At Faber we seemed to have spent the last few months battling with a range of corporations and bureaucracies.  It’s not that we particularly want to, but these monoliths can be difficult to avoid – the banks, the shire, Telstra, Australia Post, Qantas, the tax office, any number of government departments.

But our worst experience was when we bought a new computer.  We know the computer industry is effectively run by the huge gorilla in the corner – Microsoft.  You know it when it has produced the world’s richest human being ever!

We had been reasonably happy with our 1998 laptop – still typed, did simple spread sheets, but the old dial up email service was gradually getting slower and slower as downloads became bigger and bigger (have you noticed that too?).  We couldn’t use it to access the internet – the first time we tried took 2 days to connect so we just ignored the internet.  However it was becoming increasingly difficult to run a business without internet access.

So with some misgivings we decided to upgrade.  What should have been a relatively simple process proved to be torture.

We thought it wise to go to a dedicated computer retailer.  No one asks “what do you want your computer to do?”  It’s one size fits all – you spend $1000, $2000 or $3000 and here’s what you can have.  I was given speakers (what for?), software I’d never heard of (everybody in the world has it!), given a antivirus programme that seemed to stop every other bit of software operating, and I couldn’t download any of the contacts or files I had stored on my old computer onto the new one.  When I questioned any of this I was made to feel like an idiot (always hard to take from some kid – I’ve got 2 degrees, run my own business, and have chaired my industry’s peak body for the last 4 years.)

There didn’t seem to be such a thing as put it together, plug it in and ride off into the sunset.  So I reluctantly paid for some tuition, spent hours on the phone to Microsoft, the computer retailer, the antivirus company.  I could write a book about help desks – how do those people do it – if I hear one more “do you want me to help?” I’ll scream.  I’m pretty confident generally, but frankly I found myself reduced to tears at times as I struggled to get this new computer to work for me.

Of course one of my problems was I had let my old computer get too old and I was now way out of date.  But hang on, that computer cost me $5000!  I bought a new truck at the same time and I’m not throwing it out just yet AND I can still get it serviced.  In fact I’ve never thrown out anything that cost me so much money!  So why am I upgrading?  Not just because Microsoft keeps writing new software with minor variations every couple of years (until Vista when they just changed everything), but they also control your connectivity to the internet.

I connected up to my dial up account but it was just as slow as the old computer.  Naively I thought a new computer would be quicker, but it’s the connection that dictates the service.  So I thought I’d better try broadband (costs more of course).  Well there had been a lot of discussion about broadband speed and networks in Australia – John Howard said we were just fine!  We can see the tallest Perth buildings from Faber, but do you think we can access broadband?  Of course not!  So wireless broadband it is – not from our Kombi at the beach but here on the edge of suburbia.

Now we came into contact with Telstra.  I’d reached a truce with the computer, but now I’d opened a new front.  Frankly it was comical at first, except I soon realised I was the butt of the joke.  Here I was with a new computer, I’d now invested in what appeared to be a great new product from one of our corporate leaders (who are arguing with our government that they will look after all

Australians’ communications needs) and I thought I could just stick the CD in the drive, plug in the modem and it would work.

I’m not going to go into details but it basically works on a wing and a prayer basis (this I have realised is the message of the graphics on the box, of people floating above the ground like angels).  If it doesn’t work you have to keep ringing the help desk who assume you are an idiot, blame the software (but shouldn’t the broadband software work with Microsoft’s?), and then give you detailed instructions to follow.  This is generally followed by you gratefully hanging up, confident everything is ready to go when you reboot the computer.  Of course it doesn’t work.  I don’t know if there is term for it (dread?) but that sinking feeling you get as the computer restarts, you click on connect and nothing happens is horrible.  Another 40 minutes on hold…

I was amazed that there didn’t seem to be any standard protocol – such as try a, then b, then c.  Surely there is nothing unusual about my computer –the retail chain I bought it from must sell them by the hundred?  Rather each help desk “consultant” had seemed to have developed their own unique technique.  You just hope you eventually get someone who can make the damn thing work.

I also made one major mistake.  I thought this was a good opportunity to upgrade my CDMA mobile to digital, change Faber’s accounts into our new company name, and organise a single bill for the mobile, the landlines and the broadband.  Basically it resulted in us having 2 broadband accounts, our home phone changed to the mobile phone account, and our landlines both in 2 different accounts, and now everything has the wrong address.  And by the way the claim that they can download all your contacts from your CDMA to the new digital mobile is simply untrue.

Basically there are lot of well meaning people working in call centres for Telstra with limited training, operating in a very narrow field, with no authority, under a great deal of pressure to get you off the phone, and who are probably as frustrated as I am.  Why can’t I see someone, somewhere, who can look across the range of issues related to my service and solve them without disparaging me?  Anyway, I see the leader of this fine organisation is to receive remuneration in the order of $20 million this year (whether his shareholders agree or not).

So what’s my point?  Well I don’t think it is good enough.  I can’t do with out these services but despite paying good money and choosing well known companies to deal with, the service is frankly lousy.  And the reason is simple.  These businesses have no interest in service.  They are so big and so well known and spend so much money on marketing that they attract a huge chunk of the market, regardless of the quality of their products or their service.  And once they have you, they sign you up to conditions that make no sense what so ever, except to keep you in their clutches.  And there isn’t anyone else you can go to and expect any better.  Why would they bother to spend money supporting staff who work in call centres and at help desks?  Why would they maintain shop fronts or branches?  Just spend billions on creating dreams and churn through the customers as they become disillusioned.

At Faber we can assure you that we have a completely different approach.  We will listen to what you want, we will explain what we have to offer, we will assist you with your selections, we won’t have an “attitude”, and we won’t blame some one else.  We will tell the truth about our products, and we will see you as a person not a target, a number, or an account (as we were described by the ATO recently).  We will respect you regardless of your requirements, and continue to talk to you after you have made a purchase.  And even if you have enough wine at home you are still welcome to visit.

Oh, and we probably won’t make $20 million this year, but is anyone really worth that?