Friday, 21 February 2014

Waiting for Telstra

There's an old joke from Communist Eastern Europe about a man who goes to buy a Trabant or Lada, (depending on which country you were in), car. The year is, say, 1984, and the salesman tells the man the car will be delivered in 1988. 'When?' asks the customer. 'October', the salesman tells him. 'When in October?' asks the customer. 'The tenth', replies the salesman.  'When on the tenth?' asks the customer. 'Why are you asking?' asks the salesman. 'Oh it's just that they're delivering the washing machine in the morning.'

That's what happens when you have monopolies. And Telstra, at least in rural Australia, is pretty much a monopoly - certainly all the people I know who live in the country don't dare use another supplier, because Telstra owns the lines and so, if anything goes wrong, they rely on Telstra to fix it, and, if they're not a Telstra customer, they have the impression that they're unlikely to get much help.

Which is how it came to pass that my mother and I spent yesterday waiting for Telstra. She'd received a telephone message last week bringing her the news that a Telstra technician would be coming amongst us some time between eight and twelve on Thursday, the twentieth, and I'd been drafted in, due to her touching, if misplaced, faith in my ability to speak tech.

By ten past twelve, it became clear that things were not going according to plan, and so we rang the number we'd been given by Telstra. A nice young woman in the Philippines commiserated with us and explained that the technicians might be running late,  (really? I wish I'd thought of that), but that there was absolutely no way that she or anyone else could contact them. She said she'd ring us back in an hour, to see if they'd arrived.

She didn't.

As we couldn't ring back the nice young woman in the Philippines, because cunningly she hadn't supplied either her name or a direct number, we decided to try the pleasant fellow who'd signed my mother up for the thing the technicians were coming out to fix up. We got through to him quite easily and he was as pleasant as when we'd first met him, but, just as his colleague in the Philippines had done already, he explained that it was completely impossible to contact the technicians to find out what might be going on.

The day dragged on. Nobody came. Eventually at four thirty the girl from the Philippines who'd said she'd ring hours earlier telephoned to tell us that 'due to the pressure of heavy workload' the technicians would not be coming to mum's place at all and that my mother would now have to make a new appointment. The day she proposed for the new appointment turned out to be the day to which my mother had rescheduled her appointment with the dentist - the one she was supposed to have yesterday, except that she thought that Telstra was coming. When my mother explained this, the girl said she'd ring back.

She didn't.

My main question at the end of all this is: how can it be that a company that is in the business of telecommunications is totally unable to communicate with its staff - namely, the uncontactable technicians - and how come those technicians are unable to telephone the people they are supposed to be visiting to tell them what is going on? Not only do we live in a world of mobile telephones and internet access - Telstra is the company that supplies these things. Isn't there something very wrong with the way it runs its own organisation, if, while going about the business of supplying telecommunications to its customers it is unable to use those same telecommunications to keep in touch with the people who work within it?

Perhaps the people at Telstra think all their customers are telepathic. We're not - that's why we need them to supply us with Internet and land lines and mobile telephones. And we're not asking for miracles, simply efficiency, something that all the advances in telecommunication should make easier. To put it simply: Telstra, why don't you just give your technicians mobile phones?


  1. The nearest I have come to having a heart attack was just over a year ago, when I asked British Telecom to install a phone socket in my cowshed. It was a complete farce that seemed to boil down to the fact that the nearest telephone pole was three fields away and the job would require extra work. But nobody in BT seemed to communicate with each other, so engineers would turn up time after time, unaware that there was no telephone line to connect to. The call centre workers were always extremely polite and sympathetic and managed to trick me into thinking that something was finally going to happen. But it never did.

    It took six weeks and at least ten hours' worth of phone calls (most of which were spent on hold while I listened to ghastly music) before I finally got my line installed.

    I'm sure that if BT didn't have a virtual monopoly on installing lines, it would have been a different story. But I also think that it's a probably of scale too. In large companies, employees don't want or need to take responsibility for anything that's difficult, because it's so much easier to just pass the buck.

    1. Oh the ghastly music, oh why did you remind me, ugh, ugh, ugh. That should be a crime against humanity in its own right, never mind the rest of the torture. And yes, the large organisation thing is undoubtedly part of the problem - but what are all those courses managers are sent on supposed to be about, if not trying to work out how to resolve those kinds of problems? All that butchers' paper, all those brainstorming sessions - they really are just a complete waste of time aren't they (which makes me feel better about locking myself in the lavatory for an hour and a half during one of them, just because I couldn't stand it for a minute more [but what if everyone did that?])