Wednesday, May 2, 2012

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.
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. Dear customer, in the hurry to get more as soon as possible, you have lost the only weapon you had - choice. And the companies pretty well understand 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).

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