The last two weeks have been a nightmare for some 200 Zimbabwe Online (ZOL) customers. On 25 March 2010, a ZOL last mile connection provider, Telecontract, switched off the customers because of a payment dispute with ZOL. ZOL is arguably the largest internet service provider in Zimbabwe. Telecontract (also called Telco) too is one of the largest internet access providers locally.
To explain the disconnection situation, ZOL issued 2 press statements, absolving themselves of any wrong doing, apologizing to customers, and assuring them that they were doing everything possible to get them reconnected.
Telecontract followed up with their own press statement on 01 April, explaining their side of the story. They were basically absolving themselves of any wrong doing, apologizing to customers, and assuring them that if they wanted to get reconnected, they could just approach Telecontract to register themselves.
From talking to both CEOs, it’s clear to us this is an unfortunate misunderstanding that just went too far. Surely, both could have explored other options that wouldn’t result in denying business customers internet and email for 2 weeks. And paid up customers at that.
For ZOL, the migration of customers to another service provider has understandably not been easy, and by the end of last week, they had moved more than half of the affected customers. But again, as a paying customer, I wouldn’t find this ‘understandable’ at all. Being offline for 2 weeks is just not acceptable! I wouldn’t care who’s to blame. ZOL should therefore understand that it didn’t have to come to this.
And for Telecontract, losing more than 200 customers at one go is going to be hard, very hard. Even though Shadreck Nkala, the CEO, says the “market at the moment has more demand than all of us can supply”, it doesn’t take much math to see the big cash flow problem this will create for them. Telecontract, it didn’t have to come to this.
This here, this disconnecting 200 customers without no warning whatsoever, these accusations and counter accusations in the press, personal threats, labeling each other all kinds of names… it didn’t have to come to this. It’s a public relations disaster for both; a mess that’ll take more than just press statements to clean up.
An unfortunate episode for everyone involved and one that could have been avoided by a little extra patience, understanding and some basic business ethics. For a while, it will be hard for potential customers to want to risk their connectivity in the hands of either. A classic ‘lose lose’ situation indeed.
And to think POTRAZ, the telecoms regulator, is quiet all the while.