Australian telcos are rejigging their customer support models in response to the coronavirus pandemic, ranging from TPG and Vodafone moving telephone support remotely to others disabling live chat.
The reactions come as the Communications Minister Paul Fletcher convened a “virtual roundtable” with “senior executives of NBN Co, Optus, Telstra, Vodafone, TPG and Vocus” yesterday.
They agreed - among other things - to “establish a special working group composed of the major telcos, and led by NBN Co, to share relevant information and discuss emerging engineering, security or operational issues in relation to COVID-19.”
One of the issues for telcos is how to support customers at a time when the usage of internet services is likely to increase as more people work from home.
So far, there are widely divergent approaches among the major telcos.
TPG, Vodafone go remote
TPG said this morning it is transitioning to full remote operations for its support staff.
“Due to precautionary measures to protect our staff from the COVID-19 outbreak, TPG’s telephone support team members will be transitioning to working from home,” it said.
“Our customer support agents will also be available online via Chat Support.”
Vodafone said Sunday that “at its Hobart contact centre, agents will begin transitioning to rostered remote working arrangements.”
Vocus brands turn off live chat
Meanwhile, Vocus-owned brands iPrimus and Dodo carried identical statements that live chat is now unavailable.
“Due to the escalating situation with COVID-19 (coronavirus) around the world, we’ve had to adjust our working conditions to ensure a safe environment for our employees, while continuing to support you,” iPrimus and Dodo said.
“Support for critical requirements such as faults, outages, power and gas, and financial hardship are still available, but you may experience longer than usual wait times when calling.
“Live chat will be unavailable and expect delays with email response times.”
Telstra, Optus have problems at Philippines call centres
Telstra predicted longer wait times this morning as measures in the Philippines to control the spread of the disease - such as the lockdown of Manila - impacted its call centre operations.
"Due to new COVID-19 measures introduced by the Philippines Gov overnight, a number of our call centre team members will not be able to take your calls," the telco said on Tuesday.
"This will mean longer wait times for customers calling or messaging us.
"Our teams in Australia and India are online, but will be prioritising calls from our customers in most urgent need of help including Medical Priority Assist and high risk enquires.
Telstra indicated last week that its retail stores and business centres “remain open”, and its “Telstra 24x7 and My Telstra apps are up and running as usual”.
Optus similarly said it had issues with lockdowns in the Philippines.
"New Philippines Government restrictions introduced have impacted the availability of our employees, so we have fewer staff available on customer care teams, " vice president of service Mark Bayliss said.
Bayliss said self-serve options, along with retail stores, could still be used for support.
"We are also resourcing othering other teams so we can ramp up support for your calls," he said.
Communications Minister Paul Fletcher said telcos generally “are quickly responding to the evolving challenges of COVID-19 and have in place business continuity plans to continue to deliver vital telecommunications services.”
He said that yesterday’s industry roundtable had also “agreed there is a requirement for protocols to guide interactions that technicians have with customers who are self-isolating, including guidance on personal protective equipment.”
“The Government will engage with the telecommunications sector to provide clarity,” Fletcher said.
Outside of customer support, both Telstra and Optus are offering additional one-off data boosts for users in April.
NBN Co is also under pressure from some parts of the industry to temporarily ease its pricing and increase bandwidth inclusions, though it is yet to say whether it will do so.