By Mike Wheeler
For a few months my better half has been hassling me about changing providers for our Internet service. There is a plethora of great deals around at the moment, which make our current deal with Bigpond seem somewhat frugal by comparison. We want more bang for our buck. I’ve been putting it off, more due to procrastination than any real desire not to get it done.
Yesterday, the proverbial straw that not only broke the camel’s back, but ground its spine into the dust, happened. We lost our Internet connection. This in itself has happened in the past, but the response from Bigpond – with vicarious liability also being Telstra’s in this writer’s opinion – was beyond woeful. Last time, it took over a week for them to repair a problem that they initially thought was our problem, but turned out to a faulty cable connection on the street.
So I call Bigpond’s help desk…in the Philippines. Now, I know that this has been a bugbear of many people – Australian help desks being based in other countries. Initially the indignation was fed by the thought that huge corporations making large amounts of dosh were sending jobs overseas. It was compounded by the reality that most of these call centres were in countries where English was not a first language, or even if it was an official language – such as India –the accent could be hard to understand. I didn’t have this issue, but ironically – Telstra being a communication’ company and all – it was the annoying time lag that was causing both the customer service officer and myself to have most of the problems. Although we resolved talking over each other (did I mention it took about 15 minutes for them to answer the call?), it appears he had a problem with my accent. I had to repeat everything twice, sometimes three times, because he couldn’t understand me (ok, so I have a New Zealand twang. Luckily, I wasn’t placing an order for fush and chups).
This again, though, was not the main annoyance – that was yet to come. He did a diagnostic run and decided that he couldn’t help. Now, I don’t claim to be a super technology expert, but I do believe my knowledge is above average. You don’t work in the industry for a couple of years without picking up a thing or two. I felt the problem was with our Bigpond modem. He wasn’t too sure, but decided to kick it upstairs to the next level. Fine.
So, I get a new customer service officer on the line, with a much more familiar accent, who is based in Sydney. Cool. Now I can get the problem resolved. So we go through the ritual of making sure I’m the account holder, yadda, yadda, yadda (which I have already done with the guy from the call centre – why didn’t he just pass the details on?), and we talk about what the possible problem is. However, just before we get into the nitty gritty, we hit a snag.
“You do realise this is a pay service, sir?”
“Er, excuse me?”
“This is Telstra Premium Plus. We have a minimum fee of $99 to diagnose the problem.”
“Are you related to Telstra, or are you a contractor to Telstra?” I queried.
“No, we are separate from Telstra, but under the umbrella of the company.”
“So, let me get this straight. You want to charge me to fix your modem that’s stuffed?”
It went downhill from there. I’ll use this analogy: If I rent a place and trash the oven, I pay. I get that. If the oven breaks down, the landlord has to repair it. I get that. What Telstra were saying to me was, “the oven’s broken, but you have to pay for it.”
Uh-uh. The hell I will. But here comes the real kicker and then some.
“Did the other gentleman tell you that you had to pay for the service?” he asked.
“No.” I replied.
“Well, he should have,” said my erstwhile friend.
“I bet,” I seethed under my breath.
But wait there was more.
“Well, you don’t have to pay us, I can put you through to the escalation service.”
“What’s that?” I asked.
“Well, it offers the same service as us, but it is back at the other place (ie the Philippines). He didn’t tell you about that?”
“No he didn’t.”
“Well he should have.”
Hhhhmmmm. After I fought gallantly to reverse the red mist that was desperately trying to cloud my field of vision, I took a couple of deep breaths and thanked the gentleman as he transferred me back to the overseas help desk. After about 20 minutes with nobody answering the phone I hung up. By this time my whole demeanour had changed from that of outrage to that of resignation that it just wasn’t going to happen. Due to this experience, we’ll be looking elsewhere for our Internet connection, even if we do have to pay a get-out fee
And this is why, in my opinion, Bigpond sucks. They send you around in circles, the left hand doesn’t know what the right is doing, and they try to impose a financial penalty when their gear doesn’t work. And this leads to the biggest irony of all – Telstra’s big promise, made by none other than its CEO David Thodey, that customer service was a priorty – in his own words: “Telstra's new online customer service unit will support our growing customer base, providing customers with the option of faster and more convenient ways of interacting with the company, including through social media.”
Yeah, well, where’s my Internet connection, Dave?