Optus: Better IT systems and a separated Telstra would fix customer service

Optus defends its own customer service record at ACMA telco customer service inquiry

Upgrading IT systems and ensuring a 'level playing field' would lift customer service levels in the Australian telecommunictaions sector, according to Optus.

Speaking at the Australia Media and Communications Authority's (ACMA) Reconnecting the Customer public hearing in Melbourne, Optus director of Government and Corporate Affairs, Maha Krishnapillai, claimed the telco's "number one priority" was customer experience.

“The most complex part of delivering services to customers is our IT systems and increasing use of online services to deliver a better customer service," he said. "I think we forget that the IT systems that deliver those services don’t always keep pace with changes in customer demand.

"Some of the programs we have been putting in place over the past few years are about giving customer control.”

Krishnapillai said if he had "an extra dollar to spend on anything within Optus", he would spend it on IT systems.

“Making our customers happy most of the time has been our goal, but that has not always been possible when you do have humans involved with some of the experience," he said.

That 'extra dollar' would be spent on higher levels of customer control, online engagement and other IT systems that would make the customer experience easier.

“Ultimately the easier it is for a customer to do business with us, the more likely it is they will continue with us as a customer and look for more services,” Krishnapillai said.

His comments follow those of Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman, Simon Cohen, who said at the hearing that the issue of poor customer service in the telecommunications industry was rife.

Krishnapillai also claimed having competition on a 'level playing field' would help improve the Optus service.

“The reason we withdrew [from providing broadband fixed services to the Melbourne and Sydney apartment block market] was because services were cut off the day we signed a new customer and it took two weeks to re-sign the customer through the Telstra processors," he said. "The reality is the customer comes to us and says, 'Optus, you screwed up.'”

According to Krishnapillai, this basic IT development issue has been dogging the telecommunications sector for some years.

“Until you have seamless competition where we are all able to offer the same services we are not going to re-enter that [apartment block] market.”

Krishnapillai defended the Optus customer service record and said the company redesigned its phone bills following customer feedback. It also conducts market research.

“We speak to over 5000 customers per week following service calls to find out if the customer had a good or bad experience," he said. "It’s the customer in our business that gives us an indication of whether they are satisfied or not.”

According to Krishnapillai, the telco ensures its staff is trained and can handle calls from customers.

“One of the ways we measure [customer service] is [the number of] complaints per 10,000 customer contacts," he said. "In spite of massive growth in new services, we’ve still held to a low three per 10,000 customer complaints.”

The other measure it uses is first contract resolution, where a customer problem is solved the first time.

“We acknowledge that we can do better in some cases but when we get a compliant, we have a target of 96 per cent resolution,” he said.

Krishnapillai concluded by saying that better IT systems are not going to solve all customer service problems.

“There are a raft of issues that could be solved by having multiple providers offering differential levels of service," he said. "Not everyone wants a Rolls Royce level of service.”

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