Life, death and Telstra

Last week it was Centrelink; this week it’s Telstra.

Surprising really, that they should find their way into this column, which is mostly dedicated to the lighter side of life. But three hours on the phone to Telstra saying the same things over and over, receiving the same worthless responses over and over, and then being sold a product I can’t use is funny, in a way. If you’re a masochist.

I bought a Bigpond wireless package for my internet connection. I bought it from a person on the end of a phone. His name was Wal. He was very nice. It’s amazing how easy it is to talk to a real person when you want to buy something. It’s when you want some back-up service that things go pear-shaped.

Telstra sent me a warm and friendly message telling me my order was being processed and if I wanted to track its progress to my front door I could log onto the internet and find out. So I tried. They locked me out at the third attempt and advised me I should telephone to sort it out. So I telephoned. I had an affable conversation with a robot for a while, before being told by a real person that I’d rung the wrong number. She gave me the right number, which I rang, and I had an affable conversation with a robot there, too. When I finally found a real person they asked me what the problem was with my Bigpond wireless package.

“I haven’t got it.”

“Is it not connecting, or is it connected but you’re unable to use email, or internet?”

“All of those. It hasn’t arrive yet.”

There followed a confused conversation in which I tried to explain that I simply wanted to trace how far away my order was, but I couldn’t because the system had locked me out. She reset my password. I said thank you and goodbye and I tried to log on again. I was locked out on the third go. I telephoned; spoke to a robot; I spoke to a person (eventually). The person asked me what problem I was having connecting. I said (again) that the problem was that I didn’t have anything to connect with and all I wanted to do was find out when it might be delivered.

And so life went on. Or not, depending on what you feel qualifies as a life. Not, in my view, making five phone calls, all for the same purpose, and getting the same worthless response every time. Nor spending one and a half hours (in the fourth phone call), with 20 minutes of it on hold, only to be cut off at the end of that time.

On the fifth phone call I was angry. I’m a patient man, and even my anger is reasonably well modulated. I was still nice to the robot and I was still nice to the woman I finally spoke to, although I did tell her I didn’t have any faith in her or her products and that I’d rather speak to her supervisor, although I doubted I’d have any faith in her/him either. I explained, for the fifth time, what I was seeking to achieve. She went away. I listened to the calming strains of Telstra’s on-hold music. They’d be better off offering Valium. She came back. “The reason you can’t connect is because the system is down,” she said.

What can I say? I thought about killing myself. To be honest, I thought more about killing her, but in my heart I knew that wouldn’t be fair. How can I combat the faceless incompetence of an organisation that is so indifferent to the individuals who are a major part of its core business? By sending their bloody product back — that’s how! You’ll be interested to hear that it did finally arrive, and more interested (but perhaps not surprised) to discover that when it did – it didn’t work!

On the subject of large organisations and the frustrations of dealing with them, I’m delighted to say that my swipe at Centrelink last week elicited a response from a Centrelink manager expressing concern about my experience.

Just in case I failed to make myself clear last week, let me say now that I think Centrelink staff are great. They do a tough job, especially now, when unemployment is rising and more and more people need help, and they generally manage to be affable and helpful through it all. I’m still not convinced that their systems are any good, or that in the corridors of central Centrelink power there’s any real concern about it; but at the coalface, across the Centrelink desks where those in need, eventually, get to sit, the staff are doing their best, so let’s give them a break. Me included.