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Not So Happy To Help: Ineffectiveness of Customer Care Facilities by Telecom Companies

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By Girija S. Semuwal:

If the overriding logic behind every activity in business is profit, long term if not direct, then can there be any genuineness to concepts like customer care and ‘happy to serve (you, the Customer)’? One sector in India, when taken as a case for study, suggests that in practice all claims regarding ethics and efficiency in customer service are rubbish. I’m here referring to telecom companies in India, and if this reference is immediately relatable, or you frown due to the involuntary recall of an unpleasant experience, know that it is evidence enough of what is written below.

Telecom operators in India have a long list of consumer complaints against them and have drawn criticism and public ire in the past. Fraudulent fair-use policies, overcharging, non-activation of plans, wrongful charging for value-added services (VAS), wrong billing, bad or no network coverage (sometimes abrupt or unpredictable), marketing calls and SMSs despite ‘do not disturb’ (DND) activation, phone balance recharges not getting credited on time, etc. are the major charges. The thousands of consumer complaints — constituting 17% of complaints made across all sectors — should worry the telecoms.

Ironically, the arrangement these companies have in place to deal with such complaints — customer care – is in itself a cause for grievance. Rude behavior, uncooperative attitude, tardiness in resolving problems, dropping and disconnecting consumer calls, problematizing issues further or not resolving customer vexations without any apparent reason are among the lengthy list of grievances against customer care personnel of telecom companies.

Pretending that my personal experiences, and those of friends and families, are inadequate to adjudge‘customer care’ facilities offered by telecom corporates, I decided to randomly look up customer reviews and forums on the web. Ignoring the heavy amount of cussing and the verbal onslaught, I waited to come across a positive feedback. But I came across none; only scathing reviews describing telecom companies and their customer care services with use of superlatives like “worst service”, “most unethical”, “torturous headache”, “harassing”, “pathetic and corrupt”, to mention a few. The most polite and decent criticism received by the ‘happy to help’ concept used by one company was that it’s “a slogan to attract customers”. I couldn’t agree more.

On a lighter note, some offences are ridiculous enough to be joked about; on many occasions VAS services like caller tunes and optional mobile content are activated without the permission of (or confirmation by) the user and charged from his/her account. The humorous part is when the user comes to learn this as a surprise, from a friend or acquaintance that calls and enquires “hey what kind of a tawdry caller tune are you using?

Jokes apart, the question of perpetual grievances remains. One theory to explain such complacency on behalf of telecom companies is the extremely high “churn rate” in the telecom industry. Churn rate is the ratio of new customers signed up each day to existing customers deactivating their accounts. An individual customer is statistically negligible compared with the entire customer universe or customer base. So he holds no importance in the larger scheme of business or planning. The attention a single user complaint is likely to get must be understood with this background in mind.

Moreover, operators earn the biggest incomes from phone usagecharges by only about 15% of all connections i.e. the heavy users. The remaining 85% contribute insignificant profits to the tune of 50 to 100 rupees per connection.

But let not this number crunching befool us into accepting this as an excuse for the alleged shortcomings. Notably, some complaints are resolved with uncommon expediency. This follows an internal policy, which is veiled to the public eye, and appliesto ‘priority’ user issues. Priority customers — in other words, political leaders, bureaucrats, top journalists,eminent lawyers and other power wielders—can have special requests made and get their issues resolved in no time. All ‘priority’ complaints are flagged as important and urgent and are get dealt with instantly by dedicated teams. This inside story casts doubt on the practices of telecom companies.

Again a subject of irony,customer satisfaction is an important “metric” tracked by telecom companies. If the situation on the ground is one of disgruntled and frustrated customers, how does this get ignored in evaluation? Perhaps, it’s all too known but not a ‘big deal’.

But the ‘happy to help’ looks good in isolation, on paper. Write it down, and draw a smiley under it; it may bring a smile on your face on a hectic day. But if it’s your mobile service provider you that’s stressing you out and you don’t want more of a headache getting issues resolved, just switch to a different network. It will help, for some time at least.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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