Category Archives: rant

Customer Service Fails – In Which I Name and Shame

While we were away, and in the week since we got back, I have experienced some monumental customer service fails.

1. Australia Post.

We had our mail redirected while we were away. All items addressed to our home or to our Post Office Box were to be redirected to my brother’s house. I have written elsewhere about the monumental Failure of Brain that led my brother to not open any of the Australia Post envelopes (which contained collected mail, where there were several envelopes on one day) – but here I am going to rant about Aussie Post.

At least 1 parcel was delivered TO OUR HOME while we were away. And left in front of the house. To be stolen or rained on. Fortunately Dave or Neroli (our kind house-checkers) noticed it and moved it inside.

Worse … rather a lot of MAIL was delivered to our home. Some was catalogues (but addressed catalogues, not regular junk mail), other mail was not. Said other mail included a bill from Yarra Valley Water (more on this later), a reminder notice from Yarra Valley Water and a Death Threat Debt Collection notice – you guessed it, from Yarra Valley Water. Also Superannuation statements and, if I recall correctly, a share dividend notice. And an Electrolux reminder notice (more on this later). And Optus bills. And a gas bill, but we pay that by direct debit so it was OK. Sigh.

I rang Australia Post to complain. At the time, we thought there were 70 items, we have now revised that to between 50 and 60. Still not bad going when the redirect was only in place for just over 4 months. Especially as most of our mail is sent to the PO Box …

Australia Post took my details. They suggested that we shouldn’t open the mail as we need it as evidence (um, no, it is overdue bills … had to open them). We have a large folder filled with bills and catalogues stapled to envelopes. Also, I believe, some yet-unopened items, just for proof. And they said it would be nice if someone got back to us within 2 days but it is more likely to be around 2 weeks.

Lesson: When a customer contracts you to deliver a service, deliver it.

2. Electrolux

Before I left, Electrolux sent us a bill for a washing machine service that was done 11 months previously, on a machine that was covered by extended warranty.

Fraser mailed the invoice back with a note explaining this.

The reminder notice was delivered to our home, as (I think) was the debt collection letter (or maybe it was in one of those Aussie Post envelopes); the solicitors’ letter went to Dave’s and was opened, causing us stress. I emailed them to say that the machine was under warranty, we had made contact but apparently had been ignored, and got … no response!

I mailed them 2 weeks later to say that we considered the matter closed as we had not had a response.

Lesson: It is always good manners to reply.

3. Yarra Valley Water

As I said, there was a series of Yarra Valley Water bills ending in a debt collection notice.

This was in fact probably a good thing, as we looked at the bill carefully.

First thing we noticed: Our water use (for the period from 15 June until 26 September – remember, the girls and I left Australia on June 25, Fraser 1 month later) was UP FIFTY PERCENT ON OUR PEAK USAGE IN SUMMER (and nearly double last winter, or something like that). OMGWTFHuh???

Second thing we noticed: Our water use figure was an ESTIMATE.

That shouldn’t matter, right? I mean, if they had us using too much water, it would just carry over to the next bill?

Well not entirely, because they had us on penalty charges for using such a very great deal of water.

Fraser checked the meter, and came in confused: it was on only 625.

So I rang them.

Oh yes, said the Nice Guy on the Phone, we had to replace your meter on October 2nd because it was faulty.

OK, I said, so why is our usage so much higher than it has ever been before?

Ah, said NGotP, well the meter reader doesn’t have access to your usage data. They just make an estimate based on the size of the property.

My mind boggled.

Let me repeat that: If your water meter breaks, so they don’t know how much water you have used, THEY JUST MAKE UP A NUMBER.

In this case, they had us using over 700 litres of water a day. In the period from October 2nd until I rang the water company, a mere 26 hours or so after we got home, we had used 625 litres.

Something was not right.

They have now waived the water and sewage charges for that period. And they had better do the same on our next bill, too – at least for the period between the meter reading (mid September) and the new meter being installed.

Props to them for sorting the problem out quickly. But a big thumbs down for absolutely appalling estimation practices.

Lesson: If you are going to guess, try to be smart. You have customer usage history for a reason.

4. Telstra

Bet you were wondering when I would get to these guys 😉

Most of our Telstra experiences have been OK. Annoying that I couldn’t downgrade my plan so had to pay $49 a month just for access while I was away and unable to use the $200 of included calls and SMSes, and very annoying that I didn’t think to cancel my $5 a month data pack, but that is trivial.

Today, we got a new “streamlined” bill – which means that none of our calls are itemised, despite there being over $70 of international calls made and received that I would like to check. So I rang the number and fought my way through the IVR to request that future bills be provided with detail.

Then I rang the other number and waited on hold through countless IVRs until I spoke to a person. Along the way, I supplied the number of the phone I was calling about.

Hi, I said, I am the authorised user on this account. (Complicated story – due to a billing deal we were on for ages, we switched my phone into Fraser’s name and added me as an additional user)

What account? he asked – the phone number had not been passed through. Sigh. It then took a good 90 seconds or so for him to get the phone details up.

Ah, he said. When they added you as an additional user, they didn’t make notes of some details on the system. I will need to speak with the account holder.

Nice try, buddy. But I have been using that account for YEARS and have regularly called about it. Now I was annoyed.

Ah, sez I, you have a new billing system do you?

Well yes, he agreed. But he would need to speak to the account holder pls.

I could have put on any random male. Hell, I could have been gruff and blokey and no-one would have been any the wiser. He didn’t ask for any security information, just annoyed Fraser for a few minutes until he had “updated the system” – then asked me what I wanted.

No, they could not supply me with itemised call info. I would have to get that myself, online. He tied himself in knots explaining why that is in fact Really Good — but the truth is, this is Telstra passing the costs of printing itemised bills on to the consumer. My “shorter bill” was 3 sides of paper anyway, plus the other sheet with the letter explaining it.

Lesson: Never blame the customer when your new computer system is at fault.

5. RACV Home Security

We had a breakin while we were away. More specifically, our alarm went off and the alarm company sent round a patrol car. The guy reported in that nothing was disturbed, but my brother came round to check.

Nothing was disturbed … unless you count the CHAIR by the OPEN WINDOW and the DIRT all through the bathroom and the MESS on the floor … seems the guy panicked when the alarm went off and threw things down to try to block the way for anyone coming from the front of the house.

In amongst the joy that was sent to our home was an account … for $72 … for the patrol guy to “check” our house. Still need to follow up this one to explain why we will be declining to pay that particular account.

Lesson: Houses have FOUR walls. Not one, two or three. (Some may even have more)

So there you have it. We don’t have a lot of service providers. There’s Optus and the gas and power companies, that’s probably it. So we’re batting about 50/50 on screwups, so far.

Of them all, it is Melbourne Water and Australia Post that annoy me the most. Perhaps that makes me a pessimist – that I think people will do as little as possible and will charge you for it if they can and blame you for it if they can’t – but those two just seem like massive systemic failures.


Posted by on December 9, 2009 in rant


And the crap piles up

Just heard from my brother, who is opening our mail.

Well, who wasn’t opening our mail.

He just sent us a pile of bills, due from August 21st … and a legal demand letter and collection notice.

We had to get our washing machine serviced last year.

I rang to make a booking and said I thought it was under warranty, the company agreed.

Service guy came out on July 15, 2008, serviced machine, went to give me a bill, I said, no, it’s under warranty. He said OK, and left.


Shortly before I left (as in, a day or two before I left – so the END OF JUNE 2009), we received a letter from the washing machine company with a BILL for the service.

I flew out, Fraser dealt with the letter.

At least, I thought he did. (And so did he – he sent the bill back with a note saying, “This was under warranty, if there are any questions please get in touch”).

Which brings us to “just heard from my brother, who wasn’t opening our mail” – and therefore missed (1) a solicitor’s letter demanding immediate payment; and (2) a debt collection company, demanding immediate payment.

Of course, we don’t have any of the appropriate paperwork here.

It’s not the $160 or so that is the issue, it’s the principle. If the thing was under warranty, which I  believe it was, then we should not be being pursued for this money.

And if it wasn’t under warranty, then (1) they should have told me when I rang and (2) they should have billed us LESS THAN ELEVEN MONTHS LATER.


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Posted by on September 6, 2009 in house, rant, travel


Catastrophic failure of information design. At least twice.

OK. Passport stuff is now out of my hands. Mum and I went in and physically collected the certificate, then I completed a new form and had it and my photo certified (again) by the local pharmacist. It’s all been sent off platinum express post with a begging letter saying just tell me what I need to do and I will do it. It may arrive before I leave, or it may not, in which case
(1) I will have lied on my application form (where I said I would be in Australia when the passport is issued – well I will be, if they do it in time); and
(2)  Fraser will have to bring it over to Germany for me. With a signed statement from me saying that he’s doing it with my permission, etc etc etc.

Now all I have is some bad photocopies to show that I have had a UK passport, ever.

Now that the deed is done, I can identify some failures of information design (and failures of me, to appropriately take in information).

Let’s start with the Victorian Bureau of Births, Deaths and Marriages.

Their website says, you can now apply online for (list of types of certificates). You beauty, I said, and clicked to open the application form.

What I did not do, and what I think is reasonable to not do, is read past the end of that list. To the sentence that says, you still have to send us proof of ID.

There was no reminder of that at the conclusion of my application.

There was no e-mail to me, reminding me of that. (Or, in my case, telling me)

And so, they processed my payment on May 13th, and happily did nothing while I waited for my certificate, unaware that they were expecting us to do something. 


If I had chased it up last week, I would have had it already 😦

My cock-up, definitely – but as a professional information designer, I give their listing a fail.

Anyway, then comes the UK government. Who are so good at web stuff in general, but just failed here.

In applying for a passport, there’s a web page with information about what you have to supply. That page includes links to a downloadable form, downloadable notes on how to fill out the form … and a checklist.

BUT that web page – it turns out – also includes information that is not on the form, not in the notes, and not in the checklist.

Bad information design. You download the form, the notes, the checklist, then work from them. At least, that’s what I do. Double ugh. I spent half an hour searching their website this morning and missed that stuff every time.

ALSO – when do you read a checklist? I read it at the end of a process, when I am CHECKING that I have done the things I had to do. 

And so, I read it today.

The UK Passport form says “Must be completed in ink” – so I did. Blue ink.

The very very last item on the checklist page says “Check that you used BLACK ink to complete the form.”


The very officious person at the passport office said “Oh but ALL forms and official documents have to be completed in black ink these days.” – and refused to even acknowledge that it is reasonable to consider that the category “ink” includes “blue ink”.

Try telling that to the Victorian Register of Births, Deaths and Marriages, where I completed a form using their supplied blue pen.

Anyway. My application has been sent off. They got


  • 1 signed checklist;
  • 1 payment sheet, with credit card number for payment;
  • 1 original application form, with photocopy;
  • 1 original of my birth certificate, with photocopy;
  • 1 original of my dad’s birth certificate, with photocopy;
  • 1 original of my UK passport, with photocopy;
  • 1 original of my parents’ marriage certificate, with photocopy;
  • 2 photos, 1 certified;
  • 1 colour photocopy of my driver’s licence and medicare card;
  • 1 platinum express post return envelope, addressed to me; and
  • 1 cover letter.


They quote 15 working days for processing.

That would see my passport sent off on Tuesday 23rd, the day before I leave, in an envelope that guarantees delivery before 12 noon the next day.

My flight is at 11, so I will leave home at 10.

I now have two potential plans.

1. I included a pathetic, please please please note, asking whether there was any way if they would expedite processing the passport, even offering to fly to Canberra if that would help. (hope I have enough frequent flyer points!). They may, possibly, take pity on me. (Although the person I spoke to said that they only do that if there is a death … still, I said I need it to enrol my kids in school).

2. If the passport has been shipped (I have a tracking number), I will get on the phone to the  courier company and beg them to deliver it early, or offer to collect it from their depot or meet their courier somewhere. Or beg Fraser to fly it to Sydney for me – we transit there 🙂

Meanwhile, maybe I should start on the evidence requirements for long stay Schengen visas. That means:

  • Application forms, 2 completed copies. Per person.
  • 2 recent passport photos
  • Our passports
  • Visa fees (60 E each)
  • Copies of our return tickets and/or itineraries
  • An invitation letter from friends in Germany, or hotel/tour reservation (I think our lease would qualify here)
  • Proof of sufficient funds for the stay (3 months of bank statements) (probably also a letter from Fraser’s employer, confirming that he will be back to work in December).
  • Proof of travel insurance
  • Police clearance certificates (for the 4 of us) – at least these are the non-fingerprint kind
  • Doctor’s Certificate (certifying that you are a good state of health and free of contagious diseases)
    – A self-addressed Express Post Envelope or a Prepaid Courier Satchel for the return of your

    Doctor’s certificate, confirming that we are in good health. 

That’s what I’ll need if I don’t have my UK passport. It won’t hurt to have a police clearance and a doctor’s certificate (and maybe the children’s immunisation records), anyway.

It *almost* seems easier.

The lesson of the story: Even if I never travel again? I am going to always ensure I have a valid UK passport.


Posted by on June 1, 2009 in rant, travel


British passport woes

I blogged about this once before, but now it is even direr.

I ordered a copy of my parents’ marriage certificate online. I was charged for it on May 13th, so I know I was not hallucinating. It still has not arrived.

Today, I sucked on the $9.90 fee to call the british high commission passport service.

The guy there confirmed that I need a copy of their marriage certificate

THEN he said, oh yeah, and 2 copies of other ID like your drivers licence or your medicare card.


What else are they not telling me?

Seriously – I have looked at both form and notes AND at their website and IT DOES NOT SAY TO SEND THESE!!!

Then I checked over my application. Complete form in ink, check. 

Bottom of the checklist but nowhere on the application form? Must be in BLACK ink.

There were tears.

Their 15 days processing time means I will not have any of this stuff in time to go away. I don’t know what that means for enrolling the kids in school, etc.


Bastard bureaucrats are causing dramas. MASSIVE dramas.

I honestly don’t know what to do at this point, other than push on. Print out the form again, go get it witnessed again, go to parents, pick mum up, go to births deathes & marriages office, get form, send everything off in a SUPER PRIORITY ENVELOPE.

I know that this means more to me than it does to them, but surely this is incompetence on their part? You have ONE list of what has to be supplied.

I am just a teensy bit broken right now. 😦

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Posted by on June 1, 2009 in rant



Many, many years ago, I worked for a phone company. And I got a mobile phone, and I had it on a staff plan.

Some years later, they realised that I had left the company and I probably wasn’t entitled to a staff plan anymore. Fortunately, by that time, we could access the same plan through Fraser’s work. So we changed the phone into his name (and got a new number), and kept it on the plan.

Earlier this year, we got a letter to say that they had realised we were on the really really good plan that plan was no longer available and they had switched us to a basic plan.  My phone bills went from about $15-$25 a month to around $100 a month. Ouch. I need the phone for work, so cancelling was not an option. And I am, mostly, allergic to contracts, especially on services that I have been using since 1995 or so.

Then I went to Europe. I rang to confirm I had Roaming, and they told me that I had to go onto a Plan. A 12 month  contract, to be specific. So I said OK, because I really really wanted to be able to use my phone in Europe, and I got a contract.

Me: “Can I upgrade it later, if the minimum contract is not enough?”
Phone person: “Yes.”

Well now you know what’s coming.

My phone bills stayed at around the $100 level. So in December, I rang to change to a higher plan. Which I have to stay on for 12 months, which will be annoying if we go to Europe next year (but worthwhile in the meantime).

I got my first bill today – with a $101.73 charge for switching plans. WTF?

I rang the phone company, with 2 points.

  1. I was told in October that I could upgrade from the $20 plan. No-one mentioned a charge.
  2. I was not told in December that I would be slugged with this extortionate charge.

Their response had me utterly gob-smacked and dumbfounded:

You didn’t change to the same TYPE of plan, so that is why you were charged the fee.

I pointed out, quite gently, that perhaps it was not reasonable to expect a customer to have an intimate knowledge of their internal and arbitrary distinctions between their types of plan.

Then I told the consultant that I was really quite annoyed (OMG understatement) and that I was quite prepared to take this case to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman.

Couple of minutes later, bingo. Charge reversed, please underpay your bill, sorry for the inconvenience, have a nice day.

Whoo hoo. Problem solved.

But really? 


This is bureaucracy at its best worst most bizarre. I’m sorry, you didn’t fill in the RED form and file it in the GREEN box, you lose.

2009 appears to be Melissa’s Year Of Not Tolerating Organisational Stupidity. At least until I get lazy.


Posted by on January 6, 2009 in rant, work


When banks are too efficient (and then charge you lots of fees anyway, bless them)

Back at the start of December, I made 2 transactions through PayPal. Now, my PayPal account is hooked up to (1) my everyday transactions account, which I keep a very small amount of money in, and (2) my VISA card. Specifically, it’s set up to take cash if sufficient cash is there and, if not, to process a credit card transaction. That seems simple enough.

Checking my online bank statement, I noticed that (1) the transactions had come out of my transactions account and put it into a negative balance, even though I have no overdraft facility on that account, and (2) I had been charged a$30 reference fee.


I just rang my bank.

Turns out that, when I upgraded to the all-dancing, all-singing GOLD account with no ATM or foreign currency transaction fees, I got a special thing that “automatic transactions” are never rejected. Which I didn’t know (silly, me, must read those 60 pages of terms and conditions more closely). And PayPal transactions are considered “automatic transactions”.

So even though PayPal said, if there isn’t any money in your account then we will take it from your VISA card, my bank were kind and generous and allowed the transaction to go through.

And then slugged me for 30 bucks for the privilege.

I rang just now and sorted it out. They are refunding the reference fee, and I will delete access to my savings account from PayPal.

It seems the safest solution.


Posted by on December 31, 2008 in rant


Bah Humbug?

I love Christmas.

I mean, I really love Christmas. I love the carols, I love the decorations, I love the smell of mince pies in the oven.

But so far, I am not loving this Christmas. Read the rest of this entry »

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Posted by on December 24, 2008 in christmas, rant