Blimey. I don’t hate Telstra any more

telstra_pinkAbout once a year, I get a phone call from a market researcher. They want to know what I think of Australia’s telcos.

They never say who they’re conducting the research on behalf of, but as most of the questions relate to Telstra, I assume I’ve stumbled onto some database of so-called opinion formers.

Every year I take perhaps too much pleasure in telling them just how dreadful I think Telstra is.  

You see, I arrived in the country about five years ago, at the point the company was arguably at its worse under the Sol Trujillo reign.

As a punter, I honestly thought that after experiencing the customer service of Etisalat in Dubai, I’d never come across a worst telco in the world. But in my early days of attempting to connect to the Internet via Telstra’s Bigpond, I rapidly reassessed.

The staff member who angrily ticked me off when I finally got through just before 6pm, complaining that I was going to make him stay late after I’d spent 40 minutes waiting for the phone to be answered, was a particularly memorable moment. Suffice to say I developed a healthy hatred for the brand, enhanced with every interaction with surly staff or service failure.

Sometimes it was quite hard to be unbiased when writing about them.

But I noticed a few weeks ago that something had sneaked up on me. I’ve started to quite like the Telstra brand.

In part it may may be simply down to better consumer experience. I reluctantly switched my mobile to Telstra after my Optus handset was unable to deliver reception either at my office or home. It turns out that Next G is good as Telstra claims.

And it helped when they killed off small business man Ern. As a part owner of a small business myself, it’s nice that they no longer talk to me like I’m a fucking idiot. (And over the years there has been a lot of bad Telstra advertising).

But the moment I became conscious of it, was when I walked past a billboard on York Street in Sydney the other day. There was no amazing copy writing. Simply the message that customer service was now 24/7. Based on my previous experiences, that poster cut through because it had what to me as a punter was a piece of real and relevant news. And I realised I didn’t hate them any more.

Now comes the brand refresh.

Inevitably the new logo will be slagged off. They always are.

Inevitably the cost of the refresh will be slagged off. It always is.

And I’m not a fan of all of the copywriting in today’s print element of the relaunch. The phrase “imagine dowloading your media at even greater speeds and then being able to enjoy it from a completely connected living environment,” isn’t quite the everyday English they’re promising. When did you last tell someone, “I’m just popping into the study to download my media”?

But it still feels like this is a brand that is turning the corner. The actual product seems to genuinely be improving. And having something new to talk about is the biggest gift that a marketer, or ad agency, can ask.

I’m actually quite looking forward to when I get this year’s call from the market research lady.

Tim Burrowes


  1. Biz Tone
    18 Sep 11
    6:15 pm

  2. And the bandwagon is off to a cracking start.

  3. Logic
    18 Sep 11
    8:52 pm

  4. Telstra lately have shown that if you have a good product that delivers what it claims (or even better than claimed) generally people will be pretty happy about it.

    I’ve found my service with iinet (the early Telstra DSL challenger with the best service) has gotten really rubbish. Can’t begin to explain how bad Vodafone is (as a 5 year plus customer) across the board.

  5. MM
    18 Sep 11
    9:12 pm

  6. just a change of colour

  7. Devil's advocaat
    19 Sep 11
    9:23 am

  8. Perhaps they just look better in a weak field?

    Vodafone’s mobile signal fiasco makes anyone who moves to Telstra rejoice out loud.

  9. dch
    19 Sep 11
    10:24 am

  10. Time to start the “best 10 Telstra ads” list then?

  11. Sydney
    19 Sep 11
    10:28 am

  12. Telstra is not as bad as they used to be, and they do have the best 3G network in the country.

    However, they still spend too much on marketing and poorly developed products. Their systems are still often frustrating.

    What David Thodey is doing is working. However, he still needs to fire half of middle management – most of them are self serving assholes.

  13. Tony Richardson
    19 Sep 11
    10:47 am

  14. You did better than me Tim. I saw the print ad on the weekend, noticed the funny colours but got bored and drifted off half way through the ‘imagine’ sentence quoted above.

    As a big-ish user of Telstra I missed the point completely.

    Isn’t it funny that a lot of ‘marketing communication’ still has to be explained by the media afterwards?

  15. Tony Robertson
    19 Sep 11
    11:00 am

  16. My Telstra Bigpond saga has the potential to develop into a mini-series bordering on comedy/drama. My mistake was to move house and attempt to take my Bigpond account with me. A month down the track and I am using a “test” account” while they try to work out what has happened.

    At least I have a mobile contact now for one worker who is attempting to sort out my issues. Because one of my lines in the new property was an Optus Line I got different advice on how it could revert back to Telstra. Took two weeks for a Telstra worker to agree that they could do it without me having to find the name of the previous tenant and inform Optus!!!!!

    I estimate I have told Telstra workers my name and date of birth more then 75 times in the past month and I now can sing-a-long to the tragic muzak selection that I have been forced to endure whilest living”on hold” for longer than I have been in conversation with their staff!!!

  17. Duncan Riley
    19 Sep 11
    11:18 am

  18. I use to hate Telstra as well but now feel something similar (I can’t recommend Next G enough), although I do wonder whether it’s a question of Telstra having lifted their game, or Optus in particular offering such a woefully bad service?

  19. Simon
    19 Sep 11
    11:57 am

  20. Actually, my experience of Telstra has improved.

    Whilst I don’t want to seem xenophobic, I find that when you avoid the overseas call centers with their pre-programmed responses, the Australian operatives are much more knowledgeable and helpful. In fact, I have actually passed all my inquiries now through Telstra’s Twitter team who have been very useful.

    I remember a while back Sol complaining that he was fired because we’re all racist, or some other such claptrap. It appears that he was fired because he and Telstra were useless. I sense an improvement. Long time coming.

    Simon Dell

  21. Ann
    19 Sep 11
    12:44 pm

  22. is this astroturfing in action?

  23. GG
    19 Sep 11
    2:03 pm

  24. the new branding is great.

    and i have to agree with the simple reasoning of 24/7 customer service and better reception making up for a huge reason for many people to make the shift (back) to telstra. if i were voda/optus i would be watching this space closely… bad reception, bad service, and a new iphone handset on the way, i am sure many people are weighing up the options here.

  25. John Grono
    19 Sep 11
    2:10 pm

  26. Tim, I tend to agree. But it is two steps forward and one-step backward I suspect.

    I recently couldn’t get Internet access (BigPond cable) around 2pm one afternoon, so I called the call centre. I got through in a reasonable time and they went through the turn-off the modem, unplug the modem routine. They then said it would be fixed in 2 hours. So around 4pm I tried again – nothing. More calls. I got it elevated (I actually have my own Bigpond complaints number so that helped). They were still sure it was my modem and the technician would replace it within 48 hours. 48 hours!?!?! Being pissed off I decided to watch the 6pm news only to find I had no Foxtel. Yep – as I suspected – there was a service outage that Foxtel knew of but Bigpond didn’t! How can that happen. Mind you I had great joy in telling the technician that I needed 48 hours notice before telling Telstra that the service had been restored two days earlier.

    But it got me thinking. We’ve had Bigpond cable for just over 10 years, and this was just the third service outage in this period – which is pretty remarkable service uptime. Especially when tow of those outages were the results of car accidents taking out infrastructure connections.

    Gulp – I’m even thinking of switching back to Telstra mobile!

  27. James C
    19 Sep 11
    4:35 pm

  28. I think Telstra customer service is horrendous and that they are expensive to the point of absurd. But their coverage and speeds is second to none and I cant remember a time when I couldnt access the internet from my cable…and now experiencing US ‘cell’ coverage and customer service… I have realised Telstra (and Vodafone for that matter) really werent that bad.

    Optus are permanently on my shit-list. Animal ads or otherwise.

  29. DV
    19 Sep 11
    5:19 pm

  30. Telstra 3G coverage is actually really excellent and I’ve had no problems compared to people I know on other providers.

    And I absolutely hated Telstra because of Bigpond for a long time and their pre 3G mobile plans were a ripoff.

  31. Josh
    19 Sep 11
    6:21 pm

  32. I wish my Virgin (i.e. Optus) mobile contract could be terminated early w/out being robbed, as their network service for mobile & wireless is pretty woeful in comparison. Needless to say I will switch my mobile to Telstra as soon as my Virgin contract is up. My Telstra NextG wireless USB (now used in lieu of a NQR Virgin wireless device) is generally very good & super reliable on the road, and strangely enough I haven’t had a billing issue for 2 years. I say continue doing what you’re doing Telstra and keep your brand on message with your current positioning, as I’m listening (and switching).

  33. Glenn Mabbott
    20 Sep 11
    11:06 am

  34. Tim, entirely agree that Telstra is ever so slowly realising the need to improve customer service. You fail however to identify the irony of the “new” creative approach to their campaign. Rather than give us a human face, Telstra have simply produced a series of colourful PowerPoint slides of generic facts about the bleeding obvious, a pretty rendition of the cost of entry to the category.
    No human insight, no emotion, just a series of bland statements that survived research.
    If Telstra’s brand image needle moves, it will be thanks to actual product improvement, this marketing effort adds no more value than the latest retro op art wallpaper pattern it appears to be based on.

  35. Peter Rush
    22 Sep 11
    10:30 am

  36. No-one watching SBS? This latest Telstra effort appears to be a piss weak rip-off of their promo series where colorful graphics and music meld brilliantly.

    If you’re going to rip something off – why not, it’s only advertising? – you need to at least do an improved version. Having worked on Telstra, I can just imagine what went wrong:

    “Let’s do an ad like the one on SBS. Brilliant, accept can you pull back the colour a tich, we are Telstra. And the music, can we make it tad more mainstream, we are Telstra. Maybe slow the animation down a skerrick, for the older people, we are Telstra.

    And we all know how quickly a tich a tad and a skerrick ads up to a crok.

  37. Peter Rush
    22 Sep 11
    12:00 pm

  38. A tich, of course, being slightly smaller than a titch.