Oz’s major telcos hung up on wrong issues

First published in New Zealand Herald 14 July 2015

My company moved office last month and went through that nightmare that we all dread in Australia: setting up a broadband network through one of the telcos.

I cannot even begin to tell you what an epic farce this was, particularly not in 500 words or less.

I’d love to say that you wouldn’t believe me, but I suspect even agile and creative New Zealand has some bureaucratic tendencies? Perhaps ‘Spark’ is not quite as sparky as it purports? It can’t be as bad as Australia.

Let me try and summarise it for you. It’s 2015 and it took one month to get an office ADSL2 connection in a busy retail strip of Melbourne.

In that time we went with Telstra, within one day switched to Optus, one week later switched to Telstra, and have ended up with Optus.

We’re also the new owners of no less than 3 unopened Telstra modems. I think they send those babies out to anyone who calls. (I’ll give you a good price if you want one.)

In my month of telecommunication fun, my office colleagues and I had lengthy chats with a number of Telstra and Optus staff from all over the world. Some rather delightful and hapless call centre staff who shared my frustration. Other less helpful staff who were determined to send me down the happy end of their phone scripts despite unresolved issues. (“So Ms Katz, is there anything else I can help you with today?” “Why yes there is. It’s the same issue we’ve just been discussing. You know, the one we’ve been talking about for an hour and you still haven’t helped me with.”)

I’ve learned there’s such a thing as not being able to get broadband because there’s no room at the exchange. Did you know this was a thing? I didn’t. I had no idea that in 2015 an Australian household or business could be told that Telstra is fully booked and that it may take up to one year for space to become available in an area. (I’ve also learned that if you tell them you’re going with Optus they suddenly have space available at the exchange.)

But listen to me, Ms Negativivity. I’m failing to celebrate the success of these organisations and acknowledge a part of the sales process that both Telcos have perfected. It’s called the Net Promoter Score.

Without fail – no matter how long my hold time, how many call centres I was transferred to and despite no one understanding why our office broadband was slower than a 1990 dial-up connection – a clockwork text message would arrive to cheerily ask me on a scale of 1 to 10 how likely I was to recommend Telstra/Optus to a friend. That part of the process works a charm. Thumbs up.

In 2013 I heard an inspiring talk from Kevin Russell. He was then newly appointed CEO of Optus Australia and, quite genuinely, made me feel excited for the brand and believe that Optus could become a true challenger to Telstra. Unfortunately Russell resigned one year later.

As for Telstra, they own most of the phone lines, so all roads lead to them eventually.

And the much-anticipated National Broadband Network? The Aussie government aspires to have all Australian homes on the NBN by 2020. In the meantime, I’ll admire New Zealand’s fast speeds and your wired up cities. And I’ll keep my mobile fully charged in case I need to call Optus again.

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