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Voda … please go

Earlier this year I moved house and went to the nearest Vodacom shop to change my billing address. I filled out the required form, signed it and had them make a copy of my ID, which was then faxed to the Vodacom head office. It’s now several months later … but I still don’t get my bills.

Back at the Vodashop, the staff tells me my new address shows on their system so I should theoretically get my bills. “But I don’t,” I say. Am I sure? Yes! (For heaven’s sake!) Well, they don’t know where the problem is — as they said, my new address is in their system and they can’t see from here what’s going on in the accounts department in Jo’burg.

OK, fair enough, but can they find out? They don’t seem to think that’s part of their job and fob me off with a phone number that will supposedly connect me free of charge to the accounts department if dialled from my cellphone.

When I dial the number — surprise, surprise — a recorded message greets me and tells me to hold the line until a service consultant is available. Two minutes pass, five minutes, 10 minutes … 20 minutes later I am still holding and, frustrated and annoyed, eventually put down the phone, my ears ringing from chirpy Vodacom commercials. I phone again an hour later — same story.

I try again later that day, that night, early the next morning, again and again, hoping to get through at “odd” times when phone traffic is low. I am holding and holding, by now not only knowing the commercials by heart but also the sequence in which they are played. But … nothing. It’s impossible to get to speak to a human being on the other end of the line. Eventually, after five days of this nightmare, I phone the Vodashop to tell them about my ordeal.

“Oh, soreeey,” says the shop assistant, “they have been off-line since last Friday and hardly take calls.”

“What?!” I wish I could jump through the receiver to strangle her. “I have been wasting hours of my time trying to get hold of a department that would have been unable to help me anyway?! Why don’t they, instead of playing their awful commercials, put up a message notifying their customers of the computer problem?”

“Soreeey,” says the assistant, again. And that’s all she has to offer. What exactly is the problem and when is it likely to be fixed? I ask. She doesn’t know.

What follows is a 10-minute conversation during which I painfully try to extract from her what my options are. If the Vodashop has my new address on its system, why doesn’t it call the head office directly for me? No, she says, they have to speak to me personally. Why? She doesn’t know.

But I could come to the Vodashop, she offers, where she will dial the number (the same that I have been trying for the past five days!) for me and if she gets through, she will pass the call on to me. And how would that save me time? I ask. She doesn’t know.

I suggest that she at least re-fax the address change form, hoping it will reach the right department this time around. No, unfortunately, she cannot do that unless I come in and sign another form that permits her to resend the fax. By now I’m really fed up.

“Why would you need my signature to resend a fax?” I ask, barely able to contain my anger. She doesn’t know.

“What do you know?” I want to shout but bite my tongue since it isn’t exactly her personal fault. But, out of helplessness and irritation, I do threaten to cancel my contract as soon as it will come up for renewal next month and tell her I will write a letter of complaint.

Of course, that doesn’t faze her at all. It’s not like she would really care if Vodacom has one customer more or less. “OK,” she says, and with that we end the conversation. I am left fuming and still don’t know how to sort out my problem other than waiting I don’t know how many days until the accounts departments gets back online.

But I will write this complaint letter and I will switch to Vodacom’s competition. Not that it will have any effect on Vodacom, and I don’t even expect much better service from a different provider, but at least I feel like I’m not going down totally defenselessly.