Friday, December 12, 2008

Typical Telstra

Bill was fit all his life, but last month he felt a little breathless. A sticky heart valve was diagnosed and he had a pacemaker fitted.

On November 13, he is released from hospital and returns to his Deception Bay home where Yvonne, 84, awaits. That is a Thursday. In the morning, the home telephone is working fine. By afternoon, it has been disconnected.

Jacqui rings Telstra. They say the bill had not been paid. "My parents had received no initial bill, no reminder notice or courtesy call. They are of the generation who always pay their bills before the due date. I doubt they have had an overdue bill in their life."

Thursday, November 13: She pays the bill immediately over the phone and explains her dad's medical situation. The phone will be reconnected within two hours, she's told. Hours later, the phone is still dead. Jacqui rings Telstra and is told the credit department is closed and nothing can be done. Ring back Friday.

Friday, November 14: Jacqui phones Telstra. "I spent over an hour being transferred everywhere."

She eventually is advised the phone will be reinstated "in two hours".

Meanwhile, Bill and Yvonne are at home – with no transport and no phone. Two hours later, still no connection. Bill's other daughter, Maureen, tries talking to Telstra. No joy. So, at 3.30pm Friday, Maureen contacts the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (1800 062 058). The TIO person gives her a direct number to contact Telstra and says if the phone is not reconnected within two hours to get back in touch.

Maureen spends another lengthy period on the phone, only to be told the computer system is down and nothing can be done until Monday.

All up, the sisters spend more than six hours on the phone to Telstra trying to resolve the problem.

Somewhere in the middle of all this, one of the Telstra voices tells Jacqui there is still an outstanding amount of $8.98 on her parents' account. Now, this is news. This is the account she paid in full after the phone was cut off. She checks her credit card and yes, the payment went through. So where are we? That's right Saturday.

Saturday, November 15, 5.05pm: Phone still not connected. As the family feared, Bill's condition worsens and he is taken to Redcliffe Hospital. Late that night, he is transferred to St Andrew's Hospital. There is heavy city traffic, so the ambulance officer suggests the family not follow but come in the morning. "Dad wanted us to get mum home, as it had been a long day for her."

Saturday, November 15, 10.30pm: The hospital calls. Bill Fildes has died.

Sunday, November 16: There are funeral arrangements to make, friends to be called, but still no phone.

Monday. . .Tuesday: Still disconnected.

Wednesday, November 19: The phone is connected, six days later.

Thursday, November 20: Bill's funeral is held at Deception Bay.

Now, you may be thinking that's the end of it. No. Not by a long shot. Telstra still has something in store for this grieving family.

Friday, November 21: Yvonne receives a bill for her but incorrectly addressed. The bill is for $17. It kindly extends her time to pay until December 1 "so as not to inconvenience her". Jacqui is incredulous. "Can you believe this?" She spends an hour trying to sort it out. Telstra assures her the bill will be wiped.

Monday, November 24: Yvonne receives another bill. Nothing has been wiped. She is an 84-year-old woman. She has just lost her husband of more than half a century. She is grieving. She doesn't have the energy to fight a huge corporation like Telstra. She just wants it all over. I'll just pay the $17, she tells her daughters.

Telstra wins. Little person loses. Business as usual.

Telstra did something cruel to the Fildes family. It wasn't personal. It rarely is in today's corporate world. It's mostly just pure ineptitude. No one takes ownership of the problem to fix it and the corporate structure doesn't encourage employees to care. It encourages them just to hope like hell the difficult customer gives up and goes away.

It's endemic in business in Australia today. There's a culture of The Facade of Service. That is: Pretend to give service, while actually trying to get rid of the person wanting service ASAP. You get it in banks, you get it in the health system, you get it in shops. You ring, they stonewall. You must be wrong. You are an idiot. Then, at the end of call, they say: Is there anything else I can do for you today?

Telstra did not treat the Fildes family like people. They didn't treat Bill and Yvonne with dignity. They treated them like An Account.

It is utterly dehumanising. And this is the company bidding for Australia's "world-class national broadband network". Put your trust in us, says Telstra, we'll take care of you. Sure.

I contacted Telstra for a response. Here it is: "We offer our sincere condolences to Mrs Fildes and her family for their loss. Telstra fixed-line customers temporarily disconnected for non payment are still able to ring a range of telephone numbers including Triple 0."

If I hadn't already taken my business away from Telstra years ago, I would do it right now, just for what they did to Bill and Yvonne Fildes.


Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Telstra users left with exposed lines

How little things change! I had exactly this problem in the '70s when Telstra was fully government-owned. It was only by writing to the Minister that I got the work completed

THOUSANDS of Telstra customers are putting up with crude, temporary phone connections with cables held together by tape and plastic bags and strung along fences, across lawns and through trees. In many cases the unsightly - even dangerous - cables are left in place for months and even years, despite repeated pleas to finish the job by burying them.

Colin Barraclough has endured a temporary "lead-in" cable running from the street across the ground and over his garage for 18 months after a fault was patched up at his Greystanes home. His neighbour accidentally severed the connection with a hedge trimmer recently, leaving him without a phone for three days - but the line remains unburied.

"Every time I call I'm told that Telstra has more important and urgent work to do and I will just have to wait," he said. "I cannot be given a time frame as to when the cable will be buried. I might have to wait another 12 months."

On the Central Coast, Robin Williams has put up with a temporary line since May. In that time she has tripped over it while recovering from eye surgery and her husband has accidentally cut it with a hedge trimmer.

"When I last contacted Telstra, I was told it … might be 12 to 18 months before anything was done," she said. "Even my suggestion that the temporary line could cause a serious accident counted for little, with one officer telling me I would just have to be careful. We are beginning to believe that Telstra has no intention of ever doing anything."

In West Pymble, at the home of Chris and Sandi Murray, a cable snakes across the public footpath, over the lawn and through bushes and trees before being linked to another cable with a splice protected by a plastic bag. Passers-by regularly trip over the cable, yet the Murrays still have no date for when the job will be completed.

"The phone just stopped working in January," Mrs Murray said. "I assumed it was going to be two weeks to a month maybe and then they would come back and fix it." Repeated calls and emails have met a blank wall. "I don't think Telstra has any answers really," she said.

These are just some of more than a dozen cases uncovered in a Herald investigation.

An aged pensioner in Glen Innes says he has had a 20-metre cable strung through a tree and along a fence and gutter for 12 years. A woman on a rural property in Jamberoo fears cows in a nearby paddock will be injured in a hole dug to accommodate a temporary cable. A customer in the Blue Mountains fears he may lose his connection at any moment, despite telling Telstra his wife is seriously ill.

Telstra Group's managing director for networks and services, Michael Rocca, was unwilling to say exactly how many temporary cables were in place around the country but claimed it was less than .04 per cent of the total of about 30 million - about 12,000.

"The percentage of [temporary] cables compared to the millions of cables we have is extremely small," he said, adding that once a complaint was logged, Telstra moved quickly to fix it.

"From time to time … you are going to have some of these temporary cables … We are not perfect - sometimes we do on odd occasion get things wrong - but as you can see from the figures, the overwhelming majority of times we provide service, we do it right for the customer."

Steve Dodd, the NSW branch assistant secretary of the Communications Plumbing and Electrical Union, claimed the problem was widespread because many of Telstra's "conduit workers", who were responsible for burying lines, had been made redundant.

"Now the team leaders have only got technicians who haven't even got a shovel in their bag," he said. "They write out a report saying there is substandard work that needs to be replaced - and that goes into a black hole."