Smartone-Vodafone Heartless to Its Most Loyal Customer [Updated]

From January 31 – February 14 I travelled to three US cities: New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. As you all know I am a long time iPhone user, someone who is very familiar with the Internet and various technologies. Hence, I was surprised to received a SMS from Smartone-Vodafone (SMV) on Feb. 5th, while in Los Angeles (the second city of my trip), regarding my data roaming charges exceeding HKD1400.00.

I immediately followed the instructions in the SMS and contacted SMV’s Customer Service (CS) department to determine what had went wrong. Especially when at that point, out of the 6 days I had been away from Hong Kong I spent 2 of those traveling on air planes.

To make things worst the AT&T cellular network in Los Angeles is very unreliable and I had to call the SMV CS 3 times, at the end SMV had to call me back to finish the conversation. The SMV CS representative tells me there were several +2MB files download and that my iPhone is still using data connections while I was speaking to the SMV CS representative. This was impossible as I had turned off Data Roaming, all Push Notifications and any Email Fetches on the iPhone. So I ask the CS representative to immediately disconnect all data functions for my account until I return to Hong Kong.

Out Come

On Feb. 14th when I returned to Hong Kong, the first thing I did as soon as I am able to turn on my mobile phone was to contact SMV CS. They tell me that they can reactivate all data functions for my account, but for any further enquiry about the case I will have to wait until Feb. 17th, when the department that handled my case, while I was in the US, to return to work from the Chinese New Year holidays.

Today, I was finally able to see my SMV bill online. According to SMV, on Feb. 5th when they sent me the SMS warning, there was supposedly a 7.999MB data usage costing HKD1119.86 based on a rate of HKD0.14/KB in a period of 1 minute. As you can imagine this comes as a great shock to me, since I knew mobile carriers have outrages roaming fees. So I was very careful not to incur any data usage while I was overseas and only do so in a very controlled manner. I explained all this to the SMV CS representative but he insists that my iPhone had indeed used the said data and refused to do anything about the charge.

Over the past several years I had supported Smartone-Vodafone by recommending it to almost everyone I know, including writing about it compared to other Hong Kong mobile carriers. Mainly due to its obvious desire to do its best for its customers. I even supported them during the past several years when it is indeed inferior to other mobile carriers in Hong Kong. I even offer my personal time to help them test their network, to try to help them improve the quality delivered.

My mobile phone bill for the month came to HKD3153.12 and I am only disputing the HKD1119.86 charge for the 7.999MB data use, but the SMV CS representative refuse. Saying that I have to provide proof that I did not use the said data amount. How am I able to do that?

I am very surprise to find SMV to be so heartless and disregards all that I had done for its Network Team. I expect it to stand on my side and believe that I did not incur the 7.999MB data claimed on Feb. 5th. This incident had totally changed my positive opinions of SMV and will definitely think twice on any future recommendations for SMV. I will most likely look for another carrier when my current contract expires.

[Updated: February 23, 2010, 22:00]
Smartone-Vodafone had paid attention to my situation and now they had done the following three things to help ease the charges of my February bill.

  • Credit me for the voice charges relating to the calls I made from LA in regards to this issue.
  • Applied a 20% discount on the roaming data charges upon complaining about this issue and after I published my post.
  • Applied a further 10% discount on the roaming data charges after publishing my post, generating discussions on Twitter and after several SMV departments were made aware of my complaint.

These actions on behalf of SMV is appreciative and discounts the title of my post “Smartone-Vodafone Heartless”. Having said that, I believe SMV CS needs to reflect on the tone and attitude of the CS representative (Mr. Kong) who handled my complaint the second time I called after returning to Hon Kong. I do not believe that SMV handled this case correctly initially, they should be treating all their customers as valuable customers. It should not take someone complaining about the situation publicly on the Interweb to react.

I hope SMV had learned a lesson about handling customer complaints as I have regarding roaming with my home carrier.

7 Comments

  1. We all know Smartone is heartless, my wife and I have experienced them personally many times. Two most unforgettable:1) We used to consider ourselves loyal Smartone customers considering my wife and I had both stayed with them for 8 years (10 for the wife). Back in the good old days, loyal customers got 10-30% off when buying a new mobile phone. Nowadays, you'll be lucky they don't rip you off. Nowdays, newbie customers get discounted plans while “loyal” customers get to pay more expensive ones. We were baffled by this that we decided to switch carriers; me first 2 years ago. To be fair, ALL carriers in HK are like that. There are no incentive for being loyal. Much like working for a corporation, regardless of how many years being loyal working for them, they'd lay you off in a heartbeat. Live with it. I did.2) Tried one of their $38 (or was it $68? Forgot) unlimited GPRS plans several years ago and I was told by several sales representatives from different stores in different parts of the city, it's unlimited on everything AS LONG AS I connect to the wap.smartone.com.hk homepage first and then click on the link to portal out to Internet. They also stated that everything on the wap homepage is free of charge. When the bill arrived, I found I was charged several hundred dollars more on top of the $38 monthly fee. I called their hotline and complain. Then the manager explained not all were free. It turned out the text links were free; the thumbnail links are charged by the clicks AND the streaming videos were charged by the kilobytes. I'm not a very good negotiator but that was the last straw. That was the last of me being a loyal customer. My wife did stayed one for another two years (due to forgotten to cancel a new contract). Her contract expires 3 days from now; we remember this time! There is no chance she's staying with Smartone. There are simply just too many traps.

  2. Actually, no.I had checked the log in my iPhone and there was not extraordinary charges, but I did not have the means to download the log before it was wiped out.So without any proves on my side it was my word against SMV.

  3. Chris, all carriers in Hong Kong have a practice of notifying customers about overusing the air time and data, all you have to do is to tell them to set a limit, SMV is nothing special. i am currently with SMV and belive me i was conned into suscribing to them, they gave me a demo of HD streaming video and what i got in the package was something very crappy.!unfortuantely i am stuck with it, as SMV will not let me upgrade package. they insist that i suscribe to the HD package whislt paying for the previous package otherwise pay charges amounting to the remaining months in my contract…i have simply stooped using SMV and am back to china mobile atleast they are Honest, even if the service is not 3G

  4. Vinko, I really sorry to heard this happened to you. Myself have been SMV loyal customer for 13 years & I never expect we will get any “special treatment” from them, what SMV good is they will notify you when you're having unusual data usages, but I don't know how other provider respond. I don't think other provider will do a better job on this though. Greedy PCCW even more worst in my experience. When I'm on travel I will use AirPlane mode instead, if really urgent for Internet access, either find a cyber cafe or a free hotspot, even buy local's mobile data card.

  5. So bad to get an answer like this from them. After all this good and long relation with their services, this is not the best way to take care of the customers and solve their problems. Unlucky that happened to you :/

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