Telkom’s billing chaos needs to be fixed

A few week’s ago I made the decision to cancel my ADSL services from Telkom, and switch to prepaid 3G (ironically from its mobile arm 8.ta).

There were very good financial reasons to do this – I’d save at least R3 200 over the next nine to ten months. But, as I stressed, this wasn’t necessarily the solution for everyone. If you use more than 5GB per month, especially if you consume a lot of video content, 3G is simply not the solution for you (uncapped ADSL is).

Last week, Rudolph Muller from MyBroadband offered solid reasons why he’s not cancelling his ADSL. And that’s the point: there are different solutions for everybody, depending on your requirements.

There was a second reason for cancelling my ADSL, besides the quantifiable saving. It was hinted at, but over the past month has been proved. Cancelling a fixed-line service means you’re no longer at the mercy of Telkom when it comes to billing. And for many, that might be reason enough.

Being forced to pay for a landline if you want ADSL doesn’t sit well with most consumers. The rental is an extra R148.37 per month but, more importantly it also opens you up to any number of billing headaches.

Somehow during August, my landline number (I’ve never had a handset and never made a call) was crossed with another number belonging to someone who lives a few houses down from me. Calling my number rings and gets you to their house, despite me not having a phone. This seems to have coincided with their phone starting to work again.

In August, I was billed R6.90 for calls (that I never made)… a figure that probably cost me 100 times more than that in phone calls and time to get reversed. I explained to Telkom numerous times that the lines were crossed, and even went as far as giving them the other person’s number.

I still had to pay the R6.90, I was told, even though it would likely be credited. The process is just so inflexible.

Imagine my surprise last week when I opened my September invoice, and had absolutely no idea what was going on.

My rental is somehow bizarrely in credit, even though I have to pay a final month’s notice for my landline. There’s an ominous “exchange connection conversion” fee of R175.73. And of course, the calls I could not have made.

A very helpful Charlotte at Telkom’s call centre couldn’t make much sense of it either. I get very scared when I hear statements like this: “I see there’s still an order pending to cancel your line”… more so when the line was cancelled three weeks ago! Charlotte promised to solve my problems, and told me not to pay anything in September. Another statement that scared me.

It’s perhaps counter-intuitive that the service from the call centre is very friendly and helpful. This is a corporation that wants to do better, that wants to help but is being hindered from being nimble and responsive by its Jurassic billing system.

The billing system also forces Telkom to charge for things in bizarre ways. The three months of free ADSL offer from earlier this year is billed in a way that only an actuary could hope to understand, with a full credit on the service passed in month one which leaves you with three months’ landline rental payable in month three. It’s also preventing the group billing for true converged (fixed and mobile) products in a way that customers will understand.

There is a glimmer of light on the horizon. Telkom is overhauling its back-office and billing systems. By early next year, this process will be complete and a lot of the problems customers have been experiencing should disappear. But the process is not going to be smooth… witness the MTN and Cell C billing changeovers.

There’s a lesson in all of this: don’t intentionally put yourself in a situation where you’re at the mercy of a company’s (often broken) billing system. And, most importantly, try as hard as you can to NOT use a debit order as a means of payment. When Telkom asked me if I’d like to pay by debit order when I signed up with them nine months ago, I laughed.

Mobile phone contracts are perhaps the most necessary of the evils, where debit orders are the only game in town. Unless you switch to prepaid – more on that later this week. Debit orders are yet another reason, aside from decreasing bandwidth prices, not to sign a 24-month data contract if at all possible.

Do I want 40Mbps ADSL or a fibre-to-the-home service? Of course I do; it will change the way I use the web. But, until the billing process is more predictable and the services are more readily available, I’m happy to sit this one out.

Source: Moneyweb

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Telkom’s billing chaos needs to be fixed