Ferial Haffajee: My great data heist - the tale of the disappearing data

Ferial Haffajee (Gallo Images / City Press / Herman Verwey)
Ferial Haffajee (Gallo Images / City Press / Herman Verwey)

AData capture! That’s all I can think happened to me last week.

I don’t know about you, but without data, I am lost. It’s my connection to work, home, family, friends, and that new place of all life forms: the WhatsApp group.

WhatsApp is where I do my community work, proper work, social work and life work.

Data is how I find out things and follow news. As a journalist, data is how people find me. It’s where I get documents and information. It’s kind of everything. At home, I have wi-fi delivered through fibre, but when I’m out and about (which is often), I need data delivered by Vodacom, my telco of choice, although I’m often not sure why. 

I love my dentist, so I can’t make the glib comparison of calling a Vodacom call-centre as being akin to a visit to his chair. I wish Vodacom was as friendly, informative, quick, erudite and customer-focused as my dentist. Going to him is relatively painless, because he makes it so; Vodacom not so much.

Calling a mobile company call-centre is a nightmare of "Press 1. Press 2. Press 3". Get cut-off. "Press 1. Press 2. Press 3." Wait to speak to an operator. Tell them your life history so they know it’s you. Get cut off. Start again. 

'We will attend to your call…'

I try to avoid this torture by doing everything online, but last week, I kept losing data. I mean lots of it. I kept thinking I was running out as it was a busy news week and I topped up. And topped up. And topped up.

The call-centre agent, after an excruciatingly long wait (call-centres always play that message saying they are experiencing unusually high call volumes and that the wait will be long) confirmed that I had sufficient data.

But I kept not being able to connect, which was awful, as it was in the middle of one or other of our vitally important commissions of inquiry into state capture.

So, I gathered courage and coffee and called Vodacom again to find out what was chowing my data. I’m not sure what your experience is but mine is that it will generally take 20 minutes or longer to speak to a human being when you call a call-centre. Before that, it’s all artificial-not-so-intelligence. 

Neither are the human beings that intelligent. Or nice. Nandi* says "What!" when I tell her my data is disappearing. I’m sure she’s heard this story before, so I try to tell her to check as it’s really disappearing. I get put on hold for 20 minutes again while she checks. 

Then I get a reference number and a "No service" signal, before the system resets and I have all my data back. All 14 GBs of it. Yes, 14 GBs, most of which will expire in an hour or two because Vodacom is not willing to postpone the deadline, even though we all know that data cannot truly expire.

Even I, a person who mainlines data, can’t get through that load, and I try explaining why.

This is an hour into the call, and I now want to take my dentist’s drill to Nandi* so she says she is referring it to "back-office" – apparently the place where the problem can properly get sorted out.

I ask how she synced the system to get me my data back, and she says she had to "refresh the network" and "sim clear".

I ask her if I can "refresh the network" and "sim clear" next time my data buggers off into the ether, but Nandi says I can’t, as it’s something only agents can do. This makes me pale with nerves, as it means I have to do this marathon torture-call every time there’s a problem.

"Back-office" calls a few days later and promises that come my billing date, they will credit all my unused data to me.

Now I know that disappearing data is a thing, but the horrors of trying to fix it with the Vodacom call-centre are a lesson in how not to do customer service.

And it makes me wonder: how many people can get through the Voda-maze to find their data?

It takes too long; the agents are disempowered and speak geek, not a language their ordinary customers can even begin to understand.

In my opinion, the fact that our data expires is a far bigger corporate heist than even VBS, but now I find that it disappears too! It’s time we do something about it. 

 *Nandi’s name has been changed. I don’t want to get her into trouble. It’s a system problem, not an individual issue.

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