Every industry has its blind spots; entrenched practices which are morally indefensible but seldom questioned.
It is not uncommon for a car dealership, for example, to have a “brand new” car which has been bumped or scraped before sale repaired, and then failed to disclose this to the buyer.
The cellphone industry has a lot of blind spots. Pre-paid airtime and data which “expires” after a month or two, for example, and charging people a considerable “admin fee” when they “upgrade” – in other words, sign a new two-year contract – as a penalty for loyalty. And then there is forcing subscribers to forfeit the minutes they have accumulated during their contract period, should they choose to migrate to a cheaper contract or to pre-paid – on the same network.
Longstanding MTN subscriber Gavin Fowler was outraged when that happened to him recently. With his MTN 350 Anytime contract expiring at the end of November, he decided to commit to another MTN package – the MTN Choice 100.
But the network refused to transfer his R2000 accumulated airtime.
“I have been told in no uncertain terms that this airtime will be ‘lost’,” he told In Your Corner. “I asked them if the scenario was reversed, and I owed them R2000 when I took out a new contract, would that debt similarly be ‘lost’?” Good question, and we all know the answer.
“I have been with MTN for more than 15 years, but this take-it-or-leave-it attitude and unreturned calls make me wonder why I have been a loyal customer for so long,” Fowler said.
I asked MTN: “What is the justification for forcing subscribers who are choosing to contract with the network for a further two years to forfeit the airtime accrued during their existing contract?
“Naturally this leaves them feeling cheated.”
Responding, MTN SA’s Eddie Moyce said the issue was Fowler had “opted for a lower package” instead of an upgrade when his contract was up for renewal.
In other words, because his monthly spend was going to be less than before, he was being made to forfeit the airtime he had accumulated – and paid for – on his previous contract.
How anyone sitting around a boardroom table thought that a justifiable “business rule” is a mystery to me.
But here is the good news: Fowler e-mailed me to say that MTN had “done a complete turnaround”.
“After two weeks of not budging on their decision, they have decided to carry over my airtime,” he said.
Here is how Moyce put it: “MTN made an exception in this case and made a decision that was in favour of the customer, considering the amounts involved.
“As part of our ongoing efforts at providing a distinct customer experience to our customers, MTN will be amending its rules to make provision for customers to carry over balances when they do upgrades and migrations, and this will even cover migration from pre-paid to post-paid.”
The other networks also have policies which will see you forfeit accumulated airtime and data when you sign up for different deals within that network.
They, too, would do well to reconsider, in the interests of treating customers fairly.
Meanwhile, if you are about to sign a cellphone contract, take a few minutes to find out what the terms and conditions state about accumulated airtime and data.
The leaders of the pack
Packaging is a science and an art and has a huge influence on consumer choices.
Last week in Johannesburg, the industry paid tribute to packs that have done the industry proud.
The Institute of Packaging SA’s Gold Pack Awards – the industry’s “Oscars” – are handed out every two years, rewarding pack design and technology in seven categories.
Gold medal winners ranged from Smirnoff Vodka’s dramatic “night sky blue” bottle (entrant: Glass Decorations) and Woolworths’ clever on-the-go Hey Brew coffee cup with a non-spill fixed lid (Fairfield Dairy) to a nifty cardboard box for Chateaux Gateaux cakes (Wave Paper), cardboard “boat trays” for ZZ2 tomatoes (Mpact Corrugated, Gauteng), Castle Lite’s Ice-Core cooler-pack and the Omo Handwash range of rigid plastic bottles.
Unilever’s red bottle ticks a number of boxes, being much more user friendly than its powder in flexible plastic packs, and fully recyclable.
The overall winner was Bowler Plastics’ digital laminates, allowing small start-ups to produce cosmetic products in plastic tubes with high quality graphics for the first time.