The Inside Story Of Aussie Broadband's Anti-Racism Hold Message

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We're all familiar with the automated messages that play on loop when you're stuck on call waiting. They tend to alternate between assurances of how important your time is to them, and information regarding where you can submit your query online and thus free up the queue.

Last week my partner and I were sitting on hold with Aussie Broadband and experienced a message unlike any other we had before. It informed customers that racially-motivated abuse from customers was unacceptable.

"'Aussie', to us, is an attitude. Not a race.

Occasionally, we get accused of racism because of the company name, or our promotion of our Australian call centre. Even worse, sometimes customers refuse to deal with members of our team if they have an accent.

None of this is acceptable to us.

There was no particular reason why we chose the name Aussie Broadband when we registered it in 2008. It happened when we amalgamated two companies – Wideband Networks and Westvic Broadband – and it seemed like a great name that would work for us.

Since then, we’ve seen people read all sorts of stuff into the name, depending on their background and world view.

So here’s ours.

Aussie' is an attitude. We have staff from all sorts of backgrounds, creeds, gender identity, sexual orientation and abilities. The only reason we care about these things is that we firmly believe that the different experiences staff bring to our company make us stronger and more able to reflect our glorious, multi-faceted Australian society in all its richness and depth."

"At every level, we bounce decisions up against these values every day in our business. They are like those bumper bars on a bowling alley – they guide everything we do. They live in the business, not on the wall. Sometimes we will inadvertently breach them, and in the spirit of no bullshit, we always try to fix that as soon as possible. So guided by those values, racism has no home here. And we will not tolerate it against our staff. You may find an accent or several in our call centre. Rest assured, our staff are Australian-based and Aussie in attitude, and they are there to help people."

The above quotes are snippets from the Interactive Voice Response (IVR) that Aussie Broadband plays for customers who are on hold. It's extensive, to say the least, and can be viewed in full over on the Aussie Broadband blog.

The message has been running since 2018 and was created to help combat racist abuse from customers.

"In recent months we’ve seen a rise in the amount of abuse many of these staff receive from customers because of their accents," said Janet Granger-Wilcox, General Manager Corporate Affairs at Aussie Broadband.

"To us, this is absolutely unacceptable behaviour. We wanted to use this message on our call waiting system, and the blog on our website, to point out that our staff are Australian, and we will not tolerate abuse of them in any way."

The company's hard stance on being Australian is part of the reason why it doesn't have offshore call centres.

"Our call centres are based in regional Victoria, largely in the Latrobe Valley in Gippsland which is facing socio-economic challenges thanks to significant upheaval in the electricity generation industry. We are now a major employer in the Valley and we are constantly looking for ways to tap into local, unrecognised talent. For example, partnering with our local Job Shadow Day for people with disabilities," said Granger-Wilcox.

Aussie Broadband also revealed that while several staff members were experiencing verbal abuse because of their accents, most of it was targeted at a single employee with an Indian accent.

That was enough for the telco to take action. One worker.

"Being good to people is one of our values (along with our fairly famous “no bullshit”), and we empower our staff to use those values to make decisions every day. We note that 'being good to people' works both ways – we want to be good to our customers, and we want them to be good to us," explained Granger-Wilcox.

This message is the first I have ever heard in my many years of experience with call waiting. Considering the high proportion of both local and offshore call centres in the Australian telco industry, it would be incredible if other companies adopted similar customer-facing initiatives.

Racial abuse should not be the norm in the workplace, regardless of location. Stand by your support staff and their right to a safe work environment. Also, nobody wants to go the extra mile for someone swearing at them over the phone.

Not all users have welcomed the message, however. One forum member wrote: "Im[sic] sitting on hold for ages, usually only a few minutes and somehow some fool has created a lecture on race and sexuality that keeps nagging me. I don't care who you employ if they are quick and competent. I don't want a Social Justice Warrior lecturing me on hold."

Another user described the message as "SJW bullshit".

"The voice on the line started talking about being all inclusive," they wrote. "He talked about races. He talked about marriages. He talked about bullying/ He went on about other SJW bullshit but by then I was looking at my mate and going "Are they for real??! I want tech support, not SJW bullshit!" so I wasn't even listening."

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