Over the last week, I have been wondering if I should refuse to call any customer care centre as a mark of protest. The first of my two experiences was exasperating. But, the second, was infuriating. But, let me start from the beginning.

It was Monday morning. Our fax in office was not functioning. I had to call HP customer care and complain. More importantly, the printer was not picking up paper properly and I had to get an engineer to visit. The process took me 45 minutes. Here is how the conversation went. I call, identify myself and my company and politely ask explain my problem. My first call goes waste as the Customer care executive has no clue what to do. She promises to call back. Which she does. Here is how the conversation went.

Me: I have an all-in-one. The printer and scanner are working fine, but the fax is simply not going through.

Customer Care Exec.: Ma’am, you will have to follow our instructions so that we try to resolve your problem over phone.

Me: Uh, ok. What should I do?

Customer Care Exec.: Ma’am, there are three cables behind your printer; a fat one, a very fat one, and a thin one.

Me: (already exasperated) Which one are you talking about, the power cable, the RJ45 or the RJ11 telephone cable?

Customer Care Exec.: Pardon me ma’am, but I don’t think you understood. There is a fat cable…

Me: (interrupting) Yes I know. But which one do you want me to check? The phone cable, the data cable or the power cable.

Customer Care Exec.: (Finally catching on to the fact that I am not completely illiterate.) The power cable ma’am. Please follow it to the other end and check if it is plugged into the mains.

Me: Are you mad? I am telling you my scanner and printer are working fine. How would that happen if the printer is not turned on? Will you please send an engineer to set my fax right and to check on my paper pick-up mechanism?

Customer Care Exec.: Sorry ma’am, we are only authorised to send our service engineers for hardware problems. Is your fax having a hardware problem or a software problem?

Me: How the hell am I supposed to know? You must tell me.

Customer Care Exec.: But, we can’t send an engineer unless we know ma’am.

This conversation continues for a good half an hour before she has a brainwave and decides to log the complaint for referral to her supervisor. Soon enough, she returns.

Customer Care Exec.: I am sorry ma’am. The paper pick-up seems to be a hardware problem. We will send an engineer and he can fix the fax also while he is there.

Me: Thank you.

Customer Care Exec.: And ma’am, we have a special offer. Would you like to go in for a low-cost inkjet at just Rs.7999 for pesonal use?

And and that point, I give up trying to reason with her. I am calling from an office that will soon have close to 200 employees. And she proposes a personal inkjet?? I do wish these call centre executives would use their God-given brains once in a while!

Now, the second incident. The call centre in question is Airtel. I was getting unsolicited calls from a particular Airtel number. The calls were sometimes exasperating, but mostly irritating. The subscriber has obviously got my number from somewhere and the calls I got were bordering on sexual harassment. I decide to report abuse to the Airtel customer care, despite the fact that I have a Vodafone prepaid connection. The conversation goes like this. The emphasis, needless to say, is mine.

Me: I am calling to report abuse by an Airtel subscriber.

Customer Care Exec.: I am sorry ma’am. We cannot reveal details of one subscriber to another.

Me: I don’t want the details. I don’t care who he is. I want to register an abuse complaint against him. That’s all.

Customer Care Exec.: Ok ma’am, I will register your complaint. I will send an acknowledgement number. Please save it. Thank you for calling Airtel, have a great evening.

Please note, that at this point, he neither asked for my name, nor my number, nor even the number of the person I was complaining against.

Me: (almost shouting now) Will you please listen? I have not finished. I want to file a complaint. A complaint of abuse. This is sexual harassment.

Customer Care Exec.: I understand ma’am. But, we cannot do anything. You must go to the police.

Me: Are you telling me you will not register a complaint against the subscriber?

Customer Care Exec.: How a subscriber uses his number is not Airtel’s responsibility.

Me: Are you willing to go on record on that?

Customer Care Exec.: Yes ma’am.

Me: Well, all right then. I will register a police complaint. I will include Airtel as accomplice, as you are refusing to register my complaint.

Customer Care Exec.: Ma’am,  understand your problem. You must go to the police. Handling cases of sexual harassment is not our business.

Me: Do you have an email id where I can put this down in writing?

Customer Care Exec.: www…

Me: I was an EMAIL ID, not a web URL.

Customer Care Exec.: oh. ok then, 121@airtel.com

Me: Ok.

Customer Care Exec.: Thank you for calling Airtel.

The phone line is cut. The executive has still not taken my name, number or the number of the person. The name of the executive is with me. He revealed that after asking three times, while they are in fact trained to identify themselves personally before proceeding with the call. Is there something I can do? The call centre executive I spoke to treated me as if I was the criminal, not the victim. He hasn’t bothered to get the basic minimum details from me. He has in fact, on record, absolved himself and Airtel of all responsibility for how a subscriber uses his number. If the problem was a terror threat and not sexual harassment? Will Airtel behave the same way?

A call centre saga…no…make that two…

6 thoughts on “A call centre saga…no…make that two…

  • December 26, 2008 at 8:47 pm

    The second saga is more serious.As you threatened you should complain to the Police against the caller and the Airtel Executive. You can also email a complaint to Airtel authorities too.
    Another way is to ask a Male friend or family member to call that number and talk tough.

  • December 27, 2008 at 4:34 am

    The male friend bit is already done. The guy (it is a guy) picked up once. Then, started cutting calls, no matter from which number the call is made. Tried calling from my friend’s phone, landline and even dad’s phone. No use. He simply does not pick up. He follows up the call with an sms saying he wants to be my friend. It’s disgusting. And yes, I am definitely planning to write to Airtel about this. Today. I won’t go to the police if I have a satisfactory response from Airtel.

  • December 31, 2008 at 6:30 pm

    Why dont you actually approach the police? I dont know if thats taking a huge step forward, but such people (like the executive) take others lightly cause they believe noone would do anything about it anyway.

  • January 3, 2009 at 6:14 am

    You need to file a police complaint. Airtel will do nothing. they simply cannot be bothered. They are not trained to handle such calls…they goof up on regular probs and yours will not be looked into…

    take care.

    • January 3, 2009 at 9:13 am

      I changed my phone number. I have no confidence in the police. They will, in all probability ask me why I gave my number to a stranger…

  • March 5, 2009 at 12:58 pm

    Bumped into your blog while googling. I totally love these kind of stories. Customer service in India is considered a a pain and something to live with. Good conversations. Reminds me of my call centre days (international..not domestic). It was more regulated really interesting. Of course, we had our share of heroes too. Nice post.

    About the airtel thing, I know for a fact that most of the people hired by call centre people are hired in bunches like a cattle. No regards is had to your communication skills as long as you can speak. Training is considered as a necessary evil.
    The only option is to file an FIR and include airtel as one of the respondents.


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