We’ve all been there. Your office grinds to a halt because the internet isn’t working. This is followed by the inevitable call to your phone or internet company.
Then comes the on-hold muzak with promises that “your call is valuable to us”—of course, if this were really true, your telco would hire some more call centre staff. “Dial one for tech support, dial two for billing, dial three for new connections” comes next.
When you finally speak to a human, you’re asked “can I place you on hold for just a minute” and “I’ll just transfer you to the right department”. Oh, and did I mention the on-hold muzak? (Seriously, who on Earth decided it was a good idea to record an instrumental version of If this is it by Huey Lewis and the News on a synthesiser keyboard?!)
The good news is there are some steps you can take to help resolve a dispute with your phone or internet company.
1. Make sure key staff are authorised on your account
For privacy and security reasons, only people authorised to make changes to a phone account can do so. This is for good reason – you don’t want your competitors calling your phone company and asking for your phone number to be changed, or details of the customers you’ve called.
Different phone and internet companies have different rules around how they handle this but the general rule of thumb with most is there is a list of people attached to each account that are authorised to make changes to that account.
Before any issue emerges, it’s important to make sure anyone who is likely to need to deal with your phone and internet provider is authorised to do so on your account.
Is there a chance your office tech guru will need to deal with a fault on your line? Perhaps your HR manager will need to deactivate the SIM number of a former employee? If so, make sure they’re authorised to do so on your account.
The worst thing would be for, say, your accounts manager to call your phone company with a billing inquiry, only to discover that the chief executive is the only authorised person on your account – and she’s on a business trip to New Zealand and won’t be back until next week.
2. Have you tried switching it on and off?
If a problem emerges, make sure you do some basic troubleshooting before you call. That way, you can rule out the problem being at your end, rather than with your phone or internet provider before you waste any of your time on hold. Also, as cliché as it sounds, try switching the equipment on and off before you make the call – you’d be surprised by the number of people who don’t.
3. Ask customer service staff for an ID
When you get on the phone with a customer service rep, you should at some point ask them for their staff ID number. For Telstra employees, the staff ID is referred to as a “delta” or “Charlie” number, and consists of a letter (usually C or D, depending on how long they’ve been with the company) followed by six digits. Similar schemes are used by other carriers. Not all customer service staff will give their ID number out, but it’s worth asking.
4. Log your contact
Each time you contact your carrier, make sure you log the date and time of the call, staff ID number (if they give it out), the issue you raised and any promises on their end. Be sure to also log any phone or internet faults, along with any troubleshooting steps you take.
Ideally, this file should be stored as a Word document or an Excel spreadsheet in a Dropbox or Office 365/OneDrive account where everyone who might need to call your phone number can access it. Also, if you get caught in a “Telstra shuffle” (where you get passed around from one call centre operator to another), make sure you log each person you speak to.
In a protracted dispute with a phone company, comprehensive records covering who said what and when can make a mountain of difference.
5. Stay calm
This is perhaps the simplest step on the list – but it’s also the most commonly forgotten. Yes, it’s annoying your service isn’t working as it should and the fact your staff can’t access their emails is costing your business a lot of money. Taking that stress out on someone else can feel cathartic.
However, no one enjoys being shouted at – and frankly most customer service staff aren’t paid enough to put up with your abuse. The people who verbally abuse call centre staff (who you have to remember didn’t cause the problem but are trying to fix it) often find themselves “accidentally” transferred to the wrong department or on hold.
Simply put, a little courtesy can go a long way.
6. Ask for an escalation
If the customer service representative you speak to can’t resolve your issue, ask to speak to their team leader. Many carriers also have a formal complaints escalation process. Generally, more senior staff have more discretion about how to resolve a dispute.
7. Try Whirlpool or Twitter
If conventional channels aren’t working, you can try taking your complaint to social media. If you go down this path, putting your complaint on the broadband discussion board Whirlpool and tweeting to your carrier’s Twitter account can be good ways to grab your carrier’s attention. This is where the record I described in tip four, including specific dates and times, can start to come in handy.
8. Contact the TIO
Once you have made a good-faith effort to resolve the dispute through normal channels, it’s time to escalate the matter to an arbitration body called the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman.
Along with complaints about personal accounts, the TIO hears complaints from small businesses with fewer than 20 full-time employees and up to $3 million in annual turnover per year for personal account issues for disputes worth $50,000 or less. Some carriers don’t participate in the TIO process, and these are referred to the regulator, ACMA.
You can phone the TIO on 1800 062 058 or make a complaint online through their website.
The TIO will put you in touch with a TIO complaint handling area of your carrier for conciliation. There are costs involved for your phone company once a complaint reaches this point, meaning they have an incentive to see the issue resolved quickly.
9. TIO Investigation
Finally, if the conciliation process fails, the TIO can investigate the matter, and make a final binding decision. Again, this is where the comprehensive logs I described in tip four can really come in handy.