Saturday, 30 March: It’s the Easter weekend. Hundreds of outraged Econet subscribers take to social media to protest at Econet for subtracting unused airtime credit from their accounts. Econet doesn’t respond to these messages until,
Sunday, 31 March evening: It’s an apology is issued of Facebook for “challenges some of our customers are currently facing on the network, affecting airtime credit.” Engineers are working to resolve the issue, says the update. Those not on Econet’s Facebook page (and those not watching their airtime) have no idea what just happened.
Fools day, evening: Another Facebook update from Econet says again that they are sorry and that they are processing refunds. Later that evening, another update assures Facebook users Econet has refunded affected subscribers. SMS messages also go out to affected customers. I for example get a message that says my data usage was overcharged on 30 March. I have no idea what exactly this means of course. What with the already needlessly confusing bundle & out-of-bundle tariffs.
Lenovo ideapad 100-15IBD
PC Desktop HDD wanted
3 in 1 wireless charger
April 2: Another SMS message to affected subscribers says they have given additional free data. It doesn’t say how much I lost and how much they refunded, or what/how much this “additional free” is.
Then, done. Crisis averted. Like nothing ever happened. TIZ!
Naturally, we were curious about the extent of the problem. So we contacted Econet a few days later to get the details; when exactly it happened, how many subscribers affected, if it had been fixed. Here’s the official response we got:
An unexpected technical challenge, which has since been resolved, was experienced on the billing platform, resulting in some customers being overcharged for data usage. We are engaging with the few customers still experiencing challenges, and any outstanding issues will be resolved.
In short “we’re not saying more!” Goes without saying how worried this got us. The follow up email was not responded to. Hoping the local telecoms regulator, POTRAZ, would be worried as much, we contacted them for comment and asked if they were doing anything. “Received with thanks,” came the email response. Then… like nothing ever happened. This is Zimbabwe!
Later, someone we spoke to off the record at POTRAZ told us they were contacting/had contacted Econet on the matter. Then… silence. It’s been 3 weeks.
So what did we expect? Well, we think Econet should have come out and volunteered more information in a press statement about what happened. They should have even gone as far as assuring subscribers that they are working with named external auditors to ensure all affected subscribers were adequately compensated, that the system glitch had been fixed, and that as far as they could reasonably tell, the same problem would not happen again. How do we trust them without such transparency?
System glitches do happen. All software is buggy to an extent. The fair thing to do is to be reasonably transparent when your software eats people’s monies. Especially if you count as subscribers a number more than half the population of the country. The simple detailed truth would only serve Econet well.
What would have happened if subscribers hadn’t taken to social media to complain? What about if this had affected just 50 people who all didn’t notice? How do we even know this was the first time? What mechanisms does POTRAZ have in place to ensure these glitches are detected when they happen? Does POTRAZ audit the MNO billing systems? If they do, wouldn’t it be great to assure subscribers via a press statement that technical audits do happen and that if any such problem would occur they’d pick it even without a social media outrage.
Econet is the same company that operates the largest mobile money service in the country. Surely if there’s a company that should understand how such an incident affects our confidence in the company as a whole, it’s them. Or maybe they do very well and the silence is a deliberate move.