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Opinion & Analysis

When competition fails the consumer

There was a time I used a small SIM stick that plugged  into a router that came from Orange, and worked perfectly well on a monthly bundle. file photo | nmg
There was a time I used a small SIM stick that plugged into a router that came from Orange, and worked perfectly well on a monthly bundle. file photo | nmg 

Competition is supposed to improve things for consumers, but sometimes it’s hard to see where competition helps, when every option seems as blighted with troubles as the next. Indeed, an overlooked consequence of supplier-hopping in the search for a better service, is that the last hop, or the next one, can take you to your very worst service provider yet.

Which is the case, in fact, when it comes to my Internet. There was a time I used a small SIM stick that plugged into a router that came from Orange, and worked perfectly well on a monthly bundle. It had the odd lame moment, and its unlimited wasn’t unlimited, but firmly capped, so often we mixed early on data usage and got cut off.

But we could buy another bundle at any time of day or night. It was easy. Until Orange decided it was selling the business, and investment and many other things too seemed to be affected, most notably the proportion of downtime on our connection.

Finally, in frustration, we turned to Jamii Telecom, and its offer of fibre to the home. For this, we copped an installation fee, and paid just a little more than we had to Orange, but it was fibre! A better experience all round, was our idea. But this weekend, I learned for the umpteenth time how internal disorganisation and poor consumer service make for just as lousy a connection as any row of technical issues.

Last Friday afternoon, Jamii cut off our connection. It goes sometimes, so we waited for its return. It didn’t come back, messing up our weekend increasingly badly. Finally, we called them on their customer line and they told us we had been cut off for non-payment.

Only we had paid. They said the bill was due by 25th of the month, and the last payment had been 20th May. I went off to get the company cheque book. We gave them the cheque number and the payment date of 13th June for our monthly subscription, and they said: ‘Sorry, we can’t check this until Monday when ‘billing’ is back’. So we stayed cut off, for our non-payment payment error.

Now this is a habit from JTL. I called our office administrator - our company is connected to Jamii too - and we went through the number of times their accounts department has made errors on payment logging and cut us off for non-payment, and came to the remarkable conclusion that it was on between 15 per cent and 20 per cent of payments, which is colossal.

But what’s special is that if they ‘lose’ that many payments in their system, which makes it systemic, their practice of cutting off without warning, no call, no email, just off, becomes particularly ridiculous. It can’t be just on these two accounts that they often ‘lose’ payments, so to cut off on a Friday, knowing they often get it wrong, and without checking, with no facility to reconnect until Monday, is what, when it comes to customer service?

I asked them what compensation we get for this latest cut-off, and no signs of that, so we just get a Russian Roulette connection hoping they have registered our payment each new month.

That isn’t a winner overall, so now we’re looking for another supplier, for both home and office - because after five false disconnections in not much over a year on the two accounts, we’re tired of their payment errors and the disruptions they cause: about which they clearly have zero concern.

And that’s how lousy customer service causes losses in customer bases and market share. It’s the unhelpful call line, for sure. It’s the internal chaos that loses all those inbound payments too. But profoundly, it’s a cut-off system that has no checks, that doesn’t acknowledge their own weakness in logging payments, and cuts off without query or warning, leaving the burden on the customer to clear up the mess and prove they paid.

Now that’s when competition is worth exploring.

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