Thursday, May 13, 2010

Annals of Bad Service: Mobily

As much as people (including me) complain about customer service in the Western world, service is a dream compared to the number one offender in the Kingdom of Saudia Arabia.

I refer, of course, to telecommunications provider Mobily (pronounced moBUYlee).

I should make it clear that I have no beef with their actual phone service; it's not like I get a lot of dropped calls or fading signals. It's the customer non-service I'm talking about. Well, that and a few other things...but mainly the non-service.

Specifically: 1100, the Number of the Beast in telecoms.

That's the alleged number you call to get any kind of customer non-service, short of trudging off to visit one of their offices. (Of course that's a frustration in itself because you may get to a Mobily office, take a number, wait for your turn to come up--assuming no one has jumped in front of you--and then find out the particular office doesn't offer the service you need or need to have fixed. Even something as simple as renewing your USB modem gigabytes can be your undoing if you go to the wrong office.)

I should mention that there is no other number provided in any Mobily literature anywhere except the 1100 number. And if you wait 45 minutes to see a Mobily rep at one of the offices and complain about having to drive all the way there, they'll just cheerfully refer you to 1100.

In short, the 1100 is about as useful as a flyswatter on a bowling ball.

First off, no one ever answers. Ever. Even after you've gone through their maddening phone menu. OK, so perhaps after 50 or 100 tries you do get a live person. The connection will either be immediately terminated or you'll find yourself with someone who speaks English with such a heavy accent that you need to have him repeat what he says 5, 10 or even 15 times for everything he says.

But enough yakking, let's try out the 1100 number right now:

[ring ring]
"Welcome to our new Mobily customer service menu. For Mobily services, press 1. For Broadband at Home press 2."

[Press 1]
At this point, instead of getting the option you requested, a recorded commercial starts: "Internet roaming..." (annoying commercial plays for about 16 seconds) " subscribe to this service, press 3. To go back to the Main Menu, please press 'star.'

[Press *]
"For information about the balance and recharging, press 1
"For settings, 3G services and internet packages, press 2
"To activate and deactivate Mobily services, press 3
"For (nacawfee?) program, press 4
"For reporting the harassment complaint, press 5
"To change the language, press 6
"To listen to the services list again, press hash"

[Press 2]
A new menu option list now starts up, the last of which, hidden after the "listen to the list again" item, is:

"To contact a Mobily customer care representative, press zero"

[Press 0]
"Dear Customer, you can now evaluate the quality of service provided by our customer service representative immediately after this call. Dear Customer, to ensure service quality, this call will be recorded." (Mobily is big on prefacing all their statements with "Dear Customer.")

Of course there is no evaluation because you will never get a live person to evaluate.

At this point the system often simply hangs up on you, so you call back a dozen times until you finally do get through to an actual live person (who, remember, you will have to ask to repeat everything he says at least 5-10 times to understand him). Alternatively, a live person may answer, who promptly gets drowned out by the previous recorded announcement...and the call is dropped. So you call a dozen more times until a heavily accented person comes on the line. This whole Abbott & Costello routine can go on a dozen times.

Now, is it just my imagination that Mobily customer service is renowned throughout the Kingdom for being slovenly and poorly engineered?

I've asked several of my student classes and every time I mention Mobily they all wake from their gerund-learning-induced stupors and start laughing and shouting about how much they despise the 1100 number.

I did find out while I was visiting the Mobily booth at an electronics exhibition recently (from a guy who probably shouldn't have told me this): Mobily has a 5-tiered system for responding to calls on 1100. It starts with their VIP customers, works down to "post-paid" phone customers and finally dead ends at the "pre-paid" customer level. That's me. I buy pre-paid cards worth 60 riyals every month or so. You'd think these would be among their most valued customers.

Back to the job at hand. In case you're wondering, I've now been on music-hold for more than 90 minutes -- about the time it took to write this blog, get some coffee, check some other e-mails and read a few chapters of a book. I'm just feeling ornery enough to plug my phone into its charger and see how many hours it will take for someone to answer.

UPDATE: I left the phone on the charger and let it just sit playing on-hold music and I racked up about 6 hours, including 3 or 4 callbacks...without a single live person interrupting.

In the meantime, I have suggestion for Mobily: Why not just change the number to 666 and get on with the business of ignoring customers without the subterfuge of a help line?


  1. SAWA (STC) is also like this. You have to ring 'em up a hundred times before someone answers! And then when we get to speak to someone, he will (almost always) direct us to the STC website! So frustrating!

    Anyway, we love your blog! Please share more of your experiences in Saudi Arabia. We're also working here in Riyadh. :)

  2. I should say that I literally went back and forth between including some digs at STC or not and ultimately edited that section out for reasons of dramatic simplicity. I have a friend who did the same experiment I did though. He let the phone ring for 6 hrs with STC and never got a live operator.

    I might also say that I checked out The Pink Tarha blog and it's an amazingly sophisticated blend of words and images. I'm very impressed even though shopping and dining out are not my strong points. You guys are like a pink sandstorm of pinay vivaciousness blanketing the staid streets of Riyadh.

  3. The 5-tiered ranking system is true. In addition to that, there is an unannounced limit to the support calls you can make. In your case the pre-paid customers gets (I think) 5 calls a month, after that you'll be stuck in a loop until the counter resets.
    I'm not a VIP or anything, but when I call 1100 I get a live person in under one minute (almost every time). My phone is post-paid and I pay 200-300 a month.
    One last thing, if you think Mobily's customer service is hell, try STC's to experience the true hell.

  4. Oooh, i love it! Secret support (or non-support) policies. Next thing you know, they'll be charging me to subscribe to prayer call notifications. Oh, wait...they already do.

    If you look at The Pink Tarha's comment above you'll see you're not alone.

    Maybe we should propose a good ol' fashioned customer non-support smackdown to see who is the worst. "Who can ignore your call the longest?"

  5. Mobily sucks...damn they always eat my unlimited internet load..When u call customer service its almost 10 years to connect to a live customer service representative..STC kwais

  6. Thanks so much for this post!! I have been having so much trouble getting through on the customer service number because all the options were in Arabic and my Arabic is poor. As least I could listen and use your post as a guide to what was being said and I managed to change the language to English. I even managed to get through to someone within a couple of minutes of changing the language. Of course to no avail because my husband registered the phone so they want to speak to him. Damn!

  7. Dear Anon: You'd think that as the number 2 company, Mobily would be the "We try harder" guys. But the horror stories just keep mounting every time I bring up the subject of Mobily and STC. I wonder if the people of any any country like their local telecoms outfit.

  8. They also send you unsolicited mssages and charge you for it like 5 or 10 riyals each. You can complain to no one.

  9. I didn't know i was getting charged for those stupid unsolicited messages. I may have to double check that. Grrrrrr!

  10. I have gone through all the same after being a post paid customer. I did not get any one online.
    Really it is shame for mobily for being so rude to customers.

  11. how can you convert you mobily prepaid number to sawa. where should i go to mobily office or sawa office?
    sick of mobily, now very happy on sawa, especially because of the 55 hala international call, the offer is like being all year round.

  12. i want the same mobily number to be sawa, is it possible?

  13. Wish I could help you, Anonymous, but that sort of answer is way above my pay grade. Sorry.

  14. Such is Saudi Arabia, thats why the country is garbage. They are too stupid to even run a customer service center lol. They should just outsource it like everything else that they cant do (which is everything).

  15. I have same problem, i am staying in Jubail main market (Location: 27.013418,49.657468) my subscription is 2MBPS but actual speed i am getting only at 06:00am after that speed start to decreasing 1MBPS at 12:00, 0.50MBPS at 4:00pm, 0.15MBPS from 5:00pm till night (maybe whole night i checked up to 23:30) so my advice to all of you "DO NOT GO TO MOBILY" i used STC for long time and i feel STC is far better than MOBILY there is no comparison,

    MOBILY doesn’t have that much capacity to serve better, and unfortunately he started WMAX which I believe that their stamina is not that much.

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  17. As of November 15, 2015, Mobily's internet service and customer service are still complete and utter garbage. I paid for an "unlimited" connection which, I was told, would be around 20 to 25 MB. Actually, it's .4 to .5 MB. So I spent around 2 hours trying this evening to call customer service, and even though I always pushed 2 for English, I got non-English speakers EVERY time--that is every time I got a human at all. Usually I didn't even get that far. Usually there was no answer, I was cut off or a I got some recording in Arabic that I could not understand. Great service Mobily!!!

  18. I am planning to get a new SIM for my Mobile phone. Looks like STC is the better option.

  19. I should mention that I wrote that 5 years ago; Mobily may have improved since then. But since there's no particular motivation for that, I kind of doubt it. Nevertheless, it would be interesting to hear from anyone who uses Mobily.