Telstra likes to talk the talk on customer service but it struggles to walk the walk.

Call me! David Thodey is waiting to hear from you

Despite what former Telstra PR boss Phil Burgess liked to tell anyone who would listen, Telstra doesn’t appear to top the list of Australia’s most-loved companies.

Scratch the surface and there is a simmering layer of anger at the country’s biggest telco provider over a range of problems, as evidenced by the sharp increase in complaints about customer service to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) – up 142% in 2008.

And there doesn’t appear to be any end in sight for Telstra. Now Telstra’s customers are furious about a new fee that commenced this week designed to penalise people for paying their bills in cash.

If you’re a Telstra customer, you’ll now be slugged $2.20 if you pay your bill in cash at a Telstra Shop, Australia Post outlet or by snail mail.

It’s not just Telstra who are charging those who still prefer legal tender as a way of doing business. Similarly, rivals Optus charge 55c, 3 Mobile, $1; and Vodafone, $1.50. Telstra top the list but they’re not alone in charging you a fee for the privilege of paying your bill.

It’s great that technology means that payment systems can be made cheaper and simpler for both business and consumers through the use of online banking and BPAY. It’s great that it costs businesses less to process bill payments for the majority of customers who have moved to the newer, cheaper payment methods.

Back when everyone paid cash, the costs of processing bill payments was presumably worked into what you paid in monthly charges. Now that it’s cheaper for business to process these payments, it’s a bit rich to start charging those who still prefer old-fashioned cash money.

This pay-for-paying fee has touched a raw nerve among Telstra customers. It seems that Telstra’s customers do hold the company to a higher standard than its peers. It’s just that the company doesn’t deliver against the standard that its customers expect.

At CHOICE we’ve received a barrage of complaints from angry Telstra customers who will be hit with this fee. On the back of all these complaints, Telstra chief David Thodey has offered further exemptions to Commonwealth Seniors Card holders and said that he had instructed his call centre staff to be ‘sympathetic’ to anyone who called with a reasonable objection to the fee, citing one possible objection as a customer who didn’t like using online banking.

So if you don’t want to pay the $2.20, call Telstra and tell them. If the person you speak to in the call centre isn’t sympathetic enough, email and we’ll pass it on to Thodey. He wants to hear from you.

But with the company now facing structural separation by an Act of Parliament, we wonder how much time David will have for frustrated customers.

Telstra has failed to meet customers’ needs on a matter as fundamental as bill payments systems.

It’s no wonder that this week Minister Conroy announced plans to break up Telstra. Why on earth should we trust them with essential network infrastructure, if they can’t even get a simple payment method right?

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    • Dan says:

      06:38am | 16/09/09

      It’s always a problem whenever a company dominates a particular market. If there’s one good thing that can come out of this, it’s that Telstra won’t be the dominant party anymore, or at least not as dominant, and will have to start treating customers fairly..

    • Margaret says:

      07:44am | 16/09/09

      I have worked in telecommunications (both at Telstra and for one of the other carriers) since I was 20 years old. If anyone thinks breaking up Telstra is going to result in customer focussed assistance & pricing fairness then you are living in a parrallel universe.  This is all about revenue generation and nothing else.  John Howard sold the farm and Labor will progress the strategy - to the detriment of our telecommunications.  We had all better hope for a better watchdog on these carriers than we have presently

    • Margaret says:

      07:43am | 16/09/09

      I have worked in telecommunications (both at Telstra and for one of the other carriers) since I was 20 years old. If anyone thinks breaking up Telstra is going to result in customer focussed assistance & pricing fairness then you are living in a parrallel universe.  This is all about revenue generation and nothing else.  John Howard sold the farm and Labor will progress the strategy - to the detriment of our telecommunications.  We had all better hope for a better watchdog on these carriers than we have presently

    • ShaneO says:

      07:49am | 16/09/09

      Now that Telstra appears to be getting their comeuppance it’s time to fix the banks.

      Their fee gouging for basic services is obscene. ATM usage charges, Overdrawn Fees, saying the word ‘bank’ loudly fees you name it they will charge you for it.

      It seems the wheel turns slowly but it does turn. Please make banks the next target for regulation that encourages competition.

    • lantana says:

      08:20am | 16/09/09

      As Elise says, Telstra is the biggest problem because it is by far the biggest company which dominates the industry and thus dictates standards.

      It sometimes seems that Telstra uses its monopolistic structure and huge legal department to cut some corners on customer rights.  But at least the Telstra rhetoric is better now that the Yankee Doodles have high-tailed it back home with their bags of gold!

    • WC says:

      08:38am | 16/09/09

      I use Telstra for my mobile phone because it has better coverage.  This is paid for by a simple electronic method that incurs no fee.  I use an independent internet provider because they provide a low cost, although extremely no frills, service.  Telstra is a company, not a mythical evil.  There is now government supported choice and if people are unhappy with services provided they can exercise this choice. 

      I do not want the costs of people paying cash calculated into my fee, this will become a non-issue in time and is being blown way out of proportion due to the tall poppy syndrome making Telstra a target.

    • coxie says:

      08:39am | 16/09/09

      Anyone who lived in the USA during the 1980’s knows what happened when their monopoly-owned telephone network was broken up; it virtually broke down. Obviously, the Bolshie guvmen have ignored history for the sake of populist politics.

    • John says:

      08:56am | 16/09/09

      I live 10 mins from WA’s second biggest city…. i would like to be able to get the internet. Like most people in South West WA, there are no ports available, we dont get access to Wireless Optus, Vodaphone, Virgin etc. We can only pay for highly priced Sattelite or Telstras fine option or $26,000.00 over three years for 3g Wireless.

    • acker says:

      09:14am | 16/09/09

      I hope we dont have an unaccountable player who ducks his head like Stephen Conroy in the Western Bulldogs side on Friday night….I note that the match (AFL Preliminary Final) will be seen on free to air TV as a delayed telecast (woopee doo for his anti sports syphoning stance) while Fox (50% owned by Telstra) cannot show the game until after the delayed free to air telecast…..what a clusterftruck..

    • Voxpop says:

      09:28am | 16/09/09

      It was a happy day for me when I told telstra I didn’t want to reconnect to their service and would never again be a customer of theirs.  You see they had disconnected me completely without reason but wouldn’t waive the revenue raising reconnection fee.  This was the second time it had happened and they couldn’t explain why to me.  The nasty little customer service operator told me that if I went to another telco I’d have to pay a connection fee with them anyway so I may as well just pay it.
      Well I’m actually happier now that I don’t have a landline - we each have our mobile phones (not with telstra) and I have a wireless broadband (also not with telstra).  I don’t get telemarketers calling and I didn’t have to buy a new answering machine and phone bundle for the house.
      The funniest thing is that they ended up sending me a check in the mail - I had overpaid them and still no answer as to why they disconnected the phone twice.

    • Richard says:

      09:44am | 16/09/09

      Telstra, mainstream media and the banks are the spoiled rich kids of our economy, hiding behind political clout and special favors to protect them from any competitive pressure to raise the quality of their work. Sure they all have a bunch of schoolboy sophistries to explain how really they are great, but I think just about everyone born after 1960 is aware of how full of crap they are.

      This is a good start, next the banks and make sure the internet can provide alternatives to 7/9/10 by refusing network slowing censorship.

    • Dylan says:

      10:06am | 16/09/09

      This is almost as bad as when Ticketek did the inverse and thought it was fair to charge customers $5 on top of the already exorbitant booking fees for an emailed PDF version of their ticket! What a monstrous privilege it was for customers like myself to take on the costs of both production and delivery of tickets away from Ticketek, even though these costs had basically become nill due to the use of computers and the internet to perform these tasks. That didn’t stop them from charging that extra $5 though!

      Thankfully Ticketek have reversed this decision, hopefully Telstra will follow suit.

    • rod sexton says:

      10:18am | 16/09/09

      When wireless-broadband download-speeds increase, it will give me great pleasure to tell Tel$tra to disconnect my landline. With VoIP and a mobile-phone everything will be catered for without Tel$tra.

    • lantana says:

      10:21am | 16/09/09

      @coxie 08:39, what happened to Ma Bell in the USA has no parallels to what is proposed now in Australia.  Under US anti-trust legislation, the incumbent monopoly was split into the Baby Bells on a regional basis but without effective national communications coordination, so it doesn’t work very well.

      It seems that what Senator Conroy is proposing here is a very logical separation of the network and service functions, plus Foxtel devolvement.  These changes will improve customer choice and services, not degrade them as happened with the Bell Corp changes.

      The government should be commended for finally coming up with a fair and practical answer to some very entrenched problems.

    • Old Clive says:

      10:36am | 16/09/09

      The system seemed to be working well before privatisation, what is going to happen when there are no more assets to sell off. An increase in the GST is very evident in the near future,even if labor did protest against it like they did everything else when they were in opposition.

    • Roy Edmunds says:

      11:16am | 16/09/09

      Telstra charges for cash payments because it costs money to have the cash picked up by Armaguard.
      Telstra was owned by the Australian citizen until taken from them and then sold back to them for no good reason.
      Australia is the sixth biggest country in the world with a population that is less than America had in its June 1st. Census of 1850.
      Thats why we had a monopoly in rail, air, communication, and other services which a tiny population in a gigantic island continent could only afford with a distribution of wealth across the entire nation.
      There is no real competition when you force Telstra to sell its business under cost to these store front pseudo businesses who provide nothing more than an invoice to take more Australian dollars overseas.
      Its just another part of the failed philosophy of globalisation and privatisation which doesn’t fit Australia like a blue print in national services.
      Re arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
      Australia is going under. Slowly.
      But we do have lots of gold in them thar hills.
      Maybe its a good idea to get a metal detector, or plant vegetables in the back yard. Thats if you can keep your back yard.
      The govt. should leave Telstra alone and attend to the mess that is Australia.
      Massive debt.
      Massive trade deficit.
      Still living beyond its means.
      Stimulus through printed or borrowed money, who knows which??
      Stimulus to purchase more imports and temporarily prop up our service industries which earn nothing.

    • Drew says:

      11:17am | 16/09/09

      This has been a long time coming. As a long-time IT professional I can only cheer on this move, this heaving monstrous belligerant behemoth (Telstra) has been delaying the technological advancement of our entire country for its own profit. We are technologically in the dark ages thanks to Telstra.

      They should be thankful that the Govt didn’t take it further and force them to break up the mobile and broadband departments so that wireless network competition will improve. That would be a truly great move.

    • Badger says:

      12:47pm | 16/09/09

      I understand that the Goverment disposed of a lot of Telstra Shares the Day Before this announcement !!!
        Isn’t this called “Insider Trading” and they should be called to account for it, as the share price dropped after the announcement

    • Don Clark says:

      01:50pm | 16/09/09

      Badger, you’re wrong, I’m sorry. The story is a beat up. There was no “Government” sale of Telstra shares this week at all, and “The Government” (ie the Rudd cabinet, cannot sell any…it doesn’t hold any.

      Since 2006 the Commonwealth’s holding of Telstra shares has been held in trust by the Future Fund sent up by the previous government, for that purpose, run by a board of finance professionals appointed by that Government, and re-appointed where necessary by the current Government . 

      Three weeks ago, on 20 Aug, the independent Future Fund board decided to sell a third of its large holdings, having assessed the steadier market conditions.

      The board was appointed by the previous Government as an independent trust to manage eg Telstra shares. The Fund held 17% of Telstra and now holds 11%.  All duly announced here on 20 August:
      “The Board took the view that current market conditions were conducive to a partial sell-down of the holding.”

      The scope of telco/broadband proposals were flagged in the government’s industry reform discussion paper issued five months ago, while the industry has called for Telstra’s separation for years. To any cool observer, it is plain that the Future Fund Board has acted prudently in the face of improving market conditions and -as one might expect of finance professionals - bearing in mind an already announced and wide-ranging review of the industry.

    • Hugo says:

      03:00pm | 16/09/09

      It’s dissapointing a fee for paying a bill is even legal. I don’t have much respect for Telstra os I kinda expected this from them, but I’m sad that the Federal Government hasn’t simply said - add a fee for paying a bill in person and we will introduce legislation to make that illegal.

    • George says:

      03:43pm | 16/09/09

      coxie says: “Anyone who lived in the USA during the 1980’s knows what happened when their monopoly-owned telephone network was broken up; it virtually broke down.” 
      Is that right ? Then why is it that that same company is now the largest Telco in the world ? I can tell you: because they were able to use resources for better use. Companies that own the market get lazy, and become more active in defending their dominance than running a healthy business.

    • Badger says:

      04:56pm | 16/09/09

      Don Clark 1:50
                      Thanks Don for the information, but I still say that The Future Fund ( Government) knew what was going to happen with the forcing Telstra to divest themselves for holding so much Monopoly over the Telco Industry, and this in turn would mean the downturn in the value of the Telstra Shares in the future.
        The Future Fund and the Government of the day are all one and the same if it comes down to it, and not so independent of each other.
      Since 2006 the Commonwealth’s holding of Telstra shares has been held in trust by the Future Fund.

    • Nevyn says:

      05:11pm | 16/09/09

      Telstra make me laugh. For 14 years, on and off, we have tried to convince Telstra that the person who’s name our phone account is in… is dead. One operator even suggested the account holder needs to sign a stat dec to confirm his passing (der). Others wont change the account to another name because the said other person can not prove that they are able to pay the account, the fact that it’s been paid for 14 years means nothing to them. To now find that they will attempt to charge us more for paying cash, sorry, it just ain’t going to happen, we’ll pay with the correct FULL amount and not 1 cent more. If we paid with a credit card (which we do not have) they would have to pay an inside fee anyway, so, stuff ‘em.

    • Michael says:

      05:14pm | 16/09/09

      Yeah I do really hope these regulations smash the share value down to 50 cents, I’ve been a customer of this company for many years I’m sick of being price gouged by these SOBs, I’m sick of substandard customer service, and I’m sick of being forced to use wireless because they intentionally blocked other ISPs from being able to roll out new infrastructure (why hasn’t that been mentioned lately huh journos, they got fined millions for this)

      Im sick of share holders hiding behind govs and directors, you had votes you let this company act like this, and you deserve every kick in the guts you get.

    • Don Clark says:

      07:32pm | 16/09/09

      Well, Badger I’m game to make two bets.

      One, that Senator Fielding will dress up this furphy of a story up as best he possibly can and squeeze every inch of mileage out of it that uncritical viewers will let him.

      Two, that at the end of the day, the Future Fund will be found to have been prudent, professional and successful in its handling of a major trust.

    • Bri says:

      08:28pm | 16/09/09

      I have to agree with Don, (Don Clark says:07:32pm)
      It was publicised earlier, there was no news that any other shareholder did not know so there is no premise for insider trading. Why cant we just pull the call centres back to Australia? We got the work force, oh thats right… dividends for the shareholders, too bad when non shareholders cant affrd the service, then the price plumets as the profit disappears into big director payouts… hmmm… profit over people? not a good way to go…

    • Darren says:

      09:10pm | 16/09/09

      Roy Edmunds (11:16am | 16/09/09) says:

      “Telstra charges for cash payments because it costs money to have the cash picked up by Armaguard.”

      What a load of rubbish.  There is absolutely no need for cash payments to be picked up by Armaguard because they are (or can be) handled electronically.

    • Don Clark says:

      09:50pm | 16/09/09

      Quite right. Back to the main game then. I abandoned Telstra for its shoddy over-priced rude service some years back. 

      Meanwhile, the corporation made astronomical profits year after year, but found sod-all for making provision even for existing infrasructure, let alone proper provision for broadband.

      Telstra preferred to spend their creative effort trying to strangle the tide of competition and paying an astronomical salary to a chief who set out to head-kick a lack-lustre government into letting ‘em get away with it. 

      They’ve delayed us getting a world-class telecoms/broadband service for over a decade. Time to get something done. Time at last for real Broadband fibre-to-home set up. What that’ll do for consumer charges, and new flash apps - medical, retail, government access, education, technical exchange across industry, is anyone’s guess. Whole new world, not just i-tunes and poxy fuzzy little You-Tube video. Real commercial leap forward.

      Meanwhile, the online world lets us find ways to compare prices and plans rather better than the reading the torturous conditional bulldust that some players like to hide behind - hint hint, Telstra.

      I have a pretty flash phone/ADSL2 set-up from a biggish but local concern, for a far better price and with far better allowances than anything Telstra ever offered, and mostly good tech service over several years. The catch: a small one - they do charge extra for credit card payment.  But…there’s an e-banking option that’s fee-free and I’ll be moving to that soon.

      So Telstra, wakey wakey! Too late boys, for the old ways. Time to get in shape. Time to remake the monolith into workable entities that make dough, charge fairly, and give share holder value in an expanding market.

    • David Lannan says:

      10:49pm | 16/09/09

      If you were given a $2.20 discount on your bill for paying online (even if the bill was raised $2.20) people would be rejoicing!
      Telecommunications is all about utilising technology, and I believe the fee is generally for producing a paper bill, so you can take it down to the post office and pay the bill. Charging people for affecting the environment is definitelya plus,and should make you think twice about getting a paper bill!

    • Darren says:

      11:58pm | 16/09/09

      Hugo says:03:00pm | 16/09/09:

      “It’s dissapointing a fee for paying a bill is even legal. I don’t have much respect for Telstra os I kinda expected this from them, but I’m sad that the Federal Government hasn’t simply said - add a fee for paying a bill in person and we will introduce legislation to make that illegal.”

      Unfortunately, even if the Gov did pass legislation, the fee would be just be added on in hidden costs.

    • Paul Howell says:

      07:16am | 17/09/09

      Rudd and his arrogant pals got their broadband budget wrong and were put out when telstra refused to play ball and refused to tender.That is why the vindictive Rudd is holding Telstra to ransom.He should get a life and get advice from the people who know about telecom,before he invests substantially more tha the $43 Billion mentioned on possibly out of date technology.Keep the spite out of politics and try to use OUR monies to better effect.

    • Roy Edmunds says:

      11:54am | 17/09/09

      Hey Darren,  you can’t handle cash electronically. It has to be banked.
      As Telstra would be lible sending an employee to bank the cash if they are robbed it has to be professionally bought by Armaguard or whoever does the buy. Then a Telstra employee can bank a cheque without risk.

    • Roy Edmunds says:

      12:15pm | 17/09/09

      Paul Howell
      You know Rudd and Co have absolutely nothing but contempt for the Australain people. Rudd has a narcissistic bent on single handedly changing Australia to match the Chinese governing model where government controls everything.
      This is what is behind his interference with what is now a public company of which I am a part owner.
      We live in the sixth largest country in the world with a population America had in 1850.
      We should understand that these store front pseudo ‘competitors’ that are able to purchase rates for using Telstra equipment below cost because the government wants to fulfill some mindless experiment where govts. sell the peoples assets back to them and then proceed to try and control them just as they had when they were managed by govt. in the first instance. Either way, they manage to stuff it up.
      Rudd should attend to a sinking Australia and leave Tesltra alone. But he won’t.

    • rl fitzgerald says:

      02:40pm | 17/09/09

      incompetent accounting ,ringing every week for refunds that never were fixed up. hours wasted on hold “the sceaming I am you are we are aust”

    • Mike says:

      03:47pm | 17/09/09

      How about consumers go ‘on strike’ against these additional fees and charges that are imposed by telcos, banks, airlines and anyone else who can get away with it. I mean, who pays me for the bank fees and charges that I incur for operating my bank account so I can make electronic payments and avoid penalties for paying in cash? Enough is enough! Wasn’t there a case reported on in the media recently where a guy won a case against a bank over arbitrary fees? I bet that’s the reason the banks are dropping these fees - because they’re legally suss, not becuase they care for their customers!

    • Bernard says:

      10:52pm | 07/10/09

      Telstra charges a fee to pay a bill.  Only option to avoid a fee is to go for direct debit.  I wouldn’t trust anyone to direct debit from my back account because when they make a mistake there is alot of red tape and hassle to resolve it.  Already experienced it once and never again.  It is a rip off and unfairly charged to people, whether they can afford to pay it or not.  Refuse to pay it!  Is disgusting that the government keeps quiet about these fees being charged because they gain a benifit via the GST.  Not Happy!  Keep complaining to have it stopped.

    • plastid says:

      08:16am | 10/12/09

      Dear Author !
      Absolutely with you it agree. In it something is also to me it seems it is good idea. I agree with you.

    • Sue Chambers says:

      02:10pm | 19/09/12

      My mother has Alzheimer’s Disease, and as her authorised contact, I have been telling Telstra for two and a half years that my step father passed away. Telstra continues to call her home, requesting to speak to my step father. Each time Telstra calls, she goes looking for him and we have to go through the distressing process of telling her that he has passed away. I lodged a complaint with Telstra and the operator was horrified and apologised profusely. I contacted Telstra again yesterday to be told that I was no longer an authorised contact and that they would only speak to my (deceased) step father. I tried to lodge a second complaint - but was told that they could not speak to me. Extremely distressing.


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