A meeting over coffee with a prominent business adviser gave rise to several interesting observations – and not all of them were mine. At one point we discussed the abysmal service I had been receiving from Telstra. I’ll spare you the details of our dispute but here are some key words to paint a picture: call centres, India, “I’m sorry, I can’t understand you” and “but yesterday one of your colleagues told me that …”
I commented that I could not understand how Telstra and other companies could possibly believe that putting their customers through the frustration and inconvenience of doing pitched battle with overseas call centre operators was customer-friendly. “I defy these companies to tell me that using offshore call centres is in their customers’ best interests,” I thundered before going on to make some choice observations about declining standards of customer service at some well-known companies. “If the chief executives of these companies took the trouble to experience first hand the poor service that their customers must endure, I’m sure things would be different.”
The adviser was not so sure. “They don’t care,” he said more in sorrow than in anger. “They know there's a good chance they’re going to lose your custom and they know why but they can’t afford to rectify the problems that are driving you away as a customer.”
He argued that business margins are so gossamer thin and cost-cutting so deeply entrenched that companies simply don’t have the flexibility and resources to respond when customers point out systemic failures in service delivery. “They work on the assumption that most angry customers won’t leave because it’s too inconvenient for them to change service provider – but if you do leave, it’s easier to just let you go.”
As it happened, the adviser had also been having difficulties with Telstra, his long-time telecommunications supplier. The last straw was when he walked into a Telstra shop to have a recurring problem with his internet service fixed. Despite, at his count, the presence of 15 salespeople, he was told by one of them that he would have to use an in-store computer to make an appointment with a Telstra help-desk consultant.
“That was the last straw,” he recalls. He walked out and went to a rival provider and opened new internet and mobile phone accounts. If his theory is right, Telstra is not missing him already.