How Telstra drove me to tears
THIS is not a sob story but it made me cry harder than I ever have.
It's also not a whinge because a whinge suggests an unjustified complaint.
Rather, this is a tale about and on behalf of ordinary people - those all over the country who feel powerless and stressed due to the incompetence of the corporations they're forced to deal with.
It starts on an otherwise ordinary Friday when suddenly I can't receive emails on my desktop computer. I call my telco which we'll call Telstra because that's its name. I'm on the phone for 90 minutes but don't keep a note because I trust a telecommunications company to be good at its core business practice - in this case, communication. More fool me.
When the problem can't be fixed my call is "escalated" which I now know is a euphemism for "we'll pass her around various departments and make her wait until such time that she needs to do something like cook dinner or pluck the nose hairs which have grown in the time she's been holding on."
Finally I'm told the problem is my modem. Telstra promises to send me a new one.
It arrives and I plug it in and attempt to authenticate it through something called a "gateway". It's the technological equivalent of the Berlin Wall and trying to get it working is akin to crossing from East to West Germany in the 1970s. It's a no go.
I ring Telstra again, furious now that something so straightforward should be so complicated. Krishna in India has excellent English but he tells me it could take more than an hour to get through to the right department.
Seriously? This is a phone company. They supply phone and internet services. If anyone can provide more phones and people to staff them surely it's Telstra.
Krishna apologises. I tell him it's not his fault and ask him how many times a day he deals with angry customers. "Most of them are angry," he tells me. "The others are just dissatisfied." Do they shout at him, I ask. Yes, he tells me. Often.
I won't bore you but over the course of the next 6 days I spend 10 hours on the phone to Telstra interspersed with increasingly maniacal attempts to authenticate my modem. Out of the blue Telstra calls me - on my home phone - to say they're disconnecting my internet for 15 days because it's been hacked.
Anyone who has disappeared down a telco black hole will understand when I say something inside me snaps. I've been fortunate enough to enjoy sound mental health all my life but the stress is unbearable. I work from home; my daughter is in her final year of school. We need our internet. I call Telstra and can't stop sobbing.
"I can't cope with this any longer," I tell Maria in The Philippines. "I'm not getting off the phone until it's fixed."
Maria should be an emergency room nurse or at the very least Telstra's employee of the year. I want to ask her how much she and her colleagues are paid to deal with all the anger and distress and whether she ever fears a customer might hang themselves with an Ethernet cable in frustration. Instead, for the next couple of hours - even as I continue the call while collecting my daughter from the bus - I believe her promise to fix the problem.
Miraculously she does, consulting with Michel in India who seemingly flicks a switch which brings my modem to life. No one can tell me if my internet will be cut off and my email still doesn't work but another hour on the phone the following day and that, too, is restored.
It may sound dramatic but my sanity has been shaken. I've lost 12 hours of my life to a company I've been loyal to for 18 years. I'll get over it but I worry about the frail widowers who have to endure this sort of uselessness. I worry about the ill and the hard of hearing and those who don't have the intellectual capacity or mental fortitude to cope with such issues. I'm also furious on behalf of the admirably calm call centre staff employed in developing countries. Telstra should be ashamed of itself.
Instead the company sends me not one but three jaunty emails titled "How Did We Do?" They're signed by Craig Hancock, the executive director of customer service management. The email asks whether my problem was resolved and whether I'd recommend Telstra. Not bloody likely.
Three weeks later, having heard a wealth of similar stories from others, I attempt to contact the press office and ask for three minutes on the phone with Mr Hancock. Oddly there's no listed number for the press office so I put out a plea on Facebook. I'm sent a contact and fire off an email.
The response is instant and a day later I receive an apology and an undertaking to "review the processes that took place".
"We know we need to do more to improve customer experience and through our customer-wide digitisation program we are investing in significant improvements in our systems and processes," says the director of customer care Chris Davies.
I have no sense of victory. That will come when stories like mine are no longer the norm.