I recently met with an owner of a small country Post office and General Store.  As we all know, these businesses play a big part in country towns across the regional areas of our big state. Like the School and the Community Country Club, they are the heart of the small country town.

Back in February, the store and Post office lost its internet service, meaning that the Post Office could not operate, and the Store had lost its EFTPOS facilities. The service is provided by one of the country’s major telco’s.

The owner of the store/post office reports that it was difficult enough to get through to report the problem but finally, after hours trying to make contact, the problem was finally reported to the Telco.  But days passed without any action or contact from the service provider.

In the meantime, the store remained open, manually recording transactions so that customers could pay later once the service had been restored.  This issue continued for several days more in this manner making the store owner very concerned as he could see the impact this service loss was doing to his business.  Being a local store, it became known very quickly that customers should need to find another store to do their business if they wanted to use electronic transactions. Which many did.

The frantic store owner finally made a call to his local member of parliament who in turn made a call to the State Manager of the internet service provider, a major telco.

After several more days the issue was fixed. (10 days all up)

But it doesn’t end there. As is usual in commercial negotiations, the owner of the business estimated his losses at around $3-3.5k over the period and took his claim to the telco.  He thought he could easily demonstrate to them the business loss by using the change in his turnover for the Post Office and Store sales during the period in question.

Not so easy, even though it was clear that the service failure was real and was the cause of any losses, this is the what the telco advised he needed to provide for them to consider recouping any losses.

“The 3 months Profit and Loss documents leading up to and the month when the services went down, inclusive in a monthly format, and, if possible, previous year’s figures supplied.” 

To my mind, this is a demonstration of bullying and harassment by a big player against a small player and a blatant practice of making it really difficult to hold the service provider accountable for its failure.

This ‘big player’ knows full well that for small business to provide this level of financials comes at a cost to that business owner.  Also, being this is a general store, accurate financials would require the owner to undertake a stocktake.  This is a lot of work and further costs to recoup what is in actual fact a very modest claim.

Anyone with half a brain would know if a business such as a Post Office/General Store loses a critical service component, their internet connection, this would cause a serious effect on the business.  The telco isn’t disputing that their service failure caused ‘lost business and income’, they just want the store owner to jump through hoops to prove it.

I optimistically advised the owner to take the matter to the Ombudsman. But, yes you guessed it, his call was met with  “due to the large number of enquiries today, there is a long wait time

No doubt many of us will have a story to tell about issues with our Telco.  But when a service failure is not just annoying and frustrating but also ends up in financial loss for a business, I can’t help wondering whether they would be more responsive to service failures for their corporate clients as opposed to the response they showed to a small business.

Clearly size does matter!

Of course, the irony here is that if the service failure had been dealt with immediately, without pressure from a member of parliament and didn’t last 10 days, the matter of recompense would not even be an issue.