18 July 2011

Vodacan’t: The Ball-Numbing Black Hole of Vodacom Customer Service

So, I’ll be the first to admit that I sit on the bottom rung when it comes to mobile gadgetry. Shiny things entice me, but my need to reaffirm my existence and temporarily stave off those pesky thanatic impulses via the wanton purchases of things that go ‘beep’ is constantly at odds with my more basic and all-together more irritating need for constant sustenance. And since bread is so expensive these days, my desire for upper echelon mobile devices is repeatedly snubbed in favour of a yummy pint at Rafiki’s and maybe some chips.

I will freely admit that I am at the mercy of my Vodacom contract. If it ain’t free, it ain’t mine. To illustrate my point, I give you this: in the world of iPhones, BlackBerrys and Android, I am currently Tweeting my way across the Information Super highway on a Nokia Navigator.

Hint: it’s a pun

You can imagine my joy, then, when I discovered that Vodacom was offering a Samsung Galaxy Ace on an upcoming contract deal.

Now, let’s ignore the fact that, since then, through incredibly thorough research, I have learnt that the Ace, baby brother to the incredibly popular Galaxy S, is less of an affordable entry model into the world of smartphones and more of a colourfully painted, narcoleptic harlot, enticing you with a soft touch and clever finger-work, only to konk out after three hours of foreplay, leaving you half-sprung, thoroughly unsatisfied and not sure what to do with your hands.

Perhaps a ‘plug it in’ pun would be taking it too far…

It seems that this pretty little piece of iPhone rip-off goes through batteries faster than whatever it is Rosie O’Donnell keeps in her bottom drawer. Nonetheless, I was disheartened that what seemed the only usable piece of touch-screen hardware within my grasp was in fact a dud, and that I would have to resort to a BlackBerry 9300 - not the end of the world, but certainly not where my creative juices were leading me.

I am left with a hollow pit in a tummy that was once filled with excitement, anticipation and new-media goo.

I blame Vodacom and their complete misinterpretation of the phrase ‘customer service’.

That’s them, pretending to shed a tear for me.

You see, my excitement first begun on that fateful day when I entered my local Vodashop, still unsure as to whether the Ace was available on my contract. A pleasant, young fellow entered my number, checked my account on his computer and assured me that it was. However, the store had yet to receive the phone or any of the details surrounding its correlating contract, he said, such as the magnitude of the oft-required pay-in.

I was told there would be a two week wait. However, excited by the prospect of owning my first, real smartphone, I accepted, and left the store, readily surrendering a current BlackBerry 9300 special – which I had also been assured was available to me (this will become very important later) – in favour of future gadgetry. Oh what a fool I was…

Two weeks passed with no news. On the last day, I phoned the store to enquire. The fellow was very apologetic, claiming that he had forgotten to take down my number and, hence, had been unable to call me. Now, this would be a perfectly acceptable excuse if, you know, they weren’t my fucking service provider! That’s like my landlord telling me she can’t send me mail because I never gave her my address, or something equally ironic…

“Seriously, how could I know she’d eat the apple?”

“None the less,” he continued, gliding effortlessly over his own idiocy, “the phone has arrived!”
Oh joyous days! Oh happy moments! “Could I pick it up?” I enquired.
“Of course!” he replied. There was just the small matter of the R2000 pay-in.

Bullets have come to less sudden and unpleasant stops than that conversation.

Now, I happily accept that a better phone on a lesser contract would incur a higher surcharge, but something about those multiple zeros felt amiss. Apparently the telephonic parasite felt similarly as he stated, “Yes, it’s a bit high I’m afraid.”

The concentrated beam of loathing that I forced through my handset was enough to curdle time and matter. In three years, he will discover that his wife is having an affair with the Malawian man who sells knock-off cigarettes on the corner by her work. Their meeting will be the result of a small rock flicked up from the tire of a passing delivery truck, which previously would have sailed harmlessly by but now, nudged by my hate, clips the ember off the end of her cigarette, forcing her to stop and ask for a light. They will laugh at her close call. Six month later, they will marry, while my service consultant sits drunk at the scarred bar of a seedy gentleman’s club. He’ll collapse in a seizure. Rushed into surgery, the operating neurosurgeon will find a long and fatal stretch of tumour wrapped across the surface of his brain. The knotted, stringy, gray mass of brain, useless tendon and milk teeth will spell out ‘Fuck You.’

“Wow. Never thought I’d see that again.”

Obviously, though, I’m not a man prone to overreaction, and I resigned myself to the fact that I’d be riding the digital wave on a scroll button rather than soaring across the touch screen heavens with my Android comrades (there’s an app for that I hear). None the less, I was peeved by the excessive pay-in. I had waited two weeks for the phone, never imagining that the cost could ever come close to what I’d been quoted, especially on my cheaper contract. Also, I had passed on a BlackBerry deal that, for all I can remember now, would have had me downing bottles of merlot with Dylan Morran under a gazebo on the Company Gardens while, behind us, the cast of Clifton Shores roasted merrily over an open fire.

D and I always have the best of times.

So anyway, I Tweeted my displeasure and, low and behold, who should contact me but the mighty Vodacom himself!

Strangely, the first thing he told me had to do with a curtain,
and how I shouldn’t look behind it.

It was then that I was introduced to Vodacom’s Twitter Customer Care 101.

• Politely approach disgruntled client on said public forum.
• Express your sorrow for the unfortunate occurrence that has befallen him or her.
• Promise to help out in whatever way possible.
• Direct him or her to a private forum where said misfortune can be rectified to the satisfaction of Vodacom, away from the petty, prying eyes of the public who are hopefully still twitterizing their friends’ columns and walls about what jolly good sports Vodacom are for so promptly responding to that poor fellow’s online distress.

As you may have ascertained by my carefully controlled ire, this is a fair summation of how my communications with Vodacom progressed from there on.
Not that much of what followed should have come as a surprise. The tone of our conversation was set early on when whichever Cream Soda swilling wombat that was currently working their Twitter feed replied to one of my Tweets with, “Well, we’re not impressing today, are we?”

Now, all online PR and digital marketing sundry, feel free to correct me if I am wrong (I know, I joke like this sometimes) but sarcasm is not commonly considered the most favourable of attitudes to adopt when dealing with a prickly customer. Sympathy, possibly, or remorse – perhaps even some embarrassing self-debasement and the sort of boot-lick grovelling that would get one struck from a father’s will – but a highfalutin nose snub most certainly falls short of what one might consider acceptable customer service behaviour.

“And if you don’t leave now we’ll pop your top hat
and muddy up your neckerchief, you filthy ruffian."

Peeved by the mouth-breathing net-monkey’s quip, I nonetheless acquiesced with his request to send him my details because I thought, you know, maybe they’d do something nice (I know, right? Where do I get these jokes?).

What followed were three days (five, if you count the weekend, which I prefer to) of entirely useless and increasingly irritating phone calls, once as early as 8:15AM.

Now, daybreak is not my favourite time of day. I’m prone to cursing wildly at people simply for saying, “Good morning,” because, you know, fuck you.

Do you know how long it’s been since I had a good morning? The working world exists solely to make every morning, for the rest of your life, miserable. Thousands of years ago, when the world’s first clod-plodder discovered that he could magically grow his own vegetables if he buried his poop just right, it made sense to get up with the break of dawn. The sun was all you had to work with, and once that went down it was all dodging hungry wolves, stabbing people and hallucinogen fuelled, tribal orgies. These days, things have changed. We don’t have wolves anymore. There are no justifiable reasons left to pull yourself up at sparrow’s fart every morning just to drag yourself into work.

And there is nothing – NOTHING – more infuriating that being forced into work – anyone’s work! – before acceptable work hours have begun.

Jolly McSunshinepants had obviously never had this rule explained to him.

“My house is made of rainbows!”

I’m sure we can all agree that, were there one justifiable excuse for murder, it would be being talked down to. I am as likely to garrote as I am to humour anyone who attempts to patronize me. But far worse; any attempt to talk around me is guaranteed to be met with swift and shocking vengeance (as I am currently illustrating).

Sunshine Sparkles had obviously not heard this one either, as he spent the next five days carefully explaining all the things that Vodacom wasn’t going to do for me. These included, in no particular order, everything. That’s right; Smiley Morningson went to great pains to tell to me that Vodacom would offer me not a smidgen more than what was available through their current contract specials. They would, instead, advise me regarding any decisions I might have to make once they had concluded their investigations. You know, of themselves.

Expecting any sort of verdict from such an investigation that isn’t a straight up “We’re just super fantastic” is like asking a five-year-old how he should be punished after breaking the neighbour’s window and being surprised when he answers, “Vanilla Ice-cream.” It’s a joke, a farce, and a fucking insult to any rational human being who is being forced to deal with their idiotic, corporate bureaucracy.

“It’s been so long since I had to work, I’ve forgotten how to read.
Your argument is invalid.”

Can somebody explain the point of having a customer service department if said department has zero authority to service the customers?! (Hehe…)

It’s like sending a fireman into a burning building that he himself set alight in order to carefully explain to the writhing victims how they should be treating their burns rather than putting out the blaze. The sentiment is so full of “Fuck you” that it’s a wonder Vodacom doesn’t get its mouth washed out with soap. Or turpentine. Or why they aren’t legally obliged to get punched in the nuts anytime a CEO makes a foolish attempt to set foot outside his front door.

After hanging up on Telephone McSurly, having finally badgered him into admitting that Vodacom SA would be doing diddly-squat to help me, I was treated to a call from the manager of Vodashop Greenpoint, the establishment where Vodacom SA claimed the responsibility lay.

I would like to point out that it was now heading on three weeks since I had first made that fateful mistake of wandering into the Green Point Vodashop, and I still had no phone (ironically, Vodacom was still sending me SMSs reminding me that I was due for my upgrade).

I will admit that this young fellow was the first person I had spoken to that wasn’t a complete and utter fuck-wit. Unlike the plugged-in, hypno-drone, basement-dwelling lungfish to whom I was forced to communicate my displeasure previously, here was a chap who seemed willing to help. He explained to me the original mix-up; apparently my in-store consultant believed I had asked for the Galaxy S rather than the Ace, which, again, would be a perfectly believable misunderstanding if I hadn’t pointed the phone out to him in person!

“Ah yes, now I understand. You’re a fucking idiot.”

I’ve come to the conclusion that Vodacom only employs people via that tried and trusted method of walking into a crowded park and throwing rocks at people. Those not smart enough to get out of the way are hired.

The manager was very apologetic. He gave me the actual pay-in cost, and offered to wave the connection fee and swing me a free phone case to boot. I told him that I would likely pass on the Ace (I’d done considerable research by then, what with all the time I’d had) and that I would come by soon and collect my BlackBerry 9300 instead.

Eventually, everything seemed to be working itself out.

Little did I know…

I arrive at the Vodashop two days later. I am unsurprisingly introduced to a new service consultant, who begins talking me through my options again. We discuss the Ace. When I mention battery life, his face shrivels up like that poor, unfortunate Nazi in Raiders of the Lost Ark and I decide that maybe BlackBerry is my way forward.

“I’ll take it,” I say, mostly smiles, my techno-goo mildly dehydrated over the last few weeks, flaking a little at the edges, but still virulent enough to get my forearms itching.

“Great,” he says, “Come back next Tuesday.”

“Certainly, but I’m holding your liver as collateral.”

I honestly can’t remember at this point whether I was angry or simply in shock. I drifted out of the Vodashop and back to my office, my toes barely scraping the pavement, beginning to wonder if the last three weeks had been a little more than an awful dream. I was Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, Sean Penn in U-Turn, Neve Campbell in every Scream film there ever was and will be, doomed to repeat a seemingly endless loop of terrible and awkward misfortunes, driven by a cosmic director who was either refusing to call cut or just didn’t know any better.

That, or he’s a giant douche. An uber-douche of titanic proportions, hovering above me with his giant, webbed douche-wings spread wide, staining the sun with a douchey glow as the warm light is filtered through their membranous webbings, letting naught but a sickly pall of illumination fall about me as he directs my fate with waves of his douche-talons like a diabolic, Truman Show dictator.

Like Ed Harris if Ed Harris was, you know… Satan.

On the Tuesday of the fourth week, I stumbled into that damnedable Vodashop like a broken Tommy in a P.O.W. camp, never knowing when or from where the next bullet would come. I smiled as I greeted the consultant from earlier, but inside I was hollow. I was Tim Robbins in Mission to Mars, floating and frozen in the vacuum of space; Hugh Jackman in The Fountain, drifting and alone in my melancholic bubble; Leonardo Di Caprio in Titanic, completely and utterly Oscarless. Never had I felt so disconnected.

The consultant, whose name I do not recall – I’d use it if I did – brought out my cellphone-to-be. The process had taken so long that the specials of the previous month – the beginning of which had seen the start of this whole debacle – were coming to an end at the close of that very day. In a futile attempt to save myself the misery of settling for a lesser phone when, in less than twelve hours, there might be a newer, better one on the shelf, I asked if he was aware of the following month’s specials. He assured me that there would be no change. He was a filthy liar.

He drew my necessary documents to him. I drew the boxed cell to me. He checked the glowing screen before him. I tried to imagine the world that might follow, wherein misery, disappointment, sarcasm, obstinacy, frustration and anxiety might be little more than distant memories. He told me he was just going to switch my contract quickly and we would be done…

Do you remember, 2 343 words prior to now – otherwise known as a month ago, almost to the day – when I explained how the previous consultant had checked the availability of the specials on my contract? And how, a little later, I had been phoned by the manager and advised regarding my other options after the Ace deal had fallen through? And later again, but a week before, in fact, when I was once again inside the store, calling out my phone number to the second consultant number by fucking number as he punched them into the damned computer, its glowing screen and relevant contract details hovering but scant centimetres from his lying face?! Do you think that, at any time, any of the colossal fuckwits actually bothered to read what was neatly typed out right in front of them?!

“'Read', he says! Hilarious!”

I think I may have shouted. I was so indescribably angry. I definitely swore. A lot. For the first time in over a month, I encountered a level of meekness from one of the hapless drone-bots of this universally idiotic, blindingly incompetent, face-palm of a company, the sort of hopeless expression one might expect to see on the ashen face of an island native seconds before his volcano god dumps thirteen-thousand tons of molten rock and fiery doom down on his bungling, inept, your-virgin-will-only-be-ready-next-Tuesday head.

These few thousand words cannot fully express the sheer length and level of ball-numbing stupidity I have been forced to deal with from Vodacom. If this is how their company is run, then it’s no wonder that whole thing came to a sudden, grinding halt with the RICA change-over. And I wish I could say that that was the end of it, but heading on six weeks later, I am still sitting with my old Nokia Navigator, as the shitty phone they stuck me with had to be returned within a week because of a faulty scroll button.

And do you know what? There are new specials this month – shiny new smartphones and myriad options. Perhaps if I had waited another day…

But then waiting is all I’ve been doing.