Tough time trying to take Telkom to task

Telkom gets a big F for customer service. In addition, Jocelyn Newmarch, the account executive for their outsourced public relations consultancy, Edelman, and Nomalungelo Faku from the parastatal’s group communication and public relations division, are grandmasters at spin doctoring.

This after I had mixed results trying to resolve complaints from Telkom customers.

William Boltman, 77, battled to cancel his Telkom ADSL and telephone service from February.

“I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve contacted customer services and after waiting 40 minutes they say my query will be escalated. Now they say the old system of cancelling services has been discontinued and I must do it online. Originally, I filled in a form and emailed it to Telkom. Is this not online? I am most reluctant to do it as I have a reference number which is recorded and I fear that I will be back to square one. It’s like playing Monopoly; go to jail but do not collect R200, as they are still billing me every month. I’m sure that they will say I must pay the outstanding amount before they can cancel,” the Milnerton resident said.

“I don’t see why I should accept the failings of another dysfunctional SOE (state-owned enterprise), but my wallet is not a bottomless pit.”

It took weeks of me prodding Telkom, via their media centre and Edelman, before Mr Boltman received some good news on July 18.

“At long last my problem with Telkom has been resolved. One letter from Off My Trolley and Telkom’s response was nothing short of miraculous. It’s sad that one has to resort to the media before our bloated SOEs resolve a simple problem. I had visions of being black-listed through no fault of my own. I even have a small credit due to me. Many thanks,” Mr Boltman said.

Imraan George had been having a dispute with Telkom since February when the parastatal offered him an upgrade to fibre at his business; then he asked if he could upgrade to fibre at his Rondebosch East home. The area didn’t support fibre but the consultant said he could upgrade to a 20mbps line instead, which Mr George accepted.

However, “the line at home was very slow”.

When he called Telkom he was told the maximum speed for the area was 16mbps and they only offer 10 and 20mbps packages.

Mr George checked his Telkom bill and found that he was being charged an additional R1 000 for a 20mbps line that he didn’t have. Wayne, the manager of the billing department, promised him a credit for four months which didn’t happen. That’s when Mr George asked me to help.

Once a week Telkom updated Mr George about the lack of progress and how they were still waiting for their IT guys.

Finally, on July 23, Mr George said his billing query had been resolved and this was confirmed by Ms Newmarch, who added, “Mr George was cancelling his Telkom contract”. And who can blame him?

Leanne Webb of Sunnydale couldn’t get the free router when she upgraded her package with Telkom in March. She unsuccessfully tried all avenues as well as Telkom’s social pages and Hello Peter.

It is a tale of incompetence on Telkom’s part. It took nearly five months for the router to be delivered and another two days on the line with Telkom to get it installed.

Despite sending several snotty letters to Edelman and Telkom’s media division asking for an explanation of what went wrong, none was forthcoming.

While I was trying to help these customers, Telkom announced that Serame Taukobong had been appointed head of Telkom Consumer.

When I asked for Mr Taukobong’s contact details as head of customer service, Ms Newmarch told me: “I think you may have mistaken Serame Taukobong’s designation. He is the CEO of Telkom Consumer, not the head of customer services. He is available to the media on occasion, but I’m sure you understand that as the CEO of a company his time is greatly in demand and thus cannot take all requests.”

Silly me to conflate consumer with customer. But I sent her questions for Mr Taukobong: As head of the consumer division what does your job entail? Do you not interact with customers at all? If you don’t deal with customer complaints who, apart from Edelman, does at Telkom? Do you have any ideas to improve the relationship between Telkom and its customers? I also suggested to Mr Taukobong that Telkom staffers were inefficient and referred to some of the problems customers were experiencing.

There was a dead silence until I received a reply from Ms Faku.

“Telkom’s approach, on receiving customer feedback, is to communicate directly with the customer. Telkom attempts to resolve all customer complaints raised with Telkom speedily. Sometimes the nature of the complaint and level of investigation required to resolve it may cause some delay.

In Telkom’s responses to the media, we are always mindful to balance our desire to be responsive with our duty to protect customer information.”

Ms Faku confirmed that the answers were from Mr Taukobong.

But in an interview with Radio 702 in July, Mr Taukobong admitted there is a problem. “The key principle I am certainly bringing on board is ‘serving is the new selling’. You have to serve customers better so you can actually sell… The key thing for us is to follow the customer journey, let’s look at all the various consumer touch points, where are customers experiencing problems …,” Mr Taukobong said.

How can he do that if he is protected from customer complaints?