The Problem with Telemarketers

  • Make sure you know what you're talking about
  • Ask questions
  • The small print is more important than you think

On my way home today, I received my very first call (in several years) from a telemarketer at a very large telecommunications firm. I hadn't been on anyone's marketing list for some time - probably because I've had a mobile only for a decade, and the ability to tele market to mobiles has only recently been allowed by the ACCC. At any rate, I was very keen to hear how this was going to play - and I was also keen to hear deals, knowing that even big, expensive firms have to offer special deals from time to time.

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Most of the time, the service we provide at Compare Broadband is to offer some straightforward advice to consumers who have been burned in the past by calls exactly like this. We tend to be the people you call or consult 2 years after receiving a call like this, when you've been released from a contract and have had to learn, the VERY hard way, the finer points of telecommunications contract conditions. It might have been a huge overuse bill for a month of activity that, to their eyes, was exactly the same as the month before. It may have been a run-around for several weeks trying to get a service back on after a rainstorm knocked out your supposedly 21st century communications service. Or it may have just been several interactions with the opposite of the telemarketer: the put-upon tech support or billing consultant who has been encouraged to get you and your issue off the phone as quickly as possible, preferably after having sold you some other service you don't need, want or understand.

So I was very curious indeed to see what one of these calls sounds like - to see where, exactly, things go wrong and a misconception about your broadband or mobile service becomes a monthly ordeal. But in my heart, a big part of me wanted to believe that things can change, and that in the current marketplace, where so much information is available to consumers, marketers couldn't just outright lie anymore.

Alas, some things never change.


The sales rep was very fun and bubbly. Her rounded, almost-American accent suggested the Philippines, but she was clearly a native English speaker, wherever she was from or where her desk was. So no complaints there. She mentioned that I had once been their customer - true, but not since 2002 - and that they were determined to win me back!

I responded politely, but tried to make it clear I was really just interested in price. That wasn't going to play- the sales rep had a script and was determined to stick to it. First she asked what phone I was currently using. I said an iPhone 5, to which she reacted as if I was that one kid in class with really rich parents. She was still on the iPhone 4, and wanted to know if the 5 was worth it. I said it was faster and had an excellent screen.

Moving on, she wanted to know what apps I used. What I used them for. How many calls I made a day. To all of this I responded truthfully, if a tad brusque- I didn't blame her for this sales trickery. It's definitely a formula that works more often than not. But having been on the other end of this call several times in my life, all I could do was imagine the 4 weeks of training, with butchers paper and scented markers and "needs based analysis" and sexual harassment videos that preceded this artfully constructed dance.

Finally, she cut to the chase and asked who I was with. I mentioned a firm that is known in the business as an Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) - guys who wholesale network access from Optus, Telstra or Vodafone, and then sell on the access on huge value plans that put those three to shame - with the only real catch being that you need to go and buy a phone outright or stick with last year's model (ie. SIM only). Guys like Amaysim, or Dodo, or Kogan, who kind of make a mockery of the bloated provided regime by offering dirt cheap plans with unlimited calls and huge amounts of data.

The particular provider I mentioned uses the same network (without 4G data speeds) as the one I was being sold. This is common knowledge, but the sales rep made her first mis-step- she mentioned that her product provided better coverage. I played dumb, asking what the difference is. She lied (or misconstrued, however you want to see it) and said that the network I was on came with very slow data speeds and only worked in capital cities. All of this was dead wrong - but reminiscent of the truth. The MVNO plan came with 3G data only, usually around 6 Mbps (which is arguably more than enough for the low-bandwidth apps that you need to use with a phone anyway, thanks to the very small data limits) and that the MVNO version of their network has a very slightly smaller national footprint than their most up to date network expansion. But its still more than adequate to cover the city and most regional areas.

Once she realized that she had nothing up her sleeve to beat the deal I was already getting, she moved on to Broadband. She asked what speeds I get. I told her, clearly, that I was on ADSL2+, but that because I was 3km from my local exchange, I could only get about 7 Mbps. I said if she could get me Cable, I’d be interested.

Instead of offering to check that, she want into a needless explanation of the benefits of Cable – an odd tactic, seeing as how I’m the one who brought it up (“Shopkeep, get me some cheese”. “ Certainly sir. Were you aware that cheese is a type of delicious food?” Etc.)

She finally put me on hold to see if Cable was available at my address. It is and it isn’t – I had chased that up when first moving in. The Cable runs past my address, but because of how my house was split during development, there was no separate tap. I had finally gotten this ISP, after several weeks of escalation, to agree to go ahead with an install – but had decided against it anyway.

They did not retain that information against any marketing database (that I could get Cable with some extra work involved), instead going straight to NO. But they could give me “proper ADSL2+”, with speeds of 20Mbps.

At this point, I interjected. I advised her I was a techn journalist, and that I specifically write about broadband. I told her I didn’t want to get her into trouble by having her lie and then having to complain about it. I told her that what she had just said was an outright falsehood. All ADSL2+ is “up to” 20 or 24 Mbps (depending on the standard), with the actual speed mostly dependent on how close you live to the exchange. She couldn’t offer 20Mbps.



She started to protest, saying that her company had “better coverage and more exchanges”. I told her that unless they could build a tiny exchange within 200 meters of my home, they couldn’t deliver that speed. She insisted they could, but started to back out and wrap up the call. She actually said, at one point “well, you obviously know your stuff, so there’s nothing I can help you with”.

A Damn Shame

Isn’t it horrible that by being an informed consumer, I was an unsuitable candidate to be this company’s customer? At no point did I get upset or insult her or her company. I never objected to anything, except the stuff that was completely untrue.

On the other hand, if I had taken everything this rep had said as the truth, I would have likely signed up. And when my speed got no faster than what I was already on, what then? I would call their service team and be told exactly where, in the contract, the provision is included that speeds are ‘UP TO” 20 Mbps, with no speed guaranteed above 1.5 Mbps. I would be told that the recording of the call was not available. I would be told that to back out of my contract would cost me hundreds of dollars.

Why shouldn’t I trust a large ISP to give me the truth? Why do I need to be a 15 year veteran of the telecommunications industry to cut through spin and get to the true nature of a product on offer? What hope would my wife or mother, who neither know nor care how any of this works, when they get told “we are better, and our higher prices are indicative of that”?

Don’t fall prey to this, Call us today on 1300 106 571 and get real, straightforward advice on what’s right for you, what’s available, and how much it costs.