Are we bad at customer service?

So the world’s talking about Indian startups and companies. About time too, since we have a few in the top 10 unicorns, and we are the call center of the world. India’s name is definitely on the map.

We’ve tough contenders for Amazon, Paypal, Uber and several other modern-day firms. But when it comes to customer service, Indians seemed to have skipped a page in copying their foreign counterparts.

For instance, Flipkart & Amazon. I’ve been using both for a while. And to be honest, I supported Flipkart a lot stronger than Amazon initially. ‘Apna company’ and all that. But eventually, I got tired of waiting for the company to get their act together and entirely went off the site. There were a few strong reasons, and all of them were related to customer service.

I ordered a TV… and after several days of hemming and hawwing, Flipkart said they cannot deliver the TV. True, this is a vendor issue.. but if Ebay and Amazon can do it, why not Flipkart. I’ve had mostly bad experiences with Snapdeal.

Amazon on the other hand, had a great customer care service who respond to you prompty and ensure that the problem is SOLVED.

Next, Airtel vs Vodafone. Airtel has the worst possible customer service – ever. In any field. Their representatives are rude, nasty and honestly, don’t know what’s happening in the cubicle, let alone the company. I’ve had wrong billings, active connections long after the cancelation requests were placed, arrogant retention service reps telling me to go to Vodafone & refusing to give a decent postpaid plan. The arrogance of the company is horrifying! You’d think they were doing you a favour.

Uber vs Ola: Tried talking to Ola customer care? Or hell! Even a cab driver? The process of reporting is convoluted. The cab driver once charged me extra for toll charges, and when I received the bill (a whopping 650 bucks for 6 kms or so), it included the toll charges. The CC asked me send a mail, with copies of the toll paid and several other details. It was so tedious that I never followed up. Uber drivers on the other hand are some of the most well behaved.

Why do we lack customer service? We are supposed to be among the most hospitable cultures in the world. Then again, we also have a ‘make do’ attitude to do with that hospitality.

One company that I do appreciate is UrbanClap. They’ve got a brilliant customer care team who are tracking queries and more importantly, follow up with you after a few days to ensure that you aren’t facing any issues. More importantly, the person who calls you introduces themselves by name. Each email has a name and a number. Such a level of initiative is unprecedented, particularly in startups! I hope they continue!

Most recently, I’ve had the unfortunate experience to deal with Infibeam. I ordered some toners from Canon (after a loooong search!) and surprisingly, Canon outsourced this openly to Infibeam. The mail I received was cc’d to a rep of Infibeam. Its been more than 20 days and there’s been no sign of the toners, nor any incoming updates from Infibeam. When I reached out, the standard reply has been “give us 48 hours to look into this.”

I wonder why a full fledged company should have so many issues in communicating, when a small manufacturer in Ebay or Alibaba respond to you quicker.

If we truly want to be an international player, we need to up the game – not just in other countries, in India as well. The Indian sentiment will only go so far!

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Mother’s Day

“One of the early calls to celebrate a Mother’s Day in the United States was the “Mother’s Day Proclamation” by Julia Ward Howe. Written in 1870, it was a pacifist reaction to the carnage of the American Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War. The Proclamation was tied to Howe’s feminist belief that women had a responsibility to shape their societies at the political level.”

This is what Wikipedia has to say about Mother’s Day.

And I wonder how many people are even aware of how the day came about. But then people cannot be blamed. Most people do not even know how Valentine’s Day came about and that’s one of the most popular days celebrated. But till about 8 years ago, I had barely even heard of Mother’s Day being celebrated here.

The first time was when I saw an ad by Archies (the gift store in Bangalore) in a newspaper. It said Mother’s  Day was coming up and I should buy a gift for my mother to make her feel special. That was pretty much the extent of making her feel special then. Buy her a pretty photo frame and put photos of the family in it. Or a locket… or a ceramic mug or something like that.

And then the commercial world woke up and realised that here was something really powerful to market. ‘Ma’ is a popular word across cultures. More so in India…  the ‘mere paas maa hai’ sentiment combined with showing off how much you love someone by telling others what you bought for that special day.

We gave into the mania a few years ago and bought mom some gifts. She was amused… and annoyed that we gave into mass hysteria.

This year… it seems more crazy and more commercial. I have people sending me offers to buy my mother everything from grinders to a week at a spa to new footwear.

While I appreciate the sentiment behind the day – a special day to mark the most important person in our lives – I really feel stupid to be celebrating the day commercially or needing that day to tell my mother that I love her. And to prove my point… Anna Jarvis, the woman behind marking this day as special, has been opposing all the acts of commercialization that turned the day from what it was to be to another day of marketing.

“Take time to write a letter to your mother to tell her how special she is, not buy a printed card.”

Chilean Mine Workers

The rescue of mine workers in Chile is a prime example of the indefatigable nature of the spirit of human kind.

33 people lived deep underground, without killing each other. Sure there will be mental trauma but the fact is they survived when they could’ve gone the other way. It is sheer will power that takes one to survive so long.

What was more reassuring was the sense in which the rescue was handled. There was a Live TV (of course there would be!) and I watched the rescue of 19-year old Jimmy Sachez. I was surprised when I saw the tag line read ’19 años.’ What was a 19-year old doing there in the first place?

The whole operation is more bizarre and beautiful than reality TV could actually ever achieve.

[Side Note – What are the odds that some genius will actually get the idea to intentionally put people in such a situation and see who survives? People can be sick, I tell you!]

There weren’t tears and media rushing in to shove a mike in the survivor’s face. I’m not sure if this is because Chilean TV still has some sensitivity or they just weren’t allowed to do such things.

Five people are out at the time of this post and hopefully the rest will be out soon too.

The most awaited (for me) is the man who was responsible for the survival of those people in there – Luiz Urúza.

They say leaders are born, not made. And Urúza seems to be one such person, who could think even under pressure and lead the men into safety.

The danger isn’t past yet. There are a million things that could go wrong. But we have made it so far. Here’s to the rest.

Link of the day: Live TV Coverage of the rescue

Update: Just read this massive article on The Telegraph, which talks about the perils these men face after they are rescued. The media frenzy, as well as the other parts of their lives that could’ve gone unnoticed but now are known to every kid in the country.

Apparently they are being given media training, among other things. Of course the international media will descend on them like locusts, offering them big deals, movies and more… for the next 15 minutes and another tragedy breaks. I guess that is the dark side of mankind.

History and Humans’ disgusting-ness

Horrifying gripping.

Have you heard that phrase? Have you experienced it ever?

It happens sometimes when you are watching a horror movie… something gory and so sick that you really want to throw up but you stare at the screen in some morbid fascination.

It was that exact kind of fascination that got me through this article on NY Mag.

Short summary: It is an excerpt of a book that is to be published called ‘The Lampshade.’ The article written by Mark Jacobson talks about a lampshade that was found in the debris left behind Hurricane Katrina, which perhaps is a relic from Hitler’s era. The lampshade is made of human skin.

Morbid, isn’t it? And sick. And yes compelling to read. When you really think of it leather lampshades aren’t so rare. I do not use it but I have seen some really pretty ones out there… made of cow or goat skin. So when you think of it, both should make you equally sick (come to think of it, it does). But somehow knowing that it was a fellow human being… the warm skin of a person is now stretched out on 6 sticks is just… nauseating.

What makes it more so is the fact that it was another human being who did this, out of sheer racial spite. Or was it just a form of perversion which the war’s racial mania gave an opening to be expressed? Hate can be expressed in several ways but it would take a really twisted mind to do something so sick to another human being.

If I am wrong, I guess I am an absolute babe in the woods.

I have read stories about the Holocaust. I have friends from both the German and the Jew side who have horror stories. I have friends from Berlin who hate the city simply because of what it stood for. All through it, I never pretended to understand what drove man to such disgusting acts but I thought I was able to digest it. Now I realise I did not think it through. Did not know the least bit of the vileness that could exist in the human mind to do something so horrible.

The concentration camps, the persecution of the Jews, the mindless killing on them in several other regions. Was it a mania? Mob mentality?

Persecution exists here too. How many Sikhs were killed after Indira Gandhi was assassinated? How many Hindus and Muslims were slaughtered during the Calcutta riots? All in the name of religion.

But what happened during Hitler’s rule still perhaps tops the list. Dignity – perhaps the only thing that separates us from  beasts (and note I do not say animals because they definitely have a lot more dignity than we can) was… non existent seems like a clean and minor word but that is the best I can come up with.

Would there be more such acts? Yes. Look at Afghanistan, Iraq. Every prisoner that is abused, every soldier that is tortured is a throwback to those times. Yet, somehow, we manage to ignore it and pretend it is all in the name of the country. Isn’t that the same excuse our ancestors gave?

Link of the day: Go read the article posted above.

A Sci-Fi Movie

A green dot of light. Flanked by two red, slightly larger, blurry lights. The green light comes closer and closer. The red lights merge into the green light till everything is a blur. Then you hear a faint whirring noise. Then everything disappears into a whtie light. Or blindness. I am not sure which. The whirring stops and you recover a little to see the lights again.

Not kidnapped by aliens. Just eye surgery. Painful. Conscious. And as I have to bit in front of a computer today, I figured I might as well put this on paper.

I had a lot of time to think the past two days. Random thoughts that flittered away as soon as they flowed in. It is hard to sit without doing anything.  No television, computers or books. Conversations wane after a point, particularly when you are trying to avoid controversial topics.

The one little outlet was Facebook. Mobile technology is super cool eh? Can you emember the time when cell phones were used to connect people on the ove and we thought that was cool? And then there was SMS, and we thought that was cooler. And then we got a little jaded o just didn’t have the money to indulge in anything else like MMS. All that was still reserved for the richer people who could afford to shell out 50 bucks to send one picture of someone sitting somewhere. And then the person you were sending it to had to have an ‘updated’ mobile, which was more often than not.

And now, can you remember the time before cell phones. yes yes… cast your minds to that dark far-off times when people used these fixed gadgets to make calls. How did we live then? How did we deal with those urges to contact people right now! What did we do when we’d to message something silly to a friend? Or did those urges develop only after we got cell phones? I saw this movie some time ago about these 3 students who develop a way for a cell phone chip to be embedded in your brain so that you can answer and make calls with a combination of a voice command plus mind control. That could happen. But it will never perhaps replace cell phones. Maybe people will come up with cell pockets in your skin. Cell grafts. Instant communication and minimal communication.

Anyway… so Facebook… someone combined internet with cell phones and found a cheaper way to make cell phones. And boom! I already complain if i cannot access internet on my phone. And FB. I complain about the invasion of privacy. I complain about shady marketeers taking my data and using it for their nefarious reasons. And I complain about nothing remaining a surprise anymore – even if i’ve voluntarily posted a message on FB. And yet, i cannot get off it. It is a great way to kill time, sometimes also a source of knowledge.

Some people talk about Twitter. Perhaps it is cool.  But it’ll never be Facebook. Because Twitter is about 140 characters. It isn’t juicy pictures, crazy videos and silly games. That is Facebook. And as much as I like to know what you are doing at this moment, gossip with visual aids is always more attractive. Twitter is fantastic to get your questions answered. For information. But a ‘social’ network is FB. it changed the way we think about ‘keeping in touch’. I find it so much more convienient to send a ‘what’s up’ msg on FB to an acquaintance… imagine a two word mail. or the trouble to find other relevant words to fill that mail when you don’t have much to say to them. Unless you find both of you coinciding on a point of interest at a point and you can just comment. or snigger in private.

Anyway… this wasn’t about Twitter vs Facebook. This was about FB and the great time pass… with arguments about Avatar and links.

And mobile internet where I could read funny blogs on NYTimes like a newspaper.

***

Did you also put up the color of your bra on FB?

What was the Fuss? Was it breast cancer awareness really? The first mail I got about it just said “it was a fun thing meant for girls”. Only later did a mail about breast cancer thing spring up. And yeah I put it up and I think the message did bloom out there. You all are talking about breast cancer and the bra fiasco right?

Some people said it was TMI. my bra color… yeah probably. But there have been far more private postings as status msgs (not from me!). And yeah those women who refused to say what it was about and acted coy have to be shot. I agree with that. As do the men who found the whole thing disgustingly funny. It wasn’t perhaps the best way to raise awareness but it reached some people…

One friend of mine posted a reply to my status as “next week there is a prostate cancer awareness program”. Really? Are you in high school that they find something funny about prostate cancer? It is cancer for heaven’s sake! Be it in boobs or prostate. And if men start putting up the colors of their underwear, so be it. Maybe they should also be forced to put up the cleanliness state of it – that would be funny. Grow up people!

Song of the Day: Avatar