First, the problem. I used a vending machine to add minutes to my Vodafone prepaid phone. Put in Rs. 300, got a text message confirming the purchase and ... nothing. The remaining balance did not go up by Rs. 300. Meanwhile, my minutes are fast dwindling.
What to do? Contact Vodafone to ask them. Except ...
- The website has a link to "email" customer service. I type in the email.
- I get back an email telling me that I should fill out a form. Why isn't the form on the website? Oh, well. I fill out the form and email it back as per instructions.
- I get back another email telling me to fill out the form. The first circle of hell.
- I go back to the website to find a phone number to call. Their website tells you to call "178" to register a complaint. Except that the number doesn't work when you are roaming.
- The website lists an actual telephone number. I call it. There are multiple prompts about "information". Nothing about feedback.
- Try the number several times, trying to punch in zero, or to hang on to the line hoping to get to an agent. No go. Vodafone India has no problem about hanging up on its customers.
- I find someone else with a local Vodafone mobile and call 178. I get to a real person this time. get told that my telephone number is from Chennai and that I need to call a different telephone number.
- It turns to be an unlisted complaints line. I call them and get told that they can not find my telephone number. "So very sorry sir. We are here 24 hours a day. Please call us if you have any problems."
- I get online and find a "nodal officer" for Chennai. The number is busy. There is no wait queue. Vodafone India simply hangs up. Not very glad to help, are they?
- I keep dialing the nodal officer and get to him on the fifth attempt. Explain the problem. Turns out the Rs. 300 was a "world calling card".
Say what? Why is the Rs. 300 a world calling card?
India is largely an illiterate country and the way the telephone company handles it is by having special prices for different things. If you pay Rs. 365, you get a re-charge. If you pay Rs. 300, you get a world calling card. What in a sane world would have been handled by prompting the customer is handled by magic numbers.
Because I inserted Rs. 300 into the vending machine, my account got credited with a calling card!
Could he please convert it to a simple top-up?
He said that I should have called 178. I did, I said, but it didn't work because I am roaming. He then stated the complaints number in Chennai. (the unlisted number for those following along at home). I did that too, I said, and talked to person named Latha who claimed my number was not a Vodafone number.
"For this time, I will forward the case to the complaints department," he finally harrumphed, "and I will call you back on this number."
Thank you, I told him. I actually thanked him for wasting an hour of my time over Rs. 300 (6 USD approximately). But I do need a phone with minutes left on it, because I leave for Ladakh in a couple of days. So, I'm hoping this gets resolved.
But all the good feeling I had towards Indian mobile operators -- the good prices and the great coverage -- has evaporated.