Vodafone has been my mobile phone service provider for almost 13 years. It has not always been a smooth relationship, but I have never felt the need to shift to another service provider. Until recently.
It all began with my recent trip to Uzbekistan. This was a 10-day long trip and while I could have lived without a phone during that period, I knew that I would have to connect with my mother at least once a day by phone. They weren’t to be long chats, but just a quick hello to re-assure her that I was fine, and for me to know that she was fine as well.
I knew from prior research that all the hotels I would be staying in had WiFi and while I could use that to access the internet, they were not supportive of WhatsApp or Viber calls. My mother is not text savvy, so I could only stay in touch with her via phone calls.
Ideally, I should have used a local number for that. But my smartphone has a micro-SIM and it is a pain to remove it and put it on. Just the thought of changing the SIM was enough to make me decide on using my regular number with an international roaming pack provided by Vodafone. My brother, who is also a Vodafone customer, had used their international roaming packs and was quite happy with it.
Unfortunately, my experience turned out to be radically opposite to his. It turned out to be a saga of misleading information, lies and obfuscation from the moment I contacted Vodafone at around 11 am on the eve of my departure to Uzbekistan. The very “Happy To Help” Vodafone extended their customer service support in a way that didn’t do what they promise in the picture below.
Presenting the entire experience in the form of a timeline.
I call the Vodafone helpline and ask for information and assistance in international roaming facilities in Uzbekistan. The helpline executive does not know where Uzbekistan is and I do my best to explain its geographical location vis-a-vis India, over the phone. 😳 The executive then takes me through the packs that will best work for me. First, a Rs.149/- pack to enable international roaming, and second, a 10-day Rs.599/- international roaming pack with which I could make and receive calls at discounted rates.
I agree and I’m told how to activate the packs by sending a simple text message. I activate the Rs.149/- pack immediately and get a confirmation for the same.
Shortly after midnight and before boarding my flight from Delhi to Tashkent, I send a text message, as instructed earlier by Vodafone, to activate the 10-day, Rs.599/- international roaming pack, and get a confirmation message for the same from them.
Three hours later I’m in Tashkent and pleased to find that network is available. I text a message to mother about my safe arrival, and once I reach Nukus, my first halt in Uzbekistan, I make a short call to my mother to let her know that I’m fine. I also reassure her that I will be calling her at night every day.
It is a day of travel for me: from Bukhara to Shakhrisabz to Samarkand. While idly checking my phone during lunch at Shakhrisabz, I notice that the network is missing. I assume that I am in a no signal zone and don’t think too much of it. When I reach Samarkand and check my phone again, I find that the network signal is still missing. That’s when I get an inkling that something might be wrong.
I use the hotel’s WiFi to send a message via FB to my brother. He checks with Vodafone and messages back that (i) the Rs.599/- package I had been offered was not valid for Uzbekistan, and therefore, never got activated; (ii) I am being charged hefty rates for the brief calls I make or receive; and (iii) I have crossed the credit limit of Rs.9000/- set by Vodafone, and that’s the reason they have barred usage. He also tells me that he has paid Rs.2000/- to Vodafone, so that my phone gets activated.
To say I am furious is a bit of an understatement, but there is nothing that I can do from so many miles away. I decide to take up the issue with Vodafone on a priority basis once I’m back in Mumbai..
In spite of my brother having paid Rs.2000/- my phone remains without network. I remove the SIM card, switch it off and on, but nothing changes.
My phone continues to display the “No Service” message through the day. But that evening, when I arrive in Tashkent from Samarkand and switch on the phone, I’m surprised to get a signal. My phone is working ! But I don’t use it; instead, I send a message via Facebook using the hotel’s WiFi to let my brother know that the phone is functional.
I am bombarded with phone calls from an Indian number, which I do not accept. I later get to know that it is a Vodafone number.
Calls from the Vodafone number keep coming and I continue to ignore them. I arrive in Delhi shortly before midnight and start using the phone.
Back in Mumbai. I’m too tired deal with Vodafone and decide to take up the issue once I have settled.
I make repeated calls to Vodafone Customer Care via the helpline. Each time, I have to repeat the entire series of events to a new person, hear sympathetic noises and how sorry they are for my inconvenience, and am given differing and contradictory information. One executive said that the Rs.599 pack was activated only on 23 October, another said that it was never activated as Uzbekistan is not covered by this plan ! My requests to speak with someone senior is ignored.
Fed up, I take to Twitter. Here are some screen shots of the ‘tweetversation’ I had with Vodafone.
There is no response or calls from Vodafone and I decide to take the chance and call them up once again. I am lucky to get a customer care executive who actually listens to me. Really listens to me. It is a long call and after some back and forth and some checking, and some insistence on my part I get to speak to the Floor Manager, Sagar Dikshit.
Once again, I narrate the whole story. Sagar listens and admits that there is a problem. He requests me to wait till my bill is generated (on the 12th of that month and 5 days away) and then sort it out in the case of any disputes. He tells me that when I call, I should specifically ask for him or leave a message for him if he is unavailable. He would then call me.
Stupid me, I believe him.
I get the monthly statement and find that I have been billed for Rs.12,219/-. I also notice that I have been charged for the Rs.599 pack.
I call the Vodafone helpline and the whole process starts all over again. In spite of my referring to the conversation I had with Sagar Dikshit, I am told that I cannot talk with him that day. The helpline executive says that he will put in my request to talk with Sagar in the system.
No calls from Sagar or anybody else from Vodafone. Instead, automated calls from Vodafone begins asking me to pay up, or else… After 2-3 such calls, I start ignoring them. In the meantime I get a direct message from Vodafone.
Vodafone bars outgoing calls and text messages on my phone; incoming calls and texts are, however, allowed. I call up Vodafone customer care once again and go through the whole story and am assured that someone will call me in the next 24 hours.
I wait till evening to get a call from Vodafone. When I call Vodafone and remind them of the call they were supposed make based on my request, the helpline executive says that there is no such request registered with them !!!
I am shocked and ask to speak with the Floor Manager immediately. After a long wait, the call is transferred to one Abhijit, who has the distinction of being the rudest customer care executive I have interacted with. Abhijit is uninterested in what I have to say and tells me to pay up first and then talk if I want the issue resolved before disconnecting the phone.
I decide not to contact Vodafone again and instead prepare to file a complaint of cheating in the Consumer Court.
Out of the blue, I get a call from Vodafone from someone called Zaheer. He is polite and says that he is be handling my complaint. He quickly goes through the issue and says the recordings of the conversations I had on the 16th will be checked and then revert to me.
I don’t believe him.
I get a call from Zaheer saying that there was indeed a mistake on their part and they have reversed charges worth Rs.8,816 and that I now have to pay only Rs.3,403. And also that Vodafone was very sorry for the inconvenience caused.
I don’t say anything, except for asking when the phone connection will be restored. Zaheer says 3 hours, though it is restored almost immediately.
Thereafter, I get calls from 3 different people from Vodafone asking if my issue is resolved and if they can do anything for me. Yes, I say. I want to know what happened and why it happened. I’m sorry, they say, we cannot share what happened, but that action was being taken against those who gave wrong information. That is all they are willing to say.
With the issue “resolved”, and my connection restored, I paid the bill last week. And yet, my anger towards Vodafone has not subsided for two reasons. First, they have not offered any explanation for what happened, and second, there has been no word of apology from them. And that is what got me to write this post, and the fact they said that they’d love to hear from me.
After days of not responding or sending me meaningless tweets, Vodafone sent this one after my connection got restored.
Dear Vodafone, I believe in returning favours. Just as you are “happy to help”, I’m happy to give my feedback. 🙂