Only Human

As I write this I’m on hold to my internet provider. I’ve been with them for several years and have been “rewarded” as a loyal customer on a couple of occasions. But tonight, I’ve really got the shits with them.

A few weeks ago I decided to upgrade my broadband connection to ADSL2+, and, at the time, received terrific telephone support. The guy was great, and decided that, because I’d been such a long-term loyal customer, they would waive some of the usual connection fees. “Excellent”, I thought to myself.

To upgrade the service they told me, however, it would be necessary to get Telstra to go to my local exchange to do some work. I was happy enough for that to happen, and happy enough to wait a few weeks. After all, I already had a reasonable broadband service already.

When I got home last night, however, the service was down. So I called the help desk, and unfortunately I’d phoned outside their normal technical support hours. They also had a generic message which said they were having problems, which their engineers were trying to resolve. “Not a problem”, I thought.

But when I got home tonight and it still wasn’t working, and the message was still there, I was beginning to get a little annoyed. So I called again.

Eventually I got through to the help desk which, for the first time, I noticed, was an overseas help desk, not the friendly voices I’d come to know from the Melbourne-based company. “You’ve got a message on hold saying you have problems. When will everything be resolved”, I said in a friendly manner to the woman on the phone. “No we don’t have a problem” she told me emphatically and sternly, as if I was some kind of bloody idiot.

“You haven’t paid your bill”, she told me, as an explanation for why my internet connection wasn’t working. “I’m sorry, I have”, I responded, though she was quite dismissive. “You will need to speak to accounts and payments” she said, before quickly hanging up.

When I established via their own telephone service that my bill was in fact up to date, and via an email with a bill reference number there was zero owing on my account, I called back.

On the second occasion, I was told there was a problem with the DSL connection, and that my fault would be reported to Telstra. This bloke, called James, was actually pretty helpful, as we went through an extended call trying to trouble shoot everything that might possibly be wrong.

After hanging up from him, I fiddled around a bit more and actually was the able to connect, though it was unbearably slow. Slower than dial-up.

So I called up again and told them what had happened. “It’s a temporary Telstra out-tage”, they told me this time. “Ok”, I thought, and gave it a couple of hours, thinking all would be resolved quickly.

So a few hours later I decided to give it another go and, since there was still a problem I called back again. At first, I left a message telling them I was now close to being a fairly irate customer, that I had been given three different excuses for my lack of connectivity and that I wanted the issue resolved ASAP.

And then I thought, “Buggar it, I’m gonna ring back, hold on and get this resolved once and for all”. The operator this time resorted to Excuse #2, re-assuring me that Excuse #1 and Excuse #3 were not correct, and that he couldn’t understand why I would have been told that.

My problem, he told me in an emphatic manner, would be resolved by 5pm on Tuesday.

“Well, I don’t think that’s reasonable, and I don’t think I should be paying for the 5 days of being without a connection”, I told him. “I can’t help you with that”, he responded, telling me in a fairly patronising manner, “You’ll need to speak to accounts about that sir”.

To be honest if I’d had someone on the phone telling me, “Sorry mate, it’s bloody Telstra” that’s caused the problem I would have been happy. But instead, I had someone reading off a screen with a stock-standard response, with a “you’re an idiot” tone in his voice. Frankly, I would have been more accepting of computer-generated response more than a human who just sounded like a computer.

At the risk of sounding like a “grumpy old man”, I think this is what’s wrong with the world these days. No one who works in customer service of any kind seems willing to want to actually solve a problem, these days. It all seems to be about getting you off the phone as quickly as possible, so they don’t actually have to deal with you and don’t actually have to solve your problem. No one ever seems to ask the second question any more. If they’d ask the second question, they might actually solve the problem/issue, instead they just want to work out how they can pass you on to someone else. It’s all about “pass the parcel” from what I can see.

Personally I really hate “pass the parcel”, and when I receive a complaint about something at work I actually try to resolve the problem, not pass it on to someone else, unless it’s genuinely something I can’t do anything about. It’s all about being human in an increasingly inhuman world.

Today, for example, a letter came across my desk, which I needed needed to sign with a “standard response”. But as I looked to sign the letter I noticed with some recognition the name and address of the person who had written the complaint. And then I looked at the hand-writing, and knew for sure the complaint was from my high school English/History teacher from about 25 years ago. Of course, I’ll be sending her the “standard response” because that’s my job. But I’ll also be sending her a nice hand-written note saying hello after all these years, because that’s what it means to be human.

You can sound like a computer if you want to, but you don’t have to.

  1. I blogged recently about a problem with Telstra over what I thought was a straightforward request for an upgrade of an existing service. I still haven’t received a resolution of that request two weeks later nor a response to a formal complaint made at the same time.

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