Sup­pli­ers such as #Telkom shouldn’t be mak­ing it im­pos­si­ble to can­cel a ser­vice

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STUCK in an un­happy re­la­tion­ship? Well, if it’s no longer con­ve­nient and it’s with a ser­vice provider, you don’t need to suf­fer un­til the con­tract has ex­pired. But some con­tracts ap­pear to be vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble to shed, in vi­o­la­tion of the Con­sumer Pro­tec­tion Act (CPA).

Telkom comes un­der a lot of flak for its poor ser­vice.

The call cen­tre has been de­scribed as a waste of time; the walk-in out­lets point­less to sort out billing is­sues; and the on­line can­cel­la­tion process ei­ther in­ef­fec­tual or im­pos­si­ble to nav­i­gate.

In the­ory, it should be a sim­ple mat­ter of log­ging on to Telkom’s web­site, en­ter­ing “can­cel­la­tion” into the search field, which pulls up a page list­ing op­tion to can­cel your ser­vice, whether for busi­ness or do­mes­tic ser­vices.

The page also boasts a link to: “It’s quicker on­line: Three easy steps to can­cel a ser­vice” – but that sim­ply ren­ders a PDF that guides you through the process.

If you’ve had suc­cess in can­celling your ser­vice, you are one of the lucky ones, be­cause, judg­ing by the com­plaints I re­ceived, it’s nigh im­pos­si­ble.

Read­ers have mailed me in their hun­dreds to com­plain that they are still be­ing deb­ited months – some for more than a year – after con­clud­ing the can­cel­la­tion process.

And yet in July, when I in­ter­viewed their new head of cus­tomer ser­vices, I re­ported Telkom was on the up, as a re­sult of chief ex­ec­u­tive Sipho Maseko’s turn­around strat­egy.

In 2012, At­tila Vi­tai, an ex­pe­ri­enced in­dus­try vet­eran, who had worked at Mo­torola and Voda­fone in Europe, joined the com­pany as head of cus­tomer ser­vice.

He drove mas­sive im­prove­ments in the mo­bile seg­ment and sev­eral suc­cess­ful cam­paigns, but after re­tir­ing, Ser­ame Taukobong took over.

Taukobong also has ex­ten­sive ex­pe­ri­ence in mo­bile telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions, hav­ing spent 13 years at MTN, which in­cluded stints in Ghana and Uganda.

The new man in charge would fo­cus on im­prov­ing their ser­vice of­fer­ing, say­ing “ser­vice is the new sell­ing.

“We need to con­vince peo­ple that the new world of Telkom is worth stay­ing in. Price is price, but when peo­ple are served well, you can serve them more by sell­ing more. If you go to a restau­rant and the ser­vice is bad, you’re not go­ing to buy more. But if you get the ser­vice right, peo­ple will con­sider you”.

He also said there were big prob­lems – one of the big­gest was the lack of com­mu­ni­ca­tion with cus­tomers.

He said they had seen a spike in com­plaints, so he put a ded­i­cated team in charge to re­solve the is­sues.

“We’re not just leav­ing it at the call cen­tre. The front-end stores, IT, back-end di­vi­sions, re­pairs, etc: I am the ded­i­cated ex­ec­u­tive in charge of all queries.”

The plan was to set up ser­vice hubs, give call cen­tre bet­ter ac­cess and train­ing to the sys­tem, so they could re­solve is­sues, beef up the “so­cial” teams on Twit­ter and Face­book, and stop play­ing “catch-up” with com­plaints. A task force was sup­posed to be put in place by the end of Au­gust.

Why then, have the com­plaints not stopped? Why does it seem so im­pos­si­ble to ac­tion a can­cel­la­tion or get billing right?

I con­tacted Telkom last week to dis­cuss this but there was no re­sponse. So much for im­proved com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

EX­PERT VIEWS:

So I spoke to CPA ex­pert Trudie Broek­mann, and Ouma Ra­maru, the spokes­woman of the Con­sumer Goods and Ser­vice Om­buds­man.

Ra­maru said their of­fice had re­ceived many com­plaints about Telkom’s can­cel­la­tions and billing, but they have re­ferred them to the Na­tional Con­sumer Com­mis­sion be­cause they do not deal with Telkom com­plaints at present.

“Ob­vi­ously, Telkom is con­tra­ven­ing the (CPA) act in this re­gard, be­cause the act gives pro­vi­sion for can­cel­la­tion on fixed-term con­tracts. If the con­sumer has fol­lowed all the cor­rect pro­cesses to re­quest can­cel­la­tion, I do not see the rea­son why the sup­plier (is) drag­ging the process and keep(s) on deb­it­ing the cus­tomer.”

Broek­mann clar­i­fied the CPA po­si­tion: if you have a fixed-term con­tract with Telkom (for ex­am­ple, a two-year ADSL con­tract, and a land­line), and the con­tract is not in the name of a le­gal en­tity, you have a right to can­cel in terms of Sec­tion 14, which states: “the con­sumer may can­cel that agree­ment upon the ex­piry of its fixed term, with­out penalty or charge… or at any other time, by giv­ing the sup­plier 20 busi­ness days’ no­tice in writ­ing or other recorded man­ner and form.”

That means if, at any point in your con­tract with any sup­plier, you may can­cel by giv­ing 20 busi­ness days’ no­tice. “Con­sumers have this can­cel­la­tion right, de­spite any pro­vi­sion in the fine print of the Telkom con­tract that may say you can’t can­cel or im­poses con­di­tions or re­quire­ments for can­cel­la­tion.”

Once the con­tract is can­celled, the con­sumer re­mains li­able for any money owed to the sup­plier in terms of that agree­ment up to the date of can­cel­la­tion; and the sup­plier may charge a rea­son­able can­cel­la­tion penalty with re­spect to any goods sup­plied, ser­vices pro­vided, or dis­counts granted, to the con­sumer, she ex­plained.

“So if you got a hand­set that you were pay­ing off over the two-year pe­riod, Telkom can charge you for the amount not yet paid off; and Telkom must credit the con­sumer with any amount that re­mains the prop­erty of the con­sumer as of the date of can­cel­la­tion.”

If you are a busi­ness (turnover and as­set value un­der R2 mil­lion) or your con­tract is not for a fixed term, read the fine print in your con­tract and fol­low the con­di­tions in that for can­cel­la­tion.

Broek­mann fur­ther says can­cel­la­tion is a le­gal act that does not re­quire any con­sent or ac­cep­tance from Telkom to be legally ef­fec­tive.

“As from the can­cel­la­tion date, no fur­ther fees can be charged by Telkom, and if they do deduct money, for ex­am­ple by way of debit or­der, go to your bank with a copy of your can­cel­la­tion no­tice and get the pay­ment re­versed.”

Re­mem­ber to re­verse those debit or­ders timeously – at least within 40 days.

Broek­mann sug­gests mail­ing natcc@telkom.co.za (Telkom gave out this email after com­plaints about their sys­tem not al­low­ing can­cel­la­tions) or any other Telkom email ad­dress to some­one in a man­age­rial role at the com­pany, and tak­ing a print-out to the bank.

And if there’s a neg­a­tive list­ing at the credit bureau, you can do the same by send­ing proof to the bureau, so they can re­move the list­ing.

Catch Ge­orgie’s Con­sumer Corner ev­ery Thurs­day after 7pm on Open News on chan­nel 120 on Open View. Stream­ing for a limited pe­riod on YouTube.

Ser­ame Taukobong

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