There is so much talk about competition, service and efficiencies which have been created as a result of new technologies that one would be labouring under the impression that these things are a reality.
One only has to go through what I experienced with Hutchison's 3 service to come out a wiser man. The company's response is provided at the end.
I've had two mobiles with 3 since April 2009 for use by my children; as both were coming to the end of their contracts on April 17, I thought I would renew them for a further two years. Until this point, the service was very good - no wrong billing, no spam, no service issues.
But something seems to have changed at 3. I asked my children to have a look at phones which were available free for those who renewed their plans on the cap they were on and select a model. As I was going to the shopping centre where I'd originally taken the two accounts, I decided to renew it in person on April 12.
My first surprise came when the salesman at the 3 shop told me that the 3 website had nothing to do with the store. My experience so far with most products has been that one does one's shopping online, selects a product and then goes and buys it at said store.
With 3, this does not appear to be the case. The right hand does not know what the left hand is doing it would appear.
The salesman helpfully suggested that I do the renewal online, a suggestion which I graetfully accepted. That process went alright until I came up to a message that said I could not proceed further and had to call a number which turned out to be for an upgrade centre.
COMMENT A very helpful young man took my call and, in the space of half an hour, renewed one of the accounts; I opted to do the second one the next day (April 13) as I wanted to ascertain from my son the mobile which he wanted. The model he had selected originally was not available.
This young man suggested that he call me the next day to do the other renewal and did so promptly at the time I suggested. This account too was renewed.
But that was the end of the good karma. The very next day (April 14) text messages arrived to both accounts, saying that the delivery of the mobiles which had been offered with the renewed contracts had been cancelled due to the unavailability of stock.
But when I went online and checked, it looked like the contract renewal still held; the message I got was "As you've had this mobile for less than three months, you can only upgrade by purchasing a new mobile outright. To do this, just call 1300 301 611 or drop in to your nearest 3 Store."
The next day, Friday, April 15, I called the customer upgrade centre. I asked the person who took my call what had happened. I inquired how it was the person who had so blithely renewed the two accounts was unaware of what models were in stock. Silence.
Since the order had been cancelled, I assumed that the renewal contract had also met with a similar fate; when I asked about this, I was referred to the customer care centre. This entity is located in India and I encountered a rather irritating young man who, despite the fact that I have an Indian accent too, kept saying "no worries" as if to try and convince me that he was an Aussie.
After about 15 minutes of talk, I was assured that the two contracts were no longer holding and that I could go online and do the upgrade process as there were considerably more models available for those who renewed online.
I was then transferred to a very earnest gentleman in Tasmania who spoke to me for the better part of half an hour, and also communicated with his superior for about 20 minutes. He said he could renew the accounts but said he had a single model which he could offer free with the new account, an antiquated Samsung phone.
I replied that I would do it online and received an assurance that, by the evening the website would reflect the fact that the accounts had not been renewed.
COMMENT That evening, I had a look at the website but nothing had changed. I tried on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. No change.
On Tuesday, April 19, after checking the website again, I called the customer upgrade centre again. After a while, I was again transferred to customer care in India.
Once again, I asked the same questions and received similar answers. The man who took my call said he would speak to the customer upgrade people and then transferred me back. But he had told them nothing and I had to go through the process of retelling the entire saga.
This, by the way, is something I had to do every time I spoke to someone at 3.
The woman to whom the call had been put through finally found out why the website was not reflecting the real state of affairs - the person who had initially renewed the accounts had put in a date of April 16, 2013, and this date was still resident in the system.
Now comes the amazing part - this girl told me that this date could not be removed. Yes, the computer systems at 3 have data about customers that cannot be erased. Not by a sysadmin. Not by someone who has root access. They are stamped on your account for all time. Wonder what operating system they use.
It was now a week since I had started the process and I was quite sick and tired of all the argy-bargy. The same day I moved one of the accounts to my ISP, iiNet. I spoke to them that afternoon; two days later, on April 21, the SIM card for the account arrived by post. Activating the account was done online and completed in 20 minutes.
About a week later I moved the entire household (three additional accounts) over to iiNet. The SIM cards came within a few days.
I asked 3 for a reaction on April 28. After some back and forth, a spokesperson said I would have their response by May 2. It's now May 3...
People are often led to believe that technology makes things efficient. There is a rider to this - technology is only as efficient as the person who is using it. My experience with 3 is conclusive proof of this.