Me and my cell, aah, me and my cell…..

By PG Jonker

I recently entered into a contract with my mobile service provider for a rather special deal on a smartphone for my daughter.  We were extremely impressed with the product.  Until the next day.  By then we already had to upload R70 to keep the phone running – and that on a R100 per month package.

I made some enquiries and quickly learnt that you cannot realistically run a smartphone on a budget of R100 per month, except if you switch off all the possible applications to be had.  Which means that the phone can then actually do LESS than the previous not-so-larnie phone she had on a R100 per month contract?

The product, hence, cannot meet the goal for which it was purchased.

I decided to send a complaint to the service provider through their website.  I promptly received an automated response.    A week later I sent their automated response back to them asking whether I could expect a more substantive response from them.  I promptly received an automated response.  It is now two weeks later, and it seems like I have to accept that the automated response is the only response there is going to be.

In the meantime my daughter, who has a bit of IT savvy, managed to get by with the phone, switching off all the data- and airtime gobbling gremlins.  She kept a keen watch on the available airtime to monitor how she fares.  Then she noticed that every evening at 18h00 an amount of R6 is being deducted from her phone.

Ok, by now I know that the service provider will only send me an automated response should I bother to complain.  I need to speak to a real person.  So I call their client call centre number.

An automated voice asks me to identify the relevant mobile number, which I do.  I don’t know why, because you invariably get asked for the number to which your query relates once you (eventually) reach someone to speak to.

Ok, once past that point, THE VOICE gives me various options.  I want to thump the offender’s head against the wall.  There is, however, no such option.

The options are, more or less:

  1. Enquire your free minutes
  2. Temporarily suspend your service or obtain the PUK number
  3. Enquire when you may upgrade
  4. Add or remove service
  5. Blackberry, 3G or Data Service
  6. By now I stopped listening, but I think the last one related to recharging.

Mmmm….. so which one of the above comes remotely close to removing the R6 per day subscription?  No, I don’t know either, so let’s try the one about removing services.  So I hit button 4.

THE VOICE tells me sorry, can’t do that; you first need to have a 5 digit PIN.  I want to ask why, because I already have a 4 digit PIN with them.  Admittedly, I can’t remember the 4 digit one, but still.  But THE VOICE takes no talking back.  So I type in a new 5-digit PIN.

No, sayeth THE VOICE, that number is not good.  She does not say why.  Please try again, she says.  I do so.  I type in the same number.  THE VOICE congratulates and welcomes me to the innermost circle, and that I now have 48 hours of access to the amenities on offer, or words to that effect.

Now THE VOICE again runs the above options past me.  I don’t know why, I mos already chose one.  Ok, so let’s try number 4 again.  At last I’m now part of the inner circle, NOW I’m going to have somebody to speak to.


THE VOICE then tells me I must first register yet something else.  By now I realize I’m not going to get along with THE VOICE.  I drop the call and walk down to the closest shop for assistance.  I need to speak to a human being.  You know, someone who actually responds to what I’m saying in a non-automated fashion.  At least the shop will be able to assist me.

The shop is closed.

With some colourful thoughts, I go back to my office to try again.

Once again I call the call centre number.  I identify the number to which the call relates, listen to the options again. This time I decide, let’s try option 5, maybe “data service” is the thing my query relates to.

THE VOICE then gives me a fresh 5 options.  Die *** weet!  My colourful thoughts have now converted into colourful words.  I close my office door.

I try one of the options on offer.  Yet again I run into THE VOICE.

Breath in, breath out, breath in, breath out.

After a period of some inaction on my side, THE VOICE invites met to press # to return to the main menu.  For lack of any better idea, I press #.

THE VOICE welcomes me and gives me the by new familiar options:

  1. Enquire your free minutes
  2. Temporarily suspend your service or obtain the PUK number
  3. Enquire when you may upgrade
  4. Add or remove service
  5. Blackberry, 3G or Data Service
  6. Recharging your account.

I breath in, breath out, breath in, breath out.  By now I would like to bend my cell phone from frustration.

And then, after a longish pause, sort of as an afterthought, THE VOICE informs me that I may press 9 to be put through to an operator.  That’s now the real person I’ve been looking for the whole time!  I press 9.

Tadaa!  An operator answers the phone.  And asks me to which number the query relates.  Didn’t they listen the first time I punched in that number!?

Then she asks me for my 5 digit PIN.  I proudly give her that.  I know mos this is my access to the inner circle.  Very good, she says.  And what is your 4 digit PIN number, she enquires.

?! How many of these things do they want!  Fortunately I guessed the 4 digit PIN correctly.

Miss Moodley is very efficient, and advises me that a certain service provider in Johannesburg is the people taking the R6 per day, but on my request she unsubscribes me to the service.  She gives me the number of the service provider in Johannesburg.

I call them.  The first three numbers I call go unanswered.  I Google them.  Ah!  They have a website.  They even have a client contact centre.  I call the number and ask the lady what service it is that I am paying R6 per day for.

Ringtones, she advises me.

Now, I ask you, is there anyone in his right mind who willingly subscribe to something as useless as ringtones at a rate of R186 per month?  I mean, really, I’m curious to know, of all the people who subscribe to this and other similar services, did any single person actually know they did that?

Or is this an industry where the service provider manages to make a quick buck from thousands of people who get caught, and goes on reaping the benefits for as long as it takes the victim to realise he has been had?  And once the victim realises it, the money is just not worth it to put up a fight over it.



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