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Communicating openly to rebuild trust

Telstra News

Posted on November 6, 2019

3 min read

We’re an organisation with a century-long history, recognised as playing a critical role in bringing connectivity to millions of Australians over that time. That shared history has seen us through both good times and challenging times. We’re working hard to build an organisation that can last for the next 100 years. Part of that work involves looking at what we do well, and what we want to improve on and working on ensuring we maintain trust with our customers.

As we have been looking at areas to improve, we have reflected on a few important questions. How can we make life simpler for our customers? How can we take away key pain points and ensure they only pay for what they need? How can we make sure that behaviour we want to change doesn’t happen again? And most importantly – how do we constantly work to build greater trust between us and the community?

We’ve worked hard for many years to progressively remove customer pain points.  Last year, for example, we radically redesigned our plans, abolishing lock-in service contracts and excess data charges, all fuelled by a desire to simplify our offerings to make life easier for customers.  

Amidst these changes, we started to hear some concerns about the way we had been selling some of our devices and services. We found that we hadn’t always got this right and we needed to work harder to build trust with our customers.

This was an uncomfortable truth for us to face. We identified (or had raised with us) instances where a small number of our partners sold mobile devices and plans to customers that they ultimately couldn’t afford and also may not have been appropriate for their needs. This included sales to Indigenous Australians living in remote communities.  In some cases, the checks and balances we had in place to ensure this doesn’t happen were not followed.  Put simply, the standards our customers expect from us, and that we expect from ourselves and our partners, were not met.

We recognise and have grappled with the gravity of this issue and understand the impact to the customers involved was significant. Of most concern is the fact this behaviour is enough to break the trust we want to foster with our customers and in the community. 

That’s why we’re taking significant steps to strengthen our processes, as even one instance of this happening is one too many.

As a first step, we have responded to complaints raised with us and are working with our customers towards individual resolutions.  In addition, we have taken a range of significant disciplinary actions against the partners that we found to be in breach of their agreements with Telstra.

Some of the specific steps we have taken include:

  • Implementing contact centres specifically for our rural, remote and Indigenous customers with staff specifically trained to cater to these differing needs;
  • Widening our external credit assessments. For many years, we have undertaken external credit assessments before selling services to customers, and we have widened the circumstances where these assessments are conducted.  We also seek information from customers about the primary source of income they will use to pay for services they buy from us, and where that source of income causes us to question whether a particular plan or service will be suitable, we offer more affordable alternatives;
  • Undertaking additional training for frontline staff to refresh their awareness of acceptable sales practices, along with cultural awareness and capability skills;

 

  • Actively reaching out to customers to ensure they are on the right plan.  Our work here has focused on customers who our records show have outstanding debt, or who have missed or are late making payments;
  • Providing proactive support to customers who have found themselves in financial hardship by proactively buying back debt to help those affected get a fresh start on the right service for them;
  • The introduction of new plans which eliminate many of the causes of high or unexpected charges, including excess data charges and fixed-term lock-in contracts;
  • Enhancing our performance monitoring tools, and increasing the checks and balances we have in place to ensure they aren’t circumvented; and,
  • Deepening our engagement with financial counsellors and other groups on our sales approach to ensure customers are supported and our sales processes are sensitive to the needs of all our customers.  This engagement will also help us identify any emerging issues and get ahead of them.

We have also embarked on a wide-reaching program that covers not just what happens in-store, but also the design of our products and services, and how we recognise and support customers who find themselves in positions of vulnerability.

While the numbers of impacted customers are a small proportion of our overall customer base, we made a decision to implement significant changes to our processes and plans, reflecting how seriously we take any instance where we let our customers down in this way.

Importantly, we’re also meeting with Indigenous communities and talking to them about our shortcomings. We are speaking openly about them in the hope that it builds trust in the community, while demonstrating that our actions to remedy the situation will ultimately speak louder than our words of apology.

We recently introduced a new purpose – to build a connected future so everyone can thrive. The word “everyone” is a critical part of what we have always stood for at Telstra. But we do have some way to go, especially when it comes to digital inclusion: the concept of using technology to improve levels of social inclusion for everyone.

As Australia’s oldest and largest telecommunications provider, we have a responsibility to ensure that access, affordability and digital ability improves across the board. Our latest Digital Inclusion Index clearly demonstrates we have more work to do.

Although levels of digital inclusion have been increasing since 2015, Indigenous Australians living in urban and regional Australia report a lower level of digital inclusion than the national average in 2019. We also found that remoteness further diminishes levels of digital inclusion, particularly with regard to ease-of-access and affordability.

It is sobering for us to think that there are those in our communities who cannot participate in aspects of our society because of a lack of connectivity. If the benefits of digital technology are to be realised by all Australians, digital inclusion must be considered an integral part of state and national policy-making and strategic planning. Digital inclusion is a necessary condition for the development of the digital economy, and for achieving sustainable social and environmental goals.

We’re taking the learnings from our Digital Inclusion Index, as well as the lessons we’ve learned from the customer issues described above and put them to work to build a connected future where everyone can thrive.

It’s our commitment to dealing fairly and engendering trust with our customers, and it forms the bedrock of Telstra’s next century of providing exceptional connectivity to all Australians.