• How to escalate a complaint
  • Compare customer service
  • What steps you can take to get the result you need

Full disclosure – I’ve worked in the telecoms industry for over 10 years, including stints in sales, customer service and technical support. I’ve worked for BigPond, Optus, Vodafone and 3. The call centre industry has its own rhythms that are separate from the overall culture at those individual companies, even when the call centre is wholly owned and operated by the company, and not outsourced (which is pretty rare).

Despite the presence of shop fronts all over the country, inbound call centres are the primary Front-Of-House contact for the telecommunications industry, which is fitting when you think about it. Even Telstra’s comprehensive and really quite impressive retail offering is a relative tip to the large iceberg of their contact centre operations.

This guide is intended to de-mystify the contact centre and put some flesh on the disembodied voices that offer to assist us with maddening bill questions, technical disruptions and the minefield of plan options. We’re also hoping to include some handy tips on how to extract the best experience possible.

1.    They really are there to help you.

customer service

It takes just as much time to resolve an issue as it does to avoid it. If you’re under the impression that the person answering your call is there to wait you out while you vent your (justified) frustration - then you’re absolutely correct. BUT…that might be all you get.

Call centre workers are monitored, so they’ll rarely return any rudeness or hostility in kind. But there’s a lot of things they can do to provide you with a basic level of service, without really finding the solution you want. As frustrating as it can be to deal with technical and billing issues, it’s never a good idea to start off angry.

2.    They do have power.

Depending on the company and the issue, call centre workers have the discretion to immediately credit back disputed charges, book free technicians to address an issue, and even offer free equipment on new services. But in most cases, they can’t offer it straight away.

When making a dispute, it’s important to ask the right questions. Here’s an example:

Scenario: There is a $15 charge for international SMS on your bill. You weren’t aware that these fees weren’t included in the details of your cap plan.

Wrong: “I’m not paying these. I was never told that these fees weren’t included in my cap”.

Legally, you were told, by agreeing to terms and conditions.

Right: “I’m sorry, I wasn’t aware that these charges weren’t included. I think I may have missed that detail during the sign up process. Is there any way I could get a credit for this month, and see how I go in the future?”

It’s no secret that confusion and obscuring information are excellent tools for telecommunications companies who want your money. In fact, that’s why sites like ours exist, to cut through the fine print. But most companies want to avoid repeated enquiries, and are willing to cut you a break for ‘first offences”. You’re right if you think this isn’t fair – but this isn’t about fairness, this is about getting the result you need.

3.    YOU have power.

                  customer power

Every call you make to an ISP or telco (or any other business) costs them money. It costs money to pay someone to be there to take the call, it costs money to provide that person with the training and tools to help you, and it costs money the longer you stay on the line.

If you really, really feel that you’re not getting satisfaction from the person helping you, there’s nothing wrong with asking to speak to a team leader. But be prepared for a wait, and make sure you have a legitimate gripe. If the person seems to be avoiding your question, or seems to be lacking the training to assist you, that’s legitimate. If the person who has answered your call is being helpful and simply telling you something you don’t want to hear, you’re pretty much wasting your time.

Of course, you can go outside the bounds of that company and escalate your complaint higher. More on that at the bottom of the article.

4.    Don’t be helpless.

customer service frustration

Helping someone over the phone, essentially blindly, is very hard. It is made almost impossible if the first words out of your mouth are “Help Me!”. You may think this is funny, but to the person on the other end, this is a signal that they’re about to be in for a long call with someone who is on the brink of a nervous breakdown. Which you may be, but technical support aren’t going to be able to assist you with that.

Modems, phones, routers, computers and everything else are designed by engineers, and with a few exceptions (Apple) little care is given to making the device work properly, or easy to fix without a computing degree. Things are getting better, and a lot of equipment out there can be fixed with a reset. That might seem annoying to you, but it actually represents an amazing amount of progress. If only humans could be turned off and turned on again to repair a malfunctioning component.

Take the time to check for easy fixes before calling technical support. This includes making sure things are plugged in. Reset your hardware. Make sure the back of your computer or television is clean and has easy access before you call.
And when that fails, and you need to call technical support, absolutely do not say ‘Mymodemisn’tworkingandI’vealreadyresetitsodon’taskmetodothat”. They’re going to have to go over it again with you anyway, and they’re busily trying to picture your exact situation from your panicked ramblings. Being calm and letting the support person take the lead is in the best interest of everyone. On that:

5.    Don’t offer your own opinions.

This is a hard temptation to overcome. A little bit of knowledge is very dangerous, especially when it comes to telecommunications. 99% of the network is invisible – locked up in exchanges, underground pits and undersea cables. Your assumption that the network is useless because you can see the mobile tower from your window is a fun bit of detective work that you really need to keep to yourself. Let the person on the other end of the line do the hard work. On your end, report the problem and ask for a solution. And if you’re not happy with the solution or the time it takes, escalate the issue. But don’t waste time arguing about the causes.

6.    Communication problems.


Well, there’s little advice to offer here. Contact centres are more often in Australia than you may think. Sometimes, the foreign accent you’re hearing is from someone in Sydney – this is a pretty tempting country, after all. Sure, there’s a lot of outsourcing going on, to India and the Philippines, especially. But 2nd level support is still usually local.

On the other side of the call, communication problems exist too. Say what you will about the accent of a call centre worker in Mumbai or Manila – that person has at least received extensive training on how to best communicate with the English they have, how to moderate their tone, and how to lead a conversation towards a satisfying conclusion. Many native English speakers butcher the language and treat a phone call to a service provider like an informal chat down the pub. That can slow things down. Here’s some basic etiquette that will help speed up these interactions:

-    Make sure you’re calling in a quiet spot, with no distractions. Preferably on a landline.

-    Have a pen and paper handy.

-    Have your account number or username handy.

-    When asked for information (like your address  or full name), give your details at a     slow enough pace that someone typing it into a computer can keep up with. Don’t offer to spell something unless asked. Don’t be offended if someone doesn’t know how to spell your name. Phone calls aren’t as good as the human ear, and “Janine” can be Jeaninne. And no-one should be able to spell Mooloolaba, Gerrigerrup or Nunjikompita. Even the locals.

-    If it’s a bad connection, hang up and try again, or try from a different line. If they can’t hear you, they won’t be able to help you.

-    When spelling something, actually consider the person listening to you. V sounds like P. S sounds like F. N sounds like M. If your name is Andrew Vesofferims, then I’m sorry. But I’d also recommend when spelling your surname, do so like this “V for Victor. E for Echo. S for Sam. Oh for Oscar. Double F for Fred. E for Echo. R for Roger. I for India. M for Mike. S for Sam”. This will take 20 minutes. Just rattling off your name and hoping for the best will take 40 minutes.

And if you’re still not happy…

This is Australia, where the regulation is actually quite robust and the customer has plenty of power.

First- keep escalating the issue. Be polite, but firm. Just keep asking to speak to someone else. Be a reasonable nuisance. And of course, make sure you have a legitimate complaint. Prices being too high is not a legitimate complaint. A bill you can’t understand, full of inexplicable charges, is a legitimate complaint.

Second – Put the issue in writing.

Telstra – Contact the CEO’s complaints office. https://www.telstra.com.au/webforms/contact-ceo/index.cfm. Or write to

Telstra Locked Bag 20026
Melbourne VIC 3001

Optus – File a complaint online.
Or write to

Customer Relations Group
Locked Bag 31001
Flinders Lane VIC 8009

For other providers, see their website and click on Contact Us for details on how to log a complaint.

Third- Escalate the issue to the TIO. The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman is easy to contact and log a complaint with, and have quite a bit of power. But only use them as a last resort, if your service provider is really failing to help you.
Phone - 1800 062 058
Online - https://www.tio.com.au/making-a-complaint/submit-a-complaint (best results)
Other – refer to https://www.tio.com.au/contact-us

Finally - Use your wallet. You don’t always have the option to simply walk away from your provider. Not every internet service provider can service every area. Some mobile networks are simply better than others. But if you do have a choice, exercise it. Calling CompareBroadband on 1300 106 571, or CompareMobilePlans on 1300 850 518 is a good way to cut through the dross and find exactly what will suit you.

Here’s a list of select providers for Internet and Mobile with a reputation for superior customer service, and their latest customer service rating according to Roy Morgan research (Feb 2012):

Internode – 1300 106 571. 94% Customer satisfaction.
Optus – 1300 136 793. 80% Customer satisfaction.
TPG – 1300 106 571. 80% Customer satisfaction.

Other providers with a reputation for good customer service, not included in the Roy Morgan report, include

Eftel – 1300 106 571
Club Telco – 1300 138 155.

And remember – Be nice. Both on the phone, and otherwise :D