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The Optus Hack – A Masterclass in Poor Customer Engagement

Updated: Feb 2, 2023

Many people around the world, in particular most Australians, would already be well aware of the Optus hack – one of the largest hacks of customer data in Australia’s corporate history.

The many issues its raised around good data practices, data privacy laws, and responsibilities between government and businesses is already a well-trodden path, so we won’t prosecute that case again here.

But as they say, make hay while the sun shines. So whilst I’m sure the poor folks at Optus are silently hoping for when the whole affair dies down, for the rest of us, there are some useful learnings & takeaways on how NOT to manage your customer engagement – whether in a crisis situation, or in general.

The uniqueness of the Optus situation is that we’ve been gifted with a whole range of real-life customer responses & feedback which we can learn from, so let’s start with some choice quotes:

“[T]hey had no practical advice, only to ‘keep an eye out with your financial institutions’.”
“What do they mean about exposed – weren’t they saying before the data had just been stolen but not distributed?”
“There’s one email [from Optus], no advice on what we should do and we’re hearing more from the media than from Optus themselves.”
"The many issues its raised around good data practices, data privacy laws, and responsibilities between government and businesses is already a well-trodden path, so we won’t prosecute that case again here. s the text to me was not personalised.”
“I am pretty confused about what’s going on.”
“Look, maybe I’m too New Age, but if I had lost the data of millions of people and needed to communicate very complex and sensitive information to them all I would probably hire a copywriter.”

That’s just a small sample, but looking through it, we can see a couple of consistent themes coming through.


1. Where’s the clear call-to-action (CTA)?

One of the most glaring themes in the comments is a general sense of confusion - “So what do I do now?”. And this is one of the common fallacies big companies regularly find themselves falling into.

Engagement – as the term implies – is a two-way interaction. From sender to sendee; from business to customer, and back again.

Without the engagement, it’s just a piece of one-way comms – no different to the random letter or junk mail that we’ve all received before, took one look at and asked, “So what?”, and then promptly threw into the bin.

Rather, if we want effective engagement, we need to give our customers clear and simple actions that they can take. Otherwise, we risk customers getting confused and frustrated because they don’t know what they should do.


2. Being too general & non-specific

It’s an easy temptation, especially when it comes to sensitive matters like hacks, but keeping things too generalized and non-specific only creates in own set of issues especially when it comes to customer engagement.

Either customers will think, 1) it doesn’t pertain to them because it’s so generic it could be anything, or 2) if it does pertain to them, it doesn’t give them enough specific information to decide what they should / need to do.

And if anyone has been in a situation where they’ve only had a sliver of information (for example, a family member has had an emergency – “What kind of emergency?”, “How serious is it?”, “Where are they now?”, “How did it happen?”, “Who needs to know about this?”, “What should I do?”), you know the amount of undue mental and emotional stress this can create.

And unclear, confused, stressed customers are not going to put your business high up on their engagement list.


3. One engagement - that's it?

The other ironic observation of the whole Optus situation is that, instead of taking the lead, Optus ran one pass of engagement and then pretty much stopped there – leaving their customers to get their updates from the media or other sources instead.

To be fair to Optus, it was (and probably still is) an “evolving situation”, but that’s actually all the more reason for Optus to have realised that during this incident, its customers would be looking to it to provide on-going direction & updates as they came – something that Optus failed at quite spectacularly especially when you consider its one of the largest companies in Australia.

Its no different to running a marketing campaign with just a single message and somehow expecting a stellar result.

Effective customer engagement is like a relationship. It requires regular and consistent communication and nurturing.

One-offs are just a transaction.



So thanks to Optus, we’ve been given a unique opportunity to see in real-time what happens when customer engagement goes poorly.

Hacks and similar incidents like this are going to be an on-going issue for businesses. But we can also take the lessons and make it easier for our customers by managing the engagement in the right way when the inevitable happens.




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