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iiNet chief: Bad telco customer service comes down to culture

iiNet chief: Bad telco customer service comes down to culture

We've all experienced it, but do telcos and bad customer service really have to go hand in hand? Not so, according to the Perth-based ISP's chief, Michael Malone

The telecommunications sector is notorious for offering up bad customer service but this has more do with company culture and less to do with reducing cost, according to iiNet chief, Michael Malone.

The Telecommunications Industry Ombudsmen (TIO) consistently reports a record number of customer complaint against telcos.

A common complaint is – not surprisingly - the lack of local support from local telco call centres. Most telcos have at least a portion their customer service and technical support representatives working in an overseas country where wages are cheaper. This is often cited as a cost-cutting measure and the issue often boils down to under-qualified staff handling customer problems.

Sometimes language barriers is one of the key issues leading to customer frustration.

Nowadays, bad customer service is almost expected from telcos. But does it have to be this way?

The Perth-based ISP was the only major carrier to experience a drop in the number of customer complaints lodged to the TIO in the first quarter of 2011. iiNet prefers to keep most if not all of its customer care representatives in Australia and in-house.

“I think there is this view having good tech support is more costly than having poor tech support,” Malone told ARN. “But it’s a culture thing, not a money thing.”

When a customer spends $1 with iiNet, $0.10 of that goes towards running the telco’s call centre. If iiNet was to strip customer service down to basically just answering the phone and getting through a customer call as fast as possible, the company would save 20-30 per cent in cost.

“That would mean customers would only get their Internet access 2-3 per cent cheaper,” Malone said. “This is not about trashing your service to deliver a better pricepoint but it’s about the focus on a business; if you want to focus on running lean to offer the lowest price possible, that’s one strategy, but you can’t also aim to offer better customer service.”

This doesn’t just apply to telco-specific call call centres. Bad customer service does nothing to help staff or customers in any business.

“Very few staff go into work everyday and say ‘I’m going to upset as many customers as possible and really annoy my boss,” Malone said.

What many service-orientated organisations do, according to the iiNet chief, is give call centre staff an objective to offer better customer service but provide incentive schemes that contradict this.

Examples of such schemes include rewarding staff based on average call handling time.

“This creates problems for staff because on one hand, they have the CEO out there saying customer service is important but they are pressured to get off phone calls to customers as fast as possible,” Malone said.

iiNet is in favour of customer feedback-based incentive programs for call centre workers. All call centre staff for the ISP get their bonuses based on how customers rate their performance.

“For people that chose to work in the services industry, when you tell them you want them to make every customer that calls in happy, that is a delight for them,” Malone said.

And this approach seems to have worked for iiNet. Staff turnover rates are relatively low in iiNet call centres – at less than 25 per cent per year – which includes staff moving to different departments within the company.

As more and more Web-enabled tech products enter the market, bad customer service simply wouldn’t fly with customers that will be increasingly demanding better treatment from their telcos.


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Tags customer serviceMichael MaloneiiNettelcosTelecommunicationsTelecommunications Industry Ombudsmen (TIO)

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