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Magix 'n' Curses
..the argument continues

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Beware of Airtel - 1


This was the first mail I'd sent to them. It was more of a blog post than a complaint mail. Old habits die hard! :)

I also realise that I shouldn't have written those last lines. That just gave them a license to take me for granted. Hence this series of posts.

Scroll down, or click here to read the Prologue.

Re-Reminder: Inviting write ups from anyone who has faced an issue with Airtel that was handled badly or left unresolved.
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To whomsoever it may concern,
Why do you wish to test a customer's loyalty? No seriously, why?
The following complaint wouldn't look out of place in my blog. Being someone who's been loyal to Airtel over the years, I am doing you a favour and writing this as a mail. I didn't want you to lose more customers because of me. But trust me, with the quality of service you've exhibited, you don't need my help to lose them. You're doing pretty well on your own.

Here's a blow by blow account of what I've had to put up with over the last few weeks. I will have to put a disclaimer at this point that I'm not sure about the exact dates and words uttered.
Frustrate me any further, I may just forget my own name.

6th April 2009
I visited this small retailer called Ronak Electronics in Dadar along with a few other friends. We're temporarily on duty in Mumbai for 2 months and we definitely needed a local sim card. One friend bought Reliance, the other bought Vodafone. I bought Airtel, and got scoffed at. I was told "the service in Mumbai sucks" and that I was making a mistake. But no, I HAD to buy only Airtel. I filled out the enrollment form after being made to wait for about 45 minutes. After I filled it out completely, I was told we needed a local address proof and that it was a new rule. So I agreed to get it the next day.

7th April 2009
My friend who's a Mumbai local gave us a photocopy of his passport that he always carries around with him. He asked us to make more copies from that. Satisfied that we were armed with every document you may need, we went back to Ronak Electronics to submit the documents. I even topped up my unactivated Airtel number with 60 bucks in (foolish) optimism. He promised us that it'll get activated in 15 minutes. Of course it didn't.

8th April 2009
I called up Ronak Electronics in the morning and asked him to activate my card. He said he'd do it at 11 "when the distributor comes".
Of course he didnt.

9th April 2009
I called up Ronak Electronics again in the morning. He said he'll send the SMS asap and that it'll get activated that day itself. No guesses what happened. My frustration'd pretty much touched boiling point. So I called him again in the evening. He had switched his phone off. By the time we left from office and reached his store, he'd already closed and gone.

So I called up customer care and told the guy my predicament. He suggested that going to an Airtel Relationship Centre may help. It was 9.40 PM and I asked him if they'd be open. I was told they'd be open until 10. And what do you know? After walking for 10 minutes, I found myself staring at the shutters. (I found out through your website today that they are only open until 8. Maybe you should rename 121 as "CustomerCareful")

10th April 2009
Enough was enough. After being coolly told by the retailer that the documents will reach the office on Monday only anyway, I took the documents from him, found the nearest Airtel Relationship Centre (the one at Mahim) and submitted the documents myself. I take a service ticket and waited. And waited. And waited some more. After an hour, it was finally my turn. I was told by the lady at the desk that the document had been filled out wrong and that I needed to write the address given in the local address proof. I told her I had an appointment to keep, and asked her if I could sign in the relevant places and if she could fill it out for me. "Of course, sir", I was told, "We wouldn't want to waste your time any further". Finally some customer care, I thought, as I headed out of the office. I was promised activation in 4 hours. I'd waited 72 hours, what was another 4 hours going to be?

11th April 2009
Another 4 hours was going to be 24 hours. My sim still showed no signs of activation. I was at a place pretty far away from Mahim, so I called up Customer (s)care to help me out. I was told in no uncertain terms that there was absolutely NO WAY that the relationship centre could be contacted.
"Don't they have a landline?", I ask.
"No sir, they don't", I'm told.
"Don't you at least have the numbers of the employees who work there?", I enquire.
"Sorry sir, but I'm not authorised to disclose that", is the reply.
"You mean to say they're stand alone offices that have no contact with any of the other Airtel Offices?", I ask exhasperated.
"Yes sir", was the pretty confident sounding reply.

So I go out of my way to the Airtel RC at Mahim. I asked the same lady at the desk why my sim hadnt been activated yet. She went on to explain how it was a 2 phase process and that it was the distributor who still hadn't sent his message to Airtel to confirm the activation. She then asked me if I was sure I submitted the documents. I reminded her that it was she who had checked it the previous day. So while another assistant searched for the documents everywhere, she coolly moved on to the next customer. When the assistant said he couldnt find it anywhere, she turned to me and asked, this time with a hint or irritation in her voice if I was "really sure" I submitted it. I reminded her yet again that it was she who'd agreed to fill the form out herself after getting my signatures. The irritation on her face gave way to realisation. She opened a drawer and found my form.

Still unfilled with only my signatures.

With as much patience as I could muster, I asked her why she hadn't filled it out.
"Sorry sir", she replies, "my ARC (or something like that) got over".
I suppose it meant her shift. It's a pity I don't remember her name. I think it started with an A.

I was promised again that my sim will "definitely be activated in half an hour". I couldn't trust her words after the amount of sloppiness she had displayed. I asked her if there was anyway I could contact them as I couldn't wait there for half an hour. "It will surely be done sir", I was told pretty assertively, "you don't have to worry". I felt uneasy as I walked out of the office. I went back inside and confirmed if there was absolutely no way that Airtel Customer Care could contact them. I was told it was possible by mail. (So which one of your custome service folks gave me wrong info?)

I asked her to send the sms before her shift ended and walked out of the office. In 15 minutes, I received an sms that my number had been activated. I didn't know whether to laugh or cry.


21st April 2009
No. It isn't over yet!!
I return to Mumbai after having been out of station for a few days. Voila! My outgoing is barred. Whatever number I call, I am greeted with the same message "Your call cannot be completed. Please submit the required documents at the closest Airtel Outlet immediately. Your service will be restored within 24 hours of receiving the documents." And what was, without doubt, the heights of ridiculousness was that I received the same message even when I called 121!

I had to borrow a phone from a person I hardly knew to make a call to 98920 98920. Vinay Ujjwal, the customer service guy (I had learnt my lesson.. I made it a point to take down his name) told me that Airtel still hadn't received the documents and that I should wait for 24 hours so that "backend could check if my documents were there" and my services would be restored. Or better still (!), I could go back to the same Airtel Relationship Centre and tell them my problem!!!
"Can you at least enable me to call customer care from my phone?", I ask.
The assertiveness training that you give your BPO folks works well. I could make that out from his "No, sir". Here's some news for you, it pisses off people too. Saying the same cliched "sympathetic" sentence with not an iota of sympathy, over and over again doesn't help either.("I understand your inconvenience sir".. Yeah. Right.)

I've so far spent 100 bucks on the sim, 60 + 60 on top ups and a further Rs.102 to enable cheap SMSes. I've invested way too much time, effort and money to throw the sim card and go buy a new one.

If this mail doesn't make you folks realise how much you frustrate your customers, if the only solutions you still have to offer are "wait for 24 hours" and "please visit the same Airtel Office".. well.. there's nothing I can do. I'm way too exhausted to take any kind of action. You've successfully managed to plant huge doubts in the mind of a loyal (why am I still using this word?) customer. Congratulations.

No thanks and very little regards,
Harish