Optus "customer service"

Background: If you are ever thinking of getting a cable connection from Optus, read this first and bookmark it. If my experience is anything to go on, you should be able to use 90% of it.

Dear Optus,

Some little while ago, I was moved to comment to one of your staff that I was inclined to the view that your administration and management must be drawn entirely from a specially selected squad of Telstra rejects. In retrospect, it struck me as a little harsh when I put the phone down, but I now believe the comment was not so much harsh as accurate but premature. I did not know it then, but I had only just entered upon the farcical journey that has been my Optus experience over six months.

I realise, of course, that most of the people I had dealings with were probably call centre staff, but if this is so, then somebody employed by Optus must have made the disastrous decision to out-source this key function. So either I was dealing with obtuse Optus staff, or with non-Optus staff who were given no opportunity to act in the interests of anybody at all, who must have been placed in that position by obtuse Optus management.

The farce began some time in February last, when I had a phone call at work (note that he called me at work, because it becomes relevant later) from a callow-sounding youth who persuaded me that I should go ahead with a trial of Optus cable TV. Almost a month later, and some four days before the work was to be done, after a death in the family and with a funeral set down for the day of the installation, I started trying to ring him on the (landline) phone number he had supplied, to postpone the work. Each time, I was switched through to his mobile phone message bank, and each recorded message was ignored.

With no response at all, the night before the installation was due, the night before the funeral, I looked up Optus in the phone book, called, and wasted twenty minutes or so waiting to get through to a reasonably intelligent person who assured me that the Optus truck would not come, and that I would be called about an alternative time.

Well so far as we know, the work was put off, because we saw nobody that day. Still, this was Optus I was dealing with, and I see now it should have come as no surprise that there was no return call. Some days later, I rang the Optus number, wasted more time hanging on, and was peremptorily told I could have a date for installation in June, three months away. I expressed some surprise at the delay, and was told bluntly that I could take it or leave it. As most of your customers probably do, I resented the attitude and the tone, but I accepted it.

Having heard nothing in the interim, a few days before the June date, I rang up to find out when the installers would arrive, and was told it was an "any time of day" job. In other words, I would have to be in all day, waiting for the installers to deign to call. I indicated that this was not good enough, and that I wanted a time specified, or at least a slot. The woman taking the call said she would ring back, and I indicated that if she could not do better than "all day", she need not bother.

This is the effect of dealing with Optus, you see. One learns to adopt a 'take it or leave it' attitude. Note where I got this from, as it becomes highly germane, at the end of this letter. When she called back, she indicated that she could give me either a slot, or have the people call me, shortly before they were due to arrive -- which is all I had asked for in the first place, but she was clearly furious at having to provide assistance to a customer.

By now I knew I was talking to Optus, and what that probably meant, so I checked the phone numbers recorded in your system, and found that the work number listed for me was some twelve months out of date, and asked for this to be changed. I then checked the home number listed, and found that this was shown as a Telstra number that I gave up when I moved to Optus some years earlier.

Now call me silly if you will, but I would have thought that if your sales people had my correct work number in February, this should have found its way into your records by June. Call me eccentric if you must, but I would have thought that when one of your highly efficient technicians had disconnected the Telstra line and terminated it with a dongle referring people to my Optus number, this fact might just possibly have impinged on the general Optus consciousness at some point prior to the heat death of the universe.

I would also have expected that these changes, having been found missing, would have been recorded without there being any need to blame the customer for having wrong information on your records. That, however, is what I experienced. I must say I am amazed that you people have the nerve to describe as "customer service" an ululating, hissing, venomous harridan whose specialty is bawling out your customers for errors made by Optus. Even mere graduates in marketing should know it is cheaper to keep an existing customer base than to create a new one. Even the rawest recruit should know that alienating customers has a knock-on effect as they spread the word to others.

Now let me say very clearly that I have no problem with the technical staff from Optus, and I have been lucky once or twice in my inquiries, and had real help. Sadly, the majority of the schedulers and public contact people work incredibly hard to push your reputation off the scale at the negative end of the dial. The technicians who came to our house ran, flat out, and in the middle of a challenging cabling task, and one of them took a call at almost 5 pm to go and do yet another installation. They hurriedly told me what to do, and left, without giving me a program guide, something I only realised after they had gone.

Accordingly, I made a logical decision and rang the Optus number on the contract, and was told that it was the wrong number, but having struck a rare intelligent person (he seemed to be on the technical side), I was transferred to the right number. I then asked should I have received a guide: yes, they said, I should, and they would send it. I asked if I could add the World Movies option by phone, and they said yes, I could, and that it would be on shortly. In fact, World Movies did not start until after two or three more phone calls, at about midday the following day. Note that date and time, it will be relevant later.

In fact it took another three extra calls before I got the June guide in my hands, about two days before the end of the month, and then I started to wonder. Would I get a guide for July? As it had not appeared in the mail, I suspected not, and so I rang to enquire. Sure enough, your administration had failed again. No guide was on its way. Would they send one? Yes they would, but while I asked for the July guide in late June, it would be around July 7 or 8 before it arrived, so that in all, we had a guide for around twelve days of the trial period, and only then because I had pursued the matter vigorously.

Now this was, you will recall, a free trial. So when I got a bill for over $70, I wondered what was going on. Another phone call, more hanging on, and then confirmation that it was an error. I indicated at that stage that I would not be continuing past the trial period, identifying unsatisfactory management as my main reason for wishing to end the association.

Just after midnight on the end of the precise month, a full half day before the completion of the month of World Movies, the whole service was turned off. This was the first time any Optus effort had happened on time, and I know the approximate time of cessation because I was up late.

I trust that you do not plan to bill me for a month of World Movies when you started late and finished on time, failing to meet the period set out in the contract. The termination also left me unable to record programs from SBS, meaning that I had to spend time fiddling to re-tune the VCR to allow me to do that once more, as your service people had changed my channel 1 on the VCR (previously SBS) to take the feed from your decoder, which no longer operated.

The next problem was to arrange the collection of the decoder box. On the appointed day, having waited around all morning, I took a call on my mobile, just after lunch, to say that the technician had just called in sick, and they would not be able to do the work. The caller was pleasant and apologetic, and we agreed that the following Saturday, August 5, would do nicely -- but once again, I would have to await a call.

So on Saturday, August 5, I sat around all day at home, and twiddled my thumbs. Thinking I must have misunderstood the date, I did so again on August 12. Again, it was a wasted day. I have seen nobody from Optus, I have heard nothing from Optus. No calls to say sorry, no calls to arrange another date, nothing. No doubt the wheels are already turning to have me arrested for making off with your decoder box.

I do not intend to take any more calls from your "customer service" staff, nor will I initiate any more calls where I need to hang on, listening to uninspiring wallpaper music and vapid assertions that my custom is valuable. I won't call you: you call me, but there are specific conditions attaching to any call made to me. Any person directed to call me and arrange a suitable time for collection of the decoder box will need to be able to make decisions.

For openers, I propose that the collection time will be confirmed in writing before the date set down, and must be met, to the minute, under a financial penalty to be agreed between us. The caller must also be authorised to indicate how you would like to make amends for the appalling treatment I have received from your half-trained and mostly less than half-civilised "customer service" staff.

I am quite prepared to be reasonable, but I have wasted between fifteen and twenty hours on this sorry farce, one way and another. I would not object if you would like to recompense me for those hours at my usual charge-out rate. Or perhaps I should take a leaf from the Optus relations book, and tell you to have somebody waiting about, just around the corner, so that I can, at some random time selected by me, phone them and give them ten minutes' notice to get here and collect the box. Would that be suitable?

Unlike your call centre staff, I am intelligent and flexible, I am not particularly vindictive, and I am far from wanting in common courtesy. I merely require a call from somebody capable of realising that Optus has blundered hopelessly and repeatedly, and needs now to act in a decisive way to head off what I am sure I can turn into a public relations disaster, if I choose to put my mind to it. Luckily for the good reputation of Optus, I lack the motivation to do anything like that, at least for the moment: I would rather just get the matter sorted.

So it is over to you, but please do make the effort to recall where I learned the 'take it or leave it' trick. If you have any problems with my attitude, those are your problems, not mine, and I wish only to discuss my problems. And if you are the right person to receive this letter, I am sure you will have no problem with that.



Peter Macinnis

PS: If you wish to use this letter in staff training for your mid-to-senior managers, which I would advise, please get in touch to negotiate an appropriate fee.

Why did I post this: I just came across a copy of this. Two years after I sent it, I have yet to receive an apology from Optus. They did invite me in to take part in a customer satisfaction focus group, and I attached a copy of this letter to the papers -- when I arrived, they told me apologetically that they had over-subscribed some part of the demographic, and I would not be needed.

I wonder why . . . :-)

Anyhow, after that, they sent a courier around to collect the "box". He was nice and courteous, so I did not send him away with the information that I was holding it hostage till I was paid the $2300 they owed me for wasted time. Their contractors and technical people are all decent and competent, it is just the cretins in management who need to be shown a good Size Ten Solution.

And I still haven't had my apology. Optus, you know now how to get me to take this off the Web. No, not just an apology, no, not just money, but both.

With interest.

Peter Macinnis

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This file is part of a series, written by Peter Macinnis, and last revised on September 28, 2002.

This file is http://www.ozemail.com.au/~macinnis/optus.htm

It may be freely reproduced for educationally useful purposes (you decide if it is useful), if the file is reproduced as it appears here -- I like people to know that it is me causing them annoyance :-)

The teeming millions who have Optus problems are welcome to use this as a model.