Pizza chain blasts Telstra

The head of a $100 million Australia and New Zealand fast food empire has mounted a spirited attack on Telstra.

Tom Potter, founder and CEO of the 180-store Eagle Boys Pizza chain, used an industry conference to publicly air his deep disenchantment with Telstra.

Telstra's corporate arrogance and less-than-forthright behaviour had caused "terrible problems" for Eagle Boys, Potter told delegates at the Australian Telecommunications User Group's Comms 99 conference in Queensland.

Following three "really bad experiences", his company began referring to "Telstra Nazis", and Eagle Boys now refuses to take any services from Telstra that can be purchased from other providers.

"The most recent problem was when they sold us the concept of the Census Collection Data," Potter said. "They told us how wonderful it was going to be, so we spent hundreds of man-hours preparing ourselves for it by realigning all our franchise delivery territories with Telstra's CCD territories.

"After we went through a massive amount of costly research, they came back and told us the service wasn't ready yet and would not be ready for another two years.

"It was a classic example of where the sales guys get ahead of themselves; but it is very, very difficult to get Telstra to be accountable. We haven't got the manpower or the resources to cover the legal costs."

Even more damaging was an earlier dispute involving Telstra's Priority One3 service, which lets customers call anywhere in Australia for the price of a local call.

"We sold it to all our franchises and got them all on side, even though it would cost them a lot of money," Potter said.

But when the system was rolled out, sales in one region immediately halved, sparking fears of bankruptcy and threats of legal action from 15 per cent of the company's franchise holders. Buckling under a barrage of complaints, Eagle Boys reverted to the old system and saw sales promptly bounce back to former levels.

When Potter confronted Telstra, "it blamed our advertising, our customers, everything except Telstra", Potter said.

Then he learned from informal sources inside Telstra that the Newcastle earthquake had prevented Telstra from upgrading lines to handle the Custom Net service in that area.

Continued pressure from Eagle Boys eventually forced Telstra to commission a report from an independent consultant. When the report was issued, Telstra suddenly showed a willingness to settle the matter while refusing to reveal the contents of the report, Potter claimed.

"To this day, Telstra has not shown us that report. We spent hundreds of man-hours on this and what we needed was a straight answer. Relying on suppliers like Telstra can feel like a gun is being held to your head every day."

Eagle Boys generates $12 million in carrier revenues from the 250,000 phone calls its customers make weekly, yet still doesn't rate a dedicated account manager from Telstra, Potter complained.

Warning that "burnt customers have long memories", he urged Telstra and other carriers to simplify life for their customers, not complicate it.

Despite the supposed benefits of the liberalised telecommunications regime of the past few years, "Telstra hasn't done us any favours", Potter said.

Eagle Boys now gives its business to other carriers whenever possible, a policy that does not help with the Custom Net situation where Telstra maintains a monopoly.

A Telstra spokesman said the issues being put forward by Potter were "very complex".

"We are concerned at his comments and we will be seeking discussions with him in the next couple of weeks to get to the bottom of his concerns as quickly as possible," the spokesman said.

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