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We will attend to you shortly

If you have a problem, you find yourself back in the India of the 1980s, where the ruling mantra was ‘buyer beware’, writes Preeti K Sharma.

india Updated: Dec 05, 2007 21:37 IST

India has acquired all the brands. From Reebok to Chanel, most of the big American, some European and a sprinkling of Japanese and Korean brands have set up shop in India. We are proud that American and European jobs are being outsourced to India. The internet is hugely accessible. International business leaders, from Intel’s Craig Barret to Microsoft’s Bill Gates, have all sought business opportunities here. And our government is following economic policies scripted in Washington by the World Bank.

Yet, there is something vital that is still not available — customer service.

It does not matter whether we are talking about the privatised neighbourhood electricity office or cell phone firms or private airlines. If you have a problem, you find yourself back in the India of the 1980s, where the ruling mantra was ‘buyer beware’.

Consider the second-largest mobile phone company. They will send you hundreds of smss pushing dubious services. But they will not inform you about any change in their policies or tariffs. You are supposed to discover that by yourself.

Many people believe that if they keep high balances on the pre-paid services of a national — now international — mobile phone company, then their balance reduces faster than it should. They are wrong. High balances are not necessary. It will happen anyway. Let’s say you make a call for 60 seconds, it will be charged for two minutes. If you call the US for 59 seconds, you might discover, as I did, that your balance will be cut for two minutes.

After this accidental discovery, I kept track of my balance for a week and then decided to call the company. Then I discovered why call centres are so ‘popular’. The person at the other end, after noting your details, tells you that he cannot help you because either the computers have not been updated or that they are down or that they do not have data for more than X number of days (X being one day less than the date you have called about). I have arrived at these conclusions after talking to friends and hearing about customer complaint experiences for the last three years.

The only reason for having a call centre seems to be to figure out how many customers take the trouble to keep track of their usage. The fewer the people that call about billing, the greater the scope of adding money to their bottomline by deducting charges for additional minutes.

We are supposed to have a telecom watchdog, Trai. A lawyer friend of mine sent a letter of complaint to a mobile company with a copy to Trai. The phone company, of course, never responded. And Trai replied that the complaint should be sent to another forum. It is no wonder that mobile phone companies are laughing all the way to the bank.

In fact, experience says there is better service at some public sector banks and at MTNL than at fee-char-ging foreign banks and balance-eating mobile firms.