Saturday, October 17, 2009

My frustrations with Vodacom and other things


The Chinese junk you see in this picture, has wasted several hours of my time this week. It’s called the E220 Vodafone Mobile Connect USB Modem. It’s but one of countless pieces of Chinese crap that big retailers in this country sell to the unwary public at outrageously high prices. I purchased this gadget just over a year ago for R1400-00 cash, and can recall feeling somewhat distressed when the prices suddenly dropped to about R900-00 the day after I purchased it.

Nonetheless, with the firm belief that anything from The East can not last too long, I was quite surprised to discover that the device actually had a two year warranty, when it finally decided to croak for good. But don’t for once think that just because your Chinese or Taiwanese gadget has a warranty, that everything will go plain sailing.

Here’s my dairy of events for the past week, which among others, highlights the pathetic service I received from Vodacom:

Sunday evening – 11 October
“Connection error: A connection to the remote computer could not be established, so the port used for this connection was closed.”

“Okay, no problem!” This is the same message that has popped up almost every day since the day I purchased the device. TIA – keep trying and it will eventually work, ---- but on Sunday evening it simply refused to connect, and I wasn’t planning on sitting in front of my computer all evening.

Monday morning – 12 October
Still unable to connect, --- I contacted Vodacom Customer Care and was greeted with various pre-recorded options: press 1 for this, 2 for that, 3 for this-and-that, 4 for whatever, --- and finally when I was able to speak to a human being I was told that the network was not down, but that if I dialled 082155 a technician would be able to assist me. After dialling this number, which connects you to Vodacom’s Dedicated Data Call Centre one is again forced to go through the motions of choosing the correct options, I finally got to the stage where I had to wait for a technician to come on the line. To end a long story, I was told to take the gadget to the nearest Vodacare shop, which happened to be in a large shopping centre about 30 minutes drive away, --- the time considerably increased due to the amount of traffic and road works that has escalated since this country has become cursed with hosting the 2010 Soccer World Cup.

At the Vodacare shop I was told that the device needed an upgrade to the latest software, which was kindly provided to me on my memory stick, --- free of charge! That was when the sports really started. Back home, when I tried installing the software it couldn’t find any modem connected to the pc. Finally near midnight, after tinkering with device drivers, uninstalling, reinstalling, and rebooting for the umpteenth time, I finally gave up and went to bed.

Tuesday morning – 13 October
I dialled Customer Care again. Lucy speaks: “Eish, I’ve not heard of this problem before, wait --- I will call my manager.” ---- Five minutes went by --- “Thanks for waiting! My manager says it’s the modem. Vodacare must fix it! ” Oh really now!!!!
So off I went back to the colossal “Menlyn” shopping centre, crawling bumper-to-bumper from one broken traffic-light to the next. By then I had firmly made up my mind that I had wasted enough time, -- I was going to buy a brand-new device that day, no matter what!

At the Vodacare shop I was persuaded that a new device wasn’t necessary. They quickly checked their system, and that was when I discovered the device was still under guarantee. The latest software was reloaded on the gadget using one of their notebooks, and it was also tested for functionality. Everything worked fine! Most of the other customers with similar problems arrived at the shop with their personal notebooks, but my pc, a desktop computer, was way too bulky to carry.

Back home, I plugged the device in my desktop pc and within seconds I was up-and-running again, downloading my e-mail! All went well for about 15 minutes when suddenly the device disconnected again. I was back to square one, but this time the screen was shouting so many error messages that I could hardly keep up with pressing “OK” – “OK’ – “OK”. The most prominent message was, “No modem found,” or something to that effect. I dialled the ‘Dedicated Data Call Centre’ again and spoke to a lady who objected to my manner of speech when I tried explaining how frustrated I was.

“Okay, let me take you through this step-by-step,” she said, speaking to me as if I was a kinder-garden kid ! “Go to the dashboard, click on ‘Manage Devices’, then click on ‘E220’, and then click ‘Edit’. Choose ‘GPRS Only’, and just when I clicked on the last item ---- my pc crashed!!! I starred at the blue screen of death in utter astonishment. “Hullo, hullo, are you there?” – “Look lady, I am going to chuck this Chinese junk in the dustbin where it belongs and get a new German model!” --- “No – no, we can fix it! It’s a small problem. Please take it back to Vodacare!”

Late Tuesday afternoon I quickly popped over to a friend’s place to plug the device in his machine, just to confirm if it really was the gadget and not my pc giving hassles. I explained to my friend that my actions may cause his system to crash. “Go ahead!” he said, --- so I went ahead and crashed his system too! Luckily, we managed to get his pc up-and-running again by simply using the “System Restore” function.

I spent my entire Tuesday evening at home sorting out my pc. I don’t exactly know what damage the device caused, but it had obviously scrambled something major in the system because nothing worked! When everything finally came alive on the screen, the optical mouse wouldn’t work. It didn’t surprise me at all when I read the words, “Made in China” on its rear end.

Wednesday morning – 14 October
By Wednesday morning the repercussions of me not being online as usual started bouncing back. My most important duty was to transfer funds urgently to an account of one of my colleagues, something I was not able to do electronically from the convenience of my home due to the hassles I was experiencing at the time. The account was at a different bank to mine, and the only way I could transfer funds immediately was to draw the cash from my account and pay the money in directly to the other account.

I travelled to the Menlyn shopping centre that morning with clear intentions of speaking to Telkom about their various packages and ways of connecting to the internet. They do after all, brag quite a lot in the media about their fantastic offers and superior service! The E220 modem didn’t end up in the rubbish bin. It was safely tucked in my pocket, and my intentions were to hand it in at the Vodacare counter with specific instructions to stick it up there where the sun never shines!

I first stopped over at the Menlyn Square, a banking facility directly opposite the large Menlyn Shopping Centre. First National Bank (FNB), Standard Bank, ABSA and various other banking institutions were conveniently located adjacent to one another in this “High-Security” centre where customers could bank at ease without worrying about being robbed the moment they leave the bank. When I approached the FNB ATM I immediately sensed that something was seriously wrong. There was no queue in front of the machine, for the simple reason that the power in the entire complex was off! This was not the first time I experienced this at that same facility. I can recall when this happened on previous occasions, how everybody working there instinctively knew that the power was going to be off all day. Everybody simply packed up and left, causing a major congestion at the exit. This specific day was no different to the others. There was absolutely no control and not a security guard in sight. Customers were pouring in through the entrance of the security complex, searching for a parking spot in the limited space available due to the high-volume traffic, only to exit again once they realized that the power was off and that no banking facilities were working. There was an endless stream of traffic as people came and went, and not a soul in sight to warn these people that they were wasting their precious time. TIA – TIA – TIA!

At the Menlyn centre I found the Vodacare shop packed to the brim with customers. The Data Centre in the right-hand corner was pulsating with a vibe of chaotic disorder. Laptop computers, gadgets and cables of all sorts were scattered everywhere. Several customers were standing around waiting to be served. I was about to bolt out of the place, when by pure chance I was suddenly recognized by the same gentleman who had helped me on the two previous occasions.

“You’re back,” he said. “Yep -- I’m back,” and before he could say anything, I slapped the Chinese junk in his hand. “That thing is caput, dead, finished, klaar! It’s a dangerous device, it kills pc’s. Now give me a new one please, I’ll pay for it.”

The man was as stubborn as a mule. “No, you don’t need to buy another one. I can fix it,” he explained. “Listen mate, this is my THIRD visit to this shop. I don’t have the time nor the patience for this.” The man starred at me with a blank expression on his face, and that was when it suddenly dawned on me what was actually going on here. This was one of those typical Black versus White episodes that can only happen here in Africa. The Black dude was misinterpreting all the signals. His mind was indicating that I, a White dude, was indirectly telling him that HE was stupid and incapable of doing his job. Although this was NOT the case, and I would have reacted exactly the same, whether or not the man was pink, white, black, or coloured, --- the episode was clearly heading for a racial incident if I didn’t back-off and give the man another chance to fix the gadget. So in the end I decided to grant him his pleasure, but I also made it quite clear that this was his last opportunity! The time was 10:00. “Give me 2 hours. Come back at 12:00,” he begged.

I immediately shot off to the banking hall to sort out my financial stuff, and wasted a considerable amount of time standing in a queue. It was the first time in months that I was forced to stand waiting inside a bank. What does one do while standing in a long queue that appears to be going nowhere? Well I for one, subconsciously start counting things. I count the number of tellers at the main counter, the number of people standing in the queue, and then the number of employees actually serving the customers. When that is done I start day-dreaming, something I also do whenever I’m forced to wait in places where there is nothing worthwhile to read, for example, waiting in traffic. Lately my thoughts have way too often wondered off to the question of, “what am I still doing here in a place that doesn’t feel like home anymore?” What has happened to the good old days, not too long ago, when total strangers standing in queues would happily chat to one another, sharing jokes, laughing? Isn’t it strange how time flies by while day-dreaming?

I decided to utilize the rest of my time by checking out prices and other options of connecting to the internet, but the Telkom shop at Menlyn was in a more chaotic state than Vodacare! The overpriced CNA store was the only place that looked empty, so I spent the rest of my time browsing their overpriced books in an atmosphere of relative peace and tranquillity.

When I finally returned to the Vodacare shop I was dismayed to find that my enthusiastic associate had still not fixed the problem. I accepted his profuse apologies, which didn’t make any sense at all, and agreed to wait. When I realized that I had been in the shopping centre for almost three hours, I got up and decided that it was time to make my voice heard. Noticing my irritation, my friendly associate quickly approached me while waving a piece of paper in his one hand. “I’ve got it – I’ve got it,” he hollered. “You’ve got what?” I asked. “I’ve got the printout of the error message,” he said, and then proceeded to escort me to another counter, where we both stood in a queue for about 20 minutes. We were not able to talk much during those 20 minutes because a very angry lady at the counter was causing such a scene that nobody else in the place could speak. The woman had a young child with her that seemed quite uncontrollable and downright mischievous. Maybe the mother had forgotten to give the kid his daily dose of Ritalin that day. I really had to control my urge not to step out of line and sort things out!

My E220 Vodafone was finally checked in for repairs with the promise that it would be ready for collection the next day, i.e. --- on Thursday anytime after 13:00. I was okay with that arrangement. What the hell, it had taken me three days to get that far! What difference was another ONE DAY going to make – on the continent of Africa, where the concept of time has a different meaning to the rest of the planet?

Thursday afternoon – 15 October
I arrived at the Vodacare shop in Menlyn at about 13:30, only to hear that my E220 device was not ready for collection yet. It would be ready by 13:00 on Friday afternoon. That was when I exploded!!!

“This is totally unacceptable!!! I was told that I could collect the device anytime after 13:00 today,” I told the lady behind the counter. “Our policy says 48 hours,” she replied. The more I raved and ranted about the inconvenience of travelling, parking, promises made, time wasted, etc… the more she repeated their 48-hour policy, like a blerrie parrot! The man who had served me on Wednesday wasn’t available. Apparently it was his day off. When I asked to speak to the manager I was told to sit and wait. No such thing as, “PLEASE SIR, do you mind sitting down while I call the manager!” No sirry, just “SIT – and WAIT,” – like an obedient dog! I waited for about 15 minutes and when no manager came forward to speak to me, I walked out.

Friday afternoon – 16 October
13:00 – I dialled the number displayed on the job-card, 082-13516(T/F). Beep, beep, beep, is all I got after trying several times. I have no clue what the (T/F) stands for but maybe it should have read (WTF).

Dialled the listed phonebook number for the Vodacare store, 012 348 1672. ---- No answer!!! After redialling the 082 number several times, I finally got through. When I supplied the Job Number, I was told by a lady called Martha (not her real name) that Vodacare was UNABLE TO FIX THE MODEM and that they’ve requested an exchange at their depo in Randjies Fontein. “How long will it take?” I ask. “I don’t know,” she replies. What happened next, is rather difficult to explain in words: I first freaked out, then apologised for freaking out, --- then something the woman said made me freak out all over again. Martha was not blessed with an audible English speech, and with me being a little hard of hearing sometimes, especially when I’m stressed out, didn’t help much to sooth my rage. When she confirmed my cell number, I got the impression that she would be calling me back within the next 30 minutes, but it appears that I was wrong!

I phoned Vodacare again at 16:00 and spoke to Martha. By then I was placid and spoke in the most gentle manner possible, explaining why it was a matter of life and death that I get my modem back before the weekend. I learned that the shop was open until 21:00. I arrived there at about 19:30 and was handed a E220 USB modem, securely wrapped in a sealed parcel.

When I connected the device back home it worked fine, but I was then confronted with a totally new dilemma. My browser and e-mail program refused to connect to the server. Error message: “Check your network connections….,” so I checked it, rebooted, and rechecked it, --- cleared all history, cookies, cache, messed around with the IPconfig command, -- you name it! The ‘Data Call Centre’ was unavailable due to ‘high-volume calls’. TIA!

Saturday morning – 17 October
No luck connecting to the internet or e-mail, and no luck getting through to Vodacom’s ‘Dedicated Data Call Centre’, due to high-volume calls! Well, what can I say? Thank goodness it is not a matter of life and death!

Take Note:
This post was finally uploaded to Blogger using another machine. Vodacom Customer Care eventually assigned a reference number to my complaint with the a promise that a technician would be contacting me within 24-hours.

I have a major issue with big corporations that rip people off with their extravagant high prices and false promises of a superior service. Vodacom is on the top of my list of companies who exploit people for financial gain, and who cannot deliver what they promise. In my opinion, there is no difference between these large corporations and the criminal drug-dealers operating in this country. They first get people hooked on their products and then plunge these same people into a pit of debt and despair. The people who are most vulnerable are the working-class folk who can barely afford to place food on the table. When their accounts start running into arrears their first priority is food, an essential requirement of survival! But the big retailers are even exploiting people on this level too! While food prices are soaring through the roof, the list of people who get blacklisted for outstanding debt grows longer and longer. The circle is more vicious for people who are addicted to drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, and cell phones. For them, their addiction is first priority. Their cell phones need to be topped-up with airtime, no matter what. Alcohol and a pack of smokes must be purchased, no matter what the price!

For the big corporations it’s all a numbers game, the more people they can exploit the more money they make. Although Customer Care does serve its purpose well, there are times when it's just a smokescreen to bullshit you.

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