What do Telstra support and scam emails have in common?

NigerianScamI’ve once again only recently surfaced from the rabbit-hole that is Telstra support, scarred, damaged, and a bit thoughtful. Why on Earth can’t an organisation the size of Telstra provide a decent level of support? Let alone one that doesn’t seem to be deliberately awful and misleading. A bit of research suggests a reason.

The New York Times recently published an article on Why Tech Support is (Purposely) Unbearbale. Basically part of its argument is that big organisations with high switching costs deliberately make tech support ugly to weed out the time-wasters. If you’ve stuck with it through the interminable hold listening to the best hits of the 1980s and then struggled through the crackly line to communicate with an over-worked minion in a cavernous call-centre, you really want to get a response.

And it’s in this way that support is like a Nigerian email scam. Scam emails are deliberately badly written to weed out the false-positives. If you get a poorly worded email from Nigeria and actually respond the scammers know they have a live one, they are not wasting time on people who will only later realise they are being scammed. If the initial stages of support are awful, the people who persevere are the committed ones that you can expend your scarce customer-service resources on.

So too in my recent experiences with Telstra. In both my most recent experiences I’ve been told what are basically outright lies in the initial stages: “Your internet connection physically can’t run any faster that what you are getting.” and “That model of replacement mobile phone is no longer available and so you’ll have to choose something else.” If I’d accepted those responses at face value the problem would have gone away for the customer service team and for Telstra. By being willing to spend more time on hold, to do some research, and insisting that this could not be so I forced Telstra to actually address my issues and fix them (Internet speed now three times faster; model of phone I wanted is in my pocket.)

Do I know that Telstra is cynically making their customer service bad as part of a triaging conspiracy? No. But it’s either that or your more basic human incompetence.

Interestingly, the NYT article suggests using Facebook or Twitter to contact support: “You are likely to get a quicker response, not only because fewer people try that channel but also because your use of social media shows that you know how to vent your frustration to a wider audience if your needs are not met…” My own experience with Telstra is that the way to get effective service is to use their online chat facility. Not only do the people manning it seem to know what they are doing, but you don’t get stuck listening to 80s Muzak while on hold.

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