When Telecommunication Outages Strike: The Ripple Effect on Contact Centres and Customer Services

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With Insights from the Optus Outage of November 9, 2023

Telecommunications forms the backbone of our interconnected world – where we are ‘always on’. We rely on seamless communication for nearly every aspect of our daily lives, from banking to healthcare. However, when a major telecommunication provider experiences a massive outage, the consequences are far-reaching, affecting millions of Australians and triggering waves of disruption.

Optus’ Telecommunications Network Collapse

On November 9, 2023, millions of Australians woke up to a digital nightmare as Optus, a prominent telecommunications giant, grappled with a severe network outage. The outage, which lasted for an excruciating 12 hours, had a profound impact on digital banking and customer services across the nation.

Digital Banking Disruption

While most of Australia’s 91 deposit-taking institutions managed to keep their digital service platforms operational during the outage, a significant number of customers found themselves locked out of their accounts. Why? Because they relied on Optus phone and broadband services for access.

The impact on the Australian banking landscape was palpable, with contact centre operations taking a direct hit. Some of the country’s largest banks, including Commonwealth Bank, Westpac, and ANZ, struggled to maintain normal operations as their contact centres were paralysed for the majority of the day.

The Commonwealth Bank’s Predicament

Commonwealth Bank, in particular, felt the brunt of the telco’s 12-hour outage. The bank, which heavily depended on Optus for telecommunications services, saw its customers unable to make calls to the company’s contact centre. In a bid to manage the crisis, CBA urged customers to use its banking app for communication since call centres were incapable of receiving calls.

The disruption went beyond just calls. The Netcode SMS-based security service, a vital component of the bank’s security infrastructure, was also severely affected. While the bank assured customers that branches, ATMs, NetBank, CommBank app, CommBiz, and merchant terminals were fully operational, the communication channels were strained.

Disruptions at the contact centres persisted well into the afternoon, leaving customers to grapple with delays. The bank issued warnings to customers, urging them to be patient as they navigated through the crisis.

A Glimpse into the Wider Impact

The outage had a domino effect on various sectors. Retailers and merchants faced challenges in processing Eftpos transactions, requiring adjustments to Eftpos terminals settings. Not all merchants could readily reset their machines, given limited access to the bank’s support centre.

Westpac, too, reported merchant customers experiencing issues with EFTPOS transactions but noted that services were gradually returning to normalcy. Call centres at Westpac were also adversely affected, unable to accept calls until the early afternoon.

A Sector-Wide Challenge

While some banks managed to navigate the Optus-induced storm relatively unscathed, others like Macquarie Bank, Great Southern Bank, and Auswide Bank reported issues stemming from the outage. These institutions, too, faced temporary disruptions in their call centre operations.

Great Southern Bank revealed that customer calls couldn’t be received until around 2:30 pm, and customers with Optus accounts found themselves unable to make online payments. Auswide Bank’s staff mobile phones were also impacted.

The Assurance from Australian Payments Plus

Amid the chaos, Australian Payments Plus sought to reassure the public. They stated that the Optus outage was not expected to affect the processing of Eftpos, BPay, and NPP transactions executed by account holders on Wednesday.

Optus’ Efforts to Restore Services

As the nation grappled with the outage, Optus, on its website, announced that it was working diligently to restore mobile and broadband services. However, it was notable that as of 6 pm on the same day, there was no acknowledgment of the outage on the company’s media portal.

The Resilience of Contact Centres

The Optus outage of November 9, 2023, serves as a stark reminder of the fragility of our digital infrastructure and the critical role that contact centres play in times of crisis. Contact centre agents, the unsung heroes of customer service, faced the challenge head-on, adapting rapidly to maintain essential services.

Ultimately, the resilience and adaptability of contact centres shine through during adversity. They exemplify that even when technology falters, the human touch and adaptability of contact centre agents remain invaluable in preserving customer relationships and ensuring the continuity of essential services.

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