The prepaid phone saga

Predictive textA while back I gave eldest son my old (but quite capable) mobile phone, and got him a SIM card that looked to be a reasonable cheap basic prepaid phone service: Woolworths Everyday Mobile.

This worked fine until early October when the phone stopped working.

Or to be precise, the SIM stopped working. We tried the usual stuff: turning the phone off then on again, trying the SIM in a different phone, trying a different SIM in the phone. It was clear the SIM didn’t work.

I should note that this company has all its Call Centre people in Australia. While in an ideal world this shouldn’t make a difference, of course in reality it can. But in this case there was no issue with communications problems due to bad phone lines and people struggling to understand each other.

So on Sunday 9/10, I rang them up. Of course the gatekeepers to the real technical support staff tried to deflect me, only letting me get through after I had explained that we had tried turning the phone off then on again, trying the SIM in a different phone, and trying a different SIM in the phone.

They said they’d check some things on their end, give me a call back within two days.

No call back, so on Thursday 13/10, I rang back. Once again I had to explain that we had tried turning the phone off then on again, trying the SIM in a different phone, and trying a different SIM in the phone. They said nobody from technical support was available, because it was after 8:30pm. I said I’d ring back the next day.

I rang back on Friday 14/10 at lunchtime. Explained that we had tried turning the phone off then on again, trying the SIM in a different phone, and trying a different SIM in the phone. They said the relevant person isn’t available, but they would ring or email back later in day.

Yeah. Sure they would.

Nothing, of course, so just after 6pm I rang back. Explained that we had tried turning the phone off then on again, trying the SIM in a different phone, and trying a different SIM in the phone. They said the relevant person isn’t available, and apologised that I hadn’t been contacted.

And a key bit of information finally came to light: I already knew the service is closing down and being replaced by a different Woolworths mobile phone service. What I didn’t know was that this will be run by a different company. (It’s clear now that these operations are effectively franchise users of the Woolworths name). For this reason the lady said they were having problems simply sending out a new SIM.

I asked for a refund. She said she couldn’t do that. She said it would be referred to their IT group, and someone would ring the next day to discuss other options.

Well if you can’t provide the service, and you won’t give me a refund, what other options are there that don’t involve me being ripped-off? I was suddenly grateful that there was only $20 credit on the account.

But it sounded like this miracle-working IT group might be able to wangle another SIM.

Needless to say, there was no phone call back the next day.

Rang back again on Sunday 16/10. Explained yet again that we had tried turning the phone off then on again, trying the SIM in a different phone, and trying a different SIM in the phone. Also explained that I had originally rung them a week before, and nothing had happened.

They said — unbelievably — that the original problem had never been referred to IT.

I was pretty narky at this point, emphasising that it wasn’t this particular guy’s fault, but asking how it was possible that after such a long period of them being unable to provide me a service, nothing had been done to resolve it.

The guy was very apologetic, and assured me things would happen.

At about 4:15pm on Tuesday 18/10, they actually rang me. Wow. An actual call back. For once I didn’t have to explain again that we had tried turning the phone off then on again, trying the SIM in a different phone, and trying a different SIM in the phone. They already knew I needed a replacement SIM. And they said they did have some spares, and they’d be sending one out Express Post to me straight away.

Friday 21/10, a new SIM arrived in plain brown envelope. The letter is dated 18/10, but it very clearly did not go via Express Post. Luckily however it works fine.

The conclusion from all this is: steer clear of Woolworths’ mobile phone operation. It works fine as long as everything goes smoothly, but if you have a problem, even accounting for the fact that they are closing down, it’s very difficult to get them to take action. OK, maybe their replacement service will be better, but I’d not be willing to take that risk again.

Thankfully the phone’s new owner has been very patient throughout this saga.

The postscript

I knew before the first call that Everyday Mobile were closing down, and wondered if they would end up giving me a refund. Either way, knowing we’d have to port off them by early next year, I took the opportunity to order a new SIM from another provider. I looked around for a bit and for some unknown reason, decided I liked the look of Amaysim. So on 13/10 I ordered a SIM from them through their web site, with some credit on it.

To this day, that SIM has not arrived.

On Sunday I emailed them to ask them where it was. They got back to me on Tuesday to apologise and say their system messed up on my delivery address (odd, it’s a fairly conventional post office box, no weirdness like apostrophes) and it should now arrive in a few days.

Are all prepaid mobile companies like this?

I know they’d probably prefer to lock you into a contract on a postpaid plan, but surely they should be treating prepaid customers (many of whom spend considerable amounts of money) with better care.

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17 Replies to “The prepaid phone saga”

  1. Daniel, you get A+ for persistence.
    That’s why I hate telcos, utilities, insurance companies and banks. All hopeless.

    BTW, what’s been your (or boy’s) experience with Amaysim? Is it true there is no flagfall, hidden costs and only small monthly spend required? Taa

  2. I’m very happy as a pre-paid Virgin Mobile client for a few years now. That said, I *never* had to call them for any kind of support, so I don’t know how much my opinion of them would suffer if I did.

  3. We used everyday mobile until advised it was closing. No problems at all. Since then I have changed across to Woolworths mobile (it’s a spare phone that the kids use) and essentially Woolworth Mobile is Optus, even their website redirects to the Optus site. Your account is setup through Optus. Not quite sure why they bother with Woolworths branding.

  4. Isn’t it frustrating when you are a customer who actually wants to pay to use their service and they aren’t interested in making that happen. You should have picked up an Amaysim SIM card from a store ($2) and then immediately activated it online. I got one a couple of months ago just for data and haven’t had any problems.

  5. Good choice with Amaysim. It’s unfortunate that they stuffed up sending out the SIM; I have set up 4 separate prepaid accounts (for various family members) and have had no problems at all.

    I have been with them for some time now and my experience really has been excellent. Great value for infrequent mobile users.

    (By the way, if you buy Amaysim credit from Woolworths you get 4 months’ expiry instead of the standard 3.)

  6. It’s a bit of a jungle out there. A few months ago I bought a Lenovo laptop from a local retailer under a program where Lenovo advertised it would give me a $100 rebate. What neither the retailer nor Lenovo made clear was that you only get the company rebate if you apply for it within one week of purchase (it’s buried in the fine print). I was late and Lenovo refused my claim. I can see no rationale for the limit and no defense for not drawing it to the purchaser’s attention. Looks very mercenary.

  7. @Roger, I;ve been using Amasim for about 10 months now and have no complaints, no flagfall, no minimun spend and as Jon commented up to 4 months to use your credit. It’s caried on the Optus network and coverage is fine here in Whyalla SA

  8. Sounds similar to many situations I’ve experienced. Its not however just limited to the prepaid services.

    When I was last looking to upgrade my phone I walked into the Vodafone shop where I’d been a (relatively) happy customer for about two years. Unfortunately they’d sold out of Vodafone iPhones on the day, but had 3 handsets in stock (the companies had merged). They informed me the coverage was just as good and the help was essentially the same.

    It took about six phone calls (20-45 minute waits on hold before each) just to get the data plan activated. I was over-billed the first two months (they completely forgot to include the cap part of my plan, despite the fact I was paying for it!). I had virtually no reception in my flat (8kms from the CBD!). After about 2 and a half months of suffering this bollocks I called them only to find they were encouraging people to switch to Vodafone. Seems like they’d deliberately made the service as bad as possible to consolidate the customers. Unfortunately it seems that despite Vodafones constant rhetoric about improving their network, its gone down hill too. I now barely get reception in the flat again, despite it working fine about two months ago, and it working fine before I ever switched to 3. Perhaps they’ve started moving more and more 3 customers over, which is straining their network.

  9. I was having similar issues with various prepaid companies (including Virgin). I logged a complaint with the TIO about the customer service constantly fobbing me off.
    I switched to TPG Pay-As-You-Go and have been impressed so far with their response and it only took a couple of days to get a sim.
    Its $1 a month for network access, and includes 50MB data per month. The call rates seem better value than most pre-paid services too..

  10. I’ve had ridiculous issues with Vodafone as a postpay user. These issues all occured before my halfway mark on my contract so now I get to spent the rest of it hoping that I don’t need to call them because nothing will happen.

    I will gladly choose another carrier when my contract expires: Vodafone customer service has been the most horrible experience I have gone through.

  11. @Julian,

    They should have advised you about the lack of reception when they got your address to set up your account. That is ombudsman standard and my friend managed to get out his contract because of this.

  12. @John the problem with TPG is that they’ve got a $41 setup charge; amaysim don’t. But the do throw in enough free data for every occasional use.

  13. @Josh yeah the TPG setup cost was annoying, but its only a one off.
    Amaysim had a number of charges that I didn’t like. For example, although Amaysim doesn’t have flagfall, both SMS and voice services are charged at a higher rate. Furthermore, Amaysim calls are billed per minute, rather than per second with TPG. That means is i only used a portion of a min like 1min 20, it would be rounded up to a 2 min call.
    Data is also charged per MB with Amaysim, whereas its billed per 100kb with TPG. the 50 MB included data easily lasts the whole month for GPS acquisition for Google Maps and some occasional web browsing with Opera Mini.
    Over the long term all those costs make up for the one off setup, just makes the cash go a little further.

  14. I was pleasantly surprised when I received my final bill from 3 just now. I had resisted “moving to Vodafone” that they had been banging on about and had changed to Optus in order to get a new smartphone (SE Xperia Arc, if you’re interested. It’s great). My SE K770i was four years old and some of the keys had been dodgy for about a year.
    But I didn’t realise that I did this chageover three days into a new billing month, it being now month to month as the original two year plan was finished two years ago. They only charged me for the SMSes I had done rather than insisting on the whole month’s cap. Thumbs up.
    No comments on their coverage, customer service or other aspects, of course :-)

  15. Yes, they pretty much are all that bad, in Britain as well as Australia, and I assume everywhere else in the world. My practice now is that I give telcos, banks, utilities and the like two opportunities: one at front line customer service level and one at escalated complaint level – and then I complain to the industry ombudsman and/or take my business elsewhere.

  16. So was the SIM actually defective, or had the service been actually cancelled by them ?

    My SIM is about 13 years old now and been in about 10 different phones and not worn out yet.

  17. Why were you so patient? There is an industry ombudsman for this stuff, or better still, the Whirlpool forums where more than 3 people are reading and industry reps lurk. I wish I had as much time as you to waste.

    More importantly, you do realise you’ve just jumped from one Singapore Telecom/Optus reseller to another?

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