Like many Australians earning under $150k per year, COVID19 has hit me hard financially.

For the first time in my life I am living on the dole. Aside from keeping myself entertained learning Tik Tok dances, and educating myself on topics I have never had time to truly understand, the rest of my day is stressful.

If I’m not reading news about the virus and hoping I don’t die, I’m usually stressing about how the hell I am going to survive financially.

But as our finances dry up, our bills do not.

If you’re anything like me, the thought of dealing with bills you cannot pay can cause severe anxiety Procrastination can become your best friend. You put off that phone call and try to forget about the reality of the situation, until it begins to take over your entire thought process and you have no choice but to swallow your pride.

Whilst certainly daunting, the amazing experience I had this morning with Vodafone has given me newfound hope! I managed to reduce the cost of my plan, increase my data and speak to a real Australian human who genuinely cared about my situation.

Here’s how it happened:

This morning, I called Vodafone to ask whether I could reduce the cost of my bill and increase my data allowance at the same time.

It may sound impossible, but this staying at home business has seen me using more data than ever, and how would I know if I never asked?

When I called Vodafone, I was met with a pre-recorded voice message, stating Vodafone would ONLY be speaking to people who needed “urgent” help with network issues or NBN issues. This happened on both the Customer Care line and the Collections Team line.

However, my marketing senses told me this message was not 100% true. Would Vodafone really be turning away the customers wanting to pay more? 

There had to be some kind of sales team operating in the midst of this. Every corporation in this pandemic controlling essential services, like telecommunications, must be searching for ways to increase their profits.

So, I thought like a capitalist executive. If I acted as though I was looking to pay more, by selecting the “Upgrade” option at the menu stage, this had to get me to speak to someone.

And it did. Other menu selections simply hung up on me, but the Upgrade selection placed me on hold.

Australian call centres vs. Offshore operators

Ironically, whilst I was on hold, I heard the same message repeated multiple times. We will not be speaking to anyone unless you are in “urgent” need of our help. I ignored the message and continued to hold. As I suspected, I got through.

When the representative answered, I almost fell off my chair. I can’t remember the last time I spoke to anyone at Vodafone who didn’t have that squeaky, happy, half American, half cartoon voice that reads off a script. This time, I was met with a very friendly Australian voice.

WHAT A BLOODY INCREDIBLE EXPERIENCE I HAD FROM THEN ON.

From the outset, the representative (let’s call her Tasmin for the sake of privacy) was an absolute gem. Not just in her friendly demeanour, or her obvious desire to help me get through this, but in how she showed empathy.

She asked how I was in this time, and as I explained that my clients were small businesses struggling to make ends meet, and that I felt a bit bad trying to make money from them right now, she listened. In response, she told me about how her partner had lost their job, how she had young children that were making working from home a little hard, how she usually works in the corporate office and hasn’t spoken to customers in decades.

This instantly built rapport with me. I trusted her, she was going pretty much the same situation as me (minus the children) and I felt empathy for her. I felt heard and understood by her and I knew that she was going to look out for my interests.

Good customer service is based on empathy and understanding

Imagine trying to relate to someone in another country (that you may never have visited) that is governed by different laws, when you have been told strictly to follow a script you are given.

Imagine trying to have a real human-to-human conversation, in a second language, when you cannot deviate from exactly what is outlined in your script, and your source of information is a 100 page terms and conditions document that you need a legal degree to understand.

The idea that an offshore operator understands an Australian customer’s circumstances, empathises with them, and genuinely sees how terms and conditions work in practice is not just preposterous, it’s impossible.

All an offshore operator can understand, is the company directive and the complicated corporate jargon that goes along with it.

That’s what made such a HUGE difference with Tasmin. Straight away, she empathised with me. She showed compassion, and her previous working experience and lived experienc in Australia gave her insight into how plans and products work in reality.

How I reduced my bill and increased my data allowance

Previously, when I called Vodafone, I always spoke to an offshore operator. When it came to reducing my plan amount, and paying off my devices last November, I had about 4 calls with different operators, each customising a different plan. At the time, I thought I had gotten the best deal that I could, when I was given a discounted plan for two devices with 105GB of shared data for $76.

Speaking with Tasmin, she seemed confused about my set up from the outset. Why was I on a customised data sharing device plan that charged me extra for going over my limit?

Straight away, she began looking at the “Plus” plans, which provide a certain amount of data at the maximum speed, then continue providing unlimited data at a slower speed. Within two minutes she found me a $60 month plan – which is now discounted to $50 per month – which provides 100GB at max speed, but never charges me for going over.

SHE LITERALLY SAVED ME $26/MONTH IN TWO MINUTES.

To be honest, I have never felt so happy getting off the phone to Vodafone. EVER. It was like catching up with an old friend, who knew the tricks of the trade, and wanted to help me get the best deal possible. She showed compassion and understanding for my situation, and had lived experience in the new “normal” that is Australia in COVID19.

The power of empathy in customer service

1. Personal relationships increase brand loyalty

Before this call, I was going to just wait out the period of my contract and then move to someone cheaper like Amaysim, because it all seemed to expensive and too complicated. However, my entire experience today has changed my mind.

As I connected with Tasmin on an empathetic level, and she went out of her way to help me reduce my bill, I almost feel indebted to show respect in return and stay loyal to Vodafone.

2. Offshore operators cannot truly empathise with Australian customers

You may save money by shipping your customer service off shore, but what does that do to your customer relationships? Vodafone usually has the entire Collections team working out of Mumbai, but COVID19 means this is now closed.

The Collections team is meant to help customers get extensions, and discuss their bills, which is why I find it so strange they put this team overseas. Calling collections is often a last resort for those unable to make their payment. Apart from COVID19, most situations that restrict our finances are caused by situations within the Australian market, that an offshore operator would not be aware of or experiencing.

Thus, in most cases, the operator is unable to empathise.

3. Australians are crucial for an authentic customer experience

Speaking to an Australian who has lived experience of what is going on in the country right now is much more likely to extend compassion, empathy and build trust with your customers.

The real frustration from personal experience, and the experience of many others, is that when you call your telecommunications provider, it’s usually because things are not good financially, or there is a network coverage issue.

When was the last time you rang your telecommunications provider just to say “Great Job” or “I love this service”?

When you call them you need help. Having terms and conditions read to you by a person lacking empathy, who does not fully understand you or your situation, is not going to result in a very happy conversation or a very satisfied customer. In fact, if I spoke to the standard offshore operator today, instead of the lovely Australian representative, I would definitely not be spending my time writing this article about how bloody happy I was with the entire experience.

In the midst of this pandemic, Australians are continuously told “we are all in this together.” Cheesy as it sounds, that one experience I had with Vodafone this morning, genuinely makes me feel like we are.

But when the crisis is over, and the global economy “reopens” will we continue to see this support of Australians by Australians? Probably not.