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Verona Antoine-Smith | The boy who cried ‘wolf’ was dyslexic

Published:Wednesday | December 23, 2020 | 12:16 AM
Verona Antoine-Smith
Verona Antoine-Smith
Seeking redress through FLOW is difficult.
Seeking redress through FLOW is difficult.
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Dyslexia is a language processing disorder that affects both spoken and written forms of the language; one of its symptoms involves reading words backwards.

Last week, the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR) publicised its second phase of directives to guide local telecoms providers. As a FLOW customer (prepaid), I welcome any meaningful intervention that can improve customer satisfaction because since the 2015 LIME/FLOW merger, FLOW has changed for the worse. Their transformation reminds me of the fable ‘The boy who cried wolf’, which is known for its profound moral lesson that today’s misrepresentation of facts has implications for tomorrow’s credibility.

Unfortunately, FLOW is a perfect example of the little boy’s disingenuity, and customers only become aware after they have fallen prey to their craftily worded promotional offers.

One of my major concerns is FLOW’s unlimited voice plans. Why do they end prematurely with a message advising “you have used up all your minutes”? Someone should explain how do customers exhaust unlimited minutes or data access? What does unlimited mean?

FLOW has about six unlimited voice plans. If three customers – A, B and C – select one of those plans, per se, the five-day, 28-day and 30-day, respectively, the only difference in service that they should experience is the duration of their access to that state of infinite calling power. But that’s not the reality because unknowingly, they are only choosing a voice plan which in real terms is limited to a set amount of minutes. Customers should get what they pay for, that is, an unlimited calling plan. And if they are not unlimited then they shouldn’t be classified as such.

Certainly, FLOW’s counterarguments about fair usage only serve as a smokescreen to cover up the bigger issue of misbranding their services. Therefore, while I welcome the OUR’s directives on ‘Clearer Pricing and Framing Information’ for telecoms services; they must also demand the use of appropriate labels.

RINGBACK TONES

Another issue for OUR’s investigation is FLOW’s practice of adding a service to customers’ cell phone; perhaps initially as a free offer, then suddenly start billing it. In August, some friends informed me of a ringback tone on my cell phone. Shortly thereafter, I received a message “Dear customer your subscription to FLOW TONES service has been renewed for 30 days”. I also realised I was being charged. Why must I pay for a service I never purchased?

When I contacted customer care, they told me I could not get a refund and I needed to unsubscribe. Further, the process to unsubscribe didn’t work so I contacted them again; requested that they remove it for me, but they said it couldn’t be done externally. To date, I am stuck paying for a detestable service which I never subscribed to; that apparently FLOW can only add on but cannot remove.

Yet, if there’s no credit to cover the charges, the subscription will not be renewed. However, the very minute credit is added, the $70 charge will be automatically deducted. Undoubtedly, this is exploitation and is as callous as a vendor I saw in the Coronation Market selling rat-poison blocks. While advertising his wares, he shouted, “Taste and buy rat poison! Taste and buy!” Indeed, customer satisfaction is insignificant; getting their money is all that matters.

RAPID CREDIT DEPLETION

OUR addressed the issue of rapid credit depletion in relation to data services by recommending periodic notifications of usage levels to customers. However, the issue of credit is deeper than that and must be thoroughly investigated.

First, the unmentioned issue of credit expiration: Should cell phone credit expire, and if so, is 21 days a reasonable time for expiration? When credit is deemed ‘expired’, the customer loses all network access until more credit is added. Even worse, if customers fail to top up within an unspecified time frame, they lose their number.

Second, credit expiration supersedes any active plan on the network, therefore denying customers’ access to that service which was bought in advance.

For example: On October 1, Customer A added $3,600 credit (primary) to her cell phone. She immediately activated a 30-day plan for $3,500, leaving a primary balance of $100. On Day 22, she could not make calls, send texts nor use data. Instead, all she received was a pre-recorded voice message saying “Sorry, your calls have been restricted. Please top up to continue making calls.” Why? Because primary credit expired on Day 21. Nothing should ever interfere with a customer’s plan unless the minutes or data have been exhausted.

Third, the absence of credit is not always a true indication of not having credit. In September, a few hours after topping up credit, I noticed there was only 16 cents on my phone, hence, I couldn’t make calls, use data, do anything. I immediately contacted customer care and was told my balance was indeed 16 cents. After bitterly complaining, I was advised to turn off the cell phone or the Wi-Fi for 30 seconds then restart. Surprisingly, the credit reappeared. The representative explained that fluctuations in network frequency were the cause of the missing credit.

Since then, whenever my credit ‘vanishes’ I perform that little act. But this is totally unacceptable. In a case of emergency, 30 seconds could make the difference between life and death. The OUR must thoroughly investigate these occurrences.

IN RETROSPECT

Seeking redress through FLOW is difficult. I know because all of the abovementioned have affected me. The last time I visited their Carlton Crescent branch, there was no one who dealt with complaints. Instead, I was directed to lodge my complaint via a WhatsApp platform. As I fumed, I observed there were several FLOW signs strategically positioned throughout the store but somehow, all I could visualise was WOLF.

So in retrospect, that little boy who cried wolf might not have been deceptive at all. Maybe, he had dyslexia and, like me, he found himself standing in a FLOW store reading aloud every FLOW sign he saw, hence “WOLF, WOLF, WOLF!”

Verona Antoine-Smith is a teacher in a public secondary school. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com