Australian Telcos Have An Honesty Problem

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Optus' heavy-handed NBN migration tactics highlight how far telco call centres are prepared to bend the truth. Optus has been caught blatantly lying to its customers this month, telling some customers that NBN or the government are to blame for the fact that Optus is rushing to boot customers off its HFC cable network within weeks of an area being declared NBN-ready.

Worse yet, it's cut off some customers without warning and told them their service can't be restored – yet somes lines were magically reconnected after the media shone a little light on the situation.

While Optus has publicly conceded that NBN and the government are not to blame for its rush to shut down its HFC cable network, the telco has had little to say about the fact that its call centre operators are deliberately misleading customers and pressuring them to remain with Optus. The best we've had are wishy washing commitments that Optus would provide "additional support to our front line teams".

Optus says "it does not condone coercive behaviour towards our customers" but it's hard to take that seriously when there's such a widespread pattern of misinformation and heavy-handed tactics coming from its outgoing and incoming call centres. It might not "condone" such behaviour, but it hasn't condemned it either.

Obviously not every call centre operator is at fault, but it's not just the work of a few rotten apples – reports of coercive behaviour are coming from far and wide. Are we seriously expected to believe that it's all happening without Optus' knowledge, if not blessing, when we're constantly reminded that calls are recorded for training purposes?

Apart from the outright lies, Optus' call centre operators also appear to have free rein to make up the rules as they go along – saying whatever it takes to keep customers onboard. A common tactic seems to be to reassure cable customers moving to the NBN that they can stay on their old plans and "nothing will change", with customers discovering that this isn't true after they've signed up for a new contract.

Meanwhile some Optus call centre operators are telling customers moving to the NBN that they have no choice but to sign up on a 24-month contract. Others are told they must pay $200 upfront if they want to avoid a long contract and go on a month-to-month plan. Some people are offered the first three months free, others are offered nothing but threats of disconnection.

To be fair, Optus doesn't have a monopoly on lying to its customers. I've had Telstra call centre staff blatantly lie to me about the availability of HFC cable in my street and then lie to my neighbours and I about double-checking. I've also had Optus lie to me about disconnecting my home phone. I'm sure customers of every telco have their own call centre horror stories.

What's particularly frustrating is that the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman, supposedly the people's champion, has shown little interest in addressing this issue. I've spoken to several people who contacted the TIO regarding Optus' heavy-handed NBN migration tactics and were told that there was nothing the TIO could do until Optus actually cut off their phone. The TIO has also been reluctant to comment on the issue.

The TIO is more interested in conflict resolution than keeping the telcos honest, but when you speak to other government agencies and industry bodies about telco lies you're generally told to raise it with the TIO.

We seem to have reached a point where the lies of call centre operators are just accepted as a fact of life, with Australia's telcos knowing they can look the other way as call centres do their dirty work. Meanwhile Australian broadband consumers are paying the price and struggling to find anyone who will come to their aid. You shouldn't need to contact the national media just to get your phone reconnected.

Has your telco ever lied to you? Did they get away with it? Tell us about it in the comments.


This article originally appeared in Digital Life, The Sydney Morning Herald's home for everything technology. Follow Digital Life on Facebook and Twitter.

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Comments

    I'm one of those migrating to HFC NBN from Optus cable.

    I can't say I've been lied to throughout the whole process but it's certainly highlighted that no one has the slightest clue about how the NBN works.

    I have a compounding problem of not enough ports in my street pit (which is why I was with Optus to begin with because telstra couldn't be bothered upgrading their hardware).

    Now it's up to the NBN to upgrade that same hardware but seems to be the hardest task in the world.

    I was originally going with another ISP. They came, saw, and decided they couldn't do anything till NBN upgrades the switch.
    That was 3 months ago and their modem has been sitting unopened on my desk since then.

    Then Optus told me the cable will be turned off last week and we have to migrate. I told them "good luck with that" and explained the lack of ports problem.

    They lodged their own upgrade request with NBN and my supposed installation date is end of this month.
    However I had to do that to log a migration so that the current cable isn't switched off.

    They were pretty accommodating and I signed up to a monthly NBN plan which I'll cancel as soon as NBN upgrade that hardware.

    It seems to me that all these "lies" just come from the complete confusion that is the NBN roll-out system.

      "Then Optus told me the cable will be turned off last week and we have to migrate" -- thats the lie at the centre of this story. The cable wasnt being turned off, and you didnt need to migrate at that time. The statement was a scare tactic to get you to sign on for another 2 years.

      You had the out of not enough ports to call their bluff, but most dont have that luxury, and with such a high proportion of the population coming from exactly what you say - complete confusion in how NBN is rolling out - that they are being railroaded into decisions they shouldnt be forced to make at that time.

      The TIO has the power to do something if people complain, but theres the crux of the matter - people arent complaining. I expect the ACCC also has the power to do something about it as well (at least fine them), given its false advertising, but that hasnt been tested in any way.

        Well to be fair, the letter said "will be switched off, starting 17th March".

        I took that to mean "it will probably take a year to dismantle the system, but if you're unlucky, you could be one of the first to be disconnected."

        They've generally been pretty good to deal with (if not slow, but that's NBN's fault). Even after I talked about moving to a different ISP.

    I havent had one lie to me straight up, but I have had Telstra mislead me in the past.

    I connected to a plan, 3 weeks later one almost identical came up that was $30/month less. 15 months later I noticed, and complained.

    They first tried to tell me they advised me, then tried to tell me they had no obligation to churn me to the new plan. Overall, refused to do anything about it. Ended up going to the TIO, and 24 hours later had it sorted.

    Turned out that sending me an email highlighting a massively different plan, and hiding the similar plan behind a fine print link or two wasnt sufficient advertising, and that minor differences werent considered enough to justify overcharging for so long.

    Ended up getting 12 months of overpayments back, but it was like pulling teeth. I used that $360 to cover the next ~6 months and moved to another provider. Customer service was zero, and they made it to be my dirty low down fault in the first place.

    Lesson learned.

    The question that hasn't been answered is, what are the powers that be, the Government, the oversight agency if you will, doing about it? What do you mean, what oversight? Oh.., there isn't one, at least none with any bloody power to sort the problem out!

    I'm a technician on the NBN network, both Optus and DoDo have repeatedly lied to the customers we've been working with

    Optus have forced elderly customers that don't even have internet access to sign up for a phone/internet contract bundle in order to keep their landline number active.

    In addition to this they've been telling customers that nbn techs will attend to swap the modem only without running any new cabling (in reality a new lead in cable needs to be run from the street)

    Also customers are being booked for an installation appointment without even being notified, we've had the door slammed in our face many times now by customers that claimed to have never ordered the service, one even took a photo of my ID to report me, as if I'm trying to scam her into signing up for something

    The only issue with DoDo so far is that they've promised the customers fibre, when in fact it's always HFC

      Doesn't help that they refer to it as Hybrid Fiber Coax.
      Where does it switch to Fiber anyway? shouldn't there be a node or something?

      No one has been able to explain to me how the physical path works.
      Optus coax from my wall, to outside, to street pole (as optus is above ground).... and then where?
      Or do they pull telstra's coax from street pit to house?
      Does Optus' coax connect to telstra's at some point?
      Where does it turn into Fiber?

      No one seems to know wtf is going on.

    With all the dubiousness of who-said-what with respect to Optus' (and Telstra's) somewhat dodgy statements to customers, is there any mileage (kilometreage?) at the opening of discussions by saying "I am recording this for quality assurance"?

    Does it make any difference to what they say?
    Will they cease and hang up?
    You can be certain they do it to you ("This call may be recorded for.....") so why not get in early and have something to back up any disagreements in the future.

    I'd be interested if anyone's tried this, and the result.

    Was any comment sought from the government department that actually looks after this portfolio? It seems like complaining in the media is easy enough to do, if you're a journalist, but actually getting some comment from officials falls in the too-hard basket.

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