Dear Vodafone Boss, I don’t often correspond with people in your rather exalted position and I am sure you are not used to receiving mails from strangers. However, in a way I am not a stranger because I send money to you every month and since the money does not return to sender I assume that you receive it, even if without any gratitude. It doesn’t matter because the money is in return for something, and it is that something I wish to talk to you about.
Normally, I would not address this letter, which I am also releasing on Facebook, to you but I have no choice. Or, put another way, the choices available to me do not work. Try calling one of your own helplines and see how the whole set up is designed to wreck your health for at least a couple of days after the experience. The other option, indeed the only feasible option is to brave the traffic to get to a Vodafone shop or Call Centre where you would meet a lot of exceptionally friendly people except that friendliness is not enough. What one requires is effective assistance which they are not set up to provide. It is obvious to a veteran of your Call Centres like me that customers and frontline workers alike are victims of a cruel and possibly clueless management practice.
This is what happens: Customer Service (this is a misnomer, of course) informs customer that the fault has “been reported”. They know and the customer knows that the whole thing is an empty routine because what it really means is that there is no more the staff can do for you so your fate is now in the lap of the gods – gods meaning headquarters (HQ) or somewhere - sinister and unknowable. Normally, any reasonable human being should have faith and trust that HQ/gods would react within a short while to a distress call from a person whose money you collect without fail every 30 days. However, in order for our relationship to benefit you while possibly bankrupting me, of which more anon, you have inserted a caveat, to wit, that you have fourteen days within which to respond.
In practice therefore, if my fault is reported on the first day of the month your engineer can stroll in on the 15th, walk around a bit and disappear as happened to me a few days ago. That means the 14-day clause has been satisfied and you can lean back in your chair and have a drink or a cigar or whatever you do to amuse yourself. This means I am free to report the fault again, which becomes a fresh case and of course Vodafone has 14 days to respond. And so we go on in our merry way until the end of the month, when of course you collect your monopoly money having passed “GO”. And it is real MONOPOLY money but treated like worthless paper in a board game. According to the new unilaterally imposed regime, I would have to pay you 65 Ghana cedis even if I am unable to use a single kilobyte. This is what is going to happen to me this month.
I am your broadband customer with a contract for you to supply me unlimited Internet usage at 46 Ghana cedis every 30 days. Recently and without any discussion, you have raised the amount I have to pay you to 65 Ghana cedis while at the same time placing a cap of 15 gigabytes on my usage. This is not only unfair but possibly illegal, unless of course there is a small print designed as usual to cheat your own customers. You know you can get away with this blatant cheating and abuse in Ghana unlike say, in the UK because here consumers are not able to guarantee their own protection: we have no watchdog groups, our politicians are chasing more power and glory and the regulator is under no pressure to regulate on a regular basis. We are on our own.
Now, to get back to my specific situation, I started experiencing unusual problems in the first week of December. My calls to your telephone helplines went through alright but I never did manage to speak to one single real human being. This is how it works when you call a Vodafone help line, as I explained in my column three weeks ago: “It goes something like this: if you want English press one, Akan press two, Ga press, Hausa press…etc. You press. Then it goes on: if you want administration press one, accounts press two; you press. It continues: if you are calling for mobile press one, for landline press two. You press. Then, if you are calling about broadband press whatever. Eventually after a lifetime of this rigmarole you are ordered to press zero to be connected to an operator. You press zero and wait. You are then informed that “your connection to the operator failed”! Lately, an additional joke has been devised. After taking you through the whole shebang the voice instructs you to send an SMS with your name to some telephone number. No stand-up comic could devise this routine.
Dear CEO, I have to explain that I depend on Internet access for my work and that means in Ghana, Vodafone’s FIXED broadband is the best on offer. Unfortunately, it is a monopoly since Vodafone took over lock, stock and barrel from Ghana Telecom. If I had access to the Internet, I would quote some of the flowery promises about improved services Vodafone made before it bought GT at rock-bottom price. On the contrary, Vodafone appears to have inherited and carried on the worst work traditions of GT without infusing any of the promised efficiencies in its work. Since my work depends on the Internet, the lack of access due to my current difficulties means my eventual bankruptcy. As you well know, it is only a bad parasite that kills off its host; it is a bad company that bites off the proverbial hand that feeds it.
As I have said, Vodafone has good people who are eager to help but beyond receiving customers’ money and “reporting” the problem, they are powerless, and one gets the impression that they are as frustrated as the customers and feel unable to do anything about it. Three weeks ago when I went to one of your shops for help, it took the local manager more than one hour before she could speak with a god at HQ, and even then she had to use her personal influence to be able to speak with someone at the next level of responsibility. Elsewhere, this sort of management gap would lead to a legitimate question: is this company fit for purpose? Your company gets away with it in Ghana and only in Ghana.
But things will change. Two weeks ago I put information about my personal frustrations with Vodafone on social media and within minutes a torrent of similar complaints came flooding in from scores of people suffering in silence. Someone reported a Vodafone tweet that said dissatisfied customers can go elsewhere. I can’t say whether that is true, but the official lack of responsiveness and the 14-day clause amount to that. In any case, we have nowhere to go if the issue is about landlines or fixed communications because Vodafone has a monopoly. That is the crux of the matter. But Boss, things will change.