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What Afrihost's buyout by MTN really means for consumers

30 July 2014, 11:35

Advertised large on one of the homepage banners of Afrihost it reads “ISP of the year – We're proud to win for the 3rd year!” and rightfully so. Where else would you get access to email the CEO of the company personally? Afrihost has also been running great services at great prices and has made it their company motto to offer great customer service. Customers have been great brand ambassadors as well promoting their services to friends and clients alike resulting in a lucrative buyout from MTN.

My initial reaction to the buyout was fantastic; their hard work and adventurous campaigns have paid off and now hopefully they will have more clout to offer even better deals to the South African consumers. I myself had promoted their brand and was proud to be vindicated and to have shared this with my friends and colleagues.

My excitement however was short lived; it seems that Afrihost is set to be absorbed into the greed of the telecommunications monopoly and clients will be treated as the hapless cash cows they are meant to be.

I could come across three areas where it seems they are streamlining their business processes – I am sure there are more. While it is understandable from a business point of view, the way they have gone about it is appalling. This would be

  • putting an end to EFT transfers due not having the resources to pay for more staff

  • the end of their double data campaign

  • and last but not least, culling all their clients who have had problems paying their accounts on time

The EFT transfers it seems became a problem due to the company outgrowing its infrastructure. This probably also relates to the recent client culling. They simply do not have enough people to handle the phones and run the accounts and in their view it seems it will be too expensive to hire more. This is the official line in the CEO's auto responder.

“Please note that EFT or Electronic bank transfers are NOT a payment option. We simply cannot offer the prices we do and accept EFT payments as the amount of work needed to manage EFT payments efficiently drives up our costs dramatically. For this reason we only accept monthly debit orders or credit card payments.”

The company has been doing EFT's for years and now suddenly it is too expensive? That after growing the company to the best ISP 3 years running and selling half its shares for over a billion rand? So much for being a 21st Century internet company. EFT's put the power into the customers hands and allow them to manage their own money instead of giving over all their control and responsibility to banks and corporations who want to suck them dry. Credit Cards and Debit orders are the reason why people are up to their necks in debt in the first place. This is not about whether you can afford it or not, this is about getting rid of problems - call a spade a spade.

The Double Data campaign run by Afrihost was a truly adventurous initiative and it is great that people are offering up their own bonuses to keep the campaign running. I personally do not think it is an issue with affordability though as opposed to toeing the MTN line. Data is set to take the major share of profit for mobile operators and it is in their interest to keep it expensive so that they can milk consumers for every cent they worth. It is interesting that the MTN buyout and the announcement about the end of the double data campaign run simultaneously. For the faithful consumers who already have bought into the campaign, don't be surprised if it only continues for a short while, as was communicated to you in that heartfelt email, it is only guaranteed until the end of December. They have gotten their claws into loads of new customers and when the time comes they will make more than their money back when the customers pay standard rates.

The client culling is what really incensed me and set me off on this tangent in the first place. It seems anybody with too many bounces on their debit orders have been given a months notice with their accounts to be terminated, non-negotiable, indefinitely, forever. This is the company line:

"Please also note that Accounts that have been set for termination cannot be reversed. The ongoing costs and extra penalties levied on us by our bank for repeated failed payments means we unfortunately cannot continue to service clients whose payments are consistently returned.”

Unfortunately is probably the most hateful word in the English language. It is the politically correct way of saying: “Go to hell, we are not interested in dealing with you anymore.”

It seems somebody decided to get tough and eliminate ongoing problems by drawing the line with problem customers. While it is understandable to draw boundaries, it was a caring approach to customers that built the company to what it is today. I'm afraid that company culture is disintegrating fast. I wouldn;t be surprised of they change their logo colour from red to yellow.

These "problem" customers who are so ruthlessly discarded are the same ones who recommended their friends and peers to join Afrihost and helped build the company what it is today. I looked at this post on Hello Peter and could very much identify with the writer as I myself went through the same thing this year. Their response is cold and insulting:

She writes: “I must have been one of the very first of Afrihost's customers when they started years ago. Over the years I have been an ambassador for them and persuaded several companies and individuals to become part of the Afrihost family. I myself have several domains and other services with Afrihost.

The last few months have been a challenging in my business due to late payments from my customers and the bottom line is that the debit orders did not always go through on time but they were always settled within a few days maximum and my account is all up to date all the time. One tries to run things as best as possible in the challenging time we all have.

However I got a very harsh and ruthless email saying -

'You are hereby given notice that ALL services provided by Afrihost (whether in arrears or not) will be cancelled in 30 days. Once the 30 day notice period is over re-activation of services will not be possible, and your ClientZone account will be locked against any further signups. We are sorry that it has become necessary to end our relationship'

All I can say is wow - it has been a pleasure helping you build your company. I have served my purpose and now I am being terminated. “

Afrihost's response:

Hello jeany-za,

We apologise that our relationship has ended this way.

We do have terms and conditions pertaining to payment. We debit accounts on the 1st of every month. Those are our terms of service. If a client can't fulfil those terms, then we can't provide the service. Clients are given warnings beforehand regarding bounced payments.

We are sorry that our relationship has come to an end under these circumstances.

We wish you all the best with your business.

The Afrihost Team”

Personally I think Afrihost will continue and that these processes will work for them as it does for many others, but gone are the days of the adventurous company we knew and loved, they have been replaced by just another bloodsucking corporation sharing in the hypocritical monopoly.

Disclaimer: All articles and letters published on MyNews24 have been independently written by members of News24's community. The views of users published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24. News24 editors also reserve the right to edit or delete any and all comments received.

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