often protracted exchange with an inflexible and often inadequate list of options to get to the right area
  • the cheerful but moronic voice asking for spoken explanation of the reason for the call
  • the excruciating invitations to download the Telstra app to resolve my question
  • the tedious elevator music that reminds me of the robotic system that is managing the call
  • contact with an operator located somewhere in the Asia/Pacific region who has little or no local knowledge and even less discretionary authority
  • the obsessive interrogation under the auspices of protecting my privacy, that includes sending me a text message which I must then look up, read, and relay the number sent to me
  • the transfer to other departments because the call has not reached the right operator
  • the repeated interrogation to prove my identity despite being transferred by and introduced by their own representative
  • the insistence by the polite and helpful operator that she has rectified the problem. It will not happen again
  • and if that’s not enough, the call is not infrequently disconnected within Telstra and I am taunted with a recorded message asking if my enquiry was resolved and asking me to rate the service I received. I am then faced with starting all over again.
  • One last thing that happened to me recently twice in one day in relation to calls for both business and residential accounts. I rang the number shown at the top of the relevant Telstra account and after being put through to a representative, attending to the privacy protocols, and quoting the account number I was told that they could not help me with that account as it related to the other side of Telstra. Really ?

But often the problem hasn’t been resolved. In the case of billing issues, the credit doesn’t appear on the next statement. Or the same error in charging is repeated. Or the technician who would follow up the problem, hasn’t.

And where is management ? Missing! Unreachable! Hiding behind the skirts of customer service! And this is a huge part of my frustration in dealing with the likes of (but certainly not limited to) Telstra. Going back in time the customer always had the opportunity to speak to a supervisor. And if that didn’t satisfy then one could always look up the phone book and ring someone in authority the vent your frustrations with a view to getting satisfaction. It was called accountability and I’m sure that it was a lot more effective means of keeping management informed about the issues faced by customers and the improvement required. But that is done now by management reading well worded reports resulting from endless focus groups. I know something of this since I was part of the management of a major market research company that ran those focus groups and provided those reports.

It seems to me that the concept of customer service is broken and “all the kings horses and all the kings men couldn’t put humpty together again”. Back in the dark ages of customer service it was common practice to send a letter or make a note on the bill of a disputed charge and mail it to the company with the cheque. Nowadays, with the convenience of BPAY we don’t have to mail anything. But have you tried sending a letter about a complaint? Well it might be a whole lot faster than telephoning customer service but, even if you knew where to send it, it would be wholly ignored. And as for telephoning someone in authority at Telstra (or any other major organization), it is made almost impossible to find a contact number and get through the customer service barrier wall that these companies hide behind.

The internet has been a wonderful addition to modern life in so many ways and the advances in consumer technology have given us many benefits. But large organizations like Telstra have seemingly lost their way and misused the opportunity to get closer to their customers. Sure it is that for all the technology available to them their relationships with customers has never been worse.

I believe that the only way that large organizations can improve their customer relationships is by talking directly with their customers. An organization that understands the customer experience and the likes and frustrations of customers is an organization that is half way to satisfying its customers. This is a commitment for all levels of management investing significant and regular  time in direct communication with their customers. Management can then become the focus groups!


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