Telstra.

I’ve been a customer of Telstra since 2010. I originally moved from Optus. My reason for swapping was because I discovered that there were many parts of Western Australia I frequented (e.g., when I was working in North Perth, or taking a trip to the countryside), where the reception of Optus just wouldn’t reach. I moved to Telstra when I got my iPhone 4 on a contract, and I’ve had nothing but praise for the company since then…

Until now.

This is a story of how when Telstra fails at fulfilling an order, they fail spectacularly hard.

It’s a story on how an omission of a single word on a package caused a delivery to spiral out of control from a simple 3 days, into a terrible, horrifying bureaucratic mess that took more than 45 days to resolve and nearly cost me $4000.

This is what happened when I tried to order an iPhone 6s Plus from Telstra.

The Decision

I normally skip the ‘s’ versions of the iPhone. I never owned a 4S, or a 5s.

But in this case, with the allure of 2GB of memory, a far superior camera, and a pressure based interaction mode, I thought I could easily justify the features the 6s offered over the 6.

After doing some math, I worked out that if I got one on a plan with Telstra, and rolled in my iPad’s data SIM card at the same time, I could tweak the monthly billing to only be slightly more than what I was already paying. On top of that, with Telstra’s ‘New Phone Smell’ deal, I could easily upgrade to an iPhone 7 down the line and not have to worry about selling the 6s off.

Boom. Done. Let’s get one. :D

The Order

Thinking it’d be easier than going into a store and doing it, I opted to order my iPhone directly from the Telstra website. Simple enough; just enter in your current Telstra number, input your license number for verification and click the ‘I accept’ checkbox.

Unfortunately, I then discovered I couldn’t use my PO box to accept the delivery. I have to use an address where I can physically sign for the package. No worries; since I work out of a co-working space during the daytime, I’ll just put down that down:

Tim Oliver
<Coworking Space Name>
<Street Number + Name>
Perth, WA, 6000

Boom. Submit. Done. Easy.

A few minutes later, I received this confirmation email, telling me my iPhone would be on the way soon.

TelstraiPhoneOrder

I double-checked the address just in case I accidentally misspelled it. Nope! It was correct. :)

The ‘Delivery’

A week later, I received the magic news.

TelstraDeliveryEmail

Oh boy oh boy! That was much quicker than I thought! Anyway I put the consignment number into my iPhone (Parcel is a GREAT app for tracking these sorts of deliveries by the way!) and kept an eye on it. Turns out  Telstra was using a delivery service named Star Track to deliver their handsets ordered online, and they all originate out of Sydney.

On the following Thursday, Parcel told me the phone had arrived in Perth and was heading towards my coworking space.

StarTrackOrderProgress

Too easy. I rocked up bright and early, more than eager to receive my phone.

At around 11am, a man wearing a Star Track jacket popped in, and said he had an iPhone for a ‘Robert’. The staff member on duty told him ‘no’, and he promptly left. I pondered whether I should stop the man and ask him if had an order for a ‘Tim’ as well, but I figured that since that since that there were still many iPhones being delivered that week, mine must be on a different truck.

Then… on its own, Parcel updated:

StarTrackDeliveryFail

Hang on. What? So, that was the guy I just saw? And he couldn’t locate me? What the hell just happened?

The First Call to Star Track

To their credit, Star Track support is very fast. When I received the delivery error message, I called their support line immediately, and I got through their automated phone system and to an actual assistant within a minute. :)

Star Track: Hi! What’s the problem?

Me: Hi! I just got a strange delivery error from your system stating I need to ‘check the address’.

Star Track: Okay sir! What’s the consignment number?

Me: It’s <Consignment Number>

Star Track: Okay sir… it looks like that package’s delivery address is <street name/number>, Perth 6000. Apparently it’s a big office building, so the driver didn’t know where you were inside.

Me: Wait. It’s supposed to say <Coworking space name> on that address too.

Star Track: Oh. Well it doesn’t.

Me: Oh, well that’s fine then. I think I actually just saw the guy in here before. Just tell him to go back to the same place he just came from and I’ll go find him.

Star Track: Sorry sir. I can’t do that.

Me: … why?

Star Track: Your package wouldn’t happen to be a phone handset from Telstra, would it?

Me: … uh-oh.

Star Track: Normally we could change the address for you after the package is in transit to include <Coworking space name>, but as it originated from Telstra, they’ve instigated a policy where the address cannot be changed once they sent it out.

Me: But the address is incorrect…

Star Track: Sorry sir. That’s something you’re going to have to resolve with Telstra.

Me: I see. Thanks for your time.

Well now. This was a bit unfortunate. But I remained optimistic that this would be resolved shortly. I was sure one quick phone call to Telstra would get all of this sorted.

The First Phone Call to Telstra

Alright… first thing’s first. I couldn’t figure out which number to call to have this sort of thing sorted. The Telstra site is huge and vast, and I didn’t feel like committing the time to wade through it all in search of a single phone number. Thankfully, the Telstra Twitter account was actually quite good at giving support:

TelstraTwitterHelp1

Too easy. Now I’ve got a number to call. This should be resolved within the hour. :D

… nope.

Turns out I wasn’t the only one who needed support that day. I spent nearly 50 minutes on hold, listening to the same elevator music looping for the whole time, with no indication that I was even getting close to an actual call assistant. (If purgatory exists, I’m pretty sure that’s what it would be like. XD)

Just before an hour hit, I decided to give in, and hang up. I was hungry, (and also needed to use the restroom!) so I figured I would just pop out to lunch, and try calling again in a little while, hopefully once the support queue had cooled down.

The Second Call to Telstra

… didn’t actually take place! Because when I checked my phone 30 minutes later, THIS had happened!

iPhone6DeadStatusBar

Oh dear. I guessed that since Telstra ‘assumed’ that I had just received my new iPhone, they decided to kill the SIM card in my current phone!

So now, even if I wanted to try calling them again, I couldn’t. What a pickle!

Online Chat with Telstra

Figuring I’ll just go past the Telstra store home on the way home, I randomly tweeted that I could’t make calls anymore and expected to leave it at that.

That being said, the Telstra Twitter was very diligent in picking up my tweet (Even though I didn’t even ‘@’ them) and offered an alternative support channel:

TelstraTwitterHelp2

While attempting to call Telstra had been a complete write-off of time, I figured I’d give chat a quick try. To my surprise, the online Telstra chat was amazingly fast, and I was put in touch with an assistant straight away:

Jun: Hi there! My name is Jun. How can I help you?

Me: Hi Jun! I’m having some trouble with an order. It got lost in the mail and now my current phone has stopped working.

Jun: Oh no! What’s the order number?

Me: It’s <Order Number>.

Jun: No problem. I’ve fixed your order. You should be enjoying your new iPhone tomorrow.

Me: Excellent! Thank you so much! Oh! And what can I do about my SIM card.

Jun: Sadly once a SIM card is disabled, it cannot be re-enabled. You’ll need to go to a Telstra Store and get a new one.

Me: Alright. That’s no problem!

The End of Day 1

On the way home that evening, I stopped into a Telstra Store, and received a new SIM card. The process only took about 3 minutes, and my phone was back to normal. I went home thinking nothing more of it. My phone would arrive tomorrow morning, and it’s only delayed by a day. No biggie…

The Very Next Day…

The next day was a Friday. Bright eyed and bushy-tailed, I headed into the coworking office a lot earlier than usual to ensure I didn’t miss the delivery. Work proceeds as normal, but I periodically glance at my watch to see my shipping status has updated. By 3pm, the shipping status hasn’t changed at all since yesterday. I start to get nervous. By 3:30pm, I decide to give Star Track a call to see what’s going on:

Star Track: Hi! What’s the problem?

Me: Hi there! I missed a delivery from you yesterday on behalf of Telstra. Telstra’s told me they’ve corrected the mailing issue, so I was expecting it today.

Star Track: No problems! What’s the order number?

Me: It’s <Order Number>.

Star Track: Oh dear. That delivery was marked as ‘undeliverable’.

Me: Uh. Undelivered?

Star Track: No, as in the address was invalid and so the package cannot be delivered. It’s being returned to the sender.

Me: But… the sender is in Sydney.

Star Track: Correct.

Me: Could you please… not send it back to Sydney? I can just drive to the depot and pick it up.

Star Track: Sorry sir. It’s too late. It’s already in transit back to Sydney.

It was at this point when I felt a HUGE sinking feeling. I wasn’t going to be seeing my iPhone for ‘a while’.

Me: … ah…… so… what do I do now?

Star Track: Sorry sir. From now on, you’ll have to talk to Telstra.

After being stuck in the Telstra call waiting queue for over an hour before, and not knowing what to do at this point, I fired off another tweet in the hopes that the Telstra Twitter could help.

TelstraSydneyFail

I decided to try doing the Telstra Live Chat again. Thankfully I got on just as quickly before and was able to explain to the chat agent what had just happened with Star Track. They decided to give me a call to sort this out.

Unfortunately, apparently it was worse than I thought. The agent on the phone told me that once a phone has been returned (Whether by my own doing, or by Star Track), the order is automatically cancelled. They told me that ONCE the phone had returned to Sydney, I would have to re-order ANOTHER one. Back to square one.

I was (fair to say) understandably pretty disappointed at that.

The First Visit to the Telstra Store

Since my phone had now officially been cancelled, I decided it might be worth going over to the Telstra Store in Perth and picking up one of their’s instead. I was about to head out of the country for a week on the following Monday, and I really wanted my new phone before then.

Nope. While they had a few 16GB models of the iPhone 6s Plus, they did’t have a 128GB Space Gray model like the one I originally ordered.

So, after that, I went home for the weekend and planned my trip to Italy for pragma conference. While disappointed I’d miss the phone for this trip, I figured waiting for a week would be good in that the phone would arrive at Telstra in Sydney, and they’d follow up with me when I got back.

While in Italy

A day after arriving in Italy (Absolutely BEAUTIFUL place! :D), I found out I needed to do some banking that required an SMS to be sent to my Australian number. I hadn’t used my Australian SIM in several days since then, so I popped it in to receive the banking confirmation code. I didn’t get just my confirmation code:

Wait. What? Telstra was sending me an SMS to see how I was going with my new phone? Really? Did the ‘order not completed’ status not reach the SMS robot? I replied NO, hoping that’ll defer anymore surveys until AFTER my phone problem had been resolved.

Really? REALLY?? So now Telstra wanted to know how much of an awesome job they did at NOT DELIVERING MY PHONE. Wow, what a lovely way to treat customers.

Anyway. No matter. I was in Italy, and having a truly fantastic time at the conference. This phone stuff can wait until I’m back in Australia.

Sure enough, on the evening before I was heading back to Perth, I receive a message from my co-working space:

CoworkingDeliveryEmail

Woohoo! I wasn’t expecting anything else, so that must be the phone! I guess Telstra just re-sent it to Spacecubed and changed to security so they could sign for it. Too easy!

Very eager, I boarded my plane back to Perth with the goal to go and pick up my ‘package’ the next day.

Back in Perth

Turns out. It wasn’t a new phone.

WHAAAAAAT. What in the blue hell is going on? Telstra sent me an envelope to return the phone that THEY HADN’T EVEN SENT ME YET? What in the actual hell kind of logic is this?!

I was so confused. What state is my account in? Do I have a contract? Do I NOT have a contract? Can I still make phone calls? CAN I STILL SEND TWEETS?

Whelp. There’s nothing left for it. I had to go to the Telstra store and settle this out in person. This had started going from slightly disappointing to downright baffling and infuriating.

The Second Visit to the Telstra Store

I marched into the Telstra Store, and asked one of the staff to check out my account. I sat down with the staff member and he pulled up my account to view its state. Here’s how the exchange went:

Staff Member: Alright. So when the phone was returned to Sydney, that counted as you wanting to cancel your contract. Which is why the envelope got sent out automatically.

Me: Ohh okay. That makes sense.

Staff Member: Also, because you cancelled your contract a week after it started, you’ve been billed for the entire price of the phone and a cancellation fee. You have an invoice for over $2000 in there.

Me: … wh….. WH…

Staff Member: I’m fixing that one now!

It was like an incredibly bad Rube-Goldberg machine. A failed delivery meant a cancelled phone meant a cancelled contract meant a VERY HEFTY cancellation fee. It was absolutely astounding and terrifying to witness.

To his credit, the Telstra staff member was very good. He managed to reverse the $2000 charge (Yay!) and then told me he’d cleaned out my order. He said when the Telstra Store gets another batch of iPhone stock, he’ll put one aside for me and I can come pick it up. I’d since changed my mind about the colour. I met a very awesome designer in Italy who convinced me to try out the gold one this time, so I asked the Telstra staff member to put me down for one of those.

I was a bit shaken that I just narrowly avoided a $2000 charge (The exact thing I was trying to avoid by not buying an iPhone outright), but at least it would be over ‘soon’.

The Mystery Call

A few days later, I got a mystery call from Telstra asking about my ‘phone in Sydney’. Somewhat confused, I told the caller that I had just cleared it up at a Telstra store and to not touch anything in fear of breaking the whole system further.

I wasn’t actually sure what that was in reference to, but it became clear a bit later.

The Third Visit to the Telstra Store

Fast forward a few days, I thought I’d go back to the Telstra Store and ask to see if they had any idea when the next batch of iPhones would arrive:

Wow… so they were guessing the phones were now a whole 2 months out now. Blimey.

Paying For my Non-Phone

Later on, in the same day, I received the bill for the first month of my new contract. Swell.

In hindsight, I probably should have held off paying it, but I did it just to ensure things couldn’t possibly get worse at this point.

TelstraPaidPhonyBill

On their recommendation, I submitted a ticket with their ‘Leave it with us’ contact page, as well as left a complaint on their complaint page. Both pages promised follow-up in 48 hours, so I was hoping this could be solved soon.

In the meantime, as it was now the end of October, I headed off to Melbourne to enjoy both GCAP and PAX AUS.

While in Melbourne

Over the course of the week in Melbourne, I kept checking my email expecting to hear from Telstra in regards to my support and complaint tickets, but absolutely nothing came.

On my final day of being in Melbourne, I received another call from Telstra out of the blue:

Me: Uh, hello?

Telstra Guy: Hi! I’m from Telstra!

Me: Oh, is this about my complaint?

Telstra Guy: Uhh, no I don’t know about that. I’m here to confirm delivering your phone.

Me: Huh? What phone?

Telstra Guy: Your iPhone 6s.

Me: I’m not even sure what phone you’re referring to at this point. But sure okay then.

Telstra Guy: Alright! I’ll send it out tomorrow.

Me: Hold on a minute. Can you please tell me the address you’ll send it.

Telstra Guy: (Reads out the original INCORRECT address)

Me: *LONG SLOW, FRUSTRATED, INFURIATED SIGH* No. That address is incorrect. If you try to send a phone to that address, ‘bad things’ happen. The correct address is (Correct Address).

Telstra Guy: Okay sir. Thank you. *Hangs up*

I was really confused. The Telstra staff member had told me he’d cancelled my original order, so I didn’t know which phone he was referring to. Oh well. I shrugged that random call off and thought nothing more of it.

Right after that, literally as I was on the plane from Melbourne back to Perth, I received an email from the Telstra store letting me know that they had received more stock:

TelstraStockEmail

Sweet! I let him know that I might have already had another Telstra phone shipped. But I made an appointment anyway to come in for the following day.

Back in Perth… again

Sure enough… the following day:

Really….. Really?? That quickly? Also, I was under the impression they were holding it…?

I talked to the manager of the store this time, and she said that the staff member I was talking to didn’t have ‘putting away’ authority.

In any case, as I hadn’t heard back from my complaint tickets, the Telstra Store didn’t hold my phone, and I didn’t receive any notice from Star Track that the phantom original one had shipped, I was done. I filed a Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman complaint:

And that was it. All I could do was wait.

The Delivery…?!?!

The following week, somehow under the exact same consignment number, I got an alert that Telstra was trying to send me another phone:

I’m sure you could imagine how absolutely skeptical I was at this point. But to my actual shock and amazement a few days later:

It arrived! Holy crap! It finally arrived! I couldn’t believe it. Only 38 days late. But still!

But hang on a minute. This is the phone that Telstra guy at the Store told me he’d cancelled. How did this even happen?

In any case, at that point, I didn’t really care. Yes, it’s quite obvious that Telstra Perth and Telstra Sydney don’t talk to each other, but I got my original phone in the end.

But the story doesn’t end there. There was still my ombudsman complaint to deal with. After all, the amount of time I had to spend on getting this resolved was sheer farcical.

The ‘Ombudsman’

Well… to cut a long story short. When I was actually contacted by the Telstra folks in charge of ombudsman complaints, here’s how it went down:

Complaints Guy: So I see you didn’t get your phone for the first month. So I’m willing to reverse the charges for your handset repayment for just the first month. Is that suitable?

Me: … that’s it?

Complaints Guy: Yep!

Me: Hang on. After the sheer amount of time you’ve made me waste having to deal with multiple levels of screw-ups inside of Telstra? What would have happened in the reverse if I hadn’t paid my contract for a month?

Complaints Guy: Well obviously you’d pay a late fee, but we’d waive that if it was reasonable. The ombudsman can’t force us to compensate you for the time you’ve spent on this. Only for the services we failed to provide. Are you happy?

Me: No, I’m not happy. That’s such a weak response.

Complaints Guy: Well if you’re not happy, we can escalate it to my supervisor, but then there’s no guarantee that you’ll even get your handset repayment refunded. Is that what you want?

Me: Fine. I’ve had enough of this already. Whatever. Yeah just give me the repayment.

So the crux of the matter is that the ombudsman can’t force any compensation out of Telstra simply for the time spent/wasted on dealing with them. And they’re acutely aware of this. As far as they were concerned, even though they nearly billed me $2000 unjustly and delayed my phone for nearly a month and a half, the fact that I received my phone in the end absolved them of all of that. They were obviously very used to making sure to scrape by on the bare minimum when it came to ombudsman complaints.

In any case, I thought that at THAT point, it might finally be over (albeit, not a great outcome), but then THIS happened the following month:

Billed Again!

REALLY @TELSTRA? REALLY? I THOUGHT THIS HAD BEEN RESOLVED BY THIS POINT! ಠ_ಠ

A photo posted by Tim Oliver (@timoliver) on

They tried to bill me for the price of the phone. A SECOND TIME.

I couldn’t believe it.

So, back to the same complaints person as before I went to. I explained to them the problem and then asked them to reply to me via email when it was resolved.

This was the final email conversation I had with them.

TelstraTIO1
TelstraTIO2
TelstraTIO3

The End

And that’s the end. I’ve lost all of my energy to pursue it by this point, and I probably should just cancel my contract with Telstra. I’m considering doing so when the next iPhone is announced.

In any case, a lot of people have told me they’ve never had a problem with Telstra. And until this little incident, I was one of those people too. Let this story serve as a warning to anyone dealing with Telstra that this is what can potentially happen with them.

Finally, to make sure there’s some value to this whole ordeal, here are some lessons I learned when dealing with Telstra. I hope you never need to use them, but they’re good to know.

  1. Don’t order phones from Telstra online if you can help it. The security rules Telstra forces on phone deliveries are incredibly stringent, which is why this whole thing happened. Pick the devices up from the stores instead.
  2. If you DO have to order online to a business address, use the most simple address possible. Ask yourself ‘If the business name on this address is omitted, will they still be able to find me?’.
  3. Don’t bother with the Telstra support phone line. They’ll make you wait in a queue for HOURS.
  4. The Telstra Twitter account is by far the best way to get support from them, followed by the Live Chat.
  5. Don’t bother with sending a message to Telstra Support, or Telstra complaints; they’ll never be acted upon. The instant things start looking bad, file a complaint with the TIO. This was the only complaint Telstra ended up responding to, probably because they have to, by law.
  6. Don’t spend any more time on this than you need. The TIO states they cannot force Telstra to compensate you on terms of time wasted, so Telstra will weasel out of it as best as they can.
  7. Towards then end, after I found out that the complaint handling is done via phone, with the guy talking very quickly, and the sound quality being very bad, if you can, I recommend pushing as much communication as you can through email.
  8. If appropriate, switch to Optus. You’ll probably live longer. XD

And that’s the story of how a simple address mistake turned into several months of frustration, fraudulent bills, miscommunication, and unfulfilled promises.

Boy oh boy. I can’t wait for the iPhone 7. XD

  • Countess of Reynardo

    Oh god.

    I feel your pain.

    It is very much three different bunches of office, trying to do three things simultaneously without talking to each other. I wont go into what used to happen when I worked for Optus, but I will tell you that, regular as clockwork, we get deliveries at my house for an address that doesn’t exist.

    Because my place and the place next door were built on an old vegie garden. The existing house to the north is 42. I’m 44. Next door is 46.

    Because, at some stage, someone has decided that next door was actually 44A, the (ever-changing) occupants keep ordering internet, and mobile phones, and cable television, and the packages keep turning up at my place.

    Worst was when the gas suddenly changed company, because next door’s new tenants organised connection for their own gas, and the new company took me off my lovely deal with my current providers…

    Still not fixed. Next mobile, I’m keeping, dammit.

  • Clint Boessen

    I never deal with telstra Tim as I know what they are like. I have stayed clear for over 8 years now and I smile every day because of it :)