February 15, 2012

Note to Africa: Good Service is Possible!

You know you've been an expat in South Africa too long when you've forgotten what good service means.

This morning I was trying to pay the deposit for an upcoming safari, using secure online banking. I pride myself in some experience in THAT department, having gone through all the ministrations of THAT back in the day when we still regularly ran out of internet bandwidth and had to purchase top-up gigabytes online.


This time I was using a German credit card. I got prompted to sign up for 3D Secure Online Payment, something THIS credit card wasn't set up for yet. I was surprised how well it all worked. Some account details, my birth date, and the credit limit of that card, which I found on our last statement, and voila, I was signed up. But of course, it was the German side of things!

Except when I wanted to process the payment with this newly acquired password on the South African side, it didn't work. So I called the bank in Germany right away. This is what happened:

  • German Bank's voice mail system greeted me
  • It gave me 2 options of what to press, and one of the options was the one I wanted!
  • I pressed 2 and was greeted by a very friendly lady
  • I stated my problem
  • She asked me for my credit card number
  • From then on she addressed me with my full name
  • She went into her system, which took about 2 seconds, and informed me that everything looked okay
  • She then suggested we test it to make sure
  • She gave me an internet address
  • I logged on on that website
  • My password was accepted
  • The problem was not with German Bank, she informed me, and to contact the merchant
  • We wished each other a nice day and hung up


This is when I realized that I have completely given up on good service. The whole conversation didn't take longer than 3 minutes. The thing is, nothing in the above exchange is unusual. It is a completely everyday occurrence. Except not here in Africa. Here you KILL to have such a conversation, EVER.

Point in case, I had two other to-dos on my list today. One was to make an appointment for a concussion test so that Jabulani is allowed to play rugby (yes - I'm not thrilled with the word concussion coming up before he has even played) in high school, and the other was to track down a statement from a doctor's visit last month, to be submitted to our health insurance.

I called the concussion test place first. Was put on hold. Was cut off. Called again. On hold again. When finally put through to someone, it turns out I should call another number. Which I called. Was put on hold again. Was cut off. Called again. Was greeted, stated my case, and told that the person making appointments wasn't there right now, could I call back in about 15 minutes.

Do you see what I mean? I HATE when I can't cross off something as simple as making an appointment. Who remembers to call back in 15 minutes? Must I now set reminders on my calendar for that? Plus I've just looked at my calendar to figure out when would be a possible time for this, which on a calendar color-coded for four busy children is already nearly impossible, and by the time I will call back, I will have forgotten those days and times and will have to start all over again. I suppose I should be grateful that I wasn't told THEY would call ME back just now. Then I'd wait and wait and of course no one would ever call. At least if I'm told to call back, the ball is still in my court.

Next I called the other doctor's office, the one still owing me a statement. If you've ever been to Life Fourways hospital (which I like) you might have gotten an x-ray there, at Dr. Van Rensburg and Partners, in which case you will have paid for your x-ray without receiving a proper statement in return. Just a flimsy hand-written receipt with the promise that the proper statement "will be e-mailed by the accounting department." Except it NEVER is. I always have to chase them down, so that we can get reimbursed by our health insurance provider.

Same procedure here. I called. Was put on hold. Was told that I'd be transferred. Got back to the original receptionist. Was put on hold again. Was told that this office didn't handle Fourways Hospital accounts (though I could swear I specifically asked for this very number last time when I was also told I had called the wrong office). Spent some time on hold again. Was finally put through to someone who could look up my account. Had to spell my name fifteen times. Was told that yes, I still had R390 outstanding, could I please make a payment.

Do you see the irony here? I was calling THEM so that THEY could give me a statement I needed, but instead THEY were telling ME that I still needed to pay? Which is SO not true, because everyone knows you never get to leave there without making your payment. So instead of crossing off THIS particular to-do, I have now added a new one, which is "chase down receipt from three months ago and scan and email to Dr. Van Rensburg."

I want to take every single customer service representative in Johannesburg and ship them to Germany for some training with the German Bank lady!

Please excuse me now. I have to call the doctor for a concussion test...