A former Telstra spin doctor is posing as a customer to spruik the beleaguered telco’s new customer feedback campaign. Megan Lane appeared on radio and TV yesterday as an angry Telstra customer as part of the company’s new “My Telstra Experience” campaign, but Crikey can reveal that Lane worked as a Telstra spin doctor until 2002 and remains Facebook friends with senior Telstra communications staffer Linda McGregor.

Lane appeared last night on A Current Affair providing “advice to the Telco”, after being contacted by her former colleagues to act as a talking head. She also provided quotes to Daily Telegraph journalist John Rolfe in stories that appeared across the News Limited stable yesterday.

Both Rolfe and ACA journalist Nick Coe told Crikey this morning that they had not been informed about Lane’s employment history.

Since she left Telstra in 2002, Lane has worked in corporate relations role at National Australia Bank and currently runs her own PR outfit, Lane Communications.

Crikey understands that Lane was contacted for a last minute photo request on Sunday afternoon from a News Limited photographer. Telstra then issued this press release, advertising the “cash for comment” program, which promises to pay 18,000 Telstra customers to provide “warts and all” feedback on the company’s website.

It is believed that Lane was not a member of the feedback program before being contacted by McGregor.

Lane was gushing when interviewed by ACA last night:

“I really believe that if you want customer service to improve you have to give feedback and you have to participate in these sorts of things so if they’re willing to listen to my opinion and take it on board then I’m willing to give it.

“I think it’s promising that they’ve gone to people like me who’ve had problems in the past and they’re willing to engage me in a conversation and get my views and find out what’s important to me, so we’ll see how it goes.”

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jzvSFB7w868[/youtube]

A “Megan Lane of Melbourne” told the Tele‘s Rolfe that ” a lot of companies, particularly large corporates, are losing touch with what customers really want.”

Rolfe told Crikey this morning that he had rang Telstra spin doctor Craig Middleton on Friday and that Middleton had provided him with Lane’s name and a contact number. He said no hint was given of Lane’s history with the telco and that he had asked Lane whether she was currently employed by Telstra. Rolfe says Lane told him that the feedback program specifically prohibited Telstra employees from participating.

Lane had previously provided media comment for Telstra on number of issues, including twice on the AM program in 2000, when she stridently defended the company against unionised staff dismissed for listening to customers’ conversations and downloading p-rnography.

Crikey asked Middleton, who issued the press release, whether it may have been prudent to inform the journalists involved of Lane’s past.

“Megan’s a straight shooter, she hasn’t worked for us for seven years. It was a last minute request for a photograph, and a former co-worker [Ms McGregor] said she had a friend who had a problem with customer service,” said Middleton. “I don’t think Megan had her mouth sown shut.”

Lane told Crikey that she was an “acquaintance” of McGregor. Asked how McGregor was aware of her problems as a Telstra customer, Lane said she had bypassed the firm’s customer complaints hotline and emailed McGregor directly when she had problems changing her mobile phone plan.

Lane said she had “guessed” McGregor’s email address to register her complaint. Despite her vigorous endorsement of the Telstra Experience program, Ms Lane said she was an impartial observer.

“One of the conditions I did the interview under was that I wasn’t going to do Telstra any favours,” said Lane. “I have a reputation for being blunt and honest.”

When asked whether it was appropriate that a former Telstra spin doctor was touted as giving independent comment, Lane said she had told former colleagues that she “didn’t owe Telstra anything.”

“I have no relationship with Telstra and I think that it was irrelevant to my ability to provide objective comment,” said Lane.

Middleton defended his star talking head.

“She was not briefed, the newspapers spoke to her and she could have said something negative.”

Telstra received 104,000 customer complaints last year.

Peter Fray

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