Brian Salter's Blogs:
Callserve – No calls and No serve!

 

Regular readers will know that nothing infuriates me more than companies that feel they can take their customers for a ride. Forget about customer service and actually keeping the guys who pay their bills sweet; instead rape their accounts and smile all the way to the bank.

So Callserve – which makes its money from offering Voice Over Internet phone calls – gets my vote this month for shoddiest customer treatment – way out in front of similar grab-the-money-and-run organisations.

What gets my ire this time around? I live and work in the United Arab Emirates. For quite some time I was a happy and, dare I say it, loyal customer of Callserve. I paid a fee up front which allowed me to make pretty cheap phone calls around the world and in general the software did what it said on the box and everyone was happy. The fact that two years ago there were over 1400 international VoIP services for the residential and SOHO (small business) market didn’t sway me one bit. I saw no reason to change.

But circumstances dictated otherwise. The telecoms regulator in the UAE saw fit to ban the use of VoIP. Try to get onto any of the regular VoIP websites and you were greeted with the screen of death:

خطر! Surf Safely! This website is not accessible in the UAE.
The page goes on to explain that “the site you are trying to access contains content that is prohibited under the Internet Access Management Regulatory Policy of the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of the United Arab Emirates.”

Or to put it another way, the impoverished telecoms companies, Du and Etisalat can’t fleece their customers if they resort to trying to save money using VoIP.

And so it was that trying to use Callserve became an impossibility. The general public couldn’t save money by making cheap internet calls; Callserve couldn’t make money by selling cheap internet calls. Only Du and Etisalat were able to carry on making their piles of money.

But wait a minute! What was this? Despite the so-called ban, Skype continued to work after a fashion; and then Yahoo and MSN Messenger’s voice and video conferencing suddenly started working again too for some reason. But the likes of Callserve were still officially banned. And that must have really choked off Callserve who surprise, surprise, suddenly worked out a way of circumventing the regulations.

“Having trouble calling from the UAE? We have a solution,” they trumpeted on 26th September. “We’ve had feedback from a few customers stating that they are having trouble accessing our PC dialler. If you too are having issues using the regular Callserve PC dialler, then we have a solution. You can download a new version here. We apologise for any inconvenience caused with our PC dialler, and hope to see you calling again soon.” And a specially set up web site at http://uaecaller.com/callserve (UAE Telecoms Regulator, please note!) had this new software which the killjoys at the UAE Regulatory office had not yet discovered and blocked.

Sure enough, I was once more able to download Callserve software and managed to log on with my old password. But what was this? My balance, which had stood at over £16 when last I had used it, now recorded zero. I started to read the small print. “Your Callserve account was not used for over 6 consecutive months and was therefore closed. However, our records show that you have recently logged in [to download the new software] so we have reactivated your account. ...You will need to make a payment as your account balance is now automatically set to zero.”

WHAT???

“It’s worth reminding you that we are giving away 10% extra free credit on all top ups made until the end of September 2010. All you need to do is enter the promotion code SEP10 when you next top up your account,” it added, as if to rub salt in the wound.

Hang on though. This was Callserve’s software that didn’t work here; a problem that they knew about and were able to solve by writing better software. I wrote to their customer support asking for a reinstatement of my money. And I got a reply… a couple of days later from someone called Vishal Tirthani.

“Dear customer, Thank you for contacting Callserve Support. We are really sorry that you were not able to use the callserve service to save on calls since one year. Unfortunately we cannot do anything about the returning of the credit, as that is a system policy. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you need further assistance.”

In other words, Dear Customer; we have your money. Now get lost!

I wrote back again. “I am sorry that your system policy seems to penalise the end user for the fact that YOUR software doesn't work in the UAE and that when you finally sorted the problem out you expect the CUSTOMER to be happy to wave goodbye to money he paid upfront on the basis that YOUR software would work when in fact it didn't. Are you guys really serious that this is what customer service is all about? Might I respectfully suggest that you re-examine your ‘system policy’ and make an exception in this case?”

Not surprisingly, Callserve ‘Customer Service’ has chosen not to reply. Now, in my book, this is nothing short of stealing. They promised a service which didn’t work; and when they finally DID get it working, they then zeroed the balance and then had the temerity to ask their customers to pay again, because their system policy was…. to steal from their customers!

So in awarding my shoddiest customer treatment of the month accolade to Callserve, this is just to let them know that I will be telling as many people as possible about their policy of ripping off customers. This blog will also go on my web site. And it will be posted on Facebook. And it will be sent to a number of other bloggers I know in the hope that they too will spread the word that if anyone would like to use VoIP, the LAST company they should ever consider using is Callserve which I understand is also part of Vyke.com. On the basis of viral networking, I would like in my own small way to put a BIG spanner in the works of this rip off company.

Oh, and if Callserve ever do respond to this particular ex-customer, you can rest assured that I will be sure to tell you what they have to say for themselves.

12th November 2010 update:

Oh guess what....The Callserve team really do think they are the bee's knees.... I have just been written to:
Hi brian, Did you know about our great referral scheme? If you refer a friend to Callserve you get $5 free credit when they make their first top up. And they get $5 too! It's that simple. Visit our site for more details.
If you need any help or support please contact our Customer Support Team. Talk soon, The Callserve Team

Being the mean spirited S-O-A-B that I am, I wrote back to them....short and sweet:
Your lack of customer service really astounds me! and then linked them to this page...

A lady called Kiran Shetty (no, I did say Shetty!) wrote back:

Thank you for writing us, Can you be a bit more specific in your query, So that we can serve you in a better manner, {her grammar, not mine!}

I wrote back...

To be dismissed offhand by your customer service and then to be spammed by your marketing department suggesting I recommend Callserve to my friends beggars belief. I will NEVER recommend Callserve to anyone again after such treatment. Instead I will refer everyone to my blog.

I am a journalist and also give training on internet use to businesses. One of the points I always stress is that companies such as yours that treat its customers in such a cavalier fashion will ultimately fail because the customer now has real choice. I now have another example to quote in my seminars...

Total silence again for two more days. And then surprise surprise, not one, but three eMails pop into my inbox from Callserve's customer support. The first is a computer generated eMail (I think):

Dear brian Your account has been adjusted to reflect your recent request. Please see below for transaction details.   16.3405 GBP  Balance correction

(Thinks: how many minutes of online phone time can you get for .05 of a penny?)

A minute later, a Jonathan Featherstone sends me anothe eMail:

Thank you for your enquiry. To fix the problem please go to the follwoing website to download and then install a new version of our software. www.uaecaller.com/callserve

Err.. thanks guys, but by going to the "follwoing" site is what started this all off in the first place.

10 more nail-biting minutes pass... Jonathan Featherstone writes again (just in case I am too thick to have comprehended the earlier eMail generated by their computer?)

 have also reactivated your account with a balance of £16.34 Kind regards

Ah, so they have thought better of crediting me with an extra .05 pence as compensation? Well, never mind. At least they have seen the error of their ways; and I take this as an apology from the mighty Callserve.

I mean, I still won't be recommending them to my friends (so they can keep their $5 reward) but perhaps their service might come in useful one day - if I can think of anyone I want to ring overseas who is not yet on skype / yahoo / MSN / etc - just as long as I do so within 6 months! 

24th November 2010 update:

Oh dear - they still don't get it do they???

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