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.

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  1. Caveat Emptor - I endorse this. TII. This is India.

  2. @Susan,
    I guess, we can't do anything else, except stop using cell phones.