I used to be your customer

It is pointless having a race to be the cheapest if cellcos do not try and hold onto their customers.

Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, I signed up for my first ever cellphone contract. I must have inked the deal in about 1998, when cellphones had just moved out of brick era.

Even moving my number was not without a substantial amount of pain.

Several upgrades and free gifts later, I cancelled that contract. That's almost 15 years' worth of being a loyal subscriber to a third-party service provider. Then Cell C started dropping the cost of making calls, while I was stuck with a bill that was double what it should have been, because I was locked into a two-year deal.

Finally, the time to upgrade came, so I asked - not once, or twice, but three times, for my service provider to put together a package that suited my average minute use, but trimmed my bill. I had already worked out that I could double my minutes and almost halve my bill by moving to Cell C, but figured I'd give my service provider a chance.

Groundhog day

First, I received quotes that increased my monthly spend further; then - months later - a call from someone asking if I would like to upgrade. I repeated my requirements, and received a list of handsets available on my current contract. I don't need a new handset.

My return e-mail - repeating myself yet again like a stuck record - was ignored, or disappeared into some cyber bin where e-mails go to hide.

Having had enough of requesting the same thing again and again, I decided to port to prepaid, and logged a request as to how one should go about this. That was followed by a call from retentions. One heated argument later, during which I pointed out the company's inability to think out-of-the-box, I was promised an e-mail that would finally answer my question.

Endless pain

I've since ported to prepaid, because I simply refuse to wait two months for a simple e-mail.

Yet, even moving my number was not without a substantial amount of pain. Apparently, subscribers have to call in and request porting in advance - information that I was not given - and then the service provider bulk ports people on the 28th of the month.

Which explains why I found myself, on the afternoon of the 24th, without the rest of my monthly bundle or any BlackBerry services, and I had to load up with airtime. Thanks, dear service provider.

Despite my complaint to this effect, and my pointing out that they owed me money for putting me out of pocket, four full working days later, I have yet to get some sort of an explanation. Instead, my then service provider recycled my number.

Sorting out that little mess required pulling several strings. I need my number; everyone has it - even spammers.

Apparently, cellphone companies are doing so well they can afford to simply drop/ignore/anger customers.

End game

Talk about being short-sighted. Penetration in SA is well above 100%, with the bulk of high income earners owning a plethora of SIMs: one for the phone, one to stay connected, one for in case, etc.

A simple look at the numbers will tell anyone where cellphone companies are going in SA - average revenue per user is falling.

Vodacom's average revenue per user went from R179 in 2003 - almost a decade ago - to R157 at the end of March. MTN saw its average revenue per user slump from R206 in 2003 to R179 at the end of last year. Granted, lower interconnect could have something to do with this drop, but I think the bulk of it is because people are tightening their belts.

Surely, the logic is simple. People want to spend less, to get more, so give that to them, instead of treating them like idiots and binning a 15-year relationship. It's not just about price, which is currently a race to the bottom that will even out to a point where tariffs are more or less the same, and will depend on what you need your minutes for anyway.

It's about service. It's pointless offering the best deal, but then having a call centre that is so dysfunctional that no one is trained to solve problems, let alone take ownership of a problem and solve it.

Wishful thinking

I haven't singled out my service provider, because I believe this is an ill that affects the entire industry, and one that will see the customer champs win. Yes, it's about pricing, but at the end of the day, I'm not going to stick with company A just because they are cheap, but constantly mess up my invoices, or deliver the wrong product.

Think out-of-the-box, think about brand reputation, and think about what your group CEO says at every results presentation, about how the company is moving to being customer-centric, and how the call centre is being improved, and why customers are so important.

I just don't have time for these hassles, and neither do the other customers that cellphone companies want to keep, the people who spend more than the average and do have long-term contracts.

Keep us happy, and we'll be too lethargic to move. Annoy us, cut us off and generally pretend that you don't need us, and soon you'll be battling to survive.

Customers are the bread and butter, the people who make up the revenue line, and a company that essentially tells even one person they are not wanted will end up without a revenue base.

Nicola Mawson

Nicola Mawson is a contributor who hates corruption of any sort. She does not drive a million-rand Beemer and would rather walk.

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