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

Posted on May 28, 2012 in Specials

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.