commentary As much as I would love to sympathise with Vodafone customers, they just crack me up. And I'll explain why.
Right now, there are thousands of them clogging internet forums, the company's customer service help line and even my own email inbox, with complaints that the brand's network is simply not up to scratch.
Some 9000 of these people are so frustrated by the fact that the handful of pocket change they're paying isn't earning them the nearly infinite mobile access they thought it would that they're prepared to take part in a class action lawsuit.
It's been pathetically obvious that the Vodafone mobile network hasn't been up to scratch for some time. In June last year, for example, analyst house IDC made the audacious claim that Optus' 3G mobile broadband was only 4 per cent behind Telstra's Next G offering across a range of criteria.
The claim was greeted by a howl of protest from readers who pointed out a range of areas where Optus' network was deficient — and IDC itself acknowledged Next G was on average 60 per cent faster. Yet here's the kicker: at the time, IDC didn't even bother mentioning Vodafone's network ... which was presumably somewhere far behind in their tests, a distant third.
As early as August 2008, CNET Australia reviewer Joseph Hanlon was warning readers to check Vodafone's network footprint carefully before committing to a mobile broadband contract. Then there's the fact that VHA continually refuses to disclose how fast its network actually is — as opposed to Telstra, which will tell you down to the last megabits per second.
Warning signs much?
Yes, yes, let me say it clearly. Vodafone customers, you were warned about this. You were told, years in advance, constantly, that the network you were signing up to was patchy, slow and full of holes.
And yet, despite the fact that Telstra has built a billion-dollar alternative (Next G), which many onlookers consider to be a visionary piece of engineering and possibly currently the best mobile phone network in the world, you were still determined to save $10 per month off your mobile bill and go for the cheaper option.
Now you're reaping the consequences of that choice.
Mind you, I don't want to say all Vodafone customers are whingers. For starters, many (including the founder of Vodafail himself) have already successfully exited their Vodafone contract at minimal cost and have gone elsewhere. These sensible souls have no doubt now been welcomed with open arms by Telstra's rapidly improving customer service team and are enjoying the benefits of a mobile network which ... just simply works — as insane as that may sound to a Vodafone customer.
But let's face it: the vast majority of the 9000 customers who have signed up for the class action lawsuit against the telco are probably still struggling along, refusing to quit their contract and getting frustrated every day when their network stalls or drops out.
To these people I say: you are butting your head against a brick wall.
It will take at least a year for Piper Alderman's class action lawsuit to generate any results, and even if it does, you will only get a proportion of your wasted contract money back, after the law firm and its backers take their (substantial) cut. Fighting the lawsuit will diminish Vodafone owner VHA's resources even further, and likely distract from planned network improvements. There is also no guarantee that the upgrades will have any real impact on any individual customer's situation.
Furthermore, VHA has already allowed some customers with demonstrable problems to quit their contract early without penalty. So how much more invitation do Vodafone customers need to stop whinging and take action? It's like the world is handing them a golden ticket to a free ride and they're hanging on for a double platinum cash-out pay-day millionaire bonanza.
Don't whinge about the company that is providing you with poor service, then sue them and, finally, demand the government do something about their security problems. It's an open, competitive market, people. Pick another provider. How hard can it be? Really, Vodafone customers, how long will it take you to realise you can go elsewhere?
And one last thing: this "class action lawsuit" business in general.
Let's face it: in reality, most Vodafone customers who have signed up for this instant cash grab will have spent less than $2000 in total — usually, far less — on Vodafone services over the past year or two. The only reason so many have signed up to the action is because it takes so little effort to do so — literally, 30 seconds to fill out an online form and then a little more time to respond to any further inquiries the law firm may choose to make.
The truth is, for Vodafone customers, participating in a class action lawsuit is essentially an attempt to validate what was their own poor choice of network provider to start with. These are people trying to prove to themselves that they weren't the only people taken in by Vodafone's marketing spin, that they actually made the right decision but were lied to and that above all: it's not their fault.
However, the truth is, Vodafone customers, it was your fault. You had, and still have, a choice.
Renai LeMay dumped Optus in mid-2010 after a series of network hitches and is now a loyal and satisfied customer of Telstra's Next G network.