All consumers are not created equal… Some are created much more equal.

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Do you as a consumer ever get the feeling that you do not get the same kind of love as others from service providers? When you call their help desks do you get the feeling that the lovely voice on the end of the phone is rolling her eyes at your complaint? Let me share with you an experience I have endured over the last two months that really talks to the quality of service we are exposed to.

I had my cell phone “nationalised” from me at Africa’s flagship airport, Oliver Tambo International two months ago. Maybe I should have been paying more attention in my jet-lagged state; though that’s difficult to do after having travelled for 5 hours, waking up at 3 am in Dar Es Salaam for a 5am check in. Now I was connecting to Gaborone and the flights were running late because the airline I was on “forgot” to have a flight crew available for the flight.
To say I was irritated is an understatement, but I was too dazed to even bother complaining. As I am not as inconsiderate as them, I put in a call to my wife to let her know I would be arriving late. During the call the stewardess-looking lady comes running to me to say I must board right away! I quickly hang up, put my phone on the bench I was sitting on to lift up my bag and dashed off to the gate again, leaving my phone where I had been sitting. That phone was gone in a flash!I was livid and miserable on the flight. On arrival I immediately began the process of changing passwords and blocking the sim card. What a nightmare. Things couldn’t possibly get worse, right?

Well, the answer to that came to me when I made a call to my cellular provider and asked if they could replace the handset. First the lady at the helpline wanted to know why I believed I deserved a replacement phone. I explained that I hand not had one in well over 4 years. I went on to say to her that I am a very heavy user of their product and really feel that my business should be rewarded at some point. She took an audibly deep breath and said, “Please hold on while I transfer you”…. Before I could respond I was listening to some of the worst elevator music I have ever heard. I did this for what seemed an eternity before I hung up. With the veins in my head throbbing I called back. This time someone else answered and I had to start my story all over again. “How many Khumo points do you have?” she asked, “You do realise that they expire if you do not use them?” I said I did not know what Khumo Points are nor if they expire, “I have been with you for nearly a decade on contract and spend a huge amount of money with you… My relationship with you is what is about to expire,” I was yelling…. She said “hold on while I transfer you”… I’m sure you can imagine how the rest of that conversation went.

I was furious now. So I called around and a friend gave me a number of one of the big cheeses at this network. I got hold of her on the phone and I told her my story all over again. She said, “hold on…..”I said “Aaaaarrrrrgggggggg”!
Admittedly she also said she would have someone address my issue and to my surprise someone did in fact call me and inform me that I would be getting a replacement handset ‘at no expense.’ I just needed to fill in some forms and the phone was mine. When the forms arrived I knew it had been too good to be true. I needed to fill in some 9 sheets of contracts and addresses etc. It was when they asked for my cell number on the form that I realised that my many years of contract actually means nothing to them.

So here I am now weeks after my original phone parted with me and I now have a new phone that I have paid for from my own pocket again. Yes why should I ‘expect’ a free phone, maybe because so many others get such?…What is my point this week besides the fact that some get free phones and others do not depending on how well connected or patient you are?
My advice would be to say there has to be some attempt by service companies to understand the value of having a long-term relationship with a client. Yes we are always looking for more business, which means more and new clients. But answer me this: what is the point of having new clients only to replace clients you have lost? Real growth means keeping and getting new clients. We as clients, contrary to popular belief, do not like moving around due to the inconvenience. So it is easier to keep me than to lose me -sounds like a marriage neh?

A client should not need to beg, plead and listen to that on hold music to get service from a provider. So sadly folks the number I use will no longer be my primary number…I am now in the market for a new long-term relationship with another provider. I would rather have the inconvenience of changing a  number than need to deal with this provider further. Or they can come back to me on bended knee, cell phone in hand, no DNA sample requirements and recommit to loving me as a client… Unlikely but that would do it!
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