Entertaining a telesales pitch could backfire

2015-09-22 09:21
Lyse Comins

Lyse Comins (File)

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WHEN Viona Naidoo entertained a telesales pitch that apparently promised her monthly savings on her multiple cellphone contracts, she had no idea that accepting the deal would be the start of a long drawn out battle with Vodacom.

Naidoo, who has eight contracts with Vodacom for which she was paying between R100 and R150 a month, said the agent told her Vodacom was offering customers “value for money” contracts that offered additional airtime.

“I was told Vodacom has a promotion where, if for example, I was paying R300 and only getting R100 airtime, I will now get R300 airtime. I kept asking her if there were any extra charges and she said no,” Naidoo said.

But after accepting the deal last September, Naidoo’s monthly bills went up, not down, and months of frustration followed. Her bill rocketed from R1 200 to almost R3 000 a month.

Naidoo, a customer of the network for 13 years, said she would not have agreed to the contracts if she had known it would cost more. She lodged a dispute with Vodacom, which she said had at the same time “hard-locked” her cellphone numbers so that she couldn’t use them.

“I got put from department to department and still no joy. I went into the store [in Liberty Midlands Mall] and spoke to the manager and she managed to get a little further,” she said.

Naidoo said the manager told her Vodacom staff had listened to the call recording and credits had been passed on her account. But these could not be allocated because her numbers had been “deleted on the system”.

However, Naidoo was not impressed when Vodacom declined to provide her with the call recordings and she was unhappy to pay for services that had been blocked until her complaint had been resolved.

“My bill is standing at R6 500, which they are insisting I pay before anything further can be done. I am at my wits’ end,” Naidoo said.

Naidoo said she would have cancelled three contracts that were due to expire but she was unable to do so due to the dispute. “I don’t see why I should be liable when I could have cancelled them. And my phones were blocked, so why should I pay for the sims? I told them from the beginning, I’ve never defaulted and I was going to pay if they sorted the account out,” Naidoo said.

I asked Vodacom to investigate her complaint.

Vodacom spokesperson Richard Boorman, who has since left the network, said he had listened to the call recording and did not believe there had been a “deliberate attempt to mislead” Naidoo. “The consultant repeatedly states ‘your airtime will be X and your new subscription will be Y’ for the various contracts,” Boorman said.

“Ms Naidoo did ask whether there were any additional charges and the consultant explained how the Top-Up packages work. The consultant did not confirm there would be no extra charges,” he said. However, Boorman said to err on the side of caution, Vodacom had reversed the contract changes and refunded R2 911,57 — the price difference between the old and new and contracts. He added that a further credit of R453,51 was due to her.

Boorman said a balance of R6 228,61 had accumulated on the account because Naidoo had withheld payment.

In the end Vodacom handed her account over to its legal department, raising concerns about the potential impact on her credit record.

Naidoo, determined to take the matter further on the principle that she had been charged for a service she could not access, is now escalating her complaint to the National Consumer Commission (NCC).

What’s most frustrating for Naidoo is that she had no problems with her accounts until she entertained that telesales call and agreed to the dud promotion.

I’ve made it a policy not to engage with cellphone network telesales agents, and I might add, those direct marketers who peddle overpriced cosmetics in shopping centres, about which I have also received complaints.

The moral of the story: If you need to shop around for a deal, do so in your time, on your terms, without anyone putting pressure on you to chase a commission. Also, withholding payment in a principled protest is not advisable as it usually only adds to the problem.

Consumers can lodge complaints with the NCC by e-mailing complaints@thencc.org.za or e-mail me at consumer@3i.co.za

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