Mandy Collins: Big Business Call Centre spin – Why I’m not lying down Vodacom

Customer service is the most important element of any business chain as it’s usually the first, and sometimes the last point of contact – hence the value that should be placed on it. But in the world of automation and innovation, shortcuts are the flavour of the day. And in most instances this is the right way forward, but sometimes the cheaper option may also be to the detriment of business, in this instance – customer service. Sometimes human interaction is needed and not some automated please push 1 for … or a well drafted response. Mandy Collins is going through such frustrations and below is her account of badly written scripts and spin doctoring, as Big Business, in this case Vodacom, communicated and interacted with her as a customer with a problem. – Stuart Lowman

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by Mandy Collins* 

Journey are going to be very upset with me, but I’ve stopped believin’. I’ve stopped believin’ every word that comes out of customer service and call centre people’s mouths.

Because all they can offer me is a script – a badly written script, at that. A script that’s been carefully crafted in what Gus Silber calls loophole language – language that’s designed by the company lawyers and spin doctors to pacify you and make you think you’re being helped, when in fact absolutely nothing is being done.

Ayn Rand
Mandy Collins

And I have news for you, big business – none of us is buying it. We’re not fooled at all. We’re just getting angrier and angrier and angrier. And that’s not going to work out so well for you in the long run.

The straw that has broken this camel’s back has been an ongoing issue with Vodacom. Yes, I’m talking data hassles, and it’s an issue across all the networks. However, I’ve been a loyal Vodacom customer since cell phones arrived on our shores, so my customer experience has been with them.

And in recent weeks it’s not been a good one.

It began with an unhelpful call centre agent, who insisted I’d been using data when I knew the cell signal on my iPad had been switched off. I conducted a little data experiment of my own for a month, and discovered that I started off the month with slightly less data than I pay for.

I wrote a string of polite, but firm tweets, and in response, I received a reference number for my ‘escalated’ and ‘prioritised’ query. A week later, nothing had happened.

So I wrote a blog. A fairly sarcastic blog, yes, but a very clear blog on exactly why I was so unhappy with the service I’d received. My tweets had set off a slew of responses, you see. Clearly something was very wrong at Vodacom – which some have christened Vodacon and Lord Vodamort, much to my amusement. And as I write this piece, that blog has been read 9 012 times, and the reads just keep clicking up.

The engagement I generated meant they had no choice but to respond, even though my issue was relatively small in comparison to some people’s data usage problems. I was called by Tshepo Ramodibe, who is apparently the head of Corporate Communications, and, having listened to my complaint, he sorted it out. But I got the distinct impression I was being ‘handled’. Perhaps it was his constant referring to me as ‘my lady’ that did it.

You can see his email to me in my follow-up/feedback blog – in which I asked him to answer some questions for me. Because this was about far more than my data problem. This, for me, is a fundamental problem with Vodacom’s customer service and the way the communicate with their customers.

So, on behalf of all those who had read my blog and responded, these are the questions I asked:

  1. What is a reasonable time for customers to expect to hear back from Vodacom when they log a query regarding their account?
  1. What steps are being put in place to provide a credible, reliable way to measure data usage and bill accurately?
  1. What steps are being taken to change the way Vodacom interfaces with clients that will indicate that Vodacom takes them seriously, cares about their concerns, and values their custom?
  1. What is the process now for all of the customers who do feel that their queries around sudden, mysterious data loss have been ignored by your customer service department? What specific measures are you putting in place?
  1. What recourse do customers have if they disagree with the explanation they get around their data use? I am asking for a stepwise, concrete chain of steps that consumers can take.

That was on 2 September 2015 and to date my email has not even been acknowledged by Mr Ramodibe, nor has he replied. The Vodacom twitter account thanked me for my ‘note’ and assured me they were “committed to investigating each individual’s query and delivering quality customer service.” Note how they didn’t say whether that quality would be good or bad – I’m just going to go with the latter.

And here’s the problem – whether you’re Vodacom or anyone else – people are not idiots. They know when they’re being handled; they know when you’re handing them a pile of steaming bovine faeces and pretending it’s chocolate cake.

And now, you can no longer afford to divide and conquer – to ignore us individually, and hope that we’ll go away. Because we talk to each other – in public – on Facebook and Twitter. We write blogs that people read and share, and soon, before you know it, you have a very real reputational problem on your hands.

Big business can no longer afford to treat their customers shoddily and hope they’ll get away with it. We will talk, we will talk about you, and it won’t be complimentary. It’s time to lose the spin, lose the loophole language, lose the Ts and Cs and please for the love of all that is holy, lose the cutesy hashtags.

Talk to us like we’re people. Because we are. Individually, our small contributions to your bottom line might not seem significant, but can you really afford to anger thousands of us at time?

Our needs are simple – be honest, be transparent, be authentic. Communicate – with words that have an actual meaning. Follow through. Do, don’t just promise something vague. Because words are cheap – we judge you by your actions.

And on a personal note, Vodacom, if you’re quietly ignoring me, thinking that I’ve been ‘handled’, I have news for you. This is an issue that’s in the public interest. People feel like they’re being fleeced, and I’m talking people on a grand scale.

So I’m still waiting for answer to my email to Mr Ramodibe – a public answer – and until I get it, I won’t be shutting up.

* Mandy Collins has worked as a journalist for more than two decades. She has a passion for good business writing and communication, with a particular focus on plain language use.

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