A vital part of any business venture is customer care, also referred to in various circles as after-sales support. The idea is that almost anyone can sell a product and then take the next bus out of town. Customer support can make a world of a difference in the operations of any organisation, especially telecoms operations.

In this saddening in this light to observe that a significant number of GSM operators in Nigeria only pay lip service to customer support. This is more of a problem as we see a shift from plain voice to mobile data. I’ll shed more light on how I arrived at this conclusion.

Scene 1: Kingsley purchases a GPRS-smartphone for use on the GloMobile network. He subscribes for full internet service so he can browse the Web and access emails on his smartphone. But he is told by Customer Care that the only way he can browse the Web is to use his phone as a modem with a laptop! Amused, Kingsley takes his laptop to them as requested, and they were not able to configure it and get it to work with their GPRS service.

Scene 2: Yomi has signed up for full internet access via GPRS on the same network. He has put in all settings, yet the service does not work. From the error message his Sony Ericsson P800 is giving (Service not activated), it is clear that GloMobile is yet to do something at their end. After weeks of calling customer care, he is finally asked to come over to their office half-way across the city of Lagos from his location.

Insisting that the trip was not necessary to resolve the issue, he is told that was the only thing to do. Yomi drives down, and after customer care has taken a look at the settings on his phone, they comment that everything was in order and then take a look at their systems. They discover that they had not activated the poor fellow’s line on the “switch”. Another unnecessary and wasteful trip.

Yomi soon upgrades his handset to the Nokia 9500, which is in effect a laptop that fits into your palm. Speaking with Customer care once, he is asked what laptop he uses. He replies that he just uses his Communicator to browse, manage email, and run Instant messaging, and is shocked when the representative on the line responds in amazement how that was possible.

Scene 3: A young lady takes a handset to the nearest MTN Friendship Centre to have it configured for WAP. She is told that the server was down and so the handset could not be configured. In less than an hour she narrates the story to a friend, who promptly takes the handset, inputs the settings and starts browsing with it. Whether or not the server was actually down had nothing to do with configuring WAP on a phone, and Custmer Care did not know that.

Scene 4: Wale calls Customer Care on Vmobile to enquire whether it was true that the network now had a GPRS service. The representative replies in the affirmative and proceeds to tell Wale to send a specified text to a dedicated number to receive the service configuration OTA (Over-the-air). Wale sends the text and is surprised to discover that the settings sent to him are for plain old Circuit-switched data, a slow dial-up protocol. Till the time of writing this article, Vmobile is yet to launch GPRS on its network.

Scene 5: DK purchases one of the newer Sendo phones for use on GloMobile. Customer Care informs him that the handset cannot work on its network (we have been wondering why, since it was not locked to another network and was both WAP and GPRS-enabled). DK visits http://www.gosmartmobile.com where he finds WAP settings for his network. He puts in the settings, makes some adjustments on my recommendation – and months after he is still browsing.

Okay. Enough examples. All scenarios above are real events. I made none up. Of course, there are more, but what’s the use going on and on?

The question on my mind is, How much training do Customer Care representatives get? Did these guys apply for those jobs just to put some money in their pockets every month or do they really have an interest in what they do?

I may not have the answers straight up, but I do know that what we observe in subscribers’ interaction with Customer Care officers on our networks leaves much to be desired. These operators should stop caring about us in word alone. They may need to cut down on those ad budgets and put more funds in ensuring that the customer gets the kind of support he deserves.

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