And so my ranty old man crusade against appalling customer service continues.
When I ponder my future, I’m convinced that two things will forever elude me: fiscal responsibility and a telecommunications provider that isn’t utterly shite.
These days so many service providers drop the ball on basic customer service, but none more so than telcos and ISPs. I’ve tried quite a few of them over the years and many of those have greatly tried me in return. I’ve ranted before about the contempt I hold for most of them and I’ve spent so many happy hours* escalating complaints to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) that I’m probably flagged as a telco-hating serial complainant. Even so, no matter how often I experience their untempered awfulness, it still manages to surprise me.
I don’t start out having such little regard for them, but I inevitably walk away thinking if I never heard from them again it would be too soon. I don’t go out of my way to cause, find or become a problem for them. It’s not my sole intention to make bizarre requests that would be virtually impossible to get right. It’s just ordinary stuff – changing account settings, updating details, connecting new services – but something’s gone wrong after virtually every interaction I’ve had with a telco or ISP since 2007. And not just ‘a bit wrong’, we’re talking ‘quite a lot wrong’. How can so many of them be so bad at such fundamental stuff?
Here’s the latest installment. It’s a long one, but go with me on this…
Last year I started moving my Telstra services to other providers in the hope of cheaper prices and better customer service. First I switched my internet to Dodo. I hadn’t heard any horror stories and they offered much more than Telstra at less than half the price.
In August this year, I also convinced my mum to give Telstra the flick and save some money too. My transition to Dodo had been smooth and the first year with them had been relatively trouble-free so I was eager to get mum signed up to one of their impressively inexpensive bundles. But trouble was brewing right from the off… and it’s a slippery slope from there! This is how it all panned out:
- DAY 1 (Part 1): Dodo’s online application keeps saying mum’s address isn’t valid
[Editorial comment: if you’ve ever told someone your name and then been asked “are you sure?”, you’ll understand how odd it feels to be told that something you know to be real and valid actually isn’t].
- DAY 1 (Part 2): the application can’t be completed by phone either. Dodo guy Marco** promises to call back next day.
[Editorial comment: it’s worth noting at this point that lots of service providers and business have had issues with mum’s address over the past ten years, be it online, in maps or in databases. We’ve known of an issue but never understood its cause; nonetheless, I assumed this was the same thing and it seems likely that this outcome wasn’t just inevitable with Dodo, but probably would’ve happened wherever we’d gone].
- DAY 2: Marco calls back. The problem is at the Telstra exchange and Dodo has to wait for Telstra to fix it.
- DAY 4: SMS from Dodo: the process of requesting the landline service from Telstra has finally begun.
- DAY 14: SMS from Dodo: mum’s landline is finally a Telstra-free zone. The ever-effusive Marco calls back to start setting up the ADSL, but – surprise, surprise! – that doesn’t work either. He promises to call back on Monday.
[Editorial comment: Dodo advise up-front of a 7-10 day turnaround time to port landlines from another telco, but it’s still a bitter pill in an age when mobile numbers can be ported from carrier to carrier within minutes. And just for the record, no I don’t know why we didn’t just give up at that point either].
- DAY 17: Marco calls back, but with less enthusiasm, hurriedly telling met Dodo can’t establish an ADSL service for “technical reasons”, that mum will need a new phone number and that he’s transferring me to his supervisor to discuss. My ire is on its way to being raised but, thankfully, the “supervisor” seems in control. His explanation of what’s going on makes sense in light of earlier similar issues, so I’m comfortable with his promise to call back the next day.
So, we were up to 17 days and, to be fair, so far it’d been a bit of a dog’s breakfast. But just when we felt like we were getting somewhere, we discovered that we couldn’t have been more wrong. See, I could say the “supervisor” called back the next day as promised and I could say the whole thing was sorted, but saying it wouldn’t make it true. In fact for the next 5½ weeks I had no contact from Dodo at all. Alors…
- DAY 47: I send a written complaint to Dodo, allowing ten calendar days for them to resolve the issue. In turn, they send me a confirmation email with a 2 day response turnaround time.
[Editorial comment: the last time I’d received the same confirmation email I’d had to chase them 12 days later to find out where the response was, so it’s fair to say I didn’t have much faith in Dodo adhering to their own timeframe, though I was happy to be proven wrong].
- DAY 50: 3 whole business days pass without any contact from Dodo.
[Editorial comment: my scepticism was justified].
- DAY 56: Surprise! Dodo contact me on the last of the ten days I’d allowed for. I miss their call and almost immediately receive an SMS with a reference code and a request to call them back, which I do within 15 minutes. But rather than speak with someone familiar with my complaint – I mistakenly assume that would be the same person who’d just called me – I speak to a woman who not only sounds wholly disinterested and unconcerned, but who also hasn’t read a single word of my complaint. Worse still, neither does she take any time to familiarise herself with the details, instead asking me to explain the situation because she isn’t familiar with it. Things rapidly go from bad to worse when she states no ADSL application was made, but rather than suggesting error or oversight on Dodo’s part she implies that I am somehow mistaken. Unsurprisingly, I end the call and escalate to the Ombudsman.
[Editorial comment: apparently this is how Dodo responds to formal written complaints. With hindsight, I should’ve just read my complaint letter down the phone to her. As for the inference that I’d somehow imagined it all, or made the whole thing up – really, Dodo?? What would that even be? Some bizarre form of Munchausen Syndrome where a customer induces real or apparent failures in a telco’s customer service just to bring attention to themselves??? I’ve never heard such arrant nonsense!]
- DAY 60: Betty*** from Dodo’s TIO complaints department calls. Again I miss the call, but phone back almost immediately. She asks for my mobile number. She then transfers me to Tech Support, where Mr Tech Support (not his real name) has been lead to believe (by Betty) that they need to resolve a complaint about my modem. In under a minute I end the call out of sheer frustration and contact the Ombudsman again to ask what to do next. They somehow convince me to continue negotiations with Dodo and, through a twist of either fate or inevitability, I’m answered by the lovely Betty again. She explains that because I provided her with my mobile number (which she asked for, let’s not forget) she assumed I was talking about my own account and assumed I was calling about my most recent enquiry and assumed I needed to speak to Tech Support. In turn, I suggest that making so many assumptions was pretty rubbish, given her job is to respond to serious Ombudsman complaints. Sensing some resentment from Betty I tell her – somewhat passive-aggressively, I admit – exactly how she can help me. Betty asks if I still want to proceed with the ADSL connection and I have no words. Unable to process how she could possibly imagine, in her wildest dreams, that I’d want to proceed with anything after all of this, I effectively back down from everything outlined in my letter and state, as my only remaining actual requirement, that I don’t want my mum slugged with any contract-breaking fee bollocks when we move her landline to another provider. Betty advises it will take her 3-5 days to review the matter and I don’t even flinch. By this time I’ve ceased to really care, most likely because I actually won’t believe anything Betty tells me anyway.
[Editorial comment: this should’ve been when things started to look up and when I should’ve felt that I was finally getting somewhere because I was actually speaking to someone who wanted to get the thing resolved. Except, of course, Dodo sent in Betty to resolve our complaint. Yes, all of this really was Dodo’s farcical response to a serious third-party complaint. The extent to which it, and Betty’s part in it, went wrong almost defies number. To say I was flabbergasted would be quite the understatement. The fact that I actually called the Ombudsman for a “where to next?” pep talk says a whole lot about how stuck I felt. It’s rare that I can’t decide what to do next, but the unmitigated shittyness of this thing had moved it somewhere beyond my realm of comprehension. That the second conversation with Betty commenced with an explanation that was based entirely around her making multiple baseless assumptions says a great deal about the way this mob does business – in fact it should call into question why Dodo is allowed to do business at all. As you might expect, to a ranty old man Betty was like the proverbial red flag. No, a massively passive-aggressive reaction from me was never going to convince a complaints officer who already clearly didn’t think much of her job or her customers to try any harder, but by this stage I felt like a human balloon in the latter stages of a slow leak. I truly wanted to take Dodo to task and really hold them to account and, ultimately, to extract an apology from Betty, or at least an acknowledgement of how exceedingly crap everything had been… but I just couldn’t be arsed. Relenting from every point I’d raised in my thus-far unread complaint was the only option I felt I had left, lest I risk dragging this thing out for the rest of eternity. I felt utterly defeated, having lost all desire to say a single word more to anyone at Dodo. It was a pretty sad state of affairs.]
- DAY 67: Betty calls back to ask how I’m going with moving mum’s landline to another provider. When I tell her I’m waiting for her to get back to me and tell me when it’s ready to happen, as per her instructions, she tells me that’s not what she said at all! On the plus side, she advises that there was indeed some form of “human error” at Dodo’s end and that an ADSL order hasn’t actually been placed. I’m relieved by her acknowledgement – even if only begrudging – that I really had requested a connection and that I actually wasn’t the cause of the whole kerfuffle, but she still can’t bring herself to actually apologise.
DAY 78: It’s finally over. After eleven weeks, no more Dodo. Everything’s back to Telstra, almost exactly as it was in mid-August, as if nothing ever happened.
What a debacle! Nearly 80 days since our first attempt to apply online with Dodo and what had we ended up with? Aside from mum having the exact same telco and ISP as she did 80 days previously, without having realised any of the hoped-for savings on her internet plan and now with a landline costing 50c a month more than before, all we actually got from Dodo was some of the most appalling customer service I’ve ever been a party to and a hugely flawed complaints process where the only resolution achieved was that I simply gave up, too brow-beaten to be bothered taking it any further.
So what do you do? Obviously you lessen the blow by assuming that all telco and ISP interactions will be generally unpleasant and will probably go wrong. You just assume that you’ll need to escalate inaction, chase people up and trot out threats of third-party referral just to get stuff done. But in the end what does all of that fuss a bother actually achieve aside from elevated blood pressure on the part of the customer? After my experience with Dodo, I’m not even convinced the Ombudsman folk have much faith in the process. Certainly, the guy I spoke to would benefit from some lessons in empathy – maybe he and Betty could go to classes together?
So why is customer service in Australia as bad as it is? Simple – as a nation, we don’t like complaining. We don’t like confrontation, even if we’re only questioning the quality of a product or service that we’ve paid good money for. We also don’t like being thought of as whingers, even though that’s actually what we should be doing more of. But over and above all that is a very real sense that, to a great extent, many organisations have so little – if any – competition that they effectively have us over a barrel. We can complain all we like but, ultimately, regardless of whether we get the resolution we want, where else are we going to go? And even if there is somewhere, what’s to say their service will be any better?
And then comes the clincher: in the end, most people just can’t be bothered making the change at all.
It’s so easy to feel defeated by it all, but as a nation we must do a better job of holding companies to account. If they make a promise, make them stick to it and if they break a promise, call them on it. If they’re not giving you the best deal, question them about it and if they’re not treating you the way a highly valued customer should be treated, whinge about it. It’s one thing for them to spout endless marketing rhetoric about how much they’ve changed and improved and how we are their number one priority and how they’ll only ever give us the very best of everything, but the reality of actually delivering on those promises is often another thing entirely. The less we say, the more we endorse their contemptuous attitude towards their customers.
By now you may well be thinking “FFS, get over yourself! There are so many far more important things going on in the world”. Yeah, there probably are. And no, this really isn’t that big of a deal. But it’s the principle of the thing.
Regardless of how many more important things are going on in the world, Dodo won’t change their position on customer satisfaction being top priority. Can you imagine: “Our much-loved customers are welcome to complain about any sub-standard service they receive, but there are so many far more important things going on in the world that Dodo can’t guarantee provision of service that our much-loved customers will be satisfied with” – nup, I can’t see that happening. So if companies aren’t going back-flip on customer satisfaction, neither should consumers start believing that poor service doesn’t matter. Poor service does matter and we must continue fighting the good fight whenever satisfaction is in short supply, either for as long as it takes to get the outcome we want, or for as long as we can hold out without curling up in to the foetal position and rocking back and forth in a corner.
Am I going back to Telstra? Probably not, unless I absolutely can’t avoid it. Will I stick with Dodo? Probably, for now at least. Let’s just hope I never have to speak to them again.
Meanwhile, I still haven’t told Betty that we’re all sorted. Let’s see how much she likes never hearing back from me!
* note ranty man sarcasm
** not his real name, even though I’m unconvinced the name he gave was actually his real name anyway
*** not her real name (see ** for more detail)