Thursday, April 28, 2016

These GSM Boys are robbing us blind

I used to work for one of the big 4 GSM companies in Nigeria and cannot help but wonder when things deteriorated this much. Generally, the top 4 guys (MTN, Airtel, Glo and Etisalat) are decent when it comes to business practices, but pressure and greed make people do things. Be the judge at the end of this and tell me if the operators are greedy thieves, complacent thieves or criminal accomplice (thieves). My options are limited to these.

In this current issue, there have been several, my old man noticed some amount is being deducted per hour on his phone, an Airtel line. Naturally I get contacted as the first line support for everything telco in the family and I called 111. The agent confirmed the deduction for a service (group-chat or group-on chat or whatever from Elseji in this case). Dear God, who needs another ridiculous chat service when WhatsApp is free? Anyway, the choice should be yours right?

Wrong. No one opted into this service and they could not see any subscription or they (customer care agent of operator) would have pointed it out. I asked for a refund and they refused. That's not the first time. Basically, the way the cookie crumbles is this:
One of the VAS partners steal from you, shares with the telco and you get a "We're sorry" from the agent.That apparently is the way business is done in these hard economic times. 

Thinking about it now, it's the third time in recent memory and it's so funny that the last time I complained, the service was deactivated and a refund request refused despite not subscribing to the service in the first place. Less than a fortnight after that, another service was stealing from the same line and then another...

In case you're wondering why this behavior is rampant, remember, people respond to incentives. I'll break it down.

A VAS (Value Added Services) company steals from a subscriber i.e. you. Let's assume it's for N10/day and it happened to take 2 days before it's deactivated. You complain, they stop. The Telco refuses to refund because, "We don't refund anymore" despite the fact you did not subscribe. They make N20 from you. Not much right?

As at March 2015, NCC puts the number of subscribers on Airtel GSM network at 149 million.

See where I'm going yet? Let's say they steal from 1.5m people, a paltry 1% of active subscribers across all telcos, let's see:

N20 X 1,500,000 = N30m in just 2 days!

Just when you're recovering, they steal from another set of subscribers, a sample of another 1% to keep the complaint threshold low and do this several times a month. Since there are 15 days in a month for this grossly underestimated figures, we're have something like:

 N30m X 15 = N450m every month!

The VAS company meets it's revenue target and smiles to the bank. Of course they share spoils with the telco whom usually charges 60% to 75% of loot. Let's say VAS company makes 40%:

40% of N450m = N180m

A few people complain, some give up trying to call customer care, many on the long queue in a shop.

A paragraph for the impact: Mama switches her phone to another operator, Papa keeps his phone off mostly and for the first time in years is considering another provider. Somewhere in the operation of the companies, a finance person makes a payout, a marketing guy gets a good grade and a fat bonus, another one is kicked out for not doing well with customer retention, the war between customer care and marketing festers, the telco sees VAS revenue jump, albeit temporarily and customer base seems to be stalling. And yes, I get to complain online again.

So what can the telcos do? 
First, they need to make refunds to show sincerity. A shortcode (*902#) was provided which we all hastily dialed with the hope it'll end the woes but apparently it was a sham.

The regulators? 
In the USA, they have the National Do Not Disturb (DND) registry; once your number is in it and you say DND, no telemarketer or any of these scums dare disturb you, not even for the damned adverts. NCC, you're dropping the ball please. A centralized DND is the solution.

The customers? 
Let's complain more. I saw this on Nairaland so this is widespread. Oh by the way, *902# does not seem to work in this case.

I have nothing against value added services and who know I may run one soon, I do have everything against unethical business practices.


Gabriel Oyinlola said...

I can't stop believing that NCC smart boy/ladies also share in the poisonous 'cake'.
GMB please help ooo, innocent Nigerians are really suffering under additional yoke of frivolous charges by telcos. An addage says 'everybody steals but only thieves get cut'.
Perhaps, EFCC should be invited in to investigate.

Kehinde Adewusi said...

Right sir, it's financial fraud after all.