MTN, Africa’s biggest telecommunications provider, is the alpha dog of three major companies here in Ghana – the other two, Vodafone and Airtel, follow anxiously at its heels. (Expresso is in fourth place, but no one is really paying attention.) A few months ago, these three had a sit-down and decided to simultaneously double their rates. In Ghana, credits for calls and internet are prepaid, in amounts between 1 and 20 GHC. Billing isn't an option when no one has a residential address, or a credit rating. So when the price hike came, it seemed like the ground was suddenly littered with little scratch cards. We were going through them like water. Us poor customers never stood a chance. Where are those anti-trust laws when you need them?
So I, along with almost everybody else, have MTN, because MTN covers most of Ghana. Ok, let me amend that statement: MTN covers most of Ghana, but only some of the time. MTN’s real name is Most Troublesome Network, according to every Ghanaian who bothers with it. And oh god, the Troubles. When I first arrived, everything went smoothly. You and I talked, and texted, and Skyped. The phone signal was great, except for in the Volta Region – but hey, I don’t live there. No big deal. My USB modem was always fast. Well, fast is relative, so maybe not 3G, maybe 2.5. Maybe 2. So reasonably fast.
And then about a month and a half ago, MTN, in its true, basest state, bared itself to me. Suddenly, my phone signal was ghostly. The "As low as 1.5 pesewas/minute" was revealed to be on Sundays, from 9-11 a.m. ONLY. And we were all hemmoraging texts. I'd receive identical texts, maybe 19 in a row, from a friend. (It's amazing how quickly text message alerts can become grating.) Another friend was likewise receiving mine. 19 in a row. Was someone having a laugh? Was this a conspiracy? And was I getting charged? Absolutely. Then, charmingly, my cute little modem became worthless. Just a piece of plastic, meaninglessly monopolizing a USB port. You and I would try to Skype; all we would see of each other was one frozen, pixelated moment before being cruelly disconnected.Finally it was time to make a complaint. If MTN wanted to keep my business, my 40 GHC/month business, they would have to woo and wow me. However, MTN likes to be tricky with its customers; call customer service and find how often they are “unavailable at this time,” and how often there is simply no answer at all. Now, imagine my delight to find my ringing rewarded. And that my conversation will be monitored for quality assurance purposes. Excellent! My representative and I would reach for the highest climbs of customer service together. Team effort. And I would reap the rewards. Then there's that wonderful click, with the sounds of a live human. It has begun. Our conversation plays out something like this:
Kofie: Good evening, thank you for calling MTN. My name is Kofie. How may I assist you? [His tone is polite, soothing and responsive all at once. The wooing has begun.]
Kelly: Hi, good evening. How are you?Kofie: I’m well. How are you?
Kelly: Great, thanks. Please, let me tell you why I’m calling. Yesterday at 11 a.m., I called and spoke with a customer service representative about [insert issue]. She said I would get a call within 24 hours. It’s now been 30 [vaguely irritated but controlled by politeness]. So I’m still waiting. What can you do for me?
Kofie: I am so sorry that you have had this experience [convincingly apologetic]. Where are you calling from?
Kelly: Cape Coast.
Kofie: Where do you stay in Cape Coast?
Kelly: Fourth Ridge.
Kofie: And what is your address?*
*I am instantly suspicious. This man cannot POSSIBLY be from Ghana, if he’s asking for an address. Therefore his name is not Kofie. Our conversation is a lie. I am saddened.
Kelly: I don’t have one. I live on Fourth Ridge. In the first block of houses. After you go up the little hill and before you go up the big hill. By the girl’s school.
Kofie: Oh, yes. I see. It looks as if there is some problem with connectivity in that particular area.*
Kelly: Ok, well I also work at the University of Cape Coast.Kofie: Let me investigate. [pause] Yes, it looks like there is some disruption in that area as well. How long has this been a problem?
Kelly: About a month.Kofie: [with shock and dismay] Oh wow!* Well, I will call the office in Cape Coast. They are probably not aware of the problem.
[Kelly’s face looks doubtful, as in, how in the world is THAT possible]
*Ok, maybe he is Ghanaian after all.
Kelly: Great. But what will that accomplish exactly? I used to be able to Skype with my family and friends, and now I can’t even get a signal. Even when it reports that there is a signal, there’s no signal.
Kofie: I [with empathy] am so sorry to hear that. That is terrible. I [assertively] will report that right away, and [assuredly] we’ll get that fixed by morning. I will personally see to it.
Kelly: [Kelly’s face: !!!?????!!!! followed by a pause] Um, wow, thanks, Kofie.
Kofie: Please call again if you have any other concerns.
Kelly: Oh I will. Thanks so so much. Bye.
Kofie: Goodbye, and [profoundly] thank you for calling MTN.
Ok, super customer service. Super, except for that last total and complete fabrication. Americans are fond of complaining about huge customer service departments being outsourced to other countries, with representatives who pretend to be calling from Des Moines. And here we have Kofie, blessedly assuring me that a major issue with connectivity could be addressed, overnight, with one phone call. Everyone fibs, evidently, to weave an illusion of comfort, calm and satisfaction tailored to each customer. I just got delusions of grandeur thrown in. It was flattering to think that I could be responsible for solving the MTN problem in Cape Coast, just by bringing the matter to their attention. I did briefly consider sending out an email announcement regarding my accomplishment. But, unfortunately, it’s been over three weeks since my talk with Kofie. You and I still haven’t Skyped. Well, not for longer than 3 or 4 seconds.
Maybe I'll try Expresso.
Maybe I'll try Expresso.