Saturday, January 12, 2013

Vodafone Ghana: Power to Who?


One of the hardest things about living as an expat and especially as an expat in Ghana is that I miss my family and hearing about the things that may be trivial to some but which are vitally important to me… how my elderly mother is feeling and faring, how my niece’s new job is going, how the hurricanes and snowstorms are affecting my brother and sister, who’s pregnant, who’s getting married, who’s doing what with whom.

But because that is so important to me, it’s why my frustration level with Vodafone Ghana is at an all time peak. Perhaps you’ve heard me complain about them before – certainly if you’re a Facebook friend you’ve seen my endless rants and diatribes about their shit service.

If you’re from the U.S. you may not have heard so much about Vodafone as AT&T and Verizon hog up all the good/bad telecommunications news. But Vodafone Ghana is Ghana’s largest monopoly; a few years back the Ghana government decided to do away with Ghana Telecom and pretty much handed all of the country’s telecommunication services to these money grubbing a-holes.

When Vodafone took over, service had initially improved. It was wonderful that we had finally gotten a telecommunications company that took the needs of the citizens to heart; they improved land line service and more and more customers actually had land lines installed in their homes. And then they offered internet services to the home which made my life at least infinitely better. I could keep up with my family, my kids could play games or chat online, the boys could connect Xbox and play their Halo or whatever; we could stream videos and movies and download new ebooks from Amazon. All was right with the world.

And then it wasn’t.

About nine months ago things started to fall apart. It began in May 2012 with this note to Vodafone Ghana’s Facebook page:

Since 5/4/12 and to date, I have called #100 daily to report a broadband outage (# XXXXXXX). I heard many excuses – my modem, my connection, a general problem in Tema – the latest a migration to fibre optics. I cannot get a straight answer. My pre-paid continues to erode. I was told yesterday that emails were sent out about the migration and account credit; I received no such email.

This reflects poorly on Vodafone. I deserve a straight answer; when will my service be restored?

Barbara Zigah

Vodafone Ghana’s Facebook people responded to me about a day later with an email address for their customer service…. here is that email:

Through the Vodafone Ghana Facebook page I was encouraged to write to you about the problems I have been experiencing with Broadband over the past 6 days. Since last week Thursday, April 5, I have not had internet access in my home at V42 in Tema, Community 8.

I have called customer care each day; each time the technician has run through the check list which ensures that my modem settings are correct and that the led lights are properly lit. Over the course of my several phone calls, I have been told that it is my problem and that someone would be sent to check (that did not happen). I have been told that it is a general problem with the server relative to my area and that someone would check (that did not happen). I have been told it was a wide-spread problem and that technicians were working on it. I have been told that it is due to the migration to fibre optics. I can no longer even connect to the “web configurator.”

I have received a lot of excuses and no solutions.

Meanwhile, I am worried that my prepaid account balance continues to erode; when I mentioned this to one customer care representative he said that emails had been sent out to customers about the migration and how to obtain a credit for the time lost – I received no such email notification.

I would just like a straight answer. When can I expect this migration (if that is indeed what it is) to be finished and my internet access restored?

That got no response.

Of course, those emails were preceded by a few dozen phone calls to Vodafone Ghana’s customer care line at #100. I would call them first thing in the morning and last thing at night. Note that to call them you need a Vodafone land line (not working) or a Vodafone SIM card – you cannot call customer care from say MTN or Tigo. Fortunately, my mobile modem has a Vodafone SIM card in it so I can switch the chip into my phone to make the phone calls. Each call to customer care goes something like this:

Thank you for calling Vodafone’s customer care line.
For English press #1; for Hausa press #2 and so on.

I press #1.

If you are calling about your mobile line press #1 or your fixed line press #2.

I press #2.

If you cannot make calls press #1, if you cannot reach the internet press #2.

I press #2.

Then I am forced to go through a whole host of reasons why I may not be getting to the internet before I am allowed to press #0 to speak to a customer service representative.

That would be all well and good if you got a representative quickly enough but usually, you hear the dreaded words “the transfer failed” and you’re sent back to the main page that might actually happen two or three times before you get someone live. Or you get dead silence or a beep-beep-beep which means you’ve been disconnected.

Then if/when you get a customer service representative and they listen to your complaints you feel instantly condescended to…. Oh I am so sorry Barbara Zigah that you are having difficulty accessing the internet or I am so sorry Barbara Zigah that you have no dial tone and cannot get online. They parrot you word for frigging word. Next time I call I will tell them my name is Asshole Customer and that I am being screwed by Vodafone just so that I can hear them say, “I am so sorry Asshole Customer that you are being screwed by Vodafone.” At least that will feel good and give me a laugh.

More recently, Vodafone has changed their customer care prompts so that just before you are in the queue to speak to a customer service rep you are encouraged to “hang up and send us an SMS with detailed information and a customer care rep will get back to you promptly.” As if – that’s just another way for them to ignore my complaints.

So going back to the May problem I made several visits to the Vodafone office in Tema. The first time I went on a Thursday, and they were having problems in the office so that they couldn’t even register my complaints online – the representative was writing the information down on a pad of paper and promising that they’d look into it. The young lady Susan said if I didn’t hear anything I should come back on Sunday. Still nothing by that Sunday but I returned on Monday and asked for her. As it turned out she was the assistant manager at the Tema office and she was surprised to hear that we still had no internet access. Right then and there she contacted the head broadband engineer (Honorable Dan) from the office and he came and sat with me and asked tons of questions. He wanted to know how long it would take for me to get home and I said 15 minutes; he promised that he would work on it and let me know or even come to my house himself later that day.

Wouldn’t you know it within 2-hours I had internet.

That lasted for about a month or so and then we inexplicably lost service again and got it back after only about three days after a tech finally came to the house. He checked the phone line, heard a crackle and thought perhaps we needed a new splitter. But of course this is Ghana and a new splitter isn’t something he carries around so we had to have someone take a taxi to community 1 to buy a new splitter, then wait for this guy to return to replace it later in the day. He came back, put the new splitter in, listened to the dial tone (still crackling but he disregarded it), did some things on the computer, made some phone calls and we got the phone line and internet service back. And at that point we were leaving for vacation so it didn’t matter.

Coming home the crap started up pretty much right away. We had no internet access; troubleshooting on the laptop which runs Windows 7 indicated that we had no access to the remote server meaning it was Vodafone’s problem and not ours.

I contacted Vodafone yet again, and was told it was a broader problem in the area. So I walked the 200 feet to the nearest internet café and asked if they had Vodafone and if they had broadband. Yes to both questions. Yeah, “broader problem in the area” my ass.

I continued to call on my cell phone and lodge complaints regularly. Finally, I got one guy who came to the house; I told him we had no dial tone and no ADSL light and no broadband. He picked up the phone’s handset and confirmed it. Looked at the phone wires from the house to the pole and went back out to his truck, pulled out his ladder and climbed up the pole. Ah, the phone line was shit. I could have told him that and I’m pretty sure I did tell him that, as well as the other techs who had been to the house and the customer service people in the Tema office. Who listens to me? What do I know?

So the actual pole to the house phone line was replaced and we instantly got back our dial tone and our ADSL light. In fact, it was an enlightening experience with that particular phone tech who seemed to be among the few with some integrity. He told me that calling customer care was useless as they really did not care and that he had heard the same complaint from nearly every customer he visited. I was so happy I tipped the guy 10 cedis and got his phone number.

About six weeks ago we had trouble again with the internet and calling customer service was useless as usual. My phone guy friend couldn’t help me (as I mentioned he does have integrity, unfortunately, and suggested that I must go through the proper channels first) but did point out that there was a major problem in the area which was being worked on and he expected it to be fixed within a day or two. And it was.

But then this Thursday some time after 2:00 am, we lost internet service again. I know because I had been up to check Alex’s sugar at 2:00 am and got online to check emails since my tablet is right on my headboard. But by 5:00 am the internet was down. At 6:15 am I called Vodafone from our landline phone which had a dial tone amazingly enough, and reported the outage.

By 10:00 am I had no dial tone anymore, and still no internet service. A call to customer care at 5:00 pm assured me that the complaint was reported. Next morning, Friday, still zilch, and another phone call and another promise. Rinse lather and repeat for Friday night.

Saturday morning (just a while ago) nothing again. This time I hand the phone to Sly to call and he has got his dander up as it’s not been a good morning here (busted pipe but that’s another issue entirely). He gets Leticia on the phone who instantly wants to give him the brush off because he first talks about internet service – she’s the fixed line customer care rep and doesn’t care about internet service but he quickly interjects about the phone having no dial tone. She rudely puts him on hold for about 10 minutes and then disconnects him. (It’s at this point I decide to come out of hiatus with this post.)

He calls back and gets someone else on the phone, complains about Leticia and then calmly explains the problem. Within an hour we have broadband – no dial tone but broadband. It’s a start, right?

Sadly, it will only get worse.

Vodafone decided late last year to cap internet service to residential customers. It used to be unlimited, but they decided that some bad apples were hogging up all of the bandwidth and so to be “fair” to every broadband customer they’d just punish us all with the cap. For 65 cedis a month we are entitles to 15 gigabytes of data. Generous, huh? And just in case you were wondering, no it was not us hogging up all the bandwidth; apparently some internet cafés had signed up for the residential package but were using it for their business.

Weird way to be fair, I think.

And there’s nothing you can do about it because Vodafone is a monopoly. You can complain to the NCA if you want, but they’re not going to do anything. A few very angry individuals created Facebook pages to protest the cap and they have been orchestrating and coordinating efforts to use popular opinion to appeal the cap.

I personally doubt it will work. Vodafone Ghana is doing all within their powers to become our colonial master.  For all intents and purposes, Vodafone is by any definition or stretch of the imagination, a monopoly. They control all fixed phone lines and all fixed line broadband in the country. They can and do do whatever they want. Vodafone’s catch phrase “Power to You” is nothing but a slap in the face.

In truth, we are powerless.


3 comments:

  1. thank you for posting this.My sentiments exactly

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  2. Oh dear - things are really not getting better despite the advocacy pressure we try our best to extend to our colleagues and other politicians - they individually and collectively simply will not listen to reason - too many individuals in power make selfish decisions on their own with no regard to the next person. I have always said a politician is a public servant who makes the way for all others in the community at large to slumber, work and play in peace and harmony. If only they would get a grip and hold this truth. Morality and integrity should be their breast plate. Individuals could be do well to embrace morality and integrity on a daily basis. i lose hope.

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  3. Too true, glad I'm not the only one who's noticed this bs from Vodafone, it's a shame too because they almost always provided reliable phone/internet services in the uk, but i guess this is a Land of Lawlessness.

    Thanks for typing out this article Barbara.

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