May 20, 2009

Optus takes on Telstra for the worst customer service

Despite not being exactly a beacon of fine customer relations, comparatively speaking, Telstra’s customer service is certainly not the worst in Australia.

Adam Schwab — Business director and commentator

Adam Schwab

Business director and commentator

Following the stealth departure of Sol Trujillo from the Telstra CEO role late last week and the abrupt resignation of former National Farmers Federation boss, Donald McGauchie as Chairman, there has been general acknowledgement that Telstra’s American experiment was largely a failure. Alan Kohler in Business Spectator today summed up Trujillo’s tenure succinctly, noting that the Wyoming-native "was a smart, almost blinding salesman, but to my mind -- and to many others -- he was too arrogant and condescending." While praising Trujillo for the launch of the 3G network. Kohler, like many commentators, was highly critical of Telstra’s poor customer service record, claiming that "Telstra is now one of the least customer-friendly businesses in the country. It is virtually impossible to deal with: even the employees hate having to ring the company to get something done. Making a minor change to one’s phone service can be a nightmare." Despite not being exactly a beacon of fine customer relations, comparatively speaking, Telstra’s customer service is certainly not the worst in Australia -- perhaps Kohler hasn’t had the privilege of dealing with Telstra’s main competitor, the majority Singapore-owned (and Irish-run) and Optus. While Telstra’s BigPond division’s customer service levels are somewhere between ordinary and abhorrent, the service levels of its fixed and mobile phone divisions are passable. Telstra has a centralised contact number (13 22 00) and a voice recognition system which is reasonably effective. In most instances, Telstra call centres are staffed by Australians (who introduce themselves by name and state where they are located in Australia) and the "hold time" (with the exception of BigPond) is generally satisfactory. By contrast, Optus has at least ten different contact numbers for everything from billing to technical support to new connections. Further, Optus employees are trained in specific areas, so an Optus staffer who deals with Residential DSL is not able to answer an enquiry relating to Business DSL or Residential ADSL2 or normal home phones (Optus’ internal systems simply do not allow it). If a customer is transferred through to the wrong area (a common occurrence), they will then have to wait on hold while they are passed around to someone who is able to deal with their query. Moreover, for customers seeking technical assistance, Optus will regularly put the caller "on-hold" for upwards of one hour, even if the call relates to a problem caused by Optus itself. After the inevitable hold-time, the customer is often transferred to a representative based overseas who is unable to assist with the problem. In many instances, overseas-based Optus employees are so poorly trained that even when the customer eventually reaches the correct division, they Bangalore-based contractor is unable to be of any actual assistance. Since 2004, around the time of CEO Paul O’Sullivan’s appointment, Optus drastically cut Australian call centre staff and moved those roles to its call centre operations in India. While Optus’ Australian employees saw their roles shifted offshore, O’Sullivan was paid more than S$2.6 million in cash alone last year and was eligible to receive more 740,000 SingTel shares. In 2006/07, O’Sullivan was paid S$1.9 million cash and was able to receive more than 900,000 shares. Telstra may not have been well managed in recent years -- its relationship with government evaporated and Trujillo’s hostile regulatory stance ended up backfiring on the company and its shareholders. Further, during Trujillo’s reign, Telstra shares fell by more than 36%. However, when it comes to customer service, Telstra is far from the worst -- that title is claimed by its overseas-owned competitor, whose main goal is to send profits back to Singapore rather than to serve its several million Australian customers.

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13 thoughts on “Optus takes on Telstra for the worst customer service

  1. Graham Henderson

    It is hard to see how Optus service could get worse. In the last six weeks I tried 3 times to buy a mobile broadband USB service for my laptop. In each case it took half an hour to get through to a person who would take the order. On each occasion I was given a delivery date for the modem and a promise that the contract letter would be in the mail that day. In each case nothing whatever happened and in each case when I rang to find out what was going on I was passed from person to person none of whom could find any record of the order.

    I then went to a store and bought a Virgin mobile broadband service. It took 10 minutes.

  2. John Molloy

    My favorite Optus experience is ringing the number on the bill, only to be told after 45 minutes that this was the wrong number for that type of bill, and giving me another number to ring (another 45 mins).
    Second favorite is trying to transfer a number to the correct organisation after an Optus stuff up, only to receive a letter saying a number couldn’t be transferred to the other business due to them failing a credit check. Ok, so I try and transfer the number to Telstra, only to find to find the original transfer HAD gone through.

  3. Raymond Bange

    While the 3G network may have been launched during the Trujillo regime,
    it was hardly a Sol initiative, being generally conceived well before the advent of the gentleman in question. But all credit to those on the ground who progressed the execution of the rollout.

    Thus do people often get credit where it is often suspect. The real measure of
    his value lies in what has happened over the past year or so and what will become evident in the coming 12-18 months. That’s the natural lag time for major developments.

    If you were to take government and public relations and the NBN fiasco as examples, one might see the whole episode as a excellent model of incompetence and wealth destruction. Is it any wonder I sold my Telstra shares long ago when I saw the normal criteria for objective and merit-based executive recruitment being bypassed in favour of personal cronies.

  4. Dermot McGuire

    I have optus for landline and internet and I have had no problems with their service at all.

    To contrast them with Ozemail my last ISP, their sales and tech people are polite knowledgeable and easily available.

  5. Greg Angelo

    My experience with Optus involved trying to get a refund for over $600 for service charges which had incorrectly gone on for 18 months month on my father’s account. After several phone calls over a four-month periodto Optus’ south-east Asian call centres there I was advised repeatedly that a supervisor would have to action the complaint, and needless to say there was no effective response.

    After lodging a formal complaint with the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman I was advised that they would escalate the problem and that I would receive a call from an Australian representative of Optus. Within 24 hours I received a telephone call from an Australian employee of Optus and the refund cheque was received within two days. My advice to any Optus customer, if you are still silly enough to deal with them, is to go straight to the TIO with any complaints that you have after you get the brush off from Optus. The joy of this is that I understand at the cost of the service is paid for by Optus at around $70 for each complaint they handle.

  6. Christine Johnson

    Delete Trujillo’s moustache and hey presto he disappears. [Crikey has edited a portion of this comment] Good old Sol intro’ed the ‘voice signature’ scam whereby customers “I do” to contracts the telco won’t copy you. You hang up thinking you’ve just committed to $29.95 unlimited broadband per month only to go online within 24-hours to see you’re locked into a $59.96 pm deal. No two free phones as a welcome back present…just a barrage of bullies staffing complaint lines to accuse you of being the scammer. I’d like to see the reference this guy gets from our government?

  7. wheelyweb

    I know someone who, after giving back her phone to the Optus appointed courier, was told her refund (under the statutory 10 day cooling off period) could not be processed because the phone was lost. Not her fault as it was Optus’s appointed courier who lost it, but still delayed. This was followed by repeated bills, threats to suspend service and other nastiness until a sharp letter to the CEO sorted it all out.

    Or so she thought!

    The upwards of four whole hours on the phone to various departments etc did not make anything move smoothly, the opposite in fact as she was passed from pillar to post with no-one taking responsibility. but the CEO’s office assured her it would be all OK.

    It wasn’t!

    The CEO’s office failed to send the promised letter and still allowed Optus to send a “late payment fee” letter and further threats to her account.

    The matter will shortly be before the courts. I recommend you take your complaints to the top and make them pay for their complete lack of regard for their customers.

    Don’t get me started on the confusing site, disparate membership accounts (WTF is ZOO anyway?), inability to pay through the site, having to pay a fee to pay your bill, ands countless other stupidities that make Optus top of the useless tree.

    If ever this country had true consumer choice, these rude telcos will learn what “voting with our wallets” means pretty quick.

  8. Bill Parker

    Call me parochial but if I have a problem with my ADSL service I like to talk to somebody local. My old service began to run very slow, but not quite slow enough for Optus to take me seriously at first. First FIND the number to call…… Then explain to an Indian in India what was wrong. Get read a standard “script”. Try again, and again… Anger took over. Screaming at the third “customer service” whatnot, I finally made it and a technical fault status issued. In practice this meant Optus reporting the fault to Telstra. I got called by the Telstra man in the street. Sure there was a problem. He fixed it.

    But the hidden agenda is that Telstra are no doubt screwing Optus on these service calls and Optus do as much as possible to ward them off. I am now with a local ISP (using Telstra indirectly).

    Zoo? What a perfect name.

  9. wheelyweb

    I don’t care where they’re located Bill, but I think it is reasonable to expect them to be familiar with the location they represent, speak in a way that is easy for an average person in that locality to understand, and do so on a good quality line, not some half-assed VoIP that loses words, has terrible latency, bad sound quality and picks up every conversation around the call centre representative.

    If what you say is true, and you think Telstra is short-changing Optus customers on QOS, then can we also assume The same happens in reverse?; i.e. Optus shafts Telstra customers for their own.

    I said it before but if the service is objectionable, spend the hour required to write a detailed complaint directly to the CEO. Someone has to fill them in! Oh, and of course, the telecoms Ombudsman. Let’s put the truth on record.

  10. Christine Johnson

    If those sitting on chairs in Telco boardrooms were paid peanuts to mandate skype/short-wave call centres in the bowels of the jungle staffed by language-culture and product challenged individuals you’d understand why our communications industry is in dire straits. The logic of using cheap labor to save money is utter piffle. Its about the boardroom bums creaming off service and training standards to pay for their lifestyles – just as they’re doing in the UK House of Parliament. I bet Sol dyed his moustache and wore sunnies as he flew out of Sydney last week to avoid a lynching mob.

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