Cell C (for Yourself How Bad it can be)

Originally Posted by Onegai:


Before we even start, let me say that this is not a slur. Everything I say will be based on pure fact. If you are familiar with my blog then you will know that I am not a sensationalist (I have NNW for that).

We’ll start with the one and only good point first because I do not believe in giving only one side of the story. Currently Cell C is, without doubt, the cheapest cellular service provider as far as data and contracts are concerned. Their data charges are marginally lower than either Vodacom or MTN. As for their contracts, they offer insanely good deals that seem almost too good to be true. Sadly, these benefits come with more strings attached than they’re worth.

As far as reliability is concerned, Cell C is just adequate when it comes to making or receiving phone calls and SMSs (Though they sometimes have to route traffic through Vodacom’s network). But when it comes to mobile internet, they’re reliability is less predictable than somebody with bipolar (No offence intended to people with bipolar). There are times when dialling up to the internet is simply impossible. I once waited three days before I could get online and since I use my phone as a modem, I had no other way of checking my emails or posting on my blog.

On the subject of mobile internet, I’d just like to point out that Vodacom and MTN both support 3G but Cell C does not so yes, my connection is laughably slow, averaging out at about 10 – 15k on a good day.

One of the core components of any service provider is their customer care. In Cell C’s case, it’s almost non-existent. I cannot fault their Customer Care departments in their Cell C Megastores. There was only one occasion when I was spoken to rudely in the three odd years I’ve been with Cell C and this is a good track record in South Africa. Their call centre on the other hand is dismal. Whenever I have phoned, I’ve always been treated poorly by a consultant whose education was likely nothing above fifth grade and whose product knowledge is no better. After much ado, one can get through to a “supervisor” but these “supervisors” are no more competent or willing to help than the consultants and after being on the line for ten to fifteen minutes, one tends to just hang up out of sheer frustration. Emailing them is no better as sometimes you get a very quick response while other times you won’t get a reply until the next day if you’re lucky.

Finally, let’s talk efficiency, or in Cell C’s case lack thereof. In the structure which is the dysfunctional body of Cell C, the left hand does not know or care what the right is doing. The staff in the shop will tell you one thing while the staff in the call centre will tell you the complete opposite. As for their accounts department, I’m sure it consists of an office with ten 286 computers and fifteen monkeys to operate them. I’m going to relate to you an experience of mine and try to abbreviate it as much as possible to illustrate my point so bare with me.

I took out a contract for R75-00 per month with Cell C (having been enticed by their insanely cheap deals) roughly three years back. The amount was to be debited directly from my bank account. Unfortunately I lost my job sometime later. Because my ex-boss was possibly the source of all evil, I had not been registered for unemployment (In fact there’s no evidence I ever worked there, kudos to him for circumventing employment laws). Immediately I went to Cell C and explained to them that I would not be receiving a salary and therefore my bank account would be empty, hence I would be depositing cash for my payments.

Despite being told that everything had been sorted out; when the time came for the next payment, I received an SMS from my bank informing me that a debit order had failed to go through due to insufficient funds. After confirming that it was from Cell C, I phoned them up and torn a strip off them only to be promised that it would never happen again. It did happen again however – a few more times at that. I also found my SIM being barred from out-going calls around the end of the month during this time. I finally sorted out the debiting issue but the call-barring continued once every month for a long time afterwards. Once a month I’d lose all communication with the world and once a month I’d have to make a trip to my Cell C Megastore and get them to reinstate my service. I came to learn two things during this time. The first was that it was apparently my duty to fax my deposit slip through to them (I could live with this) and that all payments were due on the 20th of every month (It’s an insane date since nearly everybody in South Africa and possibly the world only gets paid between the 25th and the end of the month). I explained the situation to a consultant and he promised to place a note on my account regarding my payments and to quote The Animatrix, “For a time it was good” but then the call-barring started again.

When I queried this some time around October last year, I was told that I was one payment in arrears. The first person I spoke to claimed it to be March. Luckily I keep all my deposit slips in a file so I returned the next day armed with March’s proof of payment. I spoke to somebody different that day who then told me it was actually April. I went back home infuriated. I returned on day three equipped with my entire file and spoke to yet another consultant. Upon producing April’s proof of payment, I was told that it was actually February’s that was outstanding. Smugly, I produced my entire payment history. I was then told that I must fax all of these to their head office. After much ado regarding the receiving of the faxes, it was all sorted out and things have been running smoothly since, so when it came time to renew my contract and get an upgrade, I didn’t think twice, especially in light of the fact that my mother’s phone had recently died on her and now I’d be able to give her my old one. At the time, I did speak to the salesperson who renewed my contract and I asked him if it would be okay if I continued to make deposits and was told that it would in no way be a problem.

Well, October 2009 comes and guess what? My SIM has just been barred again because my payment was “late”. Their excuse for this was that they had a new CEO now who had apparently decided that it was time to clamp down on customers and impose strict payment laws (I don’t know if this is true or not and I don’t care. I’m merely recounting what was told to me by a consultant). This eventually led to me having to reinstate the debit order and go to trouble of depositing money into my account so that they may debit it instead of just depositing it straight into their bank account lest they bar my SIM yet again.

My problem is not so much with Cell C’s policies. Ridiculous as they may be, I did agree to them when I first took out the contract. My proverbial “bone to pick” is more with the fact that I was, for all intents and purposes, lied to. If they had told me that it was not okay for me continue making deposits between the 25th and the end of the month, I would have rather sort a slightly more expensive contract with Vodacom or MTN. Perhaps it was my fault for not getting this in writing and not Cell C’s fault for outright lying to me. In today’s society it is considered normal, even acceptable to lie to a customer in order to sell them something. As long as they do not have it in writing, you are under no obligation to uphold any promises you make to a customer.

Now I’d like to just recall an incident involving my uncle who is a Vodacom customer. His phone fell from his breast pocket one day and into some water – completely submerging the device. He was quick enough in switching it off to avoid a complete meltdown but there was significant damage and the phone was ultimately unusable. When he went to Vodacom’s shop and inquired as to the price of a repair, the assistant said it would be free since it was an old phone and they had some spare parts lying about and it wouldn’t take them too long to fix.

Prior to Cell C, I was with MTN for about four years and I never even had one delayed SMS. I got coverage even out in the countryside and the customer care, which I only had to phone once, was polite, caring, knowledgeable and willing to help.

I guess this all boils down to one simple truth: “You get what you pay for” as the quote goes. Consider this article a warning to all South Africans and any potential tourists considering coming to South Africa: If you want cheap, go to Cell C but be warned, you’ll get what you pay for.


*Disclaimer: I’m sure there are some people out there who have never had a problem with Cell C just as there are many people I’ve spoken to who have complaints about them. This is just a personal account of events together with some facts about the company.

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