Saturday, March 15, 2014

Tale of 3 Telcos - Reliance, Airtel and Vodafone

Over the last two days, some Mobile telcos have reminded me of my opinions. This, despite me approaching them with an open mind and starting over afresh.

Big daddy doesn't mind customer support that bosses over callers.

I had to call up, because my mother's phone couldn't receive incoming calls since morning. She had recently ported over to their GSM service, after having been with Reliance CDMA for ten years. She called 59059 to complete SIM activation in the morning, and when it seemed to work an hour later, thought all is well.

Reliance wasn't in the mood to let us experience simplicity this time either. 
Her phone could make outgoing calls, but calling her number would give us a recorded message, "Please check the number you have dialed." After an hour of trying solutions we could think of, there was no other way forward with incoming calls - we had to call customer service.

As usual, after a maze of IVR options and waiting 25 minutes to speak to a human, I had a voice saying hello (he didn't bother to introduce himself with a name until I asked). He went through his script, did all he could to declare that the problem was my mobile phone and the way I use it. Eventually, he was willing to admit that the problem could be at the network back-end, that something broke when porting to GSM which also involved a plan change. He took down a complaint, gave a 9-digit complaint number, and said issue should be resolved within 72 hours by the technical team. He was particular that today and those three other days will get no compensation in my bill, because, after all, they were going to fix the issue. (oh wow, you're my hero! /s)

Could he tell me what the problem could be? Well, he'd received two similar calls and resolved them, but would not say what could solve it this time. Would he (or a colleague) be willing to follow-up, and call us back once each day until it gets fixed? No way. Was it acceptable to leave a lady unreachable by phone? He had no opinion, had apparently done me a favour by taking down a complaint, and now I should just wait it out. Could I speak to a manager? After ten minutes of on-hold music, Arun, the 'floor supervisor' speaks to me, with an insouciant attitude of 'just be grateful'.

I'd had enough, this wasn't my first such encounter with Reliance's bossy customer support and uncaring stores either. I don't wonder anymore, about how Rcom's market-share heads in its current direction. Go right on, ignore funding of operations and support, pay employees poorly, but splurge on marketing - and then complain about the poor RoI.

Keep on offering more non-offers to your customer base.

I walked into an Airtel store. The latest mobile phones from Samsung/Apple/Blackberry took pride of place at almost 50% of the area, as though Airtel was going to compete with a mobile phone sales store. A woefully inadequate "desk" exists to serve mobile service customers. At the very rear, screened off by a fake wall as though it's a shameful unwanted child, is a desk to serve land-line/DSL customers.

What I was exploring, was the probability of re-activating a land-line which I'd had for 14 years, and getting a prepaid SIM card. The store felt sleepy even at peak hours with lots of people. The employees were attending to cute girls out-of-turn. A long haired, bearded guy seemed to be the only one capable of handling work, with 11 others trying to appear busy and keeping customers engaged until beard-guy could get to them. My enquiries were re-directed to the Airtel call center (wait time 30 mins), or the area sales manager (who just wouldn't pick up his phone). There's lots more, but the ambience and the customer experience were terrible. The call center of course, played that accursed tune on a loop, which I've hated since my teenage.

Suffice to say it felt a lot like a government office. I kept telling myself to be calm. Beyond the first minute, every Airtel employee angered and infuriated me, in behaviour and speech. Thank you Airtel, for reminding me why I swore to never give you my business.

If you didn't exist, it'd have been necessary to invent you.

Every service provider runs into issues, but the way they resolve them makes all the difference. Let me talk about the last week alone. I walked into the Vodafone store, waited just two minutes. Had to see if I could save on my monthly bill. The rep said that there indeed was a plan priced at half of mine. Also, I hadn't activated the free CUG on my plan, would I like it now? I said yes to both. And walked out, a cheerful man.

Two days later, my outgoing calls weren't going through. Alright, a five minute walk to the friendly store was needed. I ask the rep to fix my issue. He smiles, turns to me and explains there was "CUG barring" at the back-end, a faulty plan-change that he admits to. He IM's a colleague who does have access to fix it, and also sends the formal email required by process. It should be fixed in two hours he said, but it actually was resolved in 20 minutes.

I saw a chance to reduce my Mobile Data plan cost, and he did what I wanted. Also in the past, Vodafone has been willing to follow-up on issues I face, so I don't have a trust issue with believing what was said. I breezed out of the Vodafone store again within a few minutes, cheerful. I wish I could say the same about Airtel and Reliance.

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Martian Solitude

I am the hero (obviously), and am fit in a man-next-door way, not too beefy. I had taken off from Earth in a spacecraft 7 years ago. I have been living for the last four years, on the planet Mars in a habitat module. It's a lonely life, living on this arid, dry, unfriendly planet which needs a spacesuit whenever I step out of my tiny living area. I carry out sampling for scientific experiments done remotely from Earth, and keep the lab instruments functional. I keep trying to reverse the atmosphere's effects on my muscles. I get to speak to Mission Control, smart kids, family of other NASA astronauts-to-be... and plenty of important people who mean nothing to me in the here and now.

There has been a hitch in my ride back home. My mission was meant to have ended a year ago. NASA keeps saying that they want me to do "just a few more" tasks while the vehicle is on its way to pick me up, that I'm important as the pioneer, etc. I think the vehicle just had a botched launch, and remember, a launch window to Mars won't open until 26 months later. Every once in a while, one of the Mars Orbiters drop off supplies, tugged back to me by an autonomous Rover.

In a quest to do more today, I am traveling much farther than usual. Far out in the Martian red-sand deserts, I see... GATES and a roadway. Positive that we from Earth hadn't set up a gate or any kind of real-estate property up here, in curiosity and trepidation I walk on. Every few metres, on both sides of the road, at waist-level height, are thick poles with rotund heads that didn't quite glow at present. I see a cluster of apartments, water pools with recreational fun rides, and humans enjoying a gala time with plenty of noise and shouts. There was this cute girl who seemed oddly familiar, in a way I couldn't place. I pinch myself, but no this is no desert mirage.

I pick up my communications device. In my shock, I break protocol and talk not to NASA Mission Control, but go over their head by 3 levels. I make a secret call to the Space Secretary herself. I tell her what I found, and that these people on Mars may be unauthorized in their use of NASA's resources.
[no idea why I said that, could they be from a Cold War military project?]

[cut to next shot]

The Space Secretary is a professional official in the administration, and knows of some other things being out of place too. She walks over to the President's office, and greets him. The big chair turns 180° towards the desk, and Will Smith's big ears twitch in an unearthly manner, when he tells Secret Service to "leave us alone."

[cut to next shot]

Paranoid about a hot pursuit, I now find myself in a small Martian railroad town. I am on the platform, after buying my ticket. To my horror, I recognize somebody, a colleague from back when we were in low-grav training. Just as I take my seat and the train moves, he meets my gaze, breaking into a friendly smile, naïve and oblivious to what I fear is about to happen. He will need strength.

I blurt, "Have your lunch" ... No reaction, he hasn't understood the urgency.
The message needs conveying, so I mouth a screaming, "KHAANA KHAALEY!"

This is where I woke up in the morning, so it stops here.
For non-Hindi readers: "khaana khaley" means eat food.

Hastily typed it all before I forget, because I dreamt it up in my sleep. The plot seemed like something that had to be shared with the world. From memory, I recognize that the above story intersects multiple plot devices I have read and seen.
*wood, you're welcome to build it into a more interesting story, just retain Will Smith!

*Disclosure: I had been watching an ISS documentary last evening.