Telco customer service reviewed
You hear horror stories about telco customer service all the time. They're brought up around the water cooler, posted as irate status updates, and grumbled about on online discussion forums on a regular basis.
But just how bad is the problem? Are all of the telcos really that terrible, or is it just one or two of them that are giving the rest a bad name?
I decided to find out for myself. Over the space of a week, I posed three sets of questions to three customer service reps from five mobile service providers on different days and times. I took note of everything from operating hours and waiting times to the quality of the menu system and skill of the reps.
This is isn't a scientific or comprehensive survey, and I really only scratched the surface of the potential issues that people can call about. But this should give you a good idea of how grim (or not so grim) the customer service experience is from mobile carriers in Australia – and the results may surprise you.
The funny thing about being the country's largest – and in many cases, the most expensive – telecommunications provider is that you'd naturally expect its customer service to be better than everyone else's. In my experience, it wasn't.
On one call, the rep advised me, incorrectly, that I'd need to replace my existing 3G SIM with a 4G SIM if I wanted to use Telstra's 4G service. When I asked about 4G coverage in my area, she assured me that I'd be able to get it if I could currently get NextG service – also incorrect. On another call, each question I asked (to do with coverage and handsets available) was followed by lengthy waits on hold while the rep checked her information sources. From the sound of it, she was checking the same Telstra website that I had access to, only the answers she gave me weren't always accurate.
Telstra's website claims that the customer service line is open 24/7 for personal customers calling about sales, billing and complaints. However, when I called at 7pm on a Monday with a query about my postpaid service, I was informed that the operating hours were from 7am to 6pm, Monday to Friday.
My experience with Optus's customer service was varied. For the first couple of calls, the reps I spoke to were lovely. I know this is the luck of the draw, and that I could just as easily have got through to staff that were surly and wishing they were somewhere else. But those first two calls left a positive impression.
Getting a technical issue fixed was another kettle of fish. She wasn't rude; she just didn't seem to know what she was doing. The details of my problem, which was that I couldn't connect to the internet on my smartphone, were duly typed into a computer at the other end, even though it's a fairly standard technical issue that she should have been able to start troubleshooting without help. I was put on hold for 12.5 minutes before I was finally put through to the Aussie call centre, where the rep was able to solve my problem in less than a minute. Total time on the phone for the tech support call: nearly 20 minutes.
It's clear that Vodafone is trying. You don't have to try and condense the reason for your call “in just a few words” so that poor old “Lara” will understand you – you can opt for the easier keypad selection. The website lists approximate wait times for each of the query types on the customer service hotline page, there's a callback service so that Vodafone “can do the waiting for you”, and for queries about plans, prepaid and billing, the customer service line is open 24/7.
But the menu system could still do with a bit of clean-up. You have to enter your phone number and passcode twice in a row, and even then, you're not necessarily passed on to the right department. My query was related to my prepaid service, and the rep that I was put through to confessed that she had no idea about prepaid and would need to transfer me.
What she didn't say was that she would be transferring me to call centre purgatory. I languished on hold for one hour and 17 minutes (despite the website listing zero wait times) before I hung up, hurled my phone across the room, and posted furiously about my experience on Facebook. At no point was I offered the Vodafone callback service. At least the call was free from my Vodafone SIM card.
Amaysim is the only carrier I tried that has a 'first line of defence' call centre in Australia. This makes a difference, but not for the reasons you may think. It's certainly a pleasant change to call a customer service line and not have to decipher the occasional heavy accent, but more importantly, there weren't layers of bureaucracy to wade through every time I called, no ping-ponging between different departments in different countries (and having to re-identify yourself to each person you speak to) just to solve a fairly simple problem. Each rep I spoke to was friendly, competent, and able to help me right off the bat.
The one downside to having the Aussie call centre is that you may not be able to get someone on the phone right away. The first time I called, I had to wait seven minutes, the second time 25 minutes, and the third time 1.5 minutes. The fact that you don't have to navigate any menu systems when you call the customer support line (it goes straight to the hold music) also suggests the call centre is quite small, although it was refreshing not having to grapple with multiple menu options before being put through.
Red Bull Mobile
Red Bull Mobile's customer service was excellent. Calls were connected immediately every time I rang, and the reps were skilled enough to know the finer details of each plan I asked about off the top of their heads. Granted, Red Bull Mobile's range of plans is a lot simpler than what is offered by some of the other carriers, but it was nice not having to be put on hold every time I asked a question. The menu system was also exceptionally easy to navigate, and you can be put through to a “real person” directly from the first layer.
From my experience, Red Bull Mobile offered the best customer service out of all the carriers I tried, subject to a couple of exceptions. All of the reps I spoke to had fairly heavy accents – I could understand them most of the time, but there were a few instances where I had to ask them to repeat what they had said. Also, while all of the reps I spoke to were competent, two out of the three of them sounded bored and one of them affected a somewhat patronising tone that was irritating to listen to.