Digital Justice, Russia Style!

Paul Goncharoff

Usually concerning myself with non-retail business in Russia, this is one retail adventure that begs telling. I am a long-term customer of Beeline (a major Russian mobile communications and internet provider). Last month I decided to fully join the 21st century and bought a ‘smartphone’ with all the bells and whistles. A month later I get an SMS notice from Beeline that I owe them for one month’s service  42,361.88 rubles (about $650)!

This prompted a flurry of calls from me and visits to their sales office. To no avail. Then, deciding to take pen in hand I jotted the following letter to this Beeline behemoth whom I have only spoken to or heard from in digital soundbites, and those were not optimistic. My letter ‘story’ follows, minimally redacted:

May 8, 2019 21:45 Moscow time

Gentlemen,

I have been a customer of Beeline since the 1990’s, never having used any other telecommunication provider in Russia. Throughout this time, I have always paid my phone/SMS bills, in fact I usually prepaid a bit every month in advance to ensure problem-free service. This you may check on my records for (my telephone).

This April 9, 2019 I went to your Beeline office located at Metro Kolomenskoye to look at ‘smartphones’. Up to then I have used a simple folding Samsung Telephone with only call and SMS functions – no internet capability. At Beeline I was recommended by the salesperson to buy a Huawei Y6 2019 version smartphone. I asked if I can maintain my historic telephone number (mentioned above) and use my existing SIM card. They said yes. For me to use the internet and WhatsApp I was told I had to obtain a second SIM card which would allow me to use internet functions based on an inexpensive unlimited internet plan. I agreed, and they sold me a second SIM card with the new Huawei smartphone (Sales reference numbers).

As I am a novice in digital smartphones, they told me there was a 300-ruble charge if they were to set up the handset for me with the two Beeline SIM card functions and give me access to the internet. I agreed. My old SIM card also had to be cut down to size, which was done.

The new second SIM card had an internet plan offered by Beeline.

All installation and copying of my numbers from my old telephone to this new Huawei Y6 2019 was performed by the staff at Beeline. I was told that my telephone and SMS messages would be charged as they always have been to my old number. Any internet functions that I use would only be reflected on my new second SIM number.

I then left on business to Singapore, and then on to Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, using the new ‘smartphone’ as usual, and trying the internet functions like Google Maps, my email accounts, and WhatsApp. On returning to Moscow I received an SMS that I owed Beeline over 30,000 rubles on my telephone! I went to the Beeline shop where I purchased the phone, and they said all was OK, and that I should file a report with Beeline, which I did. In fact, they filed it for me. A few days later I received a phone call from Beeline saying the issue was investigated, and that I now owed Beeline 42,361.88 rubles! In addition, I was informed that this was a final decision and could not be appealed!

In fact, upon investigation, what occurred was that my new Huawei Y6 2019 smartphone was set up incorrectly by the staff at Beeline where I bought it. They placed my old SIM card in the wrong slot being slot one, and the new internet SIM card with the Beeline internet program in slot two. It should have been the reverse as I am now informed, educated and painfully aware.

As for these massive charges, I do not think that I should be held liable to pay them as I accepted the phone from Beeline in good faith, especially after having paid extra to have it set up for me. The fact that the set-up Huawei Y6 2019 phone that was prepared for me by the Beeline seller/professionals was in error I believe is solely an issue for Beeline to resolve, and not for a loyal customer to deal with.

I shall pay the 42,361.88 rubles as I need my telephone uninterrupted but would expect some form of compensatory response from Beeline in turn. After all, I did not break faith in buying the smartphone at Beeline, had Beeline install it, only to learn after the fact that the installation was incorrectly done. I not only paid for this professional set-up, but now must pay a very high price for errors committed by Beeline professionals.

Looking forward to your earliest positive response,

Yours in good faith,

Paul Goncharoff, Moscow: +7 telephone

Everyone I spoke to, be they Russian or non-Russian thought my creative writing talents, hopes and time spent would certainly be wasted in any battle with digital windmill behemoths. This especially after I received an ‘not subject to appeal’ SMS verdict on my new internet use. I was prepared to pay this usurious fee, until I received a phone call from a real person at Beeline who informed me that they investigated the matter based on my letter and agreed with me! Five minutes later I received an SMS with the amended amount due to them of 419 rubles!

One thing is certain, my faith in the better nature of humanity has been upheld, not many providers anywhere on the planet would take the time to read then investigate a letter, and my customer loyalty to this Russian provider now knows no bounds!

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