A game of broken telephone with Telkom

Albert Einstein said insanity is hitting your head against a wall and expecting a different result each time.

Hardly a day goes by without a complaint about Telkom and I advise readers to contact the public protector who will help them.

One of Telkom’s communications officers, a misnomer, told me it is against their constitution to discuss a third party’s business with the media. Which is just another way of saying “I don’t want to help”.

But when I received a letter from Fiona Doerheit of Fish Hoek about her telephone bill, which shot up to R3 524.30 from a monthly average of between R750 and R850, I thought I’d try banging my head against the Telkom wall again.

This time, I did get a result, sort of. Although it was like pulling hen’s teeth.

Ms Doerheit was horrified to see she owed R3 524.30. “I had been charged R2 627.27 for 31 minutes to a UK company through an 0800 number. I know that calls from South Africa to this Freephone number are not free so I can’t imagine how, with the infrastructure in place, Telkom can justify this charge when on the same bill two calls to the UK cost R9.76 for three minutes and 41 seconds and R7.56 for a call lasting 14 minutes and 16 seconds, respectively,” said Ms Doerheit, who visited the Telkom website, which said UK free numbers cost R31.85 a minute.

When Ms Doerheit called Telkom, they confirmed it is a free UK phone number but from South Africa it costs R84 a minute.

A 32-minute call later, Telkom said Ms Doerheit had been over-charged for the calls which should have cost R32 a minute.

“That would make it R989.89 for one call which is still an awful lot but much easier to swallow than R2 627.27. Then I got a call from a woman who said they are not reducing the cost of the call and confirmed it was R84 a minute and I was told to phone the free international number and query it with them. When they told me it had increased in February from 53c (to R84) I almost fell over but the woman couldn’t give an explanation for the high cost,” Ms Doerheit said.

When Ms Doerheit called international again she was told the call should only cost R4.46. She double-checked and they said it costs R4.46 to UK 0800 numbers. Calls to 10903 (International Directory Enquires) are free but Ms Doerheit was charged R2.93 each time she phoned.

Then Telkom, without warning, disconnected her telephone because the bill was over R3 500.

Ms Doerheit said she paid R700 to bring the account under R3 000 to get reconnected. She had to call England again and she was charged R293.37 for a 10 minute and 30 second phone call.

Telkom told Ms Doerheit she would be credited in May but it didn’t happen, nor did it happen in June. “I am not sure if it is legal but it’s certainly not ethical to increase a charge from 53c to R84 without warning. I don’t know how to get this rectified. I am at my wits’ end as multiple calls to supervisors at Telkom have achieved nothing,” Ms Doerheit said.

When I told Telkom’s head of corporate communications, Jacqui O’Sullivan, that her team had been most unco-operative in the past, she said they would investigate as they always wanted to improve their service to the public.

That’s the last I heard. Although Ms Doerheit said she had been given a credit of R1 757.40. However, there was still no word from Ms O’Sullivan and after a prompt she said key members of her team were on study leave but they would respond. They didn’t: then credit manager Zaahied Toffie told me he managed to contact Ms Doerheit and she was satisfied.

Ms Doerheit said it had been a long and frustrating battle with Telkom. “Thanks so much, I appreciate all you did, I am certain it is only because of you that they refunded me,” Ms Doerheit said.

When I asked Mr Toffie why the price of calls increased so much he said he was not allowed to talk to the media. However, he would ask the communications team to contact me. They haven’t yet. And I also sent Mr Toffie a letter from a Telkom customer complaining that he was being charged for a router he didn’t get. I’m still waiting for a reply. Weeks down the line. And to cap it all, Telkom was a winner last week in the annual Sunday Times Top Brands competition.

Chief marketing officer at Telkom, Enzo Scarcella, said they realised the company needed to prioritise customer engagement as the key element of building its brand. “Customer service has become our top priority.”

Well, you could have fooled me: just ask Ms Doerheit and all the other people who have asked me to help in their battles with Telkom.

As I was writing this, it emerged that Mr Scarcella has resigned to go to MTN.