Read between the lines of Telstra’s “radical transformation” plan and you’ll come to the conclusion that it hopes eventually to eliminate human staff entirely from the customer support experience to compete against rivals and save cash.
Dubbed “Telstra2022”, the overhaul announced on Wednesday changes the way it operates in several ways and is designed to “improve customer experience” among other things.
The overhaul sees a radical revamp of its plans and the elimination of excess data charges.
“Telstra will simplify its products by retiring all of its more than 1800 consumer and small business plans and instead introduce 20 core plans backed up by an effortless digital service that removes complexity and provides cost certainty,” Telstra says.
As a result, it expects to forgo up to $500 million in revenue for its services over the next three years, with the removal of excess data charges being the first example of where it expects to lose the most.
For consumers, it aims to “eliminate customer pain points and create all-digital experiences”. In the same breath, Telstra says the overhaul will see a net reduction of 8000 staff.
Telstra chief executive Andy Penn. Photo: AAP
Telstra also wants to eliminate the need for one-third of customer service calls within two years and two-thirds by 2022.
Following that same logic, it presumably wants eventually to eliminate all customer support calls. Whether simplifying plans will be enough to do this remains to be seen.
As many Telstra customers have already experienced, the telco’s endeavours in taking the “human” out of customer support and sales has been questionable.
Its introduction of a virtual assistant support “chatbot” that failed to answer basic questions, couldn’t differentiate between names and countries, and failed to transfer them to humans infuriated customers, with one labelling it a “virtual moron-idiot”.
Alvin Lee, senior analyst at Telsyte, says Telstra’s push for customers to use digital channels was risky due to the fact many of its existing customers preferred other contact methods.
“The aim at increasing self-service will potentially increase churn for Telstra,” Lee said. “Our research shows Telstra’s consumer customer base is more skewed towards Australians aged above 45. Over 50 per cent of Telstra’s mobile customer base also prefer to contact their mobile service provider via phone calls (first preference) followed by visiting the retail stores (one-in-three).”
Harrison Astbury, a telecommunications specialist at comparison website Canstar, said it was tough to say whether consumers would be worse or better off under Telstra’s new direction.
“With a gross simplification of plans, there is the risk it could get too simple,” he said, adding that it appeared as though Telstra’s new digital experiences were “going to move support to online, perhaps with a reduction in call centre capacity and tech support in physical shopfronts”.
With a gross simplification of plans, there is the risk it could get too simple.
Alex Kidman, tech expert at finder.com.au, said the scrapping of excess data charges was perhaps the most radical part of Telstra’s news.
“While we don’t know how that will impact the price point of plans, it potentially signals that Telstra is moving towards providing only unlimited data plans,” Kidman said.