Leaders needed: Thodey wants united telco front


Telstra chief executive David Thodey has issued a call to arms for Australia’s telecommunications industry to present a united front on a range of issues, in the face of what he described as “shocking” intervention by regulators on issues such as customer service.

Speaking to a packed room of telco executives at the Communications Day Summit in Sydney this morning, Thodey pointed out that in industries such as banking and resources, competing companies were not afraid to band together to achieve common outcomes. “As a group, I really think we need to stand up,” he said, adding the telco industry needed to “speak as a more united voice in terms of the issues that we face, to try tackle some of the real endemic issues that face our industry.”

Thodey described the social capital and level of influence present in the room as “incredible”. Top-level executives from virtually every major local telco – Optus, AAPT, Internode, PIPE Networks and more — are scheduled to speak at the conference. “And yet, if you go to Canberra, it really is left up to a few,” the Telstra CEO said, referring to the industry’s engagement with the Federal Government.

One major issue which Thodey highlighted was in the area of customer service. Government agencies and regulators such as the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman have been at pains over the past year to point out the industry’s poor record in the area, and Thodey in particular has made improving customer service one of the main themes of his tenure at Telstra since he took the company’s reins in mid-2009.

“The truth is, our industry does not have a great reputation for customer service,” said Thodey. “You can look at Telstra and say: ‘Telstra, get your act together.’ But it’s not just Telstra.”

The executive said the industry had allowed itself to get a poor record on customer service, with the consequence that regulators had stepped in to force it back on track, in what Thodey described as a “shocking” intervention. It wasn’t the job of regulators to fix customer service woes, he said – “it is the job of businesspeople”.

Over the past decade a number of groups have formed to represent the wider telecommunications industry, primarily representing Telstra’s rivals to Canberra in an attempt to generate structural industry change and challenge Telstra’s dominance and size. Such organisations have included the Competitive Carriers’ Coalition and the Tell the Truth Telstra (T4) group.

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy is known to have consulted with a number of the groups and their constituent telcos — Macquarie Telecom, for example, as well as Optus — as the Government’s wide-ranging telecommunications reform project, featuring as its centrepiece the National Broadband Network, has developed.

Independent groups such as the Communications Alliance and the Internet Industry Association — which both count Telstra amongst its members – have also arisen. The Communications Alliance is known to be working closely with NBN Co on the development of standards, for example, around how retail broadband providers will connect in to its network.

However, Thodey said he wasn’t talking about the interests of any individual company or about forming a lobby group. “I don’t think it’s a regulatory issue, I think it’s an industry leadership issue,” he said.

“There is not a single voice which this industry speaks with today.”

Image credit: Telstra


  1. Service? I do find those comments from Thodey amusing. Telstra has been the leader in customer service for all the wrong reasons. Unfortunately in the past Telstra’s sales dept has been leading the charge while service has been seen simply as an option for cost cutting.
    It’s one thing to acquire customers, it’s another to keep them. And there are only so many customers a company can burn through. I look forward to Telstra’s customer services efforts in the future with interest.

  2. I will say the Telstra social media teams are the shining light in Telstras customer service area pity some of the other areas are still ordinary to say the least.

  3. the industry has been put on notice again and again that something needed to be done in terms of CS and access issues, among others. the fact that the regulator has had enough of putting on notice and finally doing something about it is completely unshocking and in fact is within their remit, as point of last resort. If it was the ‘job of businesspeople’ to fix it, why has it not happened? particularly as it is NOT a new issue to the industry. If you had some belief in the ‘self correcting free market’ Mr Thodey, it just got undercut by your own lack of action. you only have yourself to blame.

    Take a look at the customer service surveys and look at who is heading the table – you frequently find Internode up there usually followed by the likes of iiNet and some of the other smaller outfits. you could do worse than take a leaf out of their book in terms of customer treatment (and im including wholesale relations here as resellers are customers as well btw).

    As far as the ‘single voice’ business, frequently the industry is split between Telstra and everyone else. You might like to look into that as well, if you want to have some kind of success at “industry leadership” – which seems to me code for ‘getting Telstra in the drivers seat again’. I’ll give credit that Telstra has improved over the past few years but there is still plenty of work to be done.

    • The simple fact is that the telco sector is driven by margins, and good customer service in that context is a cost centre — to be reduced as much as possible, according to conventional wisdom.

      David Thodey is challenging this wisdom, but others — such as Optus, TPG, etc, are not. And that is the way that it is likely to stay, sadly.

  4. Is this a thinly veiled way of saying they don’t want the ombudsman? If so, good luck with that, since the ombudsman has functioned pretty well as a way of escalating an unresolved issue. Certainly sharpens their focus on the problem at hand.

  5. Customer Service ? How about being honest as an industry? Its starts with the abuse of terms like “Unlimited” (no limits???), “Cap” (a financial term for no further payment obligation on the part of the buyer) and unobtainable wireless speed branding is rife in the industry. This industry has no heart, soul or honesty. It’s well past time the government cleaned them up. Bring it on.

  6. Customer service is a joke and Mr Thodey must be aware that customers are not happy, including myself. Over 2 months to have internet fixed, with numerous complaints all resolved without calling to confirm fault fixed, resulting in formal complaints being lodged as a last resort. Connecting a simple product such as remote access that should take 5 min but ended up taking 1hr 45 min and 6 consultants.
    At the same time shedding trained staff to cut down on costs while exporting the same jobs offshore.
    The management of Telstra needs to pull their heads out of the sand and before commenting on the industry, clean up your own house first.

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