There are some bureaucracies that frustrate me.
Others annoy and make me angry.
MEO – the largest telecommunications provider in Portugal – belongs to the latter.
So, when I read that MEO has been hit with a €2.46 millionfine imposed by Portuguese media regulator Anacom, which found that MEO had violated rules applicable to the termination of contracts on the initiative of subscribers … nor had it confirmed complaints about contracts submitted by customers … and also provided incomplete information on the means and contacts available for submitting termination requests, I cheered.
Because my household and I are among MEO’s most recent victims.
Did you know that once your “loyalty period” (fidelização) – usually 24 months – is over, you are free to change companies and/or plans. Whichever offers you the most for the least.
At the time, our bills for both houses were totaling 140-150€ per month.
We trekked over to the large MEO store in the Forum shopping center, only to learn that its function is only to sell MEO packages and products. We couldn’t discuss the better terms we had seen advertised, nor could we cancel, change, or remove a second móvel which we no longer used, from our account. That would have to be done by phone, the salesman informed us, asking for a good time to have a customer service representative contact us. We could negotiate a better deal during the call.
“Will whoever calls speak English?” I asked. My faltering Portuguese was substantial to engage in conversations, ask and answer questions, and talk to my doctor and pharmacist face-to-face. But over the phone? No way.
“No,” replied the salesman. “But you can ask to speak to someone who does speak English. Can you do that—ask to speak to someone who speaks English?”
I nodded and agreed to receive a call from MEO at 4:00 pm that afternoon.
“Be certain to answer the call,” the salesman warned, “you will only receive that one call from MEO.”
Sure enough, at 4:30 (Portuguese time), the call came from MEO.
“Posso falar com um empregado que fale inglês?” I asked.
“Sim senhor. Mas ela precisará ligar de volta para você. Está ocupada falando com outro cliente no momento.”
I agreed. After all, what other choice did I have.
Twenty minutes later, an English speaking MEO customer service rep rang me up. We spoke for about 20 minutes, and she seemed to understand exactly what I wanted. Now, how much would the two plans – we had one for each house – cost? She asked if she could put me on hold while plugging all the data into her system to determine the monthly charges. “Only if you don’t disconnect me,” I replied, having experienced the agony of being cut off, of being disconnected, and trying to reach that same person again. “No worries,” she assured me. “If anything should happen, I will call you right back.”
She called back within a few minutes and ran through the numbers with me. Bottom line: For the two plans with the services we wanted, the total cost amounted to €104. A substantial savings over what we had been paying. She told me that, within an hour, I would receive the contracts for both properties in my email. All I needed to do was to click on the “Validate” button to create new contracts and cancel my former ones.
The contracts came, albeit with slight discrepancies from what we had discussed. The one for our second house at €29.99 was fine … but the bigger, main package linked to our principal residence was eleven euros more than she told me, bringing the total monthly cost to €111—not that great a savings.
Frustrated, I Googled “Portugal Internet Plans” and discovered NOWO, a company being bought by Vodafone that currently lags behind MEO, NOS, and Vodafone. Based on its advertising, NOWO appeared to be the best value in terms of our needs: For 90€ per month, NOWO would provide us with 1 Gbps with 360° coverage, a TV package including all the channels we watched (or wanted to), four TV boxes, 5,000 minutes or SMS on our móvel, a fixed telephone line with 9,000 minutes nationally and 1,000 minutes internationally at our two locations.
That would amount to a savings of at least fifty euros (50€) per month.
The next morning, we headed over to the one (and only) NOWO store in Castelo Branco. The lone salesperson was lovely—friendly, outgoing, helpful, and alternating her English with my Portuguese. Unfortunately, NOWO wouldn’t work for us; it had no broadband (fiber) service available at our home in the Alentejo and the best it could do for us in Alcains was to provide half the speed we currently have. She was as disappointed as we were.
“Before you go,” she asked, “would you mind if I take a look at the contracts that MEO proposed?”
Seeing no reason not to, I handed them to her. She looked at the first contract—the €29.99 monthly service to our second property, in Alentejo. “This looks fair and reasonable,” she nodded. “Let me take a look at the other one,” the bigger bill assigned to our primary residence in Castelo Branco.
“€81.89 per month,” she questioned, shaking her head negatively. “That’s way too much. You shouldn’t be paying more than 60€ or so for this package.”
“Do you have any suggestions?” I asked.
“Yes. Go to the MEO store a few doors down and show them this contract. Tell them that there must be a mistake to pay so much … “
That’s what we did.
The gal behind the counter took one look at the €81.89 contract proposal and made a series of faces ranging from curiosity to incredibility. She hit a key on her computer which, in turn, caused something to print out. It was a flyer and she handed it to me. Evidently a major mistake had been made by someone.
Except for a second MEO TV box (€2.99/month), everything included in that €81.89 was also included in her offer for €56.99!
Between the two houses, our monthly MEO bill would be 50€ less than we’d be paying. Exactly what we were hoping for. Yes, ma’am, we’ll take it.
If only life with MEO were so simple.
We had two choices: Either cancel our current contract and sign up for this plan under my partner’s name (MEO wouldn’t allow it to be put in my name). Or receive another call from MEO’s negotiating team and renegotiate.
Discretion being the better part of valor, we decided to renegotiate.
Again, the MEO store employee made all the arrangements for an English-speaking negotiation agent to contact us at a given time with all of our particulars. Including the mistakes made by the previous agent. She was quite pleasant and accessed our previously proposed contract. “You spoke with Carmen, is that correct?” she asked. That was correct, as were all the other details she had about us, our dealings with MEO, and even information about our discussions with the latest salespeople we had spoken with at the MEO store.
“And you want to renegotiate your contract?” she confirmed. “Exactly,” I replied. “We want the €56.99 package MEO is offering.”
“Let me see what I can do,” she said.
Over the next ten minutes, she came back several times, thanking me for my patience and saying she needed just a few more minutes. Finally, she came back on the line prepared with an offer: “I cannot give you that €56.99 package. The best I can do is to give you the same package for 66€.”
“I don’t understand,” I said. “Why can’t you give me the same package for the same package that the MEO store can give.”
“I’m sorry,” she said. “It’s not in my script. I cannot offer that price to you.”
“MEO is giving me no choice but to cancel my contract and write a new one under my partner’s name at the MEO store,” I argued.
“You certainly can do that,” she agreed. “But then, you would lose all of the MEO points you have earned—18,444 so far.”
MEO points? I’d never heard of them before. What were they?
“For each euro you pay to MEO, we give you one MEO point. You can use these points to purchase many items … from telemóvels to small and large appliances and many other valuable items. Just look at everything you can choose from on the MEO website. For a difference of nine euros each month, is it worth giving up all your MEO points? They’re non-transferrable. If you accept my offer, the points will stay with you and be transferred with your new contract. If you cancel your current contract and go with the one offered at the MEO store, you will lose all your points.”
“Let me think about it,” I said. “I’ll take a look at what’s available on your website.”
“No problem,” she said. “But before we can do anything in either case, we will need to remove your second móvel, which you no longer use or want, from your account before we can proceed.”
“Is that something I can do now with you?” I asked.
“No,” she answered. “We have a separate department that handles removals of specific services contained in your contract. If you hold on briefly, I will transfer you to that department. I will also send them all the details we’ve discussed.”
“Will the person you transfer me to speak English?” I continued.
“I cannot say for sure,” she said. “But you can ask to talk with someone who speaks English in that department.”
“Okay, go ahead and transfer me.”
The person on the other end spoke rapid-speed Portuguese, but no English. I understood what she was telling me, though: The English speaker in this MEO department was currently engaged with another customer. But she would call me back within the hour. I confirmed that she had all my correct contact and account information. She did, repeating my name, phone number, and contract ID to me in Portuguese. Yes, all the information was correct.
While waiting for the call back, I meandered through MEO’s website “store.” There really wasn’t anything we needed … but, who knows, we could have taken advantage of our points and redeemed them for products. Discovering how the point system worked was another exercise in futility. While we earned one MEO point for each euro we paid MEO, it didn’t work that way with purchases using points. Much like my Travel Rewards credit card, each point earned didn’t equal one euro to spend. One hundred points earned equaled one euro to spend. So, my 18,444 MEO points were worth €184.44. Sure, nothing to sneeze at. But was it worth it? Especially given all the grief MEO already had put me through?
The straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back was that the designated English speaker from MEO’s service “removals” department never called back. We waited three days. No calls from MEO, nor even a new contract in my email.
Despite my annoyance, this whole round-and-round-we-go had become a matter of principle for me by now. My partner and I agreed that the MEO points be damned. We would cancel our contract and sign up for a new one under his name. Doing so would achieve our overall goal: to reduce our monthly MEO bills substantially. We’d be saving over fifty euros each month, even if we had to go through the motions and inconvenience of bringing our routers and MEO boxes into the store to cancel our account and having MEO’s technicians schedule a time to come and bring us other ones. No installation work was needed … just bringing us a new router and two MEO TV boxes.
“That doesn’t make sense,” I told the gal at the MEO store. “We already have the router and boxes in place, working fine. Why not let us keep them instead of playing this ‘musical MEO’ with our time and equipment?”
She shrugged. I guess she didn’t get the reference to American “musical chairs.”
But I was reminded of that quintessential refrain: “Once, shame on you; twice, shame on me.”
P.S. Despite the machinations involved in dealing with MEO—and, I suspect, its brothers in arms—one of the customer service reps I spoke to gave me a good piece of advice: Once your “loyalty” period has ended, check the offers MEO (or NOS, Vodafone, NOWO) are offering, which change every month. You could end up saving a bushel and a peck!
Bruce Joffe is publisher and creative director of Portugal Living Magazine.