2012/10/04

Telco Customer Service Madness: Case Study

Will Telstra, as it is now, survive to see the NBN contracts end in 35 years?
My view: It won't, not in its current form because of multiple failures within the Organisation.

Below is a case study that Telstra should deeply investigate as it encapsulates most of their challenges/deficiencies and could be used as an on-going Reference for Change, but why would they?

In an ideal world, the centre of the study would have these outcomes:
  • A personal meeting with the Head of Telstra for the State.
  • An apology from him, a guarantee it would never happen again and his personal phone number if further problems arose.
  • A desk audit of all records for their services and accounts to correct all errors.
  • A written account of:
    • Exactly what went wrong,
    • Why it couldn't be fixed, and
    • Why it won't recur.
  • An offer of compensation for the non-supply of service, for the hours of customer time wasted on the phone and waiting and an ex-gratia payment for the "pain and suffering" caused.
Case Study

The facts of the case study are:
  • Customer, 'A', has on their account multiple individuals, multiple service addresses, and multiple services for each individual and service address (mobiles, landlines, ADSL, Cable TV, Cable Internet, ...).
    • Whilst these are all domestic services, Telstra regularly deals with this complexity for SME's.
    • They are a "high-value" Telstra customer. This seemed irrelevant in the process.
    • Unsure if all individuals and services are billed together or by separate, linked accounts.
  • 'A' is also a Telstra shareholder, which seems to have been irrelevant in the process.
  • 'A' is highly educated, has run businesses and is well conversant with modern PC's and networking, relying on it for work and private life.
    • There are multiple family members who are quite I.T. literate and provide in-home I.T. support and troubleshooting.
  • A new Cable Internet service was ordered by 'C' in June. (date?)
    • The modem was never delivered.
    • When queried at the Telstra shop, customers were advised "the order had been cancelled".
    • The customers had not cancelled the order, nor been advised of that action.
  • 'A' had a working Cable Internet service that then became intermittent. It met their needs and wasn't reported as a fault due to very poor past customer experiences.
    • "Not wholly broken, don't tempt fate" was the reasoning.
  • 'B', another of the service holders, took it on themselves to report the fault to Telstra.
  • The first technician attended on 23rd-August, intending to change the cable modem.
    • They were unable to rectify the fault, did not replace the cable modem as it was serviceable and left saying "there is an error", which at some point changed to "an activation error".
    • The replacement cable modem was left on-site, unconnected.
    • 'A' was told the install failed because of "Error Code CCP0012",  and Tech suggested that the system “thought” there was already a modem on order.
    • Technician advised 'A' to call the general BigPond Enquires number (137 663), quote the Error Code, and the fault would be fixed.
  • Multiple technician attendances were booked:
    • Technician did not attend, did not phone customer. More than once? (date?)
    • Technician sent to wrong address, an old service address on the account. (17-Sep-2012).
    • Technician 'M' attended (19-Sep-2012), gave customer personal contact number and spent considerable time on-site and continued to work at resolving the fault.
      • Possibly instrumental and worthy of commendation.
    • 'M' followed-up a week later (25-Sep-2012) saying:
      • TRG (Technical Response Group?) were aware of the problem,
      • other customers (in the area, state, nationally?) were affected and
      • TRG didn't know when or if the Error Code could/would be cleared.
  • There were a large number of unsatisfactory and long (1-4 hour) calls to the "Help Desk". e.g. 18-Sep-2012 following Technician no-show.
    • 'A' was repeatedly shunted between departments (Accounting, Technical, ...), with no-one taking responsibility. The call finally dropped whilst 'on-hold'.
    • No evidence on subsequent calls of any knowledge of previous calls. Every call was a return to the "pass the parcel" with no person/department taking responsibility.
  • A Telstra complaint was lodged (04-Sep-2012), 'A' was given a "trouble ticket" number and told to contact Technical Support (number supplied). [[Two people assigned to the case (?), with promises to call-back within 24 hours.]]
    • Tech Support called (11-Sep-2012), on-site visit booked for following week (17-Sep).
    • Being able to speak to someone with "English as a First Language" had been an immense relief to 'A'. Finally their concerns were noted and seemed to be taken seriously.
    • Neither person called 'A' back within 24 hours.
    • When contacted, the complaints folk said they'd tried to contact 'A' using an incorrect phone number, one 'A' had never held. No apology was made for this. The complaints people could not correct the database error.
      • Having the number corrected took a good deal of time and effort in itself. Multiple departments claimed "can't do it" or "not my area".
    • 'A's mobile phone number has been registered with Telstra as their primary contact point for more than a decade. Why were any of the databases incorrect?
  • After this (mid-late Sep-2012?) a very confident Telstra employee rang and identified themselves as "Level 3 support" and embarked on a very long and trying support call. They reassured 'A' that they could and would fix the fault.
    • Under instruction, the replacement modem was connected by 'A' and failed to work.
    • When the original modem was reconnected, it failed to work as well.
      • The service was now non-operational and the support person left it that way.
      • No apology or explanation was offered.
      • The "support" person did not book a recall or ever call back.
    • 'A' was nonplussed: Telstra had oversold their competency and destroyed a usable service without progressing resolution of the fault.
  • 'A' visited a local Telstra Shop (26-Sep-2012). Wished:
    • a credit for the time the service was not provided, and
    • to cancel the cable internet service.
    • 'A' was told that because of the technician visit arranged for the next day, the service could not be cancelled. The Telstra Shop staff were not interested that the fault had not been fixed in a month.
    • 'A' had wished to speak, as a shareholder, to someone senior about costs to the business for the fault. The manager was not present, no meeting was organised.
    • 'A'  had wished to request checking and correct all related account and service records. This was not organised either.
  • 'A' purchased a Telstra prepaid wireless modem from Australia Post (26 or 27-Sep-2012), unable to get working after spending time with Call Centre. Device returned. (date?)
  • 'A' bought a Vodafone prepaid wireless modem from Australia Post (26 or 27-Sep-2012) and after a few false starts, got it working and regained their Internet service.
  • Telstra Complaints officer called next day (27-Sep-2012) to say "we're working on it".
  • Telstra sent a standard e-mail survey following up on the prepaid wireless modem (bought 27-Sep-2012).
    • 'A' detailed their disappointment in Telstra service and invited them to call.
  • (02-Oct-2012) A Melbourne based Customer Service rep.. 'R', called 'A' about the wireless modem and the on-going fault. 'R' said they would ring the next day.
  • (02-Oct-2012) The Teltra Complaints Officier assigned to 'A' called saying another person in their section would contact 'A' later that morning.
    • No call was received.
    • 'A' left messages that afternoon and the next morning. These were not returned.
  • (03-Oct-2012) 'R' rang 'A' in a conference call including a technician , 'J'  in Melbourne. 'R' had to leave the call early, with 'J' spending an hour on the phone with 'A', attempting "a manual override" of the Error Code. This required long waits and providing the hardware address of the original modem. This had to be read by 'A', 'J' did not seem to have this on record.
    • This over-ride appeared successul at the time.
    • The connection failed overnight.
    • It seems to be working today.
    • How will 'A' know the fault has been cleared?
      • They currently believe the fault is rectified.
    • Why wasn't this done on, or just after, the first site visit, six weeks earlier?
      • Why the long wait and run-around?
  • After the apparent resolution, 'A' had multiple calls from people within Telstra, all very excited the fault had been fixed.
    • None offered an apology or any compensation, some seemed to claim direct credit.
    • None offered an explanation of either the Technical fault within their systems, nor what had gone wrong with internal Telstra processes and automatic systems to cause the multiple faults suffered.
    • None offered a "magic phrase" to be repeated to Technicians and Help Desk about the fault should it recur.
    • No on-going "trouble ticket" number was given to 'A', should the fault recur.
    • No-one offered a shortcut for service if the fault recurred shortly.
  • After the overnight service disruption, it wasn't clear if one of the other Telstra personnel had undone the "manual override" with an individual attempt to rectify the fault they'd claimed.
    • There was no evidence of good co-ordination amongst the various Telstra "Silos".
  • 'A' had concluded on 3 October, that  Error Code CCP0012, is not a technical problem, nor is it an accounting problem, but an Activation error problem and simply a code that needs to be removed from the Telstra system to allow the modem to connect and activate.
  • 'A' raised a complaint with the TIO (Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman) (03-Oct-2012) sending their records of the incident.
  • 'A' had been originally told "there is construction work in your area, a cable may have been cut". This seems to have been a deliberate, misleading statement.
  • Telstra did not give any hint that after a month:
    • That the fault had been escalated
    • That for failing to provide the service, they would rebate 'A' the service charge.
    • No offer was made to supply a temporary service, such as a 3G USB modem.
  • 'A' had had to cancel a number of important business and personal meetings to wait aimlessly for a Telstra technician to attend on multiple occasions.
    • No option for an increased priority owing to the long-standing nature and difficultly of the fault was offered.
    • Telstra would never offer better than a 4-hour window for any attendance. They never scheduled 'A' at the beginning of the window, always near the end, or didn't attend.
Psychological Dimension: Induced Pain and Suffering

It's also worth noting that completely out of character, 'A' suffered extreme agitation, frustation and desperation at both the impenetrable wall of "service" and the inability to be heard, treated respectfully and to get a resolution to a service that had become necessary for conducting their business and life.

This isn't a "minor annoyance" or idiosyncratic: there is some very deep human psychology involved.

There's a branch of psychological therapy that relies on our limbic systems' (the cingulate nucleus) response to attaining goals: pre- and post-goal attainment happiness, two very distinct and important phases.

For all humans, striving and overcoming challenges is innate and core to our psychological well-being.

Consistently setting goals and achieving them isn't just "nice", but necessary, for our continued happiness and psychological well-being. Goal Attainment forms the basis of various powerful approaches addressing Depression and other conditions.

Knowingly and uncaringly forcing people into powerlessness and frustration would, in an OH&S workplace setting, be illegal: employers are required in Australia to provide a Safe Workplace. Deliberately causing employees harm, physical, emotional or psychological, is illegal and attracts civil penalties, as well as curative support for those affected.

I'm not sure if current OH&S law can be extended to customers. If so, companies like Telstra which seemingly have a policy and strategy of blocking communications and frustrating customers, would face considerable penalties...

The positive effects of Goal Attainment means the inverse, preventing people from achieving goals, is devastating, more so for high-performing individuals like 'A'. It can be categorised as "cruel and unusual" treatment, especially if intermixed with multiple events setting up false hopes and then dashing them. The human response in this case is even more profound and damaging.

Systemic Failures within Telstra

This whole adventure was unnecessary and presumably preventable: some automatic system failed when a new Cable Modem was ordered and incorrect configuration data uploaded to an operational system, without detection, audit or correction. Who has been charged with finding the root cause?

The final fix, a "manual override", should at worst, have been done the next day by the technician 'R' in Melbourne, prompted by the call from 'A'.

If Telstra's fault resolution system had worked properly, the fault would have been automatically passed to 'R's section as soon as the first technician recorded the Error Code.

  • Telstra has no fault escalation procedures, conclusively demonstrated here.
    • After any fault has been open/unresolved for two weeks, it should have been escalated to the Head of Operations for the State.
    • Any fault that is due to an internal process failure, like this, should be immediately escalated to senior officers with full cross-organisational authority and access to diagnose the root cause and initiate permanent prevention measures.
    • Own-goal process faults like these need to be reviewed, tracked and addressed by the CEO and their Senior Management Team.
      • They threaten the viability of the whole business and sufficient Responsibility and Authority only comes together at the top of all Silos, the CEO and their team.
  • High-value multi-service clients are treated worse than low-value customers: there are demonstrated errors in Service and CRM databases.
    • There is a major deficiency within Telstra: nobody is checking and correcting these service records.
      • After the "IT Transformation" project, it was known that high-value customers could not be automatically transferred.
      • To have stale data in multiple locations (service address, customer contact) says the database is seriously compromised, leading to many costly preventable errors.
    • Who is responsible and accountable for Data Quality, and do they have the Authority, will and budget to force records to be corrected?
      • This appears to be a major organisational failing and oversight.
  • Correcting faults in Telstra records is onerous and time consuming for Customers, it should be simple and easy.
    • It cannot be done in real-time whilst speaking to Service Reps, or
    • Service Reps are poorly trained or refuse to execute their tasks.
  • Telstra shareholders are treated no better than anyone else.
    • This is a marketing opportunity going begging to create engaged and supportive shareholders. Telstra has one of the largest 'Mom and Pop' share registers.
      • Service discounts, special offers and loyalty bonuses are possible.
      • Special service and access arrangements for shareholders would encourage them to give all their business and that of their immediate families to Telstra.
  • Telstra BigPond seems to offer nothing like the Telephony Customer Service Guarantee (CSG).
    • The Internet is a vital lifeline personally, professionally and in business for almost all Telstra customers now.
    • Decent Service Guarantees would match Consumer expectations and usage, as well as provide Product Differentiation.
  • Telstra's Offshore "Help Desk" with ESL speakers are counter-productive, especially for complex, long-running faults.
    • Whilst possibly tolerable for simple tasks and "script driven" data acquisition, they are a Nett Negative Value in this situation and many others. Saving money on Help Desks may be illusory and detrimental to the whole business.
      • Allow Customers to choose more expensive support options:
        • Like Airlines, offer multiple levels of pay-for-service, allowing the business to maximise profits by offering multiple price-points. (No "money left on the table").
        • Higher cost support could be automatically included as 'upgrades' for high-value customers, as Banks do.
      • After two calls on the same fault, automatically direct the Customer to a specialist Held Desk with a single person assigned and responsible for achieving Customer Satisfaction.
        • Instead of measuring "time to finish or transfer call", complex calls need to measure "Time until Customer is fully satisfied". Only the Customer can close   complex faults.
  • The Help Desk practice of "pass the parcel" is frustrating to Customers and Counter-productive as it causes significant Brand Damage.
    • Somebody within Telstra needs to be responsible for detecting, monitoring/reporting and preventing this situation.
    • Ideally, the phone system should track customers who are passed around and offer them a "circuit breaker".
  • Making Customers wait on Help Desk queues for hours serves no purpose other than weeding out those with better things to do, prompting them to look for alternate service providers.
    • Long Help Desk delays are an invitation for Customers to Choose Another Carrier, a tactic which would not impress shareholders one iota.
    • Under provisioning Help Desk service staff only serves to reinforce the stereotypical image provided by Lily Tomlin in her "We're the Phone Company" sketches. This is against the best interests of the Business.
    • This reinforces Telstra as a Toxic Brand to Customers. Whilst Customers have no better place to go, they will tolerate it. Given the choice, they will flee, never to return.
    • This is known, preventable Brand Damage at its worst.
  • Complex faults are slow and difficult to solve. This isn't simply a Customer Service and Brand Damage issue, but very expensive to the organisation.
    • This fault cost $5-10,000 more than it should have.
    • We know that this wasn't a one-off and that other Cable Internet subscribers were affected, but their faults weren't resolved.
  • The initial problem, the non-supply of an ordered service, was never addressed.
    • How much business can an organisation deliberately throw away and survive?
    • It seems nobody is directly responsible or accountable for this lost revenue.
  • Telstra, if it wants to engage and retain customers, must never internally cancel a service order without contacting the customer, explaining the situation and offering alternatives, It's an opportunity to "upsell" the client.
  • There is a major fault with the Technician ticket system: The first on-site Technician should not have been able to pass a known, unresolvable fault back to general enquiries.
    • Telstra confirmed that "TRG":
      • knew of the "Error Code CCP0012" fault,
      • that it affected multiple customers,
      • presumably they had no idea of the immediate or root cause, and
      • they had no idea of when they would be able to fix it.
    • In ITIL-speak, this was a Severity One Major Problem, but wasn't classified as such.
      • An appropriate organisational response would've been to establish a war-room comprising the State Heads of Branches and Senior Line-of-Business Managers.
      • Following the successful work-around, all other faults associated with the Problem should've been corrected.
      • Investigations initiated as to the root causes (automatic systems and processes) responsible for the error and means of detecting recurrences and costs of prevention measures.
  • Telstra's Problem Management is either deficient or non-existent.
    • Problems are not Faults, but the cause of one or more Faults.
    • To have a Known Problem not detected by the Fault Ticket Handling system is a major Professional failure that should be explicitly investigated and reviewed.
    • All the Help Desk and Technical Systems should've found an outstanding Problem with "Error Code CCP0012", with a known workaround ("manual over-ride").
      • The systems and processes need Review and correction.
      • A major internal inquiry is needed to uncover the root causes of this meta-failure.
  • Multiple Telstra employees were contacting the Client unbeknownst to one another.
    • This is the compelling reason for a CRM, a "single Client Communication Flow".
    • This definitively failed, either because the CRM was faulty, or it was bypassed or procedures ignored.
      • All of these are cause for deep concern and deserve an inquiry.
  • The inability of the Complaints Officer to progress the issue, or identify it was a Known Unresolved Problem, means their systems and/or processes are deficient or faulty.
    • This is a major problem deserving immediate attention.
  • The fault was only resolved accidentally when a Customer Survey person became involved and somehow was able to refer the fault to a diligent, competent and active Technician.
  • The unidentified "level 3" support person that caused the service to fail entirely should be found and castigated, as should the many service personnel who failed to follow-through on the fault.
    • These actions are consistent with a widespread attitude of "Care Factor: Zero", inimical to resolving faults or preventing faults through good Problem Management.
    • The one Technician who persevered should be found and commended.
  • The consistent lack of apology to the Client, the lack of any offers to provide an alternate service until the service was restored or anyone offering the statutory minimum (under the TPA/CCA) of rebating service charges show a systemic failure in even adequate, not good, Customer Service training and knowledge of legal requirements.
    • At a minimum, this is a systemic Training failure.
    • It indicates that nobody is monitoring, measuring and reporting on general levels of Customer Service and evaluating adequacy of Training.
  • The most critical and over-arching and pervasive Failure is the identification and investigation/analysis of massive cost over-runs on service faults etc:
    • This fault cost the organisation an unnecessary $5-10,000, more than the $100/year service margin could ever return.
    • This will not be an isolated occurrence, many of these will be eating away at Profits and turning away Customers, particularly high-value long-term Clients.
    • This only got resolved through an accidental interaction, the Customer Survey person who bothered to follow-up on the feedback. This bodes very poorly for the future performance on the organisation.
    • By rights, Telstra should have standing reports with automatic escalation:
      • Identify full internal cost to resolve faults and other service issues.
      • Report and escalate excessive fault resolution costs to Senior Management.
      • Mandate Root Cause Analysis  (RCA) of the "Top Ten" faults found in the RCA's.
      • Require the CEO and their Senior Management Team to track all "Top Ten" issues and regularly report to the Board on progress and problems identified.

The irony is that I shouldn't be writing this analysis at all. None of this should've happened in a well-run organisation that cared sufficiently for its Customers.

The tragedy is that Telstra will probably continue "Fat, Dumb and Happy" for the next 10-15 years in blissful ignorance of this piece and then wonder why they are "suddenly" losing Customers, disproportionately their most valuable, at an accelerating rate.

4 comments:

Eprexy said...

I'm experiencing the same problem. Sadly we are in 2016 and this post is from 2012. WTF?

Steve Jenkin said...

This is why I documented the event - so others in the future could find it.

You might ask your Telstra rep to read the story and comment on the similarities, or lack.
Or follow the lead and approach the office of the CEO for help.

Good luck.

Toby Barnbrook said...

This is my experience right now and I have found over 12000 yes 12000 similar posted complaints on line. What is going on, this needs to be raised at the share holder meetings. I would rather see a new Telco in the market and invest in them. I am sick of the 24 hour locked in evaluation of the issue and international call centre language frustration.

Toby Barnbrook said...

I am now more disappointed in Telstra to see my experience is the same as someone back in 2012. Why is this not addressed? All share holders should be outraged and the government should fine them for breach of service.
I am willing to put my name to any class action.
I would rather invest in a new Telco and see Telstra go insolvent