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Monday, Dec 16, 2019
Home / Columns / A Calmer You, By Sonal Kalra: Darn, these hunger games!

A Calmer You, By Sonal Kalra: Darn, these hunger games!

All those tortured by the online food apps, let’s gather and mourn.

columns Updated: Aug 17, 2019 16:52 IST
Sonal Kalra
Sonal Kalra
Hindustan Times
We are touchy when it comes to food delivery vis-à-vis another e-commerce services.
We are touchy when it comes to food delivery vis-à-vis another e-commerce services.
         

I do not normally go around making serious allegations against people, but I strongly suspect that Chaddha ji stole and ate my food yesterday. There is no other explanation to why my Spinach Ricotta Ravioli, ordered online with so much love, and then supposedly delivered with as much love by Sher Bahadur, never even reached me.

Although the food app in question, Swiggy, apologised and initiated refund of my already paid money for the food that I never got, the discussion of this mishap with friends — online and offline — shows that the problem is common, in various measures, across food delivery apps, be it Swiggy, Zomato, Uber Eats, Foodpanda or what have you. But why, one wonders, when these ventures are rather well-funded, do basic problems persist with customer service. Swiggy’s funding is $1.47 billion, and Zomato’s is apparently $673 million (source: livemint), and I’m sure the same richness applies to others too. C’mon apps, you have more funds than the GDP of some countries, and still the issue of poor customer experience touches a raw nerve in a market that’s growing at a rather healthy 16.2%.

And you know what, while online food apps face a rough time with customers all over the world — in the US, for instance, one in every three users of food apps has complained of lack of service standards — things are bit emotional when it comes to food and Indians. We are touchy when it comes to food delivery vis-à-vis another e-commerce services.

Read more| A Calmer You, by Sonal Kalra: We don’t know how to deal with loss

Why, yesterday when the apologetic customer service executive offered to give me a ‘make-good’ voucher for not delivering my prepaid food order, it didn’t take me a second to refuse it. Because for me at that point, there was no make-good value to compensate for not being able to feed a guest eagerly waiting for her favourite food for an hour-and-a-half, and who was in no mood to eat home-cooked ‘make good’. For many in India, despite all the ‘urban working population making food delivery an everyday routine’ transition, ordering food from outside on special days remains a joyful, exciting thought. And make-good vouchers just don’t make it good if that thought gets spoilt.

Anyway, I got around to talking to people in the quest for finding the top five things about online food delivery that annoy us the most. I’m sure the experts at these services know of them, but I’d still like to spell them out, because frankly, I’m bugged enough right now to give a voice to all those who may have faced this.

1. Lying: Just as in all other things in life, it hurts to be lied to, when it comes to delivery of a service. And to see a delivery person blatantly lying about having accomplished their job doesn’t cut it for me. Go online and you’d see multiple complaints from consumers where the job has been falsely shown as having been completed on time, when it hasn’t. Mostly, it happens with showing the wrong time of delivery, but sometimes it happens when there hasn’t been a delivery at all. I recall, once I had ordered for pizza, which came with a guaranteed time of delivery. And don’t judge me, but I had ordered it from an outlet which I could see from my balcony. Twenty minutes after the due time, and when the app showed ‘successful delivery’ when none had reached me, I called up customer care, where a guy put me on hold and said that the delay is owing to heavy rain in the area. ‘Well, I am IN the area, and there is no rain here’, I retorted. At which point he said, “Oh sorry, I’m in Bengaluru. I just told you what the delivery guy said.” And this isn’t like a rare, isolated case. People have reported being told that the delivery guy has met with an accident, hence the delay. God forbid if that ever were to happen to a delivery guy rushing to meet impractical deadlines, but please don’t ever lie about such things. I’d much rather have my food delayed, than being made an emotional fool of.

Read more| A Calmer You, by Sonal Kalra: Mom, stop cursing my phone!

2. Shut places: So there are instances when a delivery app shows a restaurant live, accepts your order, and calls up much later to claim ‘technical glitch’, when actually the restaurant is shut for some reason. I’m sure no service does it intentionally, but one wonders why not enough systems can be put in place to check before sending out a ‘your order is confirmed’ message. Apparently a successful transaction in their records matters to them, as those get compared for performance. But trust matters to us. What about that?

3. Bad quality: I don’t want to be shown photos of exotic dishes and then be sent prison-special food because the apps haven’t bothered to check for quality. In September 2018, food apps in India had to delist thousands of outlets that did not have the basic Food Safety and Standards Authority of India’s (FSSAI) licence for hygiene. So before that no one had even bothered to check if the food delivered to your place was even being cooked in a clean kitchen. Thankfully, this has changed now but considering that these services spend crores in setting up customer care centres with executives trained in politely saying sorry, they may as well hire teams of regulators to keep a check on the quality of food they endorse in the ‘top picks’ section.

4. Prepaid orders: The feeling of being cheated is worse for those like me who always prepay for the food, just to avoid the hassle of having to dole out cash at the time of delivery. But when the recent incident happened, so many people told me that they opt for cash on delivery (COD) only, because they are not sure of the right order getting delivered, and on time. It’s an impractical thought that apps actually de-prioritise prepaid customers, but then it is irritating to get refund for something you never even got in ‘seven working days’, that too as a big favour. And a couple of times when I have opted for COD, it’s a battle to get the exact change, because the delivery guy would never carry any.

5. Lastly, and are you surprised by this? I might just be happy offering a slice of my pizza to the delivery person but please don’t have them finger my food on the way. They are not the quality check experts I just asked for. And here I don’t want to blame merely the delivery personnel. I spoke to one today, who confided that he gets 42 bucks for each delivery, and fights with several others waiting outside on their bikes to maximise on the number that he can grab. So here’s the thing dear apps, please pay the delivery people well and reduce this stress from their lives. Your stress and ours will reduce on its own.

Sonal Kalra plans to wait outside Chaddha ji’s home, to abduct the next Sher Bahadur and get even. Do you wish to be a partner in crime? Mail her at sonal.kalra@hindustantimes.com or follow on Twitter @sonalkalra