This unexpected surprise was a happy birthday sms. For the eight or so years that I have been a customer of Vodacom, this was the first time that the company has ever wished me a happy birthday. Was I impressed, happy and proud to have this corporate giant send me their good wishes on this day? In all frankness the answer is NO.
Now before you lambast me for being an egoistic ingrate who ought to be more appreciative of a good gesture and a kind word, please bear in mind a couple of things. The first one is that this sms is a standard one that was probably sent to thousands of other subscribers on that day. The sender was probably some automated computer program and besides entering my name and details onto the system, there is little chance that there was any other human element involved in dispatching this communiqué. Asking me to be all smiley and touched by a message sent through a piece of technology is really asking for too much.
Many by now are aware of the ongoing court battle in which Nkosana Makate is suing Vodacom for a slice of the mammoth earnings that the cellular giant has earned through over the years via the Please Call Me service. Makate says that he invented the service in 2000 when he was still a Vodacom employee. Vodacom insists that the idea was the brainchild of Mr Alan Knott-Craig, the current CEO of rival company, Cell C and the man who at that time was their CEO. While it is the job of the courts and not mine to decide who is the rightful brains behind the Please Call Me concept, there is something in this case that has exposed Vodacom as an arrogant bully with little appreciation for those that put them where they are. They admit that even if it is proven that Makate is right, they will not part with a single cent. The message there is clear: If you are our employee and you do something extra to your normal call of duty, we will not value that effort and will not be willing to recognise or reward that effort.
As a consumer, I have often pondered as to whether Vodacom and its cronies, (the likes of MTN and Cell C) actually give a goose’s beak about us, the people who contribute towards their bulging coffers. The high tariffs we pay for calls, data and smses do not seem to correspond with the high incidence of dropped calls, irregular network coverage and slow internet connections. The special deals such as the free extra data “Night Owl” promotions are designed to discourage us from utilising them. Not many will sacrifice their much needed sleep to remain awake from 12 midnight until 5am as a way of benefiting from the promotion. Talk of the Power Hour promotion (free one hour call) and nightmares of massive network congestion crop up. New contract plans such as the Vodacom Smart Light package are presented as affordable contract deals, when in fact they are guaranteed cash gobblers.
Unfortunately, as long as the South African government does not give the country’s communications regulator, Icasa, more power to force these cellphone companies to lower their rates, we will continue to pay through the nose for services that are very affordable in other countries. As long as consumers do not engage in some meaningful consumer boycott or other form of resistance, the Vodacoms and MTNs of this world will continue to give us poor and expensive service. South Africa will continue to be ranked 36 out of 40 countries in Africa in terms of cellular service affordability. As for me, as long as this daylight robbery continues, Vodacom shall excuse me for not being too particularly thrilled at receiving their birthday wishes.