(Disclaimer: Excuse the language in this blog. I’m posting it from an internet café and I’m seated next to two giggly teenagers on Facebook)

Apologies for going AWOL on you. I wrote my blogs as is our deal. Honest. But the dog ate my blog. Well, not that kind of dog. Let me explain.

To post blogs I need the internet. For the past three years I have done so via my MTN Fastlink HUAWEI HSDPA E220 USB 3G Modem. For some reason I cannot fathom, I can’t connect to the world wide web on my PC. Instead, I keep getting an error message; “Write Configuration to registry failure”. After a 2-hour session of nothingness this morning at the MTN agent where I bought this piece of excrement, the error message had changed to “Error: 678 Cannot connect to remote computer” or some other arbitrariness I take to mean, “We’ve got the internet, you don’t”. This is a much bigger deal than you might think, especially when one has deadlines to meet. As I write this, I have just emailed a customer a column, 1.5 days late. That does not augur well for my future beer consumption.

Up until three years ago, all my internet usage had been restricted to computer laboratories in our institutions of progressively mediocre learning, internet cafés and corporate world PCs. In other words, whenever I hit a technical glitch, it was always someone else’s problem. All I had to do to get joy was to eyeball some techno-geek to sort it out for me. Pronto. And be all unreasonable and throw hussy fits as I went about it too. It was paradise.

But now I’m on my own. Now when something goes wrong, my first port of call is to figure out if I can work it out on my own. Owing to my notorious technophobia, this never works out. When I first got my MTN 3G modem, my second port of call would be to call the MTN Customer Care Helpline, 173. I discovered pretty quickly that “customer care” is a term used as loosely as an Oxford Road nightwalker uses the term “virtuous” in MTN Customer Care circles.

Let’s ignore the irritable woman who wastes what seems like two days rattling off 189 options of what you could possibly want — except the one thing you do need help with. And that includes whether you want to change your language or not. I’d like to remain Zulu-speaking thankyouverymuch — especially with the incoming regime. And then she gets all prissy with you for not selecting any number between 1 and 189 followed by what sounds suspiciously like, “Oh ferchrissakes, let me give you those options again”.

After what seems like a five-day drawn Test match during Kepler Wessels’ Proteas captaincy, I get the unmistakable sound of a suspiciously human-sounding voice on the other side.

Human Voice (in perfect KZN Zulu): UMbongeni lo ngingakusiza ngani? (This is Mbongeni. How may I help you?)

(I almost jump for joy. Help AND we’ll have this convo in IsiZulu, which means I can just cut through the chase without having to refine my demeanour and put on false polite airs.)

Me: Yebo mfanakithi. Nansi i-3G ingenzela amasimba la. Ngithi ngizama ukuyikha… (It’s my 3G. There’s a problem with it…)

Mbongeni: Eish, your line is very bad. I can hardly hear a word you’re saying. I think it’s where you are. Perhaps you want to go and find a better spot or call us back…

Me: Are you seriously blaming me and where I’m positioned for MTN’s network coverage issue?
(This is the point I realised that I’m talking to — and I say this advisedly — an idiot.)

Idiot: Akukhulunywa kanjalo mfwethu. Yin’ le oyishoyo? (That’s no way to talk to me.)

Me: Which way is that? I am, after all, calling you from an MTN SIM card and the line is bad. What is your suggestion about what I’m supposed to do? How can I improve MTN’s customer service from here…

It was a short conversation because Mbongeni dropped the call at this point. I am not quoting the conversation verbatim, obviously. It is just from my recollection. But MTN claim to reserve the right to record conversations between their high-calibre call centres and their customers. Assuming anyone at MTN cares enough to verify my claim, this conversation started at 14h10 and ended at 14h11 on Wednesday, the 15th of April 2009. The idiot operator’s name was Mbongeni. I would lick him in a fistfight, for the record. This is a direct challenge.

As a matter of fact (if anyone at MTN cares) please check out other calls I made on the 15th of April to a charming (albeit not very useful) lady called Nozipho (21h31 — 21h44) who assured me that I’d receive a call from her supervisor when he/she returned from some ball-scratching session all the supervisors were in before 22h30. I think there’s an anthrax problem in these places because there seems to be a lot of ball-scratching and not much help forthcoming. Their help is restricted to telling you to take out your SIM card, spit on it, add a dash of piss to it, moonwalk over it and then re-insert into the modem. Or something of that sort. I went to bed as internetless as I’d been when I’d woken up that morning — seven calls later.

So I started calling again, culminating in a call to another very polite fellow who goes by the name, Shane (April 16, 13h26 — 13h37). By this time I wasn’t calling the 173 Helpline but 1555, which I was told is where all the experts were. Then Shane let me in on a little secret that the 1555 Helpline was reserved only for contract MTN customers and that when Pay-As-You-Go customers call 1555, they might believe they are talking to the super-agents at the Technical Helpdesk but are, in fact, diverted to the anthrax victims at the 173 Helpdesk. Not Shane’s words, mine. You see, I’m already being screwed over by on a Vodacom contract and have never seen the point of another contract. Still; I spend around R300 a month on internet usage from my MTN Pay-As-You-Go. Yet I don’t have access to the super-agents who also couldn’t help me earlier when I was at the MTN shop. (For reference: 2341341)

But none of this has anything to do with the point of my rant. I’m sick and tired of this. A few months ago I wrote a piece titled “Are we starting to get it?” — in which I was praising the service I received at the Ora Bella restaurant in Boksburg. In that piece I made the assertion that I was starting to see signs that South Africans are starting to get the gist of what customer service about. I made bold predictions that by the time the tourists started pouring into this country for the 2010 World Cup, we’d be ready for them.

I’m not so convinced any more. Efficient, satisfactory and customer-oriented service is still an exception to the rule in this country. Brilliant service that takes one’s breath away is still a drop in an ocean of indifference. From the giggly girl at the Musica counter who blamed me for not having exact change for my R257.98 purchase. To the Kwik Fit lady with horsey features who practically accused me of being a con artist when I tried to point out that the grease monkeys in her workshop had forgotten to return my spare wheel to its pit in my boot after a tyre change. From the Renault service department that returned a vehicle after a tune-up that needed to be towed within three weeks. To the waitress in a Rosebank grill house who refused to bring me an ice bucket so I could personally chill the warm beers she was serving us.

The best that we consumers/customers can do is to bitch about bad service as loudly and as publicly as we can. Tick. And then disengage from those service/product providers. But guess what — I don’t think anyone at MTN cares enough about my gripe about the standard in their call centre(s) to get away from Facebook long enough to give a damn about my dissatisfaction. If they are sufficiently moved to do anything, it will be a long-winded statement about how troublesome/stupid/wrong their customers are. I call it the “This hospital would run like clockwork if patients didn’t fuck it up by showing up”.

The customer might not necessarily always be right. But by God and sunny Jesus, please let him be king.

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  • Once upon a time, Ndumiso Ngcobo used to be an intelligent, relevant man with a respectable (read: boring-as-crap) job which funded his extensive beer habit. One day he woke up and discovered that he had lost his mind, quit his well-paying job, penned a collection of hallucinations. A bunch of racist white guys published the collection just to make him look more ridiculous and called it 'Some of my best friends are white'. (Two Dogs, ISBN 978-1-92013-718-2). Nowadays he spends his days wandering the earth like Kwai Chang Caine, munching locusts, mumbling to himself like John the Baptist and searching for the meaning of life at the bottom of beer mugs. The racist publishers have reared their ugly heads again and dangled money in his face to pen yet another collection of hallucinations entitled 'Is It Coz 'm Black'. He will take cash, major credit cards and will perform a strip tease for contributions to his beer fund.


Ndumiso Ngcobo

Once upon a time, Ndumiso Ngcobo used to be an intelligent, relevant man with a respectable (read: boring-as-crap) job which funded his extensive beer habit. One day he woke up and discovered that he...

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