Thursday, October 07, 2010

iBurst taught me a lesson I won't forget

I'm not a conspiracy junkie, so I don't believe there are a bunch of malicious plotters at iBurst wondering how they can frustrate me next. If they were, they'd be using their champagne budget to good effect right now. No, this is a tale of a big company that has lost its way. And I doubt if their CEO will ever read this because he is part of the problem, and he should be fired.
iBurst is an ISP in South Africa. They are were owned by Vodacom, the largest cellphone operator in the country. They "compete" against Vodacom's own 3G offering, and appear to operate independently. One thing they share: their call centres are both worse than useless. But there are three parts to this story: support, accounts and publicity.
In spite of all assurances to the contrary, the turnaround/response time on support is one week, or longer. When I decided to get an iBurst account, I contacted them via their web site, and asked them to call me. After a few days I gave up waiting and went to their offices to speak to someone in person, because I don't see why I should pay their exorbitant phone rates: dialling their 0877 contact numbers are more expensive than calling another cell phone. Only phone sex and international dialling costs more. R3.37 per minute to wait on hold for 10 minutes is not much fun.
The people at their accounts reception were quite helpful, and even kept my ID book for me when I left it behind. Nonetheless someone managed to mis-type my name and to incorrectly put my postal address as my physical address as well. So now I have to tell the support engineers that my physical location is not Cresta, but Emmarentia. Not that this helps.
The initial installation was a miserable failure. I was stuck with an awful "control panel" that doesn't work, and the connection kept dropping because the PC we used was too slow. Of course there is nothing on their web site about correct installation, or things to check. So their helpline is overloaded with the same query over and over again. And management is either too lazy, out of touch or incompetent to fix this.
Eventually I took the machine in to their offices and then a competent technician attended to the problem, after I had already paid an extra R300 for an extra antenna that I don't need. I keep the antenna so they can't wriggle out of fixing the problems with some half-baked excuse about reception quality.
They showed me how to set up the software on my Windows Vista laptop, basically telling me to ignore the default setup instructions and just install the two drivers from the CD. At least that works. I guess no-one would think of putting that info on their web site either, or bother to advise users of Outlook, Outlook Express or Windows Live Mail to uncheck the "disconnect when done" button. I have already written about the iBurst security problems which they have still not addressed.
When I set up Cara's Windows 7 laptop I forgot to uncheck the "disconnect when done" button, because after all it's a permanent broadband connection, right? Wrong. It's a dial-up connection, with the sluggish response times of radio/WiFi to prove it. My experience with MyWireless had taught me the difference between copper and radio "broadband".
The next problem was an issue of bandwidth: I thought 1GB per month would be fine, and then added an iCall facility to allow her to make phone calls. But that turned out to be a lame duck because the call rates to and from an 0877 number are worse than cell phone rates, plus it uses up bandwidth, when it works. The SIP software isn't intuitive to set up either.
I found out about their "unlimited" bandwidth option on the web site, and the account department was super-efficient about billing me for it immediately. I guess they are empowered to add items to the account without any problem.
So now I was paying double to get a better bandwidth package, and since Cara was using Skype instead of iCall I gave up on the iCall system and asked them to cancel it in August. Not so fast. They would have to "request" a cancellation because they are not able to do it directly. And I would have to pay for the full month, and there was no talk about refunding the unused call money.
Several weeks later I realised that nothing had been done, because they were gearing up to bill me in advance for my October "use" of iCall. I phoned to complain, and followed it up with an email to point out that under no circumstances should they bill me R457 at the end of September, but only R407.
Of course they ignored all of this and billed me R457, so I lost my sense of humour and started shouting. I asked to speak to the Accounts department manager, who not only has not taken any of my calls, but refuses to even reply to my emails. She should be fired too.
This is where the lesson comes in: if you want them to do anything, then join their Facebook page and complain about it in public. Then make the same complaint on Twitter. The Twitter responder then asks you to email your request to Not that this helps, but they then "escalate" the "request" without actually doing anything. Then they followed up to ask if I had been "helped", so which I explained that nothing had actually changed yet. I had done a little "escalating" of my own, demanding a refund for both September and October, plus the remaining iCall credits: R125 instead of the original R50.
I also received an email to say that my "escalated request" had in fact been processed, not that they could tell me what had been done. It took another round of escalations to find out what had been done.
I also emailed to inform them that I would no longer be paying by debit order, since they had taken the wrong amount out of my account, and an "accounts consultant" sent back the following impersonal pre-written template reply:
Good Day
Thank you for contacting the Iburst accounts department, we value your email to us. Please note that as an individual we cannot remove the debit order option from our system, that we only reserve for our business/company clients. However if you wish for the debit order not to go off then a payment needs to be made into the IBurst bank account +-5 working days before the debit order day
Thank you for using Iburst.
Should you have any further enquiries please free to contact us on 087 720 2020, your call is important to us.
I was so pleased with this response I immediately posted the first part on their Facebook page. I have now been assured by a "Marketing Assistant" that my banking details have, in fact, been removed from their system. Time will tell.
As a programmer I analyse systems: both functional ones and dysfunctional ones. This is definitely a dysfunctional system: the call centre people are only there to take a message: they can't actually help. The message gets passed on to someone else who is either too lazy, too overworked, or too incompetent to understand or act on the message in time. You have to bypass or override the system by complaining on their Facebook page, at which point Marketing tries to do some damage control.
That's why the CEO should be fired: because it's management's job to prevent systems from breaking down like this, and clearly management is not doing its job. Does he even know about the 1 week response time? Does he know that the tech support people weren't able to tell me which tower I'm connecting to (for "security reasons"), or how many times a day I was disconnecting? Doesn't he wonder why the towers aren't shown on the coverage map?
Does he know how useless the accounts department is? Does he realise how little tech support information is published on their web site? Does he read the litany of (unanswered) complaints on HelloPeter? I guess the answer to all of this is no, given his response to other complaints, some of which have made the pages of Noseweek.
I'm a fast learner; I now know how to get things done at iBurst: send them an email, from their web site. Wait for it to be ignored. Then send a follow up email asking for a reference number. Wait for that to be ignored. Complain about it on Twitter (that gets the ball rolling) and then finally get it fixed by complaining on Facebook. What a bunch of losers. One day they'll put the "S" back into "ISP".
Update: As of September Vodacom no longer has shares in iBurst. There has been some useful discussion on the MyBroadband forums about this.
Update 13 October: Someone in the MyBroadband forums insists that I apply for "permission" to use their logo. So I have changed the graphic accordingly. I wonder whether they want Google Image Search to apply for permission too? Their skills at customer relations just got even worse than I thought it could possibly get.


Unknown said...

Hi, I see your letter is quite recent. Thats why I want to comment on it. I had the same experience with this bunch of assholes and even after I moved overseas for more than a year, they still debit my account with the installments, after I canselled their services. E-mails and telephone calls failed to change the situation.

Anonymous said...

Hey Edwards
That was just a great post you did, made if we can get all the complainants on hello peter to read this post and follow your process, and post their results here.

I know I will be doing this.


Anonymous said...

Hi Ed

Really great post...

I was blacklisted by iburst almost a year after I had requested cancellation of all services, and after many fruitless telephone and email fights, I will be trying this method

Anonymous said...

I hear your pain. I don't think that I have EVER dealt with such a bunch of absolute idiots. From sales to technical and we won't even mention their billing system. I have tried in vain to cancel a month to month contract and they just keep debiting. I have to go to the bank and stop it. I am now dealing with the operations director of this circus, lets see if I have any joy now! Stay away from iburst, you just can't get rid of them they are like a parasite that shows up on your account every month or even sometimes twice in a month if they feel like it. Wish they would close their doors it would be one less company that can't deliver.

Anonymous said...

THis has obviously all changed, as I can find NO Fault with the service I recieve from Iburst. Been a happy customer for about 3 years now. I moved from Telkom

Unknown said...

I'm cancelling iBurst today cause I have been struggling with connection for the last 2 years but just put my tongue in my cheek and sucked it up. I was more hoping that this will change but it only gets worse. I have a 2Mbps iburst modem and living in a very strong signal area with an antenna and rarely get a download limit above 60KB/s. I tested my link with speedtest and shows that my download speed is at 598kbps and upload limit at 216kbps. I stronlgy believe that they have not got the infrastructure to surpass 1MB connections even if you have their fastest packages as they limit their clients to only consume x amount of bandwidth regardless what modem you buy. The sales lady still told me that I will have a much better experience when upgrading from my 1MB modem to the 2MB modem but I am still not seeing any change in my speed. This was a huge disappointment to me as this is money thrown into the water.