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.