Friday, August 28, 2009

The SmarTalk Scam

It is a basic axiom in consumerism and in the field of consumer rights protection that if a consumer product or service is being offered to the public under terms "too good to be true" then it most probably is.

When I first heard, over a month ago, of the new unlimited calling service (for both pre-paid and post-paid subscriptions) being offered to its customers by Smart Communications Inc., the first thing that came to my mind was that Smart company executives have finally succumbed to a sudden collective fit of conscience after years of fleecing millions of Filipinos who like me who are virtual slaves to their cellphones and have decided to atone for their greed . At last, here was the chance to do away with onerous texting or SMS and finally get used to the luxury of just picking up your mobile phone and talk the hours away with your contacts (wherever they may be in the country) while avoiding penury and destitution at the same time.

The mechanics of the new calling promo was simple enough. Have your prepaid subscription registered by texting TALK100 (P100 for 5 days of unlimited calls) or TALK500 (P500 for 30 days) to 6400. The SmarTalk packages can also be purchased as special pre-paid loads from Smart load retailers. Post-paid subscribers can also register for the service and get the call package costs added to their monthly bills or buy them like pre-paid subscribers also from load retailers.

To make calls under the service, all one had to do was dial *6400 then add the 11 digit mobile Smart or Talk and Text number. The promo was supposed to last until the end of September next month.

When I first availed of the service in early July, I was initially pleasantly surprised with the ease with which one can register for the service and how quickly my calls got connected. Voice quality and clarity were much better than I expected and I felt then that Smart had finally done something good for its customers for a change instead of being constantly accused of stealing pre-paid load credits or overcharging its subscribers.

But as the days passed by I began to notice certain problems with the SmarTalk service. It became increasingly hard for those itching to register their phones to access the 6400 number. Load retailers began reporting similar difficulties registering customers even for the Talk500 package. Then connecting with one's calls using the service became a nightmare as dialed numbers immediately become disconnected or rejected with the ubiquitous "network busy" notification.

For the many Smart subscribers like me in Lianga who have become essentially addicted to unlimited calls, placing calls especially in the evening became a marathon of continuous dialing for long periods of time in the hope of getting lucky and being able to place a call. I also know of Smart mobile phone users who tried getting up in the wee hours of the morning in order to better their chances of being able to register for the promo and wasted a good night's sleep with nothing to show for it.

For Smart Communications Inc. to say that the unexpected and overwhelming response to the SmarTalk promo was the primary reason for the overloading of their systems and the cause of the resulting connection problems is simply bullshit of the highest degree. They knew the promo was going to be popular and should have anticipated the deluge of subscribers eager to use the service. The company could not have conceived and implemented SmarTalk without preliminary market studies and projections with regards to the capability of their systems to accommodate the anticipated increase in caller traffic.

What is crystal clear here is a blatantly devious attempt to lure additional new subscribers to the Smart brand by offering an overwhelmingly attractive new product and service that the company, with evident foreknowledge, could not, in reality and in the long term, continue to provide and support to their customers' satisfaction. In plain and simple terms, we were screwed by Smart once again. Mama mia!

Several days ago, I called up the company's customer service hot line to make a formal complaint regarding my connection problems with the SmarTalk service. The service representative, all oil and consolation, profusely apologized for my predicament and blamed the "overwhelming response" to the promo
(that phrase once again!) as the root of the flood of customer complaints like mine.

When I asked for advice on how to improve my chances of being able to connect with my calls while using SmarTalk, he did offer me one suggestion. "Try calling between 11 PM and 4 AM, " he said, "Your call should have more chances of getting through."

Talk about frustration and aggravation. If my blood pressure had not risen up by 10 points ( it still does every time I recall that specific conversation), I could have just simply thrown up my hands and laughed at the great absurdity of it all.

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