Winning text messages in hand, about 25 angry Metfone customers yesterday gathered at the telecom’s head office on Mao Tse Tung Boulevard to demand the new iPhones they were promised.
Each of the customers had paid US$0.30 to enter a Metfone-sponsored contest and received a text message from the Vietnamese-owned company confirming they had won a new Apple iPhone 4S, which retails at between $649 and $849 in the US.
However, Metfone officials at the office claimed that the promissory messages were a technical malfunction, and tried to compensate the contest “winners” with an offer of $5 per person.
Metfone’s gesture was greeted with dissatisfaction by most in the crowd, which at times grew unruly. Police arrived at the scene after reports of shoving between the customers and Metfone staff.
“I celebrated with my friends last night. We drank a lot of beer. But now [Metfone] won’t give us our phones,” 30-year-old Oung Sopheak, a local business owner, said, standing in the Metfone office in Phnom Penh’s Chomkarmon district.
He held up his mobile phone, displaying a text from the company that said he had won.
“We will stay here until we get the prize. We will come back tomorrow and wait again if they don’t give it to us today.”
The text messages were a “serious system error”, said Tevy Lim, a Metfone communications officer, as she tried to calm disgruntled customers at the office yesterday.
Some of the Metfone users shouted and pointed their fingers accusingly at company staff, who blocked the crowd from entering corporate offices. “It’s our mistake and we cannot cheat our customers,” Tevy Lim said, adding that technicians detected the message in question last night.
Text messages correcting the alleged mistake were sent out yesterday morning and a letter from the company’s management was posted at all of the telecom’s Phnom Penh offices.
“We want to apologise to our customers and let them know that Metfone is sorry,” she said.
But the telecom – Cambodia’s biggest by subscriber numbers – won’t budge from its $5 offer.
Customers can take the small cash giveaway or go home empty handed, according to Tevy Lim.
Metfone users, many of whom claimed they arrived at the company’s office at 8am to collect their prize, have said the mistake reflects poorly on the company.
“Metfone is an international company. How can they just go and ruin their reputation like this,” said Kem Makhuny, who claimed her son received the promissory message from Metfone last night.
“You can’t just say sorry and push people away,” she said.
Kem Makhuny, who works for an insurance company in Phnom Penh, said she called police to the scene yesterday after Vietnamese staff reportedly pushed her and other customers away from the office.
She claimed the group would return today to Metfone headquarters to demand their prizes if Metfone refused to distribute them yesterday.
The some 25 customers at the Metfone office were not the only recipients of the text message, Tevy Lim said.
Although no exact figure was available, many others received the message but were deterred by the subsequent text-message alerts, she claimed.
Metfone holds monthly contests in which iPhones, motorcycles and even cars are given away, Tevy Lim said.
With a reported 6.2 million customers, Metfone is the Kingdom’s biggest telecom by subscriber numbers. The company, owned by Vietnam’s Viettel, also claimed to have the country’s largest network of fibre-optic cables.
Minister of Posts and Telecommunications So Khun could not be reached for comment yesterday.