Thursday, October 15, 2009

Prepaid or Pre-failed cards?

"Yes sir, your documentation is now complete. Here is your SIM card. The connection will be activated within 48 hours." The sales person across the counter assures the customer. "Why 48 hours? Why not in the next few hours?" Asks the customer. "Sir, your documents will be handed over to the company, only then can the connection be activated. Government rule, sir," comes the reply. Since the customer is vaguely aware of such a rule, (s)he resigns to the fact, that nothing can be done about that. "But then, are the documents correct? There will not be any problem about that, right?" A concern expressed by the customer. The sales person once again assures, "No sir, there won't be any problem. If anything happens, give me a call, I will take care of it." And the customer walks out of the shop, waiting for those 48 hours to end, so that (s)he can be reconnected to the rest of the world.

A typical conversation with a sales agent in a shop that sells prepaid phone SIM cards. After 48 hours, the connection is duly activated. And the customer is happy talking and sending SMSes to everybody informing them about the new number, new place, etc. Until one week later, when (s)he receives an SMS from the cell phone company to submit the documents at the nearest customer service centre or else face disconnection.

The subscriber frantically calls the customer care number. After getting through the labyrinth of the IVRS, (s)he finally gets to speak to the customer care "executive". This "executive" is actually the one who only executes orders. They are not allowed to think or deliver practical or long term solutions. "I've submitted my documents in the shop from where I bought this SIM card," says the harried and worried customer. "What documents did you submit, sir?" The executive asks in a voice that sounds as "cool" as ice. "I submitted a copy of my _____ as photo id-proof and _____ as my address proof." "Sir, the documents are fine, but they haven't reached us. Can you submit them once again?" asks the executive, as if it is as easy as drinking a glass of water. "How can it happen that the documents haven't reached you?" The subscriber tries not to lose cool. "Sir, many times the shops take documents and do not submit it," the executive. "But then, I was told that my connection would be activated only after the company receives my documents. So, how did you activate my phone, if you hadn't received the documents?" With a rising anger, the customer poses a tricky question. But the "executive" is trained to bluff the customer. "Sir, sometimes the shops get the connection activated through their contacts in the company."

What?? How is that possible? Company employees breaking rules and regulations, not only of the company, but those of the government of India. What the customer care "executive" is also telling, is that the shop that sells pre-paid cards is not submitting the documents to the company. So, what do they do with it? They have my photo-id, phone number and my address. They can easily sell it to some tele-marketing people for a few hundred rupees.

In the meanwhile, the "executive" offers the subscriber a solution. "Sir, why don't you go to our company store and submit your documents there? We will activate the phone immediately after you submit those there." "But then, what about the documents that I have already submitted?" The subscribers anger is slowly increasing. "Sir, they haven't reached us, so you will have to re-submit the documents. It is a government rule, sir." "Yes, but then it is a government rule not to activate phones without verifying documents." The subscriber is justifiably annoyed at the dumb answers of the "executive". "I'll report this to the consumer courts. That you disconnect phones, even after all the documents have been submitted," thunders the customer. "Sir, one moment please. I'll transfer the call to my supervisor, who will try to address your concern."

And after a few moments, the supervisor comes on phone, who has to do nothing but just supervise whether the "executive" below him has given the correct answers. "Correct" as per their manual, not whether answers are actually correct. And this person, who is supposedly in a position above the "executive" and hence empowered with some more decision making powers, replays the same answers that the "executive" had given. With, a sweetener added, "Sir, next time this won't happen again." "Hell", says the customer,"next time I am not going to buy a card from your company." And the poor customer repeats the process of documentation, just for the sake of having the number that was painstakingly conveyed to all the acquaintances.

This is where the failure of these mobile phone companies lies. It cannot ensure a smooth service for its customer from the point its SIM card is bought. Why should the customer be penalised for the sloppiness of the phone-shop? The mobile company has a record of which SIM card was given to which shop. So, can't it warn the shop and bar it from selling its products? The company won't do so because the more number of shops that stock its products, the more will the sales be. One consumer is insignificant in terms of revenue. And since, once the subscriber has a number, (s)he has to stick with it, to avoid all the efforts of updating records everywhere, it is advantage the phone company. And it cannot (and will not) regulate its own employees who illegally activate phone numbers. Since it gets revenue as soon as and as much as a customer uses the phone. And it also cannot answer what happened to the documents that the subscriber had submitted earlier. They have no respect for the sanctity of the data that was handed over to their agent. Their common answer is that they are third party persons, and we have no control over them. How is this possible? You cannot control your own contractors? Then what kind of a company are you running?

All in all, mobile phone companies are more interested in earning revenue, more than providing a good experience to the customer. As they say, caveat emptor! That's the only thing we can do.

Prepaid or Pre-failed cards?SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Leopold Cafe

Yes, it is the same Cafe that was attacked by terrorists on 26th November 2008. I'd gone to this cafe along with Sushant, just because, long time back I had promised him , that I would accompany him to the place. Accordingly, we managed to achieve that last week. It is a famous landmark in Mumbai and has been in existence since 1871. Cafe Leopold is located on Shahid Bhagat Singh Road, the road that takes you to Navy Nagar. A more convenient description is that it is in the lane behind the Taj Mahal hotel. The restaurant is owned by an Irani, whose name I don't know. And so, like all Irani restaurants, this one too has a feeling of the past to it. All the furniture, light fittings, appliances appear to be out of the old era. But, the atmosphere is homely enough and not like the Udipi run restaurants, where they would be on your head asking you for the next order.

The restaurant has two levels. On the ground floor (the photo of which is shown above) they serve food and only beer. Whereas a full fledged bar is located on the first floor. We were on the ground floor enjoying the beer. They serve various kinds of beer, ranging from draught ones to foreign brands. And, they serve beer in a glass which bears the beer company's label. E.g., a Kingfisher beer, is served in a glass with a Kingfisher label. It is priced reasonably, considering the location of the restaurant. The food, is priced slightly on the higher side. But is compensated by the quantity served. And needless to say, like all Irani hotels, the taste is awesome!

Expect a crowd at any given time, and also expect to see a large number of foreign nationals in the restaurant. You might feel as if you are in a bar on Heathrow airport, where a large of of people of various nationalities converge. On the service side, it is good, but not good enough. The waiter has to attend so many tables and so many orders, that he might get stretched. So, you might find yourself waiting to place your order or waiting for your order to be served. The beer is served chilled, so absolutely no problems about it. And the waiter does give his suggestions to make our experience better. All in all, a wonderful place to be. Not without reason, that Leopold is popular amongst the people of Mumbai.
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Thursday, October 08, 2009

Nostalgia.... again

Nostalgia: An activity that allows us to recollect the events of the past and extract all that was good, enjoyable or peculiar about them. It takes me away from the realities of the present into a world that was simple and enjoyable. Where pressures didn't seem to matter and failure was just another part of life. Where facilities were premium and the efforts taken to access those form part of folk lore today.

It was just yesterday, that I slipped into dreaming about the yester-years, while travelling in the local train. I was lucky to get a comfortable seat, facing the direction of travel. If you sit facing the direction of travel, no matter how packed the local train is, a cool wind always manages to go past you, thus keeping you comfortable. Coming back to the nostalgia part. While I was enjoying the cool breeze caused by a combination of rain and the local's motion, my cell phone began to ring incessantly. It jolted me out from the meanderings of my mind. It was my cousin, who wanted to know where I am. After I answered her call, I started wondering about what all losses has the cell-phone revolution caused?

First and foremost, that came to my mind was the STD/ISD booths. I am not even going back to the days of trunk-calls, because the STD facility killed the need for trunk calls. Thank Sam Pitroda for that. Making an STD call was a group event. I do not remember a single instance, when I've gone to make a call alone. In those days, we used to queue outside the STD booth to make calls at home. The half, one-third and one-fourth rate rules meant that calls would be made and received at unearthly hours. And in small towns, the STD shop would close by 11 PM, meaning we couldn't utilise the one-fourth rate facility. We used to decide a time with parents and then call them up. As a student, I couldn't spend too much at that time. So, calling parents was restricted to once or twice a week. Sunday used to be the day, as it used to be half-rate through the day, with one-third, one-fourth rules applied as usual. There used to be these stuffy phone-booths, in which, there used to be a useless exhaust fan and the basic DTMF telephone. Somewhere in the late 90s and early 2000s, atleast in Pune, there was an experiment with what ever called as "ZIP Phones". These phones, installed in STD booths, had some electronics into them. They had an on-board LCD screen. So, the number and the time would be displayed on a part of the LCD screen. The rest of the screen would display advertisements of various kinds. The advertisements were changed on a frequent basis. Now, STD booths have become a rare sight.

Secondly, the anonymity of our location has gone. Of course, it could scare the parents, especially in case of an emergency, but then there was no way they could force you to change plans. I remember, once I'd gone to the British Library, without informing anybody. And they were all worried when I returned back home, almost two hours after my usual returning time. But, as I mentioned in the opening of this post, today anybody can call us anytime and the chances of lying are low.

Third, it has taken the adventure out of searching addresses. If you get lost, just pick the mobile, call your host, tell the location and get your way to the destination. But it wasn't easy back then. You had to find a PCO phone, then dial the number and get instructions within two minutes. Or talk to irksome shopkeepers or strangers to get the required directions. Or, just deduce the directions on your own.

Of course, cell-phone revolution has brought a sea of change in the communication sphere. Today, even the very remote parts of the country can be reached on phone. As BSNL and Deepika Padukone would like us to believe, "Hindustan bol raha hai!!" But then, along with bringing a lot of good things, it has suppressed a few good things of the past and brought in a few bad things too.
Nostalgia.... againSocialTwist Tell-a-Friend