Airtel is a great brand.
I mean, they have an expansive network covering a large part of Africa, calls made from their network are famed for their clarity and they have, for much of their presence in Kenya, weathered the gargantuan storm that is Safaricom’s dominance.
Who knows? One day, Airtel might just be Kenya’s – nay, Africa’s most successful network.
But going by the disenchanting experience I had as their subscriber, the prospect of this happening is as low as the image I gathered of their service.
When I signed up to their postpaid service, I gave out my credit card details and granted the Telco the right to charge my card whenever my bill was due. However, on a number of occasions, they cut me off their network, each time explaining that I had reached my limit.
I wondered why they wouldn’t just pay themselves off, which authority they already had from me. The billing, an official explained, happened once a month (if my recollection is correct, I was advised it took place around the 3rd of every month). Although they contractually may have been obligated to undertake the billings once monthly, I found this arrangement commercially inexpedient.
“Why not introduce dynamic billing”? I asked the official. “You are losing revenue because I will use my other (competing) line more while I wait for the 3rd of the month”, I offered helpfully.
In these days of all-day traffic snarl ups and hectic schedules, no one wants to start making his way towards an Airtel shop in order to clear his bill. Not when he already gave out his credit card details so he can be spared the commuting and the queues (I didn’t even know how to pay up using Airtel money).
The consternation occasioned by the Telco’s confounding messages was yet another reason I found my continued subscription untenable. Below are actual text alerts I received from Airtel Kenya. When I needed to top up my data bundle, I got message that advised that I was “already currently subscribed…”. To add insult to injury, the provider mocked me by asking me to try a data bundle that was within the Kshs. 0 range!
And if you thought that the foregoing faux pas was a flash in a pan, consider the alerts below. On the 7th of February this year, I received two text messages, each citing the fact that I owed Kshs. 16,936.77. This figure, according to one text message, was “above 60% of my credit limit…”. According to the second text message, sent not too long after the first one, the SAME figure was “above 80% of my credit limit…”
As you may imagine, I called up Airtel Kenya seeking to establish whether (1) there was a problem with their billing/alerts system and (2), how on earth I could have used up that much money in a short period of time.
I cannot recall the explanation given to the first question. But on the second question, a customer service agent ruefully owned up to the fact that my credit card payment was inexplicably ‘forgotten’ during the previous billing cycle. So the amount owed had headed skywards as my card was not charged when the billing was last ran.
I was miffed!
Here was a cellular provider that was playing catch-up in the market and who could not pay themselves despite being granted the unfettered authority to do so by their subscriber.
This incident became the proverbial last straw that broke the camel’s back. I couldn’t take it any more and proceeded to cancel my contract immediately – the fact that the contract cancellation process was itself another ordeal notwithstanding.
The only other time I contemplated canceling my contract – and in retrospect, probably should have – was four months earlier, in October of 2014. This was the very month in which I signed up for the postpaid service.
On Mashujaa day, my Airtel line received two text messages that came in in quick succession – actually seconds apart (see actual messages below).
If you study the messages carefully, they were duplicate bill notifications for the same period. That is, I received two bills, both as at the same date, but roughly Kshs. 7,000/- apart.
When I sought for an explanation, Airtel maintained – quite predictably, that the higher bill of Kshs. 18,642/- was the correct one. They even sent me an accompanying itemized bill of this amount a bit later.
Could Airtel furnish me with the itemized bill that generated the lower bill of Kshs. 11,677/-, I asked.
I remember laughing when, in response to this question, a customer service official haltingly explained that a hitch with the billing system had given rise to the billing discrepancy and that ‘only the corrected’ (higher) itemized bill could be generated.
I am sure Airtel means well. But it doesn’t show this in the services it offers. Going by my short-lived experience as a post-paid subscriber, it is difficult for me to maintain trust with the provider.
Indeed, Airtel Kenya even billed me on 5th May 2015 and I had to remind them on email that my line has been inactive since February. I further reminded them that they even acknowledged my service cancellation letter on the 23rd of February 2015.