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Message to telcos: Australians want Australians in call centres Featured

In the wake of the recent Vodafone Australia announcement that it will slash one quarter of the workforce in its Hobart call centre, it may be good to remind Australia’s number three telco of its less than auspicious customer service history in this country.

This writer, for one, churned from Vodafone’s Australian subsidiary of the day, 3 Mobile, because of its terrible customer service. Interminably long wait times and call centre operators who had poor knowledge of the product and problems faced by end users in Australia caused customers to leave the telco in their thousands.

Vodafone itself publicly acknowledged the problem with its service quality and promised to rectify it.

The 3 Mobile brand, owned by Hutchison, Vodafone’s joint venture partner in Australia, was eventually closed down in August 2013 and Vodafone made an all out effort to migrate as many customers as possible to the Vodafone Hutchison Australia service.

In March 2013, Vodafone announced that it would repatriate more than 750 call centre jobs from Mumbai to Hobart, saying that customers “told us loud and clear they want local service, we're giving them that." With the aid of federal and Tasmanian Government funding, Vodafone promised that the Hobart call centre would expand up to 1500 staff.

Oh how times have changed!

With the current announced cuts, the Hobart call centre has shrunk to just 300 local staff.

I churned back to Vodafone some years ago because I had heard news of the vastly improved customer service. I also liked some of the unique features that the Vodafone Australia service offered, such as affordable international roaming and visual voicemail for us iPhone users, but customer service was the key to bringing me back to the fold.

The last time I contacted Vodafone directly, I got through to a Tasmanian who was falling over himself to help me solve my problem. He wasn’t reading from a script and he promised that he would not let me end the call until I was satisfied my issue was dealt with properly.

I stuck with Internode as my fixed line Internet provider for exactly the same reason – a helpful and knowledgeable Australian at the end of the telephone line.

To be clear, it does not matter if the Australian’s name is Fred, Susan, Raj or Sampaguita. What matters is that there is a person domiciled in my own country who understands local issues, speaks intelligible English and knows what he or she is talking about.

Vodafone Australia currently has about seven million subscribers and, according to recent figures, the company turns over about $3.5 billion with a pre-tax profit approaching $1 billion – both figures indicating strengthening financials.

In the quest for further financial growth in Australia, the company appears to have forgotten that improved customer service was a key factor behind its undeniable turnaround in this country.

Vodafone’s claim that its online service has eliminated the need for call centre staff is nonsense. The issues I needed to resolve the last time I called an operator were too complex to be addressed using the online service.

Vodafone Australia appears to have fallen victim to a disease afflicting most of the large global corporations – short-termism.

In the short term, the easiest way to grow the bottom line is to slash staff. In the long term, slashing staff is the easiest way to lose customers.

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Stan Beer

 

Stan Beer co-founded iTWire in 2005. With 30 plus years of experience working in IT and Australian technology media, Beer has published articles in most of the IT publications that have mattered, including the AFR, The Australian, SMH, The Age, as well as a multitude of trade publications.

 

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