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Why does Telstra stuff people around?

I am helping my aunt and uncle move from one state to another, and in cancelling a Telstra bundle from May 30, their email got switched off within an hour of that call.

An update is in the middle of this article, and there is a second update at the end of this article. 

Telstra. Making it easy to hate Telstra. David Thodey, former chief executive, spent millions upon millions in improving customer service.

Andrew Penn seems to be undoing all of Thodey’s good work.

I was still on hold with Telstra as I typed this article, but only just got off the line. Earlier today, I called Telstra on a three-way call. Myself, my aunt and Telstra.

My aunt came to Australia about 10 years ago and, while she speaks English, it is her second language, so I’m often the translator and tech help.

Calling Telstra to cancel the "Telstra Medium Bundle" for Internet and home phone was easy enough. My relatives are on a contract until 19 August, 2018, and their payout fee to cancel the contract early is $223.55.

The service is to continue until 5pm on May 30, 2017, as they are leaving on May 31, 2017.

On top of this fee is the pro-rata amount for the month that is to be paid.

My relatives aren’t switching over to Telstra at their new address because they aren’t connecting to the Internet immediately while they are there. They will get reconnected in a few months as they will be travelling back and forth between Adelaide and Sydney and have access to Internet on their smartphones. 

Their usage is low – they are not super heavy users, so they can get away with this for a while, and can save some money. 

One of the questions we asked before cancelling the service from May 30, 2017, was whether their email address would continue working and, if not, what the price was to keep it going, as friends have done when moving from Telstra to some other service.

Well, there was an assurance that my aunt’s bigpond.com email address would continue being active for the next 12 months, after which a $79 yearly fee would apply should she want to continue using it.

As you can imagine, having access to email at this time is important, and we were relieved to hear this.

My relatives are dealing with various authorities to have new services switched on. They’re dealing with their accountant, employers and more.

Having an email address is important, especially one that has been in use for many, many years!

So, it turns out that around an hour after we got off the line with Telstra, my aunt tells me her accountant has called her to say that emails are bouncing back.

I also emailed my aunt, only to see that Telstra’s bigpond.com server was replying: “Your message wasn't delivered to ___@bigpond.com because the address couldn't be found. Check for typos or unnecessary spaces and try again.

“The response was:
“550 <____@bigpond.com>; recipient rejected. IB603a”

What? WTF? Telstra has cut off my aunt’s only email address, one she has had for years with Telstra, after telling us that she will have access to it free for the next 12 months?

If this email was going to be cut off for any length of time, isn’t this something Telstra should have told us before allowing us to cancel? We told Telstra the service was being cut because of a move, and that we wanted to keep the email address. 

We would have delayed the cut-off to a week or two in the future had we known this would disrupt her email address, but there was no mention of this on the phone! It also begs the question of why the email address needs to be switched off at all, especially when the customer has specifically indicated they are keeping it, at least for the free year-long period, if not longer. 

On top of that, my uncle is continuing his mobile service with Telstra, so my aunt and uncle are still Telstra customers.

So, we call Telstra back and ask what the heck is going on. A very nice lady proceeds to put us on hold to find out what is going on. My relatives are lucky that I am able to help them, because non-technical people would have greater difficulty understanding WTF Telstra has just done to them and why their email has died all of a sudden.

We are told that it will take up to 24 hours for the email to be restored. I explain, calmly at first, but quite angrily soon enough, that this is simply completely unacceptable and the email needs to be switched back on immediately!! How hard could it be to flick a switch, or click an on-screen button, and if it is going to take 24 hours, what kind of multi-billion dollar Mickey Mouse operation is Telstra running?

I also tell the tech support person that Telstra managers should listen to my call as I get very, very annoyed at this ridiculous turn of events, and to feel free to broadcast it across Australia, as I engage in a bit of incredulous yelling that Telstra could do this to anyone, let alone my relatives, because people are damn well fed-up with Telstra screwing them around!!

My aunt and uncle’s email address shouldn’t be switched off for five minutes, let alone up to 24 hours.

I’m still on hold now, waiting to speak to a manager, although I was told that the manager would tell me the same thing. We decided to stay on hold despite being promised a manager would call back in 30 minutes, because we have all heard such promises before only for no call to ever come back – and we wanted that email address restored!

Update 1: We never got through to the manager – no surprise. I was told to call back on 13 22 00 — the same number I was already on — and speak to complaints. So I did, but it appears there is no complaints department I could get through to, I just got put through back to tech support – and another young fellow is seeming to make more progress in helping me, but it still looks like it will take 24 hours. I'm still on the phone with him as I type.

Story continues, with a second update at the end of this article where I did get put through to the complaints resolution department after all:  

Also — if Telstra is cutting people off like this, Telstra needs to change its processes — why cut off an email address that is part of a bundle, which has likely been used for years, especially when you ask to have the email address continued and have been promised free access to it for 12 months? It's clearly a terrible process in place at Australia's biggest and oldest telco. The email should never have been switched off in the first place. How many other people have been similarly stuffed around?

I've asked Telstra to change its processes so that this never happens to anyone ever again, or at the very, very least, that people are given notice of an email interruption. That's terrible, though; people should not be forced to experience any interruption to their email at all that isn't a planned or unplanned outage. 

With so many years under its belt, customer service should have been figured out a long time ago, yet Telstra is likely screwing huge numbers of people around every day in a similar manner. 

Well, Telstra, it just isn’t good enough. If you are going to switch off someone’s email, after they have specifically checked that it would continue, and you don’t give them any notice that this is happening, then this is truly appalling and absolutely disgusting customer service. 

I am demanding that my relatives get compensation for stuffing them around – they need to sign documents and email them now. They are waiting on documents from their accountant now.

They have used the same email address for years and while I will move them to Gmail or something else, they have been very happy customers of Telstra for years.

If this truly is going to take more than 24 hours, then obviously I will set up a different email address for them no matter what, but this simply should not have happened in the first place.

However, Telstra clearly thinks it is ok to stuff people’s lives around by frivolously cancelling email addresses without telling the customer. It isn’t!

Telstra needs to pay for this mistake. It needs to learn that its customers are the most important people – without customers, Telstra doesn’t have a business.

Call this a rant if you want, but I approached this as a regular customer who would also be screaming at Telstra when something Telstra has done has been a stuff-up. This has cost me hours of time today, and that of my relatives, and has been very stressful all round – no doubt for Telstra's customer service people, too.

It has caused us all angst and it is all because some process at Telstra, or some person with more button pressing ability than sense, has decided an address needs to be disconnected, without notice.

It’s just not good enough that in 2017, people can continue being mistreated by their telecommunications companies. No wonder people are mad at the NBN and retailers who are delivering slower download speeds than they were getting with ADSL, although that's a completely different story. 

If this is the future, it's going to be one heck of a dystopian hell, and artificial intelligence complete with what will presumably be artificial sincerity is just going to make it a lot worse. 

Update 2: 

As noted above, I rang back and spoke to a young fellow who, patiently and helpfully, put me through to the complaints resolution department. A young lady answered, and the process of lodging an official complaint was commenced. I started off by correcting the record when it was put to me that we had cancelled all of my aunt and uncle's services. We had only cancelled the Internet and landline, but not the mobile phone service, and definitely not the email which we very specifically asked about before the order to cancel was finalised.

At first, Telstra wanted to offer my aunt and uncle a free year of Telstra Bigpond email, which is valued at $79. I explained that, especially after what had just happened, this would likely be the last year they would be using a bigpond address so we would never be held hostage by a telco again – or at least, not with an email address. 

Because the Telstra medium bundle had been cancelled, the complaints support person — who was also very nice and patient — offered $10 off per month on my uncle's Telstra mobile bill. I could have demanded more, but I am not an unreasonable person – I just want what is promised to be delivered, and hate injustice like the vast majority of normal people. 

Sadly, the email address would still take "up to" 24 hours to be resolved, as it required the bundle to be cancelled first before the email address could be restored. I have been promised a phone call as soon as it is restored, and have organised Teamviewer access into my aunt's laptop so I can verify this immediately upon receiving the phone call. 

Hopefully, the Internet connection stays up until 5pm on May 30, as promised, or there will definitely be another phone call, and hopefully, Telstra will never subject a bigpond.com email customer to such a disconnection ever again. If I have been successful in modifying a Telstra process for the better, so better customer service is achieved, then this will be a victory of sorts for everyday customers. 

I am grateful that Telstra has given my relatives some compensation, relatively minor though it is, because after all, email going down for 24 hours is a first world problem that, in the great scheme of things, is extremely minor, but it's still a very annoying problem nonetheless and comes at a stressful time when a range of emails are being sent and received due to the move. 

Indeed, some Airbnb bookings for pet-friendly accommodation on the road between Sydney and Adelaide which were due to be made tonight have now had to be postponed for 24 hours until their email address is restored, and sometimes, you need to book fast to get the place you want. 

Yes, we could use a different email address, but it complicates things, and in theory, appropriate accommodation will still be available. 

Ultimately, this is all a great lesson. Get your own independent email, have more than one email address ready to go in case you ever need it, don't make major changes to your Internet accounts in the midst of a move even though that's when you generally want to make changes to smooth the delivery of Internet at your new address, and Telstra - make your processes as customer friendly as possible!

Why these kinds of issues are still being experienced by everyday, ordinary customers in 2017 defies belief, but here we are. I hope Telstra keeps its promises to restore the email service and contacts me tomorrow (on Tuesday 23 May), and does its best to ensure no-one ever suffers from this particular problem ever again. 

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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

One of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.