Canberra Man Chains Himself To Optus Store, Frustrated Over iPad Customer Service

Canberra Man Chains Himself To Optus Store, Frustrated Over iPad Customer Service

EXCLUSIVE: Lifehacker just got off the phone with Laurence Kain, a small business owner who earlier this afternoon took the extreme step of chaining himself to the Canberra City Optus store. He said his “peaceful protest” was a last resort after unsuccessful attempts to switch the ownership of his iPad data account between his businesses, despite three previous store visits and five hours on hold. Updated

At around 1pm, Kain entered the store with a camera crew and a stop watch timer. The protest lasted 22 minutes and 47 seconds. As you’d expect, security were quick to arrive and watched the situation while a store employee spent 20 minutes on the phones with superiors to address the situation.

Speaking with Lifehacker, a still frustrated Kain laughed: “Spending time chaining myself to the counter in an Optus shop isn’t high on my priority list for a Friday afternoon. I’m not a nutcase that enjoys going around chaining myself to shit.”

“I have done everything over the past 3 months . . . the ownership of this account was starting to affect the accounting procedures of two of my companies and . . . drastic action was the only way I was confident this would be fixed.”

Police soon arrived and Kain freed himself from the store’s counter once presented with the choice of leaving or being arrested for trespass. “I’m not going to break the law. I wasn’t there to be aggressive or to damage property. I felt I had exhausted every other avenue.”

“The purpose wasn’t just to fix my account, it was to make a statement to these big businesses, including Optus, that it’s not OK to charge a premium for their service and not provide any after-sales support.”

Contacted for comment, an Optus spokesperson said: “We are aware of the incident and understand that the customer’s issue is in the process of being resolved.”

Update 30/6 11AM: Optus has advised that “the issue has now been resolved and [Mr Kain] has been notified. We are now looking into why it wasn’t actioned earlier/after repeated requests.”

We had to ask him: Why didn’t you take the issue to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO)? As Lifehacker reminded us today, any business with annual turnover of less than $3 million (and up to 20 employees) can have its complaints considered by the independent arbitrator.

Unfortunately, Kain hadn’t been aware of the TIO until after the protest. And that’s the takeaway here — not enough people are aware that they’re not stuck dealing solely with terrible customer service staff. Whether you’re a business owner or consumer, you’re generally not alone in these matters. Just don’t take those matters into your own hands.


  • This guy is a hero. how many of us have been in the same situation – and simply bitch and moan and threaten to leave.. he’s taken matters into his own hands – and yet, a call to the TIO would have worked (*) but stuff it, make a statement.

    Good on you Laurence.

    (*) I have successfully escalated 3 issues with Optus to the TIO. The phone number the TIO give you to call at Optus puts you through to (without a doubt) the most helpful, proactive and enabled team of customer service people around.

    No joke (and kudos to them), the Optus reps who deal with TIO complaints are superstars. Its just such a shame they can’t have the same attitude across the basic customer service desk – if the 1st level support could be even a fraction as useful at the TIO complaints team, Optus would save a fortune in time and money – and they would excel far beyond customer expectations.
    (and no, I’m not a TIO complaints rep – I’m a small business owner, like Laurence who escalated through the TIO and finally got the result I was asking for).

    • Unfortunately it’s a numbers game… if it’s anything like the financial ombudsman, there are penalties for you taking your complaint to the ombudsman; even if they’re shown to be in the right. It’s one way that ombudsman’s get results for customer, by making it in the business’ interest to solve your problem on their own. So, it’s not worth solving your problem until you go to the TIO, basically.

      As far as I’m concerned, always go to the ombudsman if needed. It’s your right as a customer and one of the few weapons in your arsenal against corporations.

    • I wouldn’t blame the first level support staff for their lack of support in most cases. I would blame Optus, Telstra and the other Telcos for allowing it to happen and in some cases encouraging it.

      The reason that the post TIO complaint staff are helpful and do get things done is because their company is now in the sights of a TIO complaint and the customer has shown that they are willing to take it further.

      If you want to win then read the rules and play the game properly. Diary every phone call, the name of the person you spoke to and the length of the call. Ask for a Supervisor and when they advise he is not available ask for his boss. Do not allow them to call you back, tell them you will remain on hold. While it will take a while for you it adds time to the conversation you are logging.

      I recently had issues AAPT. Over the course of the calls I received a couple of hundred dollar credits and then when they continued to stuff me around I was offered another $100 credit. At this time I was up to about 15 hours of playing the game. By advising the person of what I had and equating their offer to their valuing my time with them at six dollars an hour I managed to have it raised to a six month credit. All up it ended up at about a years free service.

      Dont yell, dont carry on, just be firm and diary it. When you do threaten the TIO then you can tell your service provider precisely what has happened and what will be forwarded to the Ombudsman and the press if you do decide to go down that path.

  • I got VERY close to doing something like this after my bout recently with Optus… Lucky for me I knew about the TIO (sadly they were powerless in my case to do anything as I wasn’t on a plan) but that didn’t count out the ACCC. They tend to JUMP when you mention them and threaten them cuz they don’t want to deal with the trouble they cause… neither did I really… I just wanted my faulty phone swapped over as they couldn’t fix it.

  • Umm, he probably didn’t use his Data allotment wisely, you can change ownership of phones and data plans online. I have transferred many accounts over in the “My Account” section.

    Also just a small point, just be nice to the people on the phone (even if you get frustrated and can’t quite understand them with their accents).

    I called up Optus when my LG P970 started randomly rebooting and not getting network coverage. I went through the usual “Have you tried switching it on and off” stuff, after about 30min on the phone and being nice to her, the lady just said “It seems like a warranty issue, no worries since it has been discontinued I will send you out a new phone (she gave me a selection to choose from)”, I got a Galaxy S2 (I wish it was a S3). She even called up a week later to see if everything was alright.

    • Yes you can do things online – and yet sometimes it just fails.

      We pre-ordered an iPhone 5 on the 15th, got confirmation emails and a reference number.

      Checked the order status on the 21st to see if it was arriving that day.

      The order was against the wrong service number and was closed, showing no sign of a phone at all.

      Spent most of friday failing to get anywhere with them, and the sales department is closed on the weekend.

      Ended up getting the phone in the Apple Store on saturday, still as an upgrade on the optus plan, quite easy really.

      So what’s the point of pre-ordering if it just results in not getting a phone and slowing down the process.

      It would have been quicker to queue up at Apple on Friday and get the phone than just trying to sort Optus out.

      OR maybe even pre-order with Apple instead?

      Either way we will be having serious words with Optus about making up for the hours on the phone to their 1300 numbers.

      Not to mention that this is the 2nd time Optus has messed up an order for iPhones, they totally failed with an advance order for iPhone 4 made over the phone a few years ago, resulting in us having to track down stock at a dealer, meaning we got 16GB phones as that was all that were in stock anywhere, when we wanted 32GB, and the cost was the same.

      So far we still prefer Optus as we have had enough experiences with Telstra over many years, but it’s frustrating when there is no good option for a carrier.

  • What an absolute legend! I am glad he didn’t go to the TIO because then he wouldn’t have been able to make such a public and sorely needed statement. How embarassing for Optus… hahah! I hope this blows up all over the mainstream news media 🙂

  • You know what I don’t get? How is that considered trespassing? He’s an Optus customer. He was requesting assistance with an Optus product. For 22 minutes. He happened to have a chain around his neck. If he did NOT have a chain around his neck, would he not be the same as any other customer? The question begs to be asked; why are the staff at the store not trying to investigate his problem instead of calling security?

    • Probably because all we have been told is he chained himself up. I dare say he was bring a negative influence in store (yelling etc) which resulted in security being called. Also based on how stupid he is for doing this he probably didnt heed their advice at all, Optus shopfronts are all franchised and probably cant what he wanted so he came back to cause a scene.

    • As a customer he’s not trespassing, however he was creating a public nuisance. At which point the shop is allowed to ask him to leave. I used to run a cafe in a shopping centre and you are protected in that even if you owe someone change (or any other form of money) you can request that they leave if they are creating a public nuisance on your private property (which a store is). It’s rarely implemented since most people do not get irrate without being violent (which is different kettle o’ fish) but as soon as you request someone leaves, regardless of the reason, they are obliged to leave. Optus reps likely asked him to leave for creating a scene (which chaining oneself to the store, even peacefully, would do) at which point security would be called and he would be trespassing.

      • Yes very true.

        Or they could have got creative and put a sign outside saying – “our customers are so loyal they chain themselves to us’ and pretended it was a promotion.

  • Absolutely brilliant. These big companies are so up themselves. A Canberra ISP Transact accidently cut my business connection off for four days. No rush to fix it and a threat if it was my fault I would pay. Turns out they pulled mistakenly disconnected me and plug someone else in. No apology and no response after sixx emails. Off to the shops to buy some chains.

  • This guy is a d*ckhead.. Who behaves like a child? There are procedures like this that can not be actioned in a store so why interfere with a retail stores trading? I think he should have been arrested.

  • Here’s my tip (and entry into the Microsoft Hardware comp BTW) – Almost all consumer based industries punish loyalty, and reward tyranny.

    ‘New’ customers get amazing deals that existing customers are not eligible for. Get a bill you don’t like but pay it anyway, or, complain and moan and wow – you get a discount. Threaten to leave a company for the competition, get a better deal, but stay quietly and loyally for years, no such benefit. My tip, is to kick and scream and moan and whine and complain and threaten to leave and play companies off against each other, as much and as often as possible. Be a BAD customer, you will get what you want and more. In the context of this guy, I can see how the tactic was both effective and exactly what he needed to do. So here is a short list of what to do in order to be a bad customer , and get more, more, more;

    1. Shop around, but don’t just keep what you find out to yourself, package it up and use it as part of your arsenal when engaging sales staff and customer service. Remember also to shop on your existing agreements and deals, you might find that your existing agreements, while holding expensive exit fees, are open for negotiation (everything is open for negotiation).

    2. Escalate. If you don’t get what you want, just burn your way up the chain. But keep in mind that most sales and customer service reps hate to have to escalate, so use this as leverage (a threat) when asking for (demanding) more.

    3. Do the maths – if you have a $100 problem, and you look like $1000 worth of time wasted, you’ll get what you want almost every time.

    4. Complain all the time – I know someone who complained about a bad manicure openly on facebook, later that day she gets a call and offers of free stuff. If you’re not happy, tell the world, make a big deal about it, it can pay off.

    5. Be disloyally loyal – this means staying with one company for a long time if there are benefits, and milking that company for as many benefits as possible. Your opening statement should include a phase like ‘I have been a ,company> customer for years..’ If you aren’t getting what you want, do the reverse when seeking more from competitors ‘I have been loyal to your competitor for years, and would like to change to your service, if I were to be offered, etc, etc, etc’ it may also be worth taking this back to the original company and showing them what you’ve been offered. Remember, if they don’t give you what you want, escalate.

    6. Never pay retail. Ever. Tell them you never pay retail, that paying retail is for idiots, and if they expect you to pay retail, then they are calling you an idiot. ‘You’re not suggesting I’m an idiot are you…?’ Let the know that you understand sales margins and that they have plenty of ‘wiggle room’ to play with, and that price is what you’re really shopping on.

    7. Never take the first offer, even when they say ‘this is as low as they can go’ Call them on their bullshit. Free is as low as they can go, tell them this to their face, but then explain that you understand you don’t want it for free, you just don’t want to pay first offer, and tell them you and they both know they can ‘do better.’ If not, escalate.

    8. Take up as much time and resources as you possible can. Send emails requesting details and info which is not readily available. Keep people on the phone. Ask a string of questions and ‘what-ifs.’ People hate it when they invest a lot of time and effort into something and lose. They HATE it. So have them invest lots of time and effort, this increases your chances of getting more and landing some sweet deals.

    9. It is a game, don’t make it personal or take it personally. These companies do care about you, specifically, the money part of you, which they care about so much, they want it to be theirs. They are playing this game too, and looking to get as much of that cashola as possible, your role to t get the goods with minimal spend. They know this, and set up the game to limit your chances, but play well, and you will enjoy the spoils.

    10. Keep the game alive. This is important, as soon as you have paid, or gone to the competition, it’s OVER (unless it’s a service, then milk-on). You want to push and push and push until it’s beyond reasonable, even logical, then you win.

    Remember – Loyalty is punished, and tyranny rewarded. Good luck.

    p.s. Don’t bother commenting about ethics and being a good customer and fairness and blah blah to me, all of this is true and you know it, and there is nothing wrong with it at all, I’m not telling you to lie or make false claims or steal or make any misrepresentations. It’s life hacking, not life bending over and taking it.

  • OMG I can so relate! My husband and I tried to change my mobile account to his name and after going into the store twice, Optus losing our papers that I hand delivered to the Belconnen store (including all of photocopies of our IDs (passport, licence etc.), and multiple, frustrated phone calls to their customer service, over two months later it was done. Ridiculous!

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