Sunday, July 18, 2010

Mobinil User Warning

I'm one of Mobinil's oldest users in Egypt, and theoretically thereby accorded special privileges and consideration. When I have a complaint, for example, I have a special number for their first class customers that always gets answered although satisfaction is not always guaranteed. I know because I have been calling that number at least 6 to 8 times a week for the past few months.

Over a year ago I noticed that my bonus points on my Mobinil account was up over 20 thousand and a friend suggested that I use them before some accountant decided I wasn't interested and took them away. I went into the Mobinil shop in New Maadi near the area we fondly call Junk Food Alley, the line of fast food restaurants that greet you when you take the first exit off the Autostrade into Maadi. The only thing that they had that interested me was an iPhone and since it was practically free, I got it. I talked to the clerk about whether there was any necessary adjustment in my account plan and he very kindly said they'd take care of it. Cool...a new toy. At the time I had access to the internet through a broadband landline so I didn't use the internet part of the iPhone much at all, but when some local construction destroyed the landline, I did some research and went back to Mobinil for a USB modem connection. By this time, Mobinil had built a massive faux palm tree at Sakkara Country Club to improve our signal out here and we could get 3G service. Wonderful. I now had internet at home that didn't cut out every time there was a rainstorm and my iPhone as back up.

Living as I do outside the city, I'd made arrangements that my Mobinil bill (which was always in the neighbourhood of LE 700 a month since I do have kids in the US that I call every so often) would be paid automatically from my VISA card. I like having my bills paid. Now imagine my shock when I got a phone call in December to say that they were having a problem deducting my bill from my card. I figured that my bank was having some kind of glitch, this is Egypt after all, so I told them I'd be coming into town the next day and would stop by to pay in cash. Could they tell me the balance, please? The balance was LE 6920.39! No wonder the VISA was refusing it. When I picked myself up off the floor, I very firmly suggested that they do some serious checking on what exactly was going on with my bill. I was informed that there was a charge of 5307.06 LE for Mobinil LIfe, their telephone internet services. What on earth was going on here???

I don't use my phone for internet as a rule. Typing on a phone keyboard isn't much fun and I'm much happier to use my computer at home. Besides, I have a package with the modem that was supposed to charge me LE 150 a month for up to 3GB downloads with things like Facebook and YouTube free. As I wasn't downloading music or movies and I'm not a fan of YouTube, there was absolutely no way I was overusing my account. And the counter on my computer indicated that I might reach 3GB in 8 to 10 weeks, so that wasn't happening. I stomped my tiny consumer's foot soundly on the phone beginning the close and intimate relationship with the First Class customer service line. I was assured that my complaint would be looked into and that they would hold back on needing payment.

In January, Mobinil cut off my service and I was on the phone in a rage. My January bill included a charge of LE 3232.12 for Mobinil Life as well as my more normal charges of LE 548.77 bringing my total bill to LE 11,126.82. This time my initimate relationship with the First Class service personnel got a little heated. I sat on the phone until they dug up my past complaint and duly noted that it was "under investigation". They turned my service back on. Thank you, Mobinil. When I inquired about the status of the investigation, I was told that there was a "global problem with some aspects of the billing system".....a DUH statement if I ever heard one...and that someone would be in touch with me in 24 hours. Needless to say, that didn't happen. Every so often I would call and ask how the billing problem was coming along only to be told it was "under investigation".

On February 25, Cairo was hit by a thunderstorm of biblical proportions with hail falling all over to the fear/delight of people who had never seen the stuff before. I happened to be in town with friends when the storm hit and as we were driving back to the farm we could see massive bolts of lightning striking all along the edge of the desert near the farm. There are some huge high tension power lines a short distance away from where I live so I was hopeful that the strikes were hitting those rather than my pipe corrals around the horses, and indeed the horses were wet but safe. A number of strikes were in the neighbourhood of our Mobinil palm tree which was quite close to the power lines, and in fact, we were without internet service for some time after the storm...a "global problem" according to my buddies at the First Class Service line. Eventually the service did come back but it was rather spotty. Service would slide from E to 3G to a dot to nothing in the course of half an hour. Calls were being dropped or not getting through and the modems were very unhappy, as were all the modem owners out here.

This ushered in a new era of complaints. "Hello, madame. Is this complaint about the bill or the internet service?" Well, how about both? We went through the requisite gymnastics of checking settings on computers enough times that I can do them in my sleep. Hello, Mobinil....the issue is not the computer or the modem. It is the fact that your signal sucks, despite a relay station palm tree the size of Godzilla. Please send someone out to see if there was damage during the storm. Eventually, they did send some nice engineers out to do measurements and play with wires I assume and the service got marginally better.

Meanwhile back on the bill front, my connection fees had gone up to LE 300 a month but my Mobinil Life was down to LE 240.10, which was an improvement but I still had problems understanding what this charge was for. A deduction in my bill of LE 5752.98 brought my total back down to a measly LE 6146.02. Whoopdedoo! I thanked heaven for small mercies and urged my voices on the First Class Service line to do a bit better. In March Mobinil Life was creeping up again at LE 590.64, possibly because the internet on my modem wasn't working...who knows actually?...and there was another adjustment of LE 3418.11. Mobinil was kind enough to deduct a relatively normal payment in the neighbourhood of LE 700 from my VISA. I was hoping I was seeing a light at the end of the tunnel.

In April, my Mobinil Life was LE 332.88, with a reasonable total, an overdue balance from previous periods just over LE 3000, and Mobinil took a bit over 1200 from the VISA. This was a bit more reasonable but at no time had anyone from Mobinil contacted me to explain what gremlins had been dancing through my account. In May the gremlins struck again with Mobinil Life bouncing back up over LE 2400. Were the "global problems" fixed or had they simply been incarcerated for a brief period? In June with the Mobinil Life charges down to about LE 300 or so, Mobinil helped themselves to over LE 3400 on my VISA card in payments, leaving me with an overdue balance of over LE 3000.

So how do I rate Mobinil customer service? Would -399 be appropriate? We still have the signal problems and no feed back whatsoever on what is going on. Yesterday alone I was on the phone three times to tell them that we couldn't use our modems, that the iPhones were getting coverage that varied from none to 3G but that we COULD check our email on them so the issue was the data signal as opposed to the phone signal. Obviously, I currently have internet service but the explanatory phone calls have never arrived. I've arranged to be able to check my bills online and so far my July bill isn't showing up so who knows what exactly is going on. I will never, ever just allow my bills to be paid unchecked by my VISA and I know many people who have withdrawn this option from Mobinil due to similar problems. Do I have the option to change carriers? Unfortunately no. Vodafone has appalling service in my area and can't be used for the internet. I know. I've tried. Etasilat, while quite reliable for phone calls, can provide back up phone service for when Mobinil drops the ball out here, but they have no 3G service in this area. So I'm left to poke a large orange elephant in the butt with a stick in the hopes that it will find me tiresome enough to actually pay attention. It's sort of like an experimental trial to see if the Japanese are right that the nail sticking out will be the one hammered down or whether the American saying that the squeaky wheel gets the grease is correct. In the meantime, squeak, squeak, squeak.

copyright 2010 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani