Friday 26 May 2017

Dealing with Telstra

Published as ‘Quality first’, Geelong Advertiser, Monday 29 September 2008, p. 17.

I hold no shares in Telstra, but I have been a customer of the telco and its predecessor the publicly owned company since we arrived in Australia in 1977. Back in July this year we received a letter from Telstra inviting us to adopt electronic on-line billing in order to help save the environment by reducing the amount of paper used by the company. Most of the transactions I undertake these days are done electronically and I am happy with the services provided by my banks and a number of other utilities and companies, but I was not prepared to accede to its request and here are some of the reasons.

We have all our services combined on one bill, including home phone, two mobile phones, Bigpond broadband, wireless internet and global roaming. Our normal monthly bill for these services is of the order of $200.00. In April following a trip to New Zealand we received a bill for $3,961.30, which we queried. Luckily I had the information about our usage of global roaming while we were overseas and the experience of previous uses while in the United Kingdom on two occasions last year. My request to reduce the bill by $3752.57 was accepted by Telstra. I subsequently asked Telstra to tell me why the error had occurred but I have had no reply to date.

In June 2008, having paid our bill by EFT, I received an email purporting to be from Telstra telling me that it had been unable to process our payment. I was assured by a Telstra person that payment had been received. She said the email might not be a legitimate Telstra one caused by a ‘computer glitch’, her words. Next month the same thing happened. The woman I spoke to confirmed that the account had been paid, then transferred me to the billing department where a young man told me that Telstra had been changing its computer systems for two years and that two errors were quite understandable and that, while he apologised for the inconvenience, nothing could be done because systems were not perfect! His manner suggested that the service provided was adequate and that I should just accept the fact. I told him that was unacceptable. The same thing has happened again this month.

On more than one occasion this year I have tried to use the link on the email alerting me to the fact that my bill is available to access the bill. But I failed to gain access to the bill electronically. If I cannot access the electronic version, I am not prepared to be without a paper bill and a fully itemised one.

Telstra present this as saving trees. I think only the most gullible would accept this as the primary reason for the change. If everyone went to online billing, Telstra would save postage and paper costs. The shareholders might benefit, but in the absence of serious competition we, the customers, would not necessarily share in these savings.

The leaflet accompanying Telstra’s letter makes clear that I will be unable to access details of my calls and usage during an unspecified change-over period to new systems. It advises that I keep track of usage but gives me no means of doing so. I cannot check on line, or even through customer services personnel. Yet Telstra claims it will be able to bill me accurately. How so?

So I will continue to require paper billing and I suspect many Telstra customers will do when they understand what is happening. Thus its attempt to encourage people to use online billing may well backfire and result in higher costs. I think Telstra should reconsider its position and improve the quality of services offered to the point where people feel that they have confidence in those services and can embrace them without serious risk to themselves. A letter to the CEO of Telstra making these points in July remains unanswered.

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