Wednesday, January 12, 2011

It’s a bird, it’s a plane – it’s superman! It’s investment, it’s tax-saving, it’s a disguised insurance pitch!

Yesterday, there was another call from yet another persevering insurance company tele-caller.
The caller started the pitch for a very attractive investment product. Of course, the person was transparent enough to mention the name of the company, which had the word “Life” in it. However, the word “Insurance” following “Life” was conveniently missed out. So what, even Yudhisthir once said, “Ashwatthama is dead. Naro vaa kunjaro vaa!”
I entertained the caller and asked her to proceed with the features of the investment option. She started asking about my profession and date of birth. I asked her why she wants to know these details. Conveniently she proceeded to the next question. She asked my name, which I have no problem in giving. After some standard script, she mentioned about continuation of “free” insurance cover even after the investment term gets over. I insisted that I was only interested in an investment product without insurance cover.
By now, many of you know the modus operandi. The caller starts with the call. If the person on the other side asks too many questions, the call is transferred to a senior. The senior comes on phone and talks to me in a very authoritative manner asking what my requirement was – as if I called.
He had a very good answer for my point of an investment product without insurance cover. He said, “We are offering this small insurance cover so that your returns become tax-free.” Hello, is the regulator listening? Here is a standard pitch from insurance companies that they are selling an investment product (which is NOT a mutual fund according to IRDA). The insurance cover is given only to make the returns tax-free. These insurance companies do not want to change!
For how long will we allow such wrong approaches?
I haven’t taken the company’s name. Doesn’t matter! Those who practice such things, anyway know. Request to the poor investor, please do not fall into the trap of such calls.
Buyer beware!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Is India fast becoming a seller’s nation?

We all have heard the great India story – one billion customers, growing wealth, increasing income, even faster increasing spending. Wow! How the hungry Indians have transformed into hungry for more! This is probably the biggest developments of the 21st Century. But this development seems to have come with something else. We are fast becoming a seller’s country.

I will share some specific experiences and for that I will need to take names. I can’t help it as real experiences have real companies with real names.

The other day, I had gone to pay my Reliance phone bills and I complained about frequent call drops. The response was very “matter-of-fact” – the person at the counter coolly told me, “Yes sir, GSM phones have that problem.” I also mentioned about the speed of internet connection (I have a wireless broadband connection), that in spite of having a broadband connection, I get the speed of a dial-up network. The guy was quick to seize the moment. He suggested I go for an upgrade to the newly launched 3G connection by paying only Rs. 2,600. He assured me that this connection can get faster speed.

This response prompted me to write this article.

These guys are trained to sell. Their performance is also measured in terms of sales numbers and not in terms of customer happiness or satisfaction. If you have a complaint, it will be logged into the system and then at a later date and time someone will get in touch.

The other leading mobile phone service provider – Airtel – is even better than Reliance. First of all, I have been a slave to the number that my erstwhile employer had allotted to me. So many people know this number; I cannot afford to change it. This is what the cell phone companies are banking on, probably. To their respite, the regulator also accommodated their lobbying (sorry to use this much-maligned word) long enough to introduce MNP (mobile number portability). My experiences with Airtel services are known to many of my friends and if I start writing all those experiences, it may turn out to be a small book. I would only like to narrate what is relevant to this article.

1. Go to and what you’ll find is: if you are a customer with a problem and you want to find where and whom to contact, you will surf through the site and as the Ariel detergent ad says, “dhoondte reh jaaoge.” However, if you are an investor, you can simply click on a link right at the top of the home page. A single click on that link and you will be greeted by Mr. Mittal himself. The company is candid in telling us where the priorities are.

2. I lodged a request for starting voice mail services. Nothing happened for some time. On repeated follow ups, I was told that there is some technical glitch and company’s engineers are working to resolve that. After around 3 months, finally I was told that they do not offer voice mail services in Mumbai. With that I understood that the chapter was closed. One fine day, I receive a message that I had a message in my voice mailbox. Now, this is how I got to know that the service had started and that I was a privileged one to get it.

Tata AIG General insurance takes the cake. I had an insurance policy, which was renewed. I found that the renewal premium was higher by Rs. 3 from the previous year. Now, that surprised me. What the company had done was a stroke of ingenuity (however unethical it may be). They adjusted the base premium upwards such that the gross amount after Service Tax was almost the same as the last year, when the service tax was reduced from 12.36% to 10.30%. This 2.06% of service tax benefit was comfortably absorbed by the firm, without any notice to policy holders. When I followed up with the firm, the officers replied that they are free to revise the renewal premium without any notice to the policy holders. They agreed that they might have sent renewal notices with the old premia rates, but they were sorry about it (such a lovely word, this sorry is). I also got a written reply to my written complaint, where the officer started with "Let us explain ..." followed with no explanation whatsoever. A wonderful practical joke. Nevertheless, I had no time to follow up then and I gave up. When a year passed and the next renewal date came up, the call centre (sales) executives were quick to call up for renewal reminders. When I kept asking them about the status of my complaint, the calls stopped but were replaced with SMS messages that said, "we are unable to reach you ...". Someone had a very nice process of sending SMS when the customer is not available through phone, but the system was abused in case where the customer was insisting about resolving a pending issue.

I can go on and on, but let me not bore you with the details. I have such experiences with Nokia, HP, Dell, RCI, and HDFC; to name a few. When I share the experiences with my friends, I get to know they also have such issues.

What is surprising in almost all these cases is that the number of sales outlets is extremely high but the services centres are very few. The sales outlets are right on main roads, the service centres – you guessed it right, or maybe you already knew – very far off and generally off the main roads.

Is it suggesting something? Even at the cost of sounding too negative, I think, there is a message: dear customer, these companies seduce you as long as you are a prospective customer. The moment you purchase the product or service, you are not exciting.

In the process of getting more of everything and getting everything now, dear customer, you have lost a very powerful weapon of self-defense you had – choice. And the companies know that.

Rocket Singh – Salesman of the Year will always be in short supply.

Whoever said “customer is king” was dead right. Look at the kings in the democracy – by the way, I am referring to the erstwhile kings and not the Hindi of the word King (Raja).