Aug 5

A tale of two experiences: Dealing with Telstra customer support

Once upon a time I was a happy Telstra customer. I had switched to Telstra from Optus after the release of the iPhone4 having realised that I was paying Optus the same amount of money as Telstra was charging to effectively get the same level of service, perhaps even a little less from Optus than what Telstra offered.

My story with Optus is another tale of disappointment that their system managed to get to a point where I couldn’t give them more money without it costing me over $200 (yes, backwards) which did help leaving them as well. But this story is about Telstra.

And the story begins around December 2010 with a defective iPhone 4 and Exchange. I had attempted to forward an email out of my work’s Exchange mailbox to a system administrator I was sitting next to from my iPhone. For some reason at the time this didn’t work quickly so I tried to forward it a few more times from my iPhone. It didn’t turn up at the other end and I forgot about it. Over the next few days I noticed that my phone was warmer than usual however I couldn’t work out what was going on. I made sure any application I could think of that would use data was terminated and I even tried to restart my phone at one point to make sure it was clear. I noticed that it was continually transmitting data but it continued to do that even after a restart of the phone. What’s going on?

I ended up in the mail application and noticed that it had a messaging saying there was one unsent message. I jumped into the outbox on the phone and saw that there was an error against the message that I’d been trying to send earlier in the week. I nuked it and watched my data usage stop increasing. By this time I’d received a wonderful SMS from Telstra letting me know that I’d gone over my limit. Was frustrating to be told I’d gone over my limit without knowing why it had happened.

Having figured out what was the root cause of the issue, I contacted Telstra. Unfortunately the fellow on the other end of the phone informed me that until I had a bill they couldn’t do anything for me. They did however give me a reference number and said that when the bill came that they would waive the data charges. Suffice to say that when the bill came, I called back and the person said the data charge had been waived. It turns out that they hadn’t waived the charge and a month later I called back and actually got some progress this time. It is disappointing that I had to ring three times to get it sorted however at all times the experience was positive and supportive.

In the mean time I had filed a bug report with Apple (actually before I contacted Telstra and I provided that bug report number to Telstra so that they could verify it if they needed it). I worked with the World Wide Developer Relations team to triage the issue and provide log files. I conclusively managed to nail it down to an issue with MobileMail’s background thread that would continue to resend the mail even though it was failing. The error seems to be a part of the ActiveSync protocol and there are some funky results returned.

As an aside, a month later or so I noted an article complaining about Windows Phone 7 chewing data from CNet (http://news.cnet.com/8301-10805_3-20030159-75.html). The article for the most part blamed Yahoo! but I also noticed something very interesting at the bottom:

Microsoft has also identified an issue with our Exchange ActiveSync [EAS] email synchronization protocol that may affect a very small percentage of users.

  • This issue can be caused by email that exceeds the mail server email size setting or is sent to an invalid email address
  • This issue can potentially affect email services that utilize the EAS protocol – Outlook and Gmail for example
  • The immediate mitigation is for users to delete mail that appears “stuck” in the outbox
  • This is currently scheduled to be fixed in a near-term end user update from Microsoft

Now the email in question that I was using was nearly 8MB with a 6MB PDF file as an attachment. I think that fits into some of the mail size settings. The service in question was the Exchange Active Sync protocol as implemented on the iPhone. The mail did appear to be “stuck” in the outbox and the iPhone kept sending it and apparently there will be an update from Microsoft. I’ve gone through again today and reproduced the issue on my iPhone4 running iOS 4.3.5 which is Apple’s latest stable release. In doing this I noticed that the phone was sending nearly 1MB of data each minute.

So now this happened another time and given my last experience I wasn’t worried about it. The last time it happened while it took three calls the matter was resolved relatively painlessly. I didn’t call when it happened because last time it didn’t make a difference – and that wasn’t necessarily Telstra’s fault the first time. However eventually the bill came and curiously this time Telstra sent me an SMS informing me of what I’d already known – I’d gone over my data limit. This time it gave me a message suggesting that I call a particular number.

I’ll be blunt and say that I was actually really excited and impressed. Telstra was actually making a positive move to get an issue resolved pre-emptively. I presume this was set up as an automated feature however someone put some thought into it somewhere. That, tied with the last experience, had me hopeful that I’d have a great experience. Oh how I ended up being wrong.

I rang the number, got through and explained what I wanted to happen and was told “You’ve rung the wrong number, I don’t actually handle that.” Wait, what? I rang the number your SMS’d me to suggest to ring for this particular issue. And the first contact I have informs me I’ve rung the wrong number. Someone hasn’t communicated properly internally. Anyway, the fellow gives it a go and is out of his depth. He tells me there isn’t any problems with the iPhone. I have two open issues with Apple for the iPhone (one of them being this one) as well as a few other that are marked as duplicates. I’m well and truly certain there are faults with the device, so someone on Telstra’s Sales team has drunk more of the cool-aid than I have. But I digress, I tried to explain that this had happened before and that I had an issue report with Apple. The fellow has a chat with his supervisor concerned he’s not going to get a commission from this call then transfer me to the iPhone department assuring me that he’d communicated my issue to them.

So the iPhone person gets on the phone and starts explaining to me how to turn off the cellular data on my iPhone. I try hard to treat Telstra’s customer service representatives with respect, inform them of relevant bug reports and even reproduce the issue and what I get treated like an idiot. At this point I felt that I’d met my obligation to attempt to contact the provider to get the issue resolved and they wanted me to disable cellular data. Go figure.

At this point I put through my complaint to the TIO. After a bit of a false start I got a contact with Telstra’s customer service representative and we discussed the issue. It started get back towards the sort of positive customer relationship that I’d like to have with my telephone provider. Unfortunately Telstra’s billing system continued to pretend that nothing had happened and even managed to send me a suspension notice for my account after the overdue notice. So kind.

Anyway, fast forwards another month I’d been wondering that I should have a bill from Telstra and it arrived earlier this week. I got back on Wednesday and opened up the bill to find that it noted that I had an overdue amount of $66. I went through my records and couldn’t find an invoice matching that amount. I did find that overdue notice and suspension notice so I almost wonder if Telstra’s billing system missed sending me a bill or if it got lost in the post. In any case I rang Telstra to ask about it and got them to send me a second invoice. They informed me that my last bill was apparently $220 or so and my last payment was a couple of days before the end of the billing period which doesn’t make sense. Today I get a wonderful overdue notice letter again demanding I pay the uninvoiced outstanding amount. Great. How about including the outstanding invoice as well when you do that Telstra plus any other additional invoices that might have been sent. Let me say I’m less than impressed, particularly when I saw that this bill was the first to note a charge reversal. My TIO complaint was filed on June 8th. That means that its taken them two billing cycles to get this correct (again). I don’t think I should be surprised. However I do find it rather arrogant that when it involves a debt to myself it takes Telstra two months to resolve the issue but when they want to extract money from me they don’t let it exceed more than a month before they’re sending nastygrams.

After all of this I’m curious if Windows Phone 7 or other Microsoft based operating systems that utilise ActiveSync have similar problems. I note that my Outlook desktop client doesn’t have this issue and successfully forwarded my test email. Android would also be another interesting test case to see how it behaves to see if the issue can be replicated there or if it is truly a bug with iPhone.

Sooner or later I’ll get all of this resolved though I’m soon to be a happy non-customer of Telstra. Not that Optus is better and Vodafone certainly isn’t an option but fortunately I’ll have an entirely new set of providers to be upset by in a weeks time.

2 comments

2 Comments so far

  1. daniel December 19th, 2011 2:16 am

    my mobile ZTE MF645 modem can’t access my macbook pro os 10.7.2
    Please, do you help me?

  2. pasamio December 19th, 2011 6:33 am

    The only information I have is on getting a Huawei device working (see http://pasamio.com/2011/07/22/getting-your-huawei-modem-working-with-mac-os-x-lion/) however this post appears to suggest it works for a ZTE MF626 which might help:
    http://openmindlifestyle.wordpress.com/2011/07/22/tip-workaround-for-zte-mf626-broadband-modem-on-mac-os-x-lion-10-7/

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