Airtel’s N3,050 refund and a tongue-in-cheek apology

Symbolism with Simbo Olorunfemi

Email: Twitter: @simboolorunfemi

Simbo QEDTwo weeks back, I went public with my ordeal at the hands of Airtel Nigeria. In spite of an understandable blackout of the story by the mainstream media, a controlled circulation via online media platforms took the message home to some of the people who had hitherto pretended to be unconcerned. Two days after going public, a message came from the Lagos office of the Consumer Protection Council (CPC). It forwarded to me a response from Airtel which it had received on the 1st of August, but had somehow forgotten to bring to my attention. Same day, a call came from Airtel’s Oluwaseyi Dalmeida. Our conversation was as frosty as it could get, as the company was not willing to shift grounds.

Airtel had, in fact, upped the ante in the letter it sent to CPC. Apart from maintaining its claim that I had subscribed to its value added service, Airtel went further to argue that I never called its customer service, in the period under review, to lodge a complaint about the nuisance from its 54950, as I had claimed. In other words, Airtel would have CPC believe I had lied. The company also attached two documents in support of its claims – call centre log and subscription log. According to Airtel’s record, there was no entry of a complaint to its customer service on incessant calls from 54950 from me, but only one over an inability to make calls and the other, a ‘hoax’ call. On the strength of this ‘record’, Airtel elected to wave my complaint away.

One little snag though, that ‘record’ leaves one with more questions than answers. In any case, it is necessary to respond to Airtel’s claims and place an explanation before Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) and CPC. That, I will make the effort to do, irrespective of developments thereafter.

Indeed, a day after my conversation with Airtel’s Oluwaseyi Dalmeida, a text message came from the company informing me of a refund of N3,050 and an apology for “all inconvenience”. The question is -Is Airtel offering an apology, in spite of its own ‘record’ which proved it had done nothing wrong? For me, it is important to have that established, so I can give kudos to the company, rather than the flak I had thrown its way. It is not enough for Airtel to simply throw a N3,050 refund at me, four months after a formal complaint. If the company thinks that will suddenly make this go away, it must be sorely mistaken. I am even more interested in Airtel’s ‘record’ which has conveniently accused me of a few things – lying, not calling to lodge complaints and even making a ‘hoax’ call to its customer service unit.

In seeking answers, the question arises – What is the role of NCC, our Ombudsman, in this matter?  Or is it that the regulator is too busy to see the gaps in the story put forward by Airtel? But then, if the CPC can hold on to a letter from Airtel for six weeks rather than inform the complainant or act upon it, what can we expect? If NCC will receive a response from Airtel and simply go to bed, what can we do? One would have thought that the regulator will conduct its own investigation and come to its own conclusions, but what do I know? How does one even explain that neither NCC nor CPC has thought it fit to query the indefensible contradictions in the claims put forward by Airtel? Yet, some of these gaps are only too obvious for any discerning eye to see.

In its letter to NCC, Airtel submits that I subscribed to its Value Added Service on February 12, 2014. But in the letter sent to the CPC, the company claims I subscribed to the same service on February 13, 2013. How can that be? Which of the dates does Airtel really want us to hold on to? Is there a problem with Airtel’s record? Why the contradiction? There must be a reason why the company will claim two different dates as that on which a customer supposedly subscribed for its service. It cannot be that the records of such a corporate institution will suddenly become suspect, or can it be?

Airtel submits in its letter to CPC that the only record they have of my call to customer service, apart from the ‘hoax’ call, was that of December 5, 2013, which it claims I made to complain about my inability to make calls with my phone. That is strange!  Airtel claims to have no record of all the calls I made to its customer service unit. Not even that of May 2014 which led to the termination of the service could be found on Airtel’s record?  Is Airtel implying that the discontinuation of the disputed subscription came by some form of divine intervention, rather than in response to a complaint from me?

It is interesting that in the bid by Airtel to make this customer a villain rather than the victim, the company has left little to restraint. Airtel sends out a document that loudly announces to all that its anti-malware database is out-of-date, yet it wants us to take a ‘record’, generated from a system potentially vulnerable to malware, seriously. How does that inspire confidence?

It is simply amazing to see what little regard some companies have for their customers. After these months of back and forth, Airtel wakes up and fires a text message to my phone with an ‘apology’. How it came to the decision that this was just about a face-saving refund of N3,050, we are not to know. How it settled on that figure is a mystery, too. Sorry, Airtel, it is not that simple. You will need to provide answers to some of the questions, your shoddy response has generated, with or without the support of NCC and CPC. But, we must give Airtel an opportunity to explain itself.