Every day, technology offers us new and exciting ways of losing money, and if last week is any indication, the pace is accelerating.
Our Amex bill alerted us to the fact that Reed Business Information had billed us for the two-year subscription it had been offering as a special package on its web site. It represented a saving of $78 on the regular price, or would have, had it not been for the fact that Reed Business Information had billed us twice.
This can sometimes happen if one becomes impatient and clicks the pay button more than once, but we’ve been doing a high proportion of our shopping online for years now, and we’ve never been charged twice previously, and when we rang a customer service agent to have the transaction reversed, she informed us that the company’s system seemed to have the occasional bug which duplicated a transaction.
While that looks like a potentially profitable “bug” for a company to have, we’re sure an organisation of Reed’s standing would be seriously alarmed by the potential for generating customer dissatisfaction. Some relatively simple programming could surely throw up an alert in these case and even automatically generate a letter or email seeking confirmation. That would surely avoid potential loss of customer loyalty in the event of an unexpected surprise in the credit card statement.
Unfortunately consumers can’t rely on any such thing – although they might well recommend it to the customer service department – and the best way of avoiding unnecessary loss is to maintain good records and check the credit card statements religiously.
Other companies seem quite deliberately to target unwary internet users. Last week we received a beautifully prepared document from Domain Register Pty Ltd, with a Collins St address, which looked at first glance like an invoice for one of our .com.au internet domains.
It was no such thing. It was a notice of a “Domain Name Available” for the .com version. As it happened, we were interested in registering the domain, but we would have been badly out of pocket had we acted on Domain Register’s letter. We would have paid $249 for two years registration, with the incentive of a free iPod shuffle — the recently superseded model — provided we orered by April 9.
At dynadot.com it cost $US9.25 per year, which worked out at $A26.24 for two years. We priced the older version of the iPod shuffle at Streetwise for $65, which made the real value of the $249 offer just $91.
Our third opportunity to lose money arrived with the Telstra bill — the first for our new iPhone. Telstra wanted us to pay them $532.37. Penetrating the debit and credit items was by no means easy, but we discovered Mr Trujillo was trying to get us to pay $399 for an “iPhone UpFront Fee”. According to the plan we were on, the upfront fee should have been $179.
After a 10-minute wait, we were pulled out of the queue by the Credit Management department. They couldn’t help. They transferred the call to Mobile Billing, who also decided they couldn’t help, and transferred us to the iPhone Inquiries department. The call, instead, was eventually picked up by Mobile Residential, who promised — 17 minutes after we’d stepped on to the merry-go-round — that this time they’d make sure we’d get through to iPhone Inquiries. Instead, seven minutes later, we found ourselves talking – “Why, hello again!” – to Credit Management.
Another two minutes saw us communicating with the iPhone Department, but not, unfortunately, the right iPhone Department. The iPhone Sales Department unfortunately couldn’t help us with iPhone Billing. This time, a polite young man called Brett directs us to the iPhone Inquiries Department, and gives us the number in case we want to make direct contact in future.
As it happens, we will want to make direct contact in the very near future, because after 28 minutes and 35 seconds of providing a succession of very polite staff with our mobile phone number, password and address, we are abruptly cut off.
We start all over again with Telstra’s ingenious Voice Misinterpretation System, which doesn’t recognise anything to do with iPhones. It decides arbitrarily when we mention “iPhone” in a variety of pleading tones that “That would be a general inquiry”, and by now we’re too exhausted to fight back.
Another six minutes into the process, we’re talking to Mobile Assurance, who seem to be stationed in the Himalayas, and from there find ourselves being put through to Mobile Faults, whose representative kindly adds some notes to our file to ensure that we’re not put back to them. Alas, he’s no more successful at reaching iPhone Inquiries or iPhone billing or whichever department – our memory is becoming hazy – we’re trying to reach.
It’s not until 10 minutes and 48 seconds into the second call that we talk to “Victoria in Victoria”. Actually, the specific department in which Victoria is located is Residential Mobile Billing and Sales.
Victoria in Victoria has two qualities that at this stage of the process are a God-send. She has a sense of humour. She is also efficient. She takes the time to read the file, and look up the plans. She discovers that rather than being charged the up-front fee for the new iPhone plan we’d upgraded to, the Telstra billing system had hit us with the upfront fee for the plan we’d upgraded from.
She makes the necessary adjustment, as our time-wastage meter ticks over to 58 minutes.
Every day, technology offers us new and exciting ways of losing money. And – if you’re dealing with Telstra – every day, it offers us new and not-particularly-exciting ways of losing time.