My Take

How jumping through hoops to cancel contracts with service providers can drive some people mad

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 29 April, 2015, 12:53am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 29 April, 2015, 10:04am

An engineering student who knifed a security guard at the head office of i-Cable Communications over a HK$618 bill vastly overreacted. Ng Shi-man, 20, deserved his detention order this week by a judge after pleading guilty to wounding and processing illegal weapons.

The guard was the real victim; he was only doing his job by trying to block Ng from disrupting the company office.

But the real public interest in the case was what drove the young man to go to such irrational lengths to try to settle a bill. District Court Judge Gary Lam Kar-yan was highly critical of the way in which i-Cable made customers jump through hoops to cancel its service.

We all have similarly bad experience with the city's dominant companies that provide internet, pay TV and mobile phone services, though some are worse than others. Between 2012 and 2014, the Communications Authority received more than 480 complaints about pay-TV services. Of the 85 complaints about changing or ending service contracts, 65 per cent were directed against i-Cable.

In Ng's case, his mother had her i-Cable broadband service disconnected in August last year but was still billed HK$618. The amount may or may not have been appropriate due to contractual obligations. But clearly the young man's family had trouble getting the company's staff to explain the matter. Deeply frustrated, he took the drastic action for which he is now being justly punished.

In no way do we condone his violence, but we may nevertheless sympathise with his frustrations. Try getting a real person on the phone to entertain your complaint and be prepared to spend a long time working through those companies' automated answering systems that get you nowhere. What about fax and email? Well, good luck with that.

When Ng was initially led into a room at the i-Cable office, he assumed a company officer would come to handle his case. But they gave him a phone to talk to a member of staff, who refused to handle his case because he didn't have his mother's ID card number. Ng blew his top after that.

i-Cable and its peers should use this unfortunate case as a serious lesson to reflect on any shortcomings and improve customer service.