24 May 2005

Can you tell that you-shouldn't-have-left-us letters annoy me?

Good morning, John Rolland!

You wrote me a letter and invited me to “Take another look at what Telstra can do for you now”.

Why?

Why wasn’t Telstra already doing these things for me?

The only material benefit to having Telstra as a supplier of telephony is wider mobile range in the country. I’ve shifted our landline and both mobiles to a provider (Southern Cross) which uses Telstra’s network and so gives me exactly the same coverage – for about ¾ of the cost, so far. No gimmicks, no “special deals” that we either hardly ever use or find so complicated that we can't work out whether we're actually using them or not.

I wouldn't choose Telstra’s retail Internet in a pink fit, especially after that nasty trick Telstra played with “low cost” broadband access. 200 megabytes a month is ridiculous, you can only keep to that by the most rigorous discipline, and several of my friends have joined it before asking enough questions, only to find themselves choosing between stupidly expensive bills or opting for the “real” (unlimited) $60 plan instead of the $30 plan they though they were getting. I was very happy to see the competition people bit Telstra’s ass over that one.

Accounting for traffic Telstra receives from retail customers at the same rates as traffic sent to them is basically piracy. There are no other retail ISPs in Western Australia who do that, and the people who suffer most there are the poor computer illiterates on the lowest-cost plans.

There’s more, but the big problem – across the board – is that Telstra is giving people poor basic deals up front and then trying to paint over the fact by fancy marketing footwork.

If you want to win my custom back, stop doing that. Try some of these suggestions instead:

  • Offer SMSes for a cent or two each (still a ripoff compared to what a voice call costs, but it’d be an improvement), flat rate, across the board, no special plans needed.

  • Pull your corporate finger out, stop regarding your little retail ADSL ISPs as competitors and allow them to sell ADSL2 competively everywhere before the likes of iiNet gut them all. I personally deal with a small ISP whose uplink and ADSL are both Telstra despite the fact that I could have a link twice as fast for less money tomorrow from iiNet because the ISP is competent and iiNet are not (haven’t been since the other Michael left there). Telstra retail ADSL aren’t even in the running; the ISP I chose is there partly to keep me at arm’s length from Telstra.

  • Give your own retail customers options like fixed IP addresses without having to jump through hoops (e.g. buy special (and typically expensive) access plans) – not everyone smaller than an ISP is an idiot, and they really don’t appreciate being treated like one. If you have precious few clever customers, it’s because treating everyone like interchangeable lowest-common-denominator morons drives such people away. Your competitors, iiNet, haven’t figured that out yet, and until they shouldered their way into ADSL2 the smaller ISPs like WestNet, ArachNet and Swiftel were able to compete, and were gobbling their market share.

  • Give your customers better access to your tech support people. We don’t want to have to play telephone roulette every time we have a problem, we don’t want fries with that, staff are not 100% interchangeable. We want to speak to someone who knows what they’re doing and what Telstra can do. When we find such a person, we want some simple way of ringing up and getting back to them, because their experience with us and our particular problems and ways of doing things cuts through much bulldust even if it’s a year later.

  • Don’t bury your websites in graphics and JavaScript. Don’t make them dependent on “vulnerability du jour” MS Internet Explorer or particular versions of Flash or Java or whatever. We are all much more interested in having the damn things work first time every time than in admiring their beauty. Test them with Safari and Firefox and Konqueror on Macs and Linux. Send them through the W3C’s Validator. Not even Telstra’s home page passes the test, in fact it crashes and burns rather merrily, and for a company your size, particularly one with an Internet orientation, that’s just sad:

    http://validator.w3.org/check?uri=http%3A%2F%2Ftelstra.com%2Fhomepage%2F

Whether you listen or not, the basic idea is: don’t be too greedy, do be a genuine community player. If Telstra makes life harder for their channel partners than it needs to be, they will desert you at the first opportunity. And they do. If Telstra tries to finesse the last dollar out of their customers and make up for it with fancy footwork, they will desert you at the first opportunity. And they do.

Yes, I am more than happy to discuss any of this with you, preferably by email so I have a record and a checklist. It would mark the first time ever that a serious power-that-be within Telstra has actually listened to me.

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