Why you shouldn’t bother with #Etisalat

What did we learn today? When Etisalat says there’s no problem at their end, you shouldn’t believe them.

Okay, seriously, where do I begin?

Let me take you through my day today. At 10:30 a.m. I received a call from a customer of mine telling me they had lost all network access — the IP phones weren’t connecting, they couldn’t receive e-mail, etc. etc. Since no other engineer was available, I visited the site.

With an interconnectivity between Dubai and Germany and backup operations in Spain, this was a mildly cumbersome task, getting the right people on board to help diagnose the issue. I spent almost two hours trying to diagnose where the issue was coming from and of course, it was from Dubai.

Since the hardware had been checked already, I decided it was time to do the unthinkable — contact Etisalat. For those who follow this (people do?) and don’t know Etisalat (subtotal: 0.5 people), they’re our sole telecom provider in the UAE. Yes, DU, you’re there too, but honestly, the only thing you compete with are mobile phones. For anything else, we’re not given a choice, and for business requirements, we only have Etisalat. So yea, sole provider.

So I call Etisalat help, 101, who after running through some transfers, tell me, “Leased Line is a separate department, please call 04 xxx xxxx”. Right cool. In parallel, I might add, I’m trying to reach two separate account managers, both of whom are unreachable (which is okay, that happens).

So what happens when I call the number?

Attempt 1: <bad number>
Attempt 2: <bad number>
Attempt 3: Rings, rings, user busy.
Attempt 4: Rings, rings, user busy.
I call 101 again.

“What, that’s not the number, here’s the right number.” There’s 20 minutes I’m not getting back.

I reach some genius who tries to talk to me like I’m a 5 year old. “Oh dear, you’re having a problem? What is the problem?” Our leased line is friggin’ down, you moron.

“I’m checking from here and everything is okay. Your problem is definitely in the building. There is no problem from our side.”

“Are you sure, all the lights are not on, and there’s one red light on the modem.”

“No, no, here it is showing up.” (In technical terms, that means the link interface is up, ie, there are no problems). “The problem is in your building, someone must have cut the cable or something. Everything is okay upto and including our modem right now.”

“Sigh, allright.”

For the next 2 hours I waited for a building technician to show. In about 15 minutes, he traced every cable from the office down to the building telephone rooms and confirmed there were no issues at all.

I call the Leased Line help back.

“I’ve verified there is no problem in our cabling. I know there’s no problem in the link in Germany. I’ve confirmed that they’ve paid their bills through the account manager (whom I reached eventually in this hullabaloo). How do I sort this out?”

“Okay let me check, I’ll call you back.”

“You see the modem? What lights show on there.” “4 yellow, 1 red.”

“Okay, I’m going to reset the port, turn it off and when I say, turn it on again.”

Pretty much that’s what happens.

“What lights do you see on.” “4 yellow, 1 red.”

“When the WAN light came on, did it blink or just stabilize?” “Well, it just stabilized. Why? What should it be?”

“Oh it shouldn’t stabilize.” (WHAT?!) “Hmm, okay, well it did.”

“Okay let’s try it again and see if we get a different outcome.” Blimey. “Okay.”

Repeat performance.

“What do you see now?” “Oh, WAN link isn’t showing. Red light’s still there though.”

“Red light? Really. Hmm..” (YA THINK?!)

After putting me on hold for a bit…

“I think you have a faulty modem.” You think?!

“I’ll have someone sent over to you with a new modem.”

Yes, the new modem which arrived at 6 p.m. solved the problem. But nothing changed in the 4 hours since I first mentioned there was a red light. Or that we had a problem. Or…sigh, why do I bother.

You’d think I’d be done here don’t you? Yea, I’m not. I bring the sequel to my miff with Etisalat: The Twitter Wars.

So Etisalat recently joined Twitter, with much of the same hullabaloo mentioned earlier. News even filtered in that there were 12 people working the account (12? Gah. At least Dubai doesn’t have to worry about finding creative ways to employ people). Then came a huge furrow of “We’ll get back to you” tweets that didn’t seem to lead very far. And they were tweeting from the web.

However, when they started using CoTweet, I thought, okay, they’re trying.

I got a notification saying my year-long subscription for the iPhone was about to expire. Super, I thought. Let’s tweet.

So I asked Etisalat to help me understand what I needed to do to renew the iPhone subscription, and what plans I had available to me now that I’d completed a year.

On Apr 22, I received a call from a Sharjah number. I was at dinner and did not see the call. The message left behind was, “Hi I’m somebody incomprehensible calling from Etisalat. I’m following you up on your mail.” Er, what mail? (I realize now that this was related to the tweet).

I then received this, by DM:

Apr 23, EtisalatUAE: Would like to inform we will be unable to renew the current iPhone subscription. Please review our Iphone packages at http://twt.tl/qLQt2GI

Uhm. What? Yes, I’m aware that you have some iPhone packages on your Web site. Despite your rather disorienting Web site, I knew what that information was. But does that answer my question? No.

We will be unable to renew the subscription? What does that mean. Etisalat can’t renew subscriptions? That’s what I asked.

Response 2:

Apr 23, EtisalatUAE: Sorry for any confusion caused. To clarify, this is still the same company phone that you wish to renew, just with a different package?

Why did you not ask me that question before? I don’t get it. I told them that it was.

Then I got this:

Apr 25, EtisalatUAE: There may be crossover between my tweets and renewal requests u r sent. Pls bear with me. Am looking into it and will get back to u.

What is going on, exactly?

Apr 26, 5 p.m. I received a call from the same Sharjah number to discuss the iPhone dilemma. I’m told that Etisalat does not renew iPhone subscriptions and I just have to move to buying a regular data package.

One suggestion I received was to just buy a new iPhone and sell it on the market to keep the plan.

Apr 26, 8 p.m., I got another call from the same Sharjah number to tell me the same thing. I got another call at 8.30 p.m. which I ignored. I got another at 9 p.m. The person wanted to discuss my “mail” about my iPhone subscription, and started telling me how they don’t renew… “I already spoke to someone at 8?” “Oh I’m…” “No, seriously, it’s 9 p.m. and this is the third call for the same info.”

I hung up.

All this happened in one day. One bloody day. When I think about the fact that I’ve been a UAE-resident for 20+ years, I don’t think I could even begin to start listing the kind of instances I have been through, let alone people I know.

Why put it up with it?

Only, and only because we don’t really have a choice.

Chirag Desai @Chirag