Cellphone repairs and service providers

If Chatz Connect (Vodacom) in Fish Hoek had taken time to explain their policy to Amber Christians, it would have saved her a lot of stress.

The Ocean View student has an MTN contract, and she handed in her Huawei P8 2017 for repairs on April 16 when the consultant said it would take three weeks to fix. Vodacom called her mother to say the phone was ready for collection, but when she went to fetch it on April 30, the consultant, Thabo, gave her a new Galaxy S9 without checking the IMEI barcode.

“When my mother discovered she had the wrong phone, she returned it the same day. On May 21, my cousin, Ellzaan, went to the shop to ask for the phone and was told that it had not been repaired. Ryan, the consultant, gave her the repair technician’s number, who told her it would be ready by May 25. At the store, they told us the phone was on its way.

“On May 31, my godmother phoned the repair centre where Veronica said the phone was rebooked because of a new problem and that a courtesy phone would be sent as compensation for the six-week wait. I went back to Vodacom and told the manager, Nikita, to cancel the repair, and Ryan assured my godmother he would call as soon as the phone arrived by courier. But it didn’t happen,” said Ms Christians, who enlisted the aid of the Ocean View police station and the technician told a detective the phone had been delivered to Vodacom.

“The technician told the detective that to fix my battery, the LCD had to be replaced. For seven weeks, the Vodacom staff couldn’t tell me what the problem was, but they did tell the detective, although not my godmother, which proves they didn’t look at it,” Ms Christians said.

Vodacom didn’t repair the phone, so Ms Christians took it to a cellphone technician who fixed it after telling her that the LCD wasn’t the problem.

“The service was terrible; the staff were evasive; Thabo gave my mother a new Galaxy S9 without checking the serial numbers, which would have cost Vodacom R18 000 if she hadn’t returned it; they wasted my time for seven weeks, and I am outraged that a reputable service provider can treat their honest customers so poorly and get away with it,” Ms Christians said.

Vodacom’s Avasha Singh said the complainanthad erroneously booked in a phone supplied by a competitor. “We have been in contact with her and understand that the matter has been resolved,” she said. But it wasn’t.

Then Ms Christians’s cousin, Tina Beukes, weighed in.

“All they needed was to repair the phone. You can take your phone to anyone you choose. Amber chose them, and they were incompetent. It doesn’t matter if she didn’t have a Vodacom contract. She was a customer who needed help, and service was appalling. That is the issue here.”

Well, not quite.

Ouma Ramaru, of the Consumer Goods and Services Ombudsman (CGSO), said when a consumer enters into a contract with MTN it is assumed that the device which comes with a warranty is free of defect.

“If the device is defective, the consumer has a right to enforce that warranty. Vodacom did not provide the handset and are not liable for a defective device. Vodacom can, in theory, agree to repair the device but at a price.

“Further, Vodacom warrants that the quality of the repair work is of good standard. Certain devices like the Samsung and Apple come with a ‘national warranty’ meaning MTN can repair for free if it’s within warranty. This is an agreement MTN have with the manufacturer and is not a right in terms of legislation as MTN do not have an agreement with a Vodacom customer,” she said.

MTN said they would not accept the device for repairs because of the warranty.

“If the phone is taken out with MTN and the customer takes it to Vodacom or Cell C, it would void their warranty. So it is not advisable and the network would advise the customer to go to their service provider,” MTN said.

Cell C said they would consider the status of the warranty on the handset. “If the customer’s device is within warranty, they would be advised to return it to the company that sold it to them. This is because the warranty of the device is with that company. Furthermore, mobile operators have different procurement and warranty arrangements with manufacturers. Devices could also be procured from third-party suppliers, and there are different rules pertaining to those warranties.

“The second consideration is that Cell C could stock different makes and models and would not be able to repair the device if it does not stock the same make or model or even have the necessary tools and parts to perform the repairs. There are also certain Consumer Protection Act (CPA) rules (such as Out of Box Failure), which companies must adhere to when selling devices. These rules will apply to the company that sold the device to that specific customer.

“If the device is out of warranty and within Cell C’s range of models, a customer can take the device to any store for repairs. However, it would be for the owner’s cost,” said Karen Fourie, executive head of communications.