This is both weird and stupid. The only way the average consumer can communicate with a telecoms supplier in SA is through their respective call centres – most of which are outsourced to specialist call centre operations. In effect, that means they’ll take your money but won’t speak to you, ever.

Sure, in the case of the mobile telecoms shysters, you can walk into one of the retail outlets and try to get service there. Whether you get helped or not depends very much on the quality of the staff at the particular outlet. But I can’t even do that at present, being temporarily without wheels I am reduced to telephone and email.

OK, this is what happened. My contract at AutoPage cellular ended last August and I won’t bore you with the detail but it has taken me until now (April) to get them to relinquish my number. That happened last night when I received an automated welcome message from the Virgin Mobile network. Unfortunately, in the process Virgin simply killed the 074 number I have been using for the past eight months. Dead; Gone; Not even a forwarding message.

Now that’s dumb. It’s also pathetic customer service because it wouldn’t cost Virgin a cent to simply intercept call requests for that number and forward them to another number on their network. Hell, it can all be done automatically and, what is more, customers may even be willing to pay a small fee for the service. But no. The mental giants on the Virgin Mobile call centre tell me the number has been “recycled”.

Sometimes I think that mobile telecoms vendors in this country really don’t give a shit. Guess that’s what you get when you have an oligopoly with such pervasive market penetration and a historically ineffectual regulator. Individual players can’t grow market share without upsetting their fellow oligopolists and the high penetration serves to disincentivise new players from entering the market.

The only ray of sunshine is in the signs of life coming from the regulator at present but if history is any guide, that will last only as long as it takes for the oligopoly to identify the driving force behind the new-found impetus and make the proverbial “offer he (or she) can’t refuse”.

Basically, we’re screwed. Again. It’s the great South African way: “Kak en betaal“.

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