Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Telstra Story: Part 1

Hey Again,

OK, below you'll get Part 1 of The Telstra Story.

Each Monday, I will add another part of the story. Most will be considerably shorter than this one, but there is another "biggie" in there somewhere. As it currently stands, this means there's about 7 weeks or so of posts to date. Where Telstra have responded in writing, I will also post their reply. Don't despair though, I've no doubt, that things will not get resolved so "easily" so who knows, I could be posting something new each week for another year.

As I said, earlier, other than personal information, these are sent as is, including typos, grammatical errors etc and later on some slightly fruity language.

The only context that's relevant is that I had been trying to sort out several issues with Telstra over the phone for several months.

So here goes...

Date: 23-7-07



Re: Account number – XXX XXXX XXX

Dear Sir/Madam,

I am calling about a number of complaints I have regarding the above account number.

Other than a month or two off, since May of last year I have spent over 2 hours a month on the phone with Telstra trying to resolve a number of outstanding issues.

It began with a request to go to Single Billing. The assumption was that this would make things simpler. I was wrong. It took several months to resolve the outstanding issues that resulted in me actually receiving extra accounts rather than fewer. No problem, these things happen…

In approximately November last year I was called by someone from Telstra with regards to checking whether I was on the best mobile plan. I was told that instead of being on the $250 plan, I should change to the $40 (I believe) cap plan. I did this and the next month my mobile bill was in excess of $500! I rang and was told that it was probably an anomaly as it takes until a certain date for the new contract to kick in, so, give it another month. I did so, same problem.

I called again and explained the situation and was told that I was given incorrect information and that I should be on the $79 (???) cap plan and I should never have been placed on the other plan. Despite your error which led to a doubling of my phone bill for 2 months I was told that I would need to start a new 12 month contract on the new plan. Being put in a corner is so much fun! I had no choice and had to accept.

I’ll allow you to copy and paste the earlier paragraphs about the doubling of phone bills as this is what happened for the next two months on the $79 cap plan… So to allow everyone to be clear where we’re at: I had four months of massive phone bills due to Telstra getting me on the best plan for me. Great!!!

I call Telstra and simply say that I want to go back to my original $250 plan due to the above and this was done with no fuss (I should have suspected something, since it was so easy).

Several months ago, I moved onto paperless billing. What a wonderful idea! Go online, get the bill, pay the bill, save the planet, feel good about it. It all sounds so simple. Again, dead wrong. In simple terms, the amounts shown on the online billing system do not accurately reflect the amounts owing (in general), the issue date of bills do not match your own records and in trying to sort through this, one is passed from Online Billing to Single Billing, rinse and repeat.

It was during one of these washing cycles approximately four weeks ago that I requested a physical copy of the bill so that I could see things for myself as the Telstra consultant was seeing them. i.e. I could see the info in Online Billing was different to what I was being told and I wanted a physical copy of what the consultant was seeing. She was going to send me out a bill.

Two weeks later, no bill!!!

I call again to find out where the paper copy of the bill is to learn that there was an “error” in sending me out the bill. The address is right, I’m still getting my copy of Hustler magazine and Readers Digest, so Australia Post has it right. Hell, I even get marketing materials from Telstra (without asking for them) so as an organization you’re capable of this feat of wonder known as postage. Chin Up! However, in this instance, “error” is all we’ve got. No attempt to resend, no attempt to call me and say “Hey, we don’t know why, but we can’t send you a bill,” nothing. Just “error.”

The consultant while looking through the account to try and find out what is going on with the “error” is making small talk etc and it comes out about the above history etc. She says I should go through to Mobile because that sounds ridiculous that I’m spending $500 on mobiles when I’ve made $24 worth of calls. (Now, to be fair, the $24 might not be right. I’ve had so many numbers and I’m a simple person. I get confused.)

Now, if you will dear reader, cast your mind back to the mobile plan shenanigans above. This wonderful gem of a consultant also discovers that I’ve been charged a contract termination fee for going back to the $250 plan, the SAME DAY that I actually sign up to it. That’s right. Sign up to a plan, and be charged a fee for terminating the plan you’ve just signed up for. Now, as we’ve established, I get confused with numbers, but this just sounds wrong darnit. A subsequent consultant agrees with me and informs me that the error (this is a different error from “error” – stay with me) was corrected (great), but that the contract termination fee was then reapplied… Wait for it… You’re not gonna believe it… It really is a pearler…Here it is… TWICE!


After going to get a nice cup of calming chamomile tea and some scones with jam and cream (the tea and scones were in my head, as I was actually on hold to Telstra for another half an hour), I was told that a credit had been applied to the account (from memory it was about $650, but you know how I am with numbers) and that I could go back to the previous department and they could send me out an accurate bill via magical post without an “error”, the war in Iraq would be over, global warming solved and Harry Potter wouldn’t be dead (kidding, only up to page 184, I haven’t finished it yet, but I hear that’s what happens… That evil Voldemort!).

Alas, upon being transferred to the other department (and naturally, this is an instant transfer, it’s not like you’ve gotta wait and wait and wait) I was informed that the amount owing did not reflect any credit.

Snap!!! Again!!!

As this particular call was simply supposed to be to find out where the copy of the bill sent in the mail had gone, I was expecting it to be a five minute call. I know. For that one, I got nobody to blame but myself. What was I thinking? As over an hour and a half had gone by and I was to be getting on a plane later in the day I was fed up. I simply said “there’s a discrepancy in the account (again) and I’m not paying the bill until I get an accurate bill. I don’t want my phone disconnected, put on barring or anything else.” The lady put a two week extension on the account and I packed my bags.

I had decided that I wanted to put a complaint to Telstra in writing and rang today to find an appropriate fax number or email address of the complaints dept. I spoke to a lady who informed me that I could send a letter to the Ombudsman, but that Telstra did not deal with general complaints in writing. ARE YOU FRIKKIN’ KIDDING ME??? We can put a man on the moon, we can break down the genetic code of the human body, put Paris in jail, let her out, send her back, then let her out early again, Hustler magazine can send me porn in the post, but Telstra cannot accept complaints in writing? Apparently so, according to this lady, so she puts me through to Online Billing as “it appears to be an online billing problem.” I state that I do not want to spend two hours on the phone and am “assured” (with a “tone” I might add) that I won’t spend 2 hours on the phone and that this is the dept to assist me. With no recourse (because you can’t make a complaint to Telstra in writing) I have to accept once again being placed in a corner.

It ultimately only took about 45 mins so I suppose she was right. Sorry lady!

Upon speaking to the new consultant in Online Billing I go through the drama again and explain that I wanted to make a complaint in writing, but that even though we can put a man on the moon, Paris, Hustler etc you can’t make a complaint to Telstra in writing. “Yes you can,” comes the response.


As the meeting began, Dave, the Telstra Group Leader

of Innovation and Synergistic Marketing, Sales & Anti

Customer Service sipped at his cappuccino, played

with his moustache and said, “Right, we really, really

want to annoy our customers, drive them away, and

just give them an extended, negative experience of dealing

with us,” to all but one approving nod in the room.

Steve, who had only been with the company for a day and

had kept his head perfectly still at the end of Dave’s comment got

up the courage to say in a mouse like voice, “But don’t we

need customers? Don’t they provide us with a source of

revenue for the goods and services which we provide them?

Surely, if we design this extended, negative experience won’t

our customers, our life blood and source of revenue that

they are, forsake us and move to one of our many competitors?”

The others in the room looked at Steve blankly, before

moving on.

So, you can give me some details of where I can direct a complaint in writing I ask, just to be sure the ear infection from being on the phone with you guys all the time has not actually caused me to hear something which is not real. Like an aural mirage when you’re in the desert. “Yes I can,” says the consultant who goes on to provide me with a GPO box address, before giving me this email address (contactus@online.telstra.com.au) because “it will be quicker.” How thoughtful! Steve’s making an impact after all.

But disaster strikes yet again, as the person I am put on to, to assist me with a bill payment extension doesn’t have a clue about any of this. (I’m not quite sure why I need an extension. I would have thought that you can only be asked to pay for something if you have received an accurate invoice for it, but what do I know?)

I’m then told that the bill is not late (what a relief) as it’s due on the 30/7. Now, unless this is some charitable grant of time from Telstra from the multiple screwups that they know nothing about, you can imagine my skepticism here. I haven’t paid a bill in at least a month due to this issue, so how it can’t be due yet is beyond me, but I’ll take the small wins when I can get ‘em.

So, to be clear, until I get an accurate bill, I won’t be paying a bill.

I’m told I have been sent a bill out today that will not accurately reflect the amount owed (as the credit will only appear on my next bill) but that I should receive this in the next 3-4 days. I’m a generous guy though, so allowing for any “errors” that might arise, I’ll give you 7 days. If I don’t have the bill by that stage, I’m sure I’ll be able to take the matter up with whoever will have already responded to this letter and we can have all the issues resolved directly. If not, I’m sure someone in the media would be interested in hearing about the level of service from Telstra and the high accuracy of the billing system.

So, to wrap this up, here’s what I’d like to know. If you can satisfactorily answer these questions, I will keep my business with Telstra. If not, I’m outta here. (Here’s a tip though, try get Steve to answer them).

1) Why is it acceptable for your customers to spend 2 hours on the phone with you almost every month for 15 months?

2) Why is it so difficult to get an accurate bill on Online Billing? Both in amounts owed and issue dates for accounts?

3) Why is it so difficult to speak to someone who can accurately and politely answer my questions and resolve my problems without the yo-yoing from one department to another, often back to the same department who couldn’t help earlier?

4) My business is based on time billed. How can I justify the additional expense of time lost each month (on top of either excessive bills due to Telstra suggesting the wrong plans – twice – or incorrectly charging for “terminated contracts”) by staying with Telstra?

5) Why should I stay with Telstra?

If this is the wrong department to send this to, I dare you, instead of sending it to the right one yourself and letting me know you’ve done so, just write back to me, the customer and tell me it’s the wrong department. Truly. Seriously. Reply to me and tell me that I (the customer, just to make sure) have to take it up with another department. Or better yet, don’t reply at all. Just delete it and think of me as a customer that’s too much trouble. Those that actually just simply want a service and to accurately pay for what they use can be so pesky can’t they?

Please don’t mistake the sarcasm in this letter for someone who is not genuinely annoyed, or does not want a genuine response. I just want to pay what I owe, not have my time wasted and have a good level of service. It’s not too much to ask.

I sincerely await your reply.


So that's the end of Part 1. See you next Monday for Part Deux.

Nutjob or aggrieved customer? Discuss.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I know this story very well. I tried Telstra's online billing and the payment history on my online bill does not match my actualy payments. Centrepay payments are being split up into two payments that share dis-similar Bill numbers and Bill Issue dates but have similar reciept numbers. BPay payments are likewise spilt up. I complained to Telstra and to the Telecommunications Industry Omsbudsman and eventually got told through the TIO " Telstra advises that it does not view the allocation of two separate payments to be a fault... Telstra advises its billing system allocated payments separately and that is a known process. Telstra is unable to advise whether a fix to this process will be implemented ... Telstra is unable to provide any more information relating to this issue." I conclude that Telstra does not wish to improve customer satisfaction and will probably lose my account due to their poor billing practices. Another unhappy customer !