OPINION | Bad service has become an acceptable norm

Poor customer service has become an acceptable norm
Poor customer service has become an acceptable norm
Image: File

The motor industry charging a hefty “on-the-road” fee as an add-on, instead of building the costs into the vehicle selling price is a prime example.

This week a woman e-mailed me to query an on-the-road fee of about R4000 being added to her cash purchase of a new R170 000 car; that fee covering, among other things, an 80-point check, a valet and “administrative costs”.

On top of that, R3 700 was added to the deal for “smash and grab film” – without consulting her.

Now imagine a dealer principal going to a major appliance store to buy a high-end flat screen TV and, on being presented with the invoice, he sees he’s being charged an extra fee to cover the cost of cleaning it thoroughly, checking it for defects and an admin fee to cover all the paperwork and the salesman’s call to the SABC to check that the customer has a valid TV licence. And another fee for the cost of a special screen protector, which wasn’t mentioned to him.

He’d be outraged, I’m quite sure. Funny, that.

This time imagine a cellphone network executive receiving a telemarketing call, not agreeing to the product or service being sold, and then learning the contract was concluded anyway, making them liable for payment – every month for two years.

And when they object, they’re told the told the deal is done, and that’s that. Imagine the response. And yet telesales fraud happens to South Africans with scandalous regularity: they’re promised stuff they don’t get, the amount of data they are promised in the call doesn’t materialise.

Many others are given a run-around when they report that a fraudster has opened a cellphone account – and received a lovely handset – in their name. The responses I got from Vodacom about two recent cases I took up with the network drove home for me how such incidents are now routine, not worthy of the network even expressing any real concern or regret.

Case 1: Lindsay Vine Smyth got a call from a telesales agent last August, offering her a package. She didn’t agree to it, but asked to be sent information about the offer.

The next day a box was delivered to her Jo’burg home, and she signed for it, thinking it was the requested info.

When she opened the box – two months later – she found a WiFi router and sim card, and realised she’d been “signed up for” and billed for a 5GB monthly data package. When she queried it, she was told she was bound to carry on paying until August 2019.

I took up the case with Vodacom, asking for the call recording to be retrieved to verify Vine-Smyth’s version.

Three weeks later, I got this response: “Contract activated without consent: This customer’s contract has been cancelled. The customer will be credited and has been notified.” Okay, then.

I took up Case 2 with the network in the same week, and the response was attached to Vine Smyth’s.

Last September Sifiso Sosibo discovered someone had opened two Vodacom accounts in his name in Mpumalanga, 700km from his Durban home.

“I’ve told Vodacom I didn’t open the accounts, and sent them a copy of my ID and an affidavit,” he said. And every month he has reversed Vodacom’s debit order.

“Vodacom staff won’t engage me; my last three e-mails have been ignored,” he told me. "Instead they have handed me over to their external debt collectors who are bullying me to pay R15000. Please help!”

My questions to Vodacom were: “What could or should Mr Sosibo have done differently? And what could or should Vodacom’s fraud department have done?”

The response: “The account has been withdrawn from the debt collecting agency and we have notified the credit bureaus to remove the account from the customer's payment profile. Credit was done and a confirmation letter was sent to Mr Sosibo.”

Above both responses was this sentence: “We have contacted the customers and apologised for the inconvenience.”

Inconvenience doesn’t cover it, Vodacom. Not even close. The questions around Sosibo’s fraudulent account experience, both ignored, were a genuine attempt to get information in order to help others who find themselves in that all-too-common predicament.

Yes, credit to the network for righting the wrongs.

CONTACT WENDY – email: consumer@knowler.co.za; Twitter: @wendyknowler; Facebook: wendyknowlerconsumer