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.

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