Robert Beerworth Team : Web Strategy Tags : User Experience Rants

Why you need to truly experience your customer experience; and not just talk about it

Robert Beerworth Team : Web Strategy Tags : User Experience Rants

Last week, I was in Hawaii for a week.

A week of sun, $4 Mai Thais, a fancy Nobu dinner and cheap Polo t-shirts at the outlets.

A no-brainer, easily accomplished after a 10 hour and reasonably comfortable flight.

I’d be reconnected to the world, merely 24 hours behind as if nothing had happened. After-all, having been in Austin and New York just a few months earlier in October, I knew from experience that before my plane reached the terminal, I would be on Telstra’s US mobile partner and off and running.


Except that this didn’t happen

My relatively new iPhone 6 kept saying SOS and no amount of resetting or manual network selection would fix the issue.

Which was pretty frustrating for two reasons.

The first was that I needed to make a pre-arranged call that I had promised to make, though couldn’t.

The second was because in regards to activating international roaming on my phone, Telstra specifically advises on their website to do it once you have arrived at your international location and not before.

They advise this because they start billing you from the moment you activate and rightly so, they want you to get as much utilisation from your international roaming as possible and not to pay for the privilege when you’re still in Australia.


So what is different between my previous trip to the States and this trip?

Two differences, other than being in a different state.

The first was a change in handset.

During my first trip, I had an outright Nexus 5 (Android). During this trip, I had a Telstra-sourced and configured iPhone 6.

Hmmm… maybe it was all the deep Telstra configurations they had baked into the iPhone that were the issue?

Should I remove them?

Was confusing AT&T?

Surely Telstra would not want me removing its settings and would have pre-warned AT&T that I was flying in from Australia with these peculiar settings?

Maybe, maybe not?

The second difference between my trip late last year and my trip this year is a slightly embarrassing one.

Previously, I was on pre-paid. Yes, pre-paid, like a 14-year old teenager with $40 worth of pocket money and unlimited texts.

For my trip this year, I was on post-paid. On a grown-up contract and a plan. Like all 35-year old males like me should be on.

No need to go into the details of why I remained on pre-paid for all of my adult life because the details just aren’t that interesting.

And surely, this second different – pre-paid versus post-paid – wasn’t the issue?

As a post-paid Telstra customer, I had finally committed my loyalty to them. After years of recharging my Telstra subscription and showing no commitment, here I was signing a contract, letting them do a credit check and all the rest.

After all, if they logged me onto AT&T when I was on pre-paid, surely they would on post-paid?


So, here is my experience, as briefly as I can tell it

Remembering that Telstra specifically tells me to activate International Roaming when I am overseas, I login to the incredibly shitty Wi-Fi in my hotel and access the Telstra International Roaming page, as seen below:

The infinite loop kills me


First thing I do is to click the ‘Overseas’ telephone number. Two problems.

  1. I am not on any network to be able to call.
  2. The buttons are not clickable. Seriously.

Next thing to do, is to click the ‘International Travel Pass’ link in the hope that I will be able to track down the different plans and purchase them online.

Except that the link merely opens – in a new tab – that same page. Again and again.

An infinite and useless loop.

The problem must be with me and my settings on my phone, so only option is to call Telstra on a different phone.

At $15/minute, or something around that mark.

I have exactly one week in Hawaii so let’s hope this is quick and I am up and running straight away so I can get maximum usage out of the seven-day International Roaming pack I plan to buy.


Day One, 11.45am local time - Call #1

  1. Speak to a gentleman who tells me he can setup roaming.
  2. Gets all my details for security purposes.
  3. He asks how long I am away for and where. He says he isn’t sure if Hawaii is covered by Telstra though I assure him it really is a legitimate state of the USA. He checks it himself and seems satisfied.
  4. He tells me that
  5. Says he needs to put me on hold for three minutes. I say fine.
  6. Comes back three minutes later and says it will take between one and 24 hours to be enabled.
  7. I tell him that surely that sort of timeframe is not acceptable to an international traveller; like, a whole day before the service works, especially after Telstra specifically tell you to set it up online.
  8. He says it will be closer to an hour.
  9. Conscious of the cost of the call, I let it go and the call ends.

Spend the day looking around Waikiki, burger for lunch, read a book under an umbrella on the beach, few drinks, great steak dinner; the sort of usual Hawaiian-holiday conduct you would expect.

Phone still says SOS at 12.30pm, local time.

Perhaps it will be 24 hours.


Day Two, 11.50am local time – Call #2

  1. Talk to a new customer service representative.
  2. Before we can talk, security questions etc.
  3. I explain the issue. He needs three minutes and I need to go on hold, a fate I reluctantly accept.
  4. Three minutes later, he’s back. He says it should all be good now.
  5. I ask him what the issue was, conscious of the continuing cost of the phone call.
  6. He says the last rep didn’t setup International Roaming for my phone properly, but that he had fixed this.
  7. Surprised that this could happen, I ask the rep if it will take another 24 hours and he says no; he can get it done in 10 minutes. Must be a manager.
  8. Call ends.


Day Two, 1.50pm local time – Online #1

Between my second call and logging into my laptop to talk to Telstra online, approximately twelve ’10 minutes’ had passed.

My confidence in the Telstra call centre is understandably low and having had great success with Telstra’s Live Chat in previous experiences, I head there.

Except that it won’t load.

Sure, the playing-card sized window pops up, though the nothing shows up. And of course not – why would it, on my growingly frustrating and expensive journey to activate International Roaming?

It is at this point in this blog that I need to state my general admiration of Telstra.

As CEO, David Thodey has done a superb job pretty much all round: the brand, the customer service, the NBN, the share price.

Just have a look at the latest Telstra invoice and the overall, quality experience of Telstra’s ‘My Account’ and it is hard not to take your hat off to them.

And so with Live Chat not working and not wishing to engage in a Twitter blasting just yet (I only have 578 followers ( and most of them are robots I think), I genuinely had a confidence that the ‘Leave it with us’ functionality would be my best bet:

I would visit you in store except there are none in Hawaii


I mean, I could articulate my problem and frustration and alert to any customer service failings, some rep would fall over themselves to work it out.

The form even has a checkbox – a pretty cool checkbox in my opinion’ – whereby I give Telstra permission to do whatever it needs to do to fix the issue without contacting me:

I fill in the form, check the box and submit it all to Telstra.

Job done, though it could be up to 24-hours before they respond.

Time for lunch; burgers, beers and Henry Kapono singing at the famous Dukes bar and grill.

Happy times.

Except for my still SOSed iPhone 6.


Day Two, 5.50pm (I think) local time – Call #3

OK, I might have my time of my call here wrong, though I put that down to a few Mai Thais at Dukes. But a third, unbelievable call was made to Telstra.

I had no email responding to my previously submitted form and given that Sydney is one day and three hours behind, I knew my form was submitted bang in the middle of a working day for Telstra and its reps.

  1. New rep on the line. We go through the security questions and all that.
  2. In a tone that doesn’t particularly hide my frustration, I explain the situation: third call to Telstra, haven’t been able to call my two little boys, phone saying SOS etc.
  3. Three minutes on hold.
  4. And then the big reveal!
  5. As I am new to pre-paid and my contract is less than six months old, I have to pay a refundable bond of $300 to Telstra before they can enable International Roaming.
  6. Silence at both ends.
  7. I have been a customer of Telstra since the first day I got an iPhone 3. I switched from Vodafone for the sheer superiority of the Telstra network. Putting aside the $70 cash I gave Telstra every month since July 2008, I was now a real customer with a contract that said that Telstra could send the sheriff after my car if I didn’t pay their bills.
  8. And putting this all aside, why on earth hadn’t someone – anyone – even Telstra’s website – told me this.
  9. Still bemused and shaken, I give the rep my credit card details. And we end the call with the promise that I’ll be up and running soon enough.

Which, at last, I was.

Hello AT&T.

Except that my seven day International Roaming plan was starting two days into my seven day holiday. Meaning that I would still have unlimited calls within the US available to me, even though I would instead be at my desk in Sydney, writing this blog, unable to access those unlimited calls I had paid for.

And put a hefty bond down for.


Don’t talk about the customer; be the customer

I gave a presentation years back where I explained that it wasn’t good enough to plan customer journeys (and experiences) as flow diagrams.

I mean sure, that could be a starting point, though that it all it is.

You need to talk to real customers and understand their scenarios. And then you need to observe them and their experience based on their scenario.

Perhaps you don’t bother with what are known as ‘edge cases’, where a customer situation is so wild and wacky as not to be worth dealing with formally.

The reason you need to understand and then follow real customers through their journeys across your business and different channels, is because simply talking about it is not good enough.

How users use websites and interact is never as sleek or as streamlined as your flow diagram would believe or hope.

It can’t be because otherwise, I would never have gone through what I did.


And I don’t think I am the edge case

Telstra added almost 1 million new subscribers in 2014. This takes their tally of mobile customers to an impressive 16 million.

Unfortunately, I am unsure of the breakdown between pre-paid and post-paid and obviously that is relevant because the issue affects post-paid only. To be conservative, let’s assume that the number of new post-paid customers is a third, so approximately 330,000 new customers.

Because the issue affects only those with a ‘new’ contract under six months old, let’s halve the number of potentially affected customers to 165,000.

Using two year old data, almost a third of Australians travel overseas in a given year. For purposes of keeping things simple, let’s assume that that number is still the case.

Using my very simple mathematics, a third of the 165,000 potentially affected Telstra customers travel overseas: 54,450.

Of course, this number further needs whittling down because not all of these punters are travelling overseas in the six months that their contract is under six months; so maybe halve again? And again?

Whether the number of 5,000 or 25,000, the number is at least one: me.

And for a company as impressive and tight as Telstra, the alarming gaps in my customer experience with them are just too big.


 P.S. I never heard back from Telstra after completing their form.