Funny Side Up

All those moments that left you speechless… (No, not like when you saw Claudia Lynx or  Mila Kunis on TV). More like the dumbfounded speechless. I was just thinking about it today, and thought I’d share some such situations that I have been lucky (and sometimes not so lucky) to be stuck in the middle of.

  • About two months back, I called my credit card company to tell them that I hadn’t received my estatement, and to ask them to mail it to me. The charming voice at the other end asked me some random questions just to make sure I was the actual holder of the card, and then proceeded to say that she’ll have the statement emailed to me. Then, as what I assume to be a part of the ‘procedure’, she thought of “confirming” my cell number, mail id, landline number, address (hey, don’t look at me, am still wondering about the logic behind it). Anyway, so when she read out my address, I realized that she’d got one alphabet wrong in the name, so I asked her to correct it. After that, again, as part of the procedure, she proceeded to fire a series of questions, about practically everything, just to (again) make sure I was me. The second last question, ‘what was the last amount billed to your card?’ Thankfully, since I had received a message when the transaction happened, I remembered and told her the amount. Last question, ‘where was that transaction made?’ How the hell would I remember, it was over 12 days ago. ‘No problem’, she said, cheerfully, ‘you can check on it, I’ll call you back tomorrow’. I completely forgot, so the next day, she called up as planned, but I didn’t have the info. ‘Not a problem’ she said again,  suggesting the same deal of me checking after I get back from work, and that she’d call the next day. Anyway, I checked that evening, but missed her call the next day. Next thing I know, I receive a letter from the credit card folks (the address on which, by the way, still happened to have the minor spelling mistake). The letter stated that “this is the last correspondence to your old address, and all further correspondence would be made to your new address.” Whoa. When did I change my address? And, if that wasn’t enough to leave anyone wondering, I received another similar letter the next day (with the spelling mistake rectified), informing me that my new address has been updated in their records and from then on, all correspondence would be to the new address.
  • Back in 2008, I got myself a Vodafone USB internet card after paying for a limited usage for the year (1GB free/ month). The little software which installs on your laptop, helps you connect/ disconnect, and also shows you the usage. So I’d keep the usage within limits, so as not to have to pay at crazy rates/MB beyond the free usage. And then, about 4 months down, I received a bill for Rs.200 for excess usage. As I saw the statement only on the due date, I thought I’d rather pay it and then look into the matter. So, I paid, but then didn’t bother check with Vodafone. Next month, I made sure I kept checking my usage. I’d used about 3/4th of my free limit for the next month, but I received a bill for Rs.1400. Ok, now things were getting serious. I went to Vodafone to find out about the screw-up. After the usual ‘Happy to help’ chat, they assured me it was probably a billing mistake, and that they happened sometimes. The deal was, that while my Vodafone software  was showing my usage at 3/4 of the limit, for some reason, the system at Vodafone was registering a usage about 40% or so more than the 1GB limit. Few days down, my connection was blocked. Next visit to Vodafone, the same exec apologized profusely and told me that he had forgotten to log the complaint, which is why it got blocked. I told him to take care of it, n went my way. Next month’s bill was over Rs.1500 (Rs.1400 + late charges, service tax, the works). What followed was 2.5 months of constant comms with Vodafone, at the store, on the helpline, and to with every email id I could find on their site. They kept insisting that they’ve checked and rechecked, and that I would have to pay up. At the end of that time, I had pretty much had it, and so I went and settled the bill, so as not to let them torment me anymore, even though they still hadn’t realized that there was something wrong with their systems. Next thing you know, I receive a letter from Vodafone’s legal guys threatening to go to court if I didn’t pay. The @#$#.! I called the lady at Vodafone whom I’d been in touch with regarding this matter. She was, I think, some mid-level manager. She told me that they’d received the payment, and that I could ignore the letter. Then I happened to just discuss the problem one last time with that lady, just to let her know the hell they’d all put me through for some mistake on the part of Vodafone. And when I, for the millionth time, told her about the Vodafone software that installs on the laptop, I said, ‘you know, the little window that shows the level of usage, and other info’. And guess what, that dame, Customer service something Manager, she tells me that she had never seen the actual software before. She’d never seen one of those things, and didn’t know what they did. So, I was arguing with about 12 different people at Vodafone for well over three months, had to shell out money for no reason at all, and all along, this lady, who was definitely at a fairly high up position, didn’t even know what she was arguing about or defending. No better way to kill customer care, eh? I guess all along, all they meant was ‘Happy to Help (ourselves to your money)’.
  • Several years back, my dad had applied for a car loan. So, as part of the process, the bank executive dropped by home one afternoon, to get some papers filled, and to collect the post-dated  cheques. While dad was signing the 59 odd cheques (5 year loan), the executive, with a concerned look, asks dad, ‘Sir, I hope you have the total amount (the loan amount) in this bank account?’ Dad, already a little irritated with all that signing, suddenly was at a loss for words. He tried his best not to show his disbelief at the question, which of course, didn’t work too well. He looked at the executive and said, ‘if I had that kind of money in the bank, do you think I’d be applying for a loan?’ It then struck the executive, who then tried his best to hide his embarrassment with ‘of course sir, well, I was just asking’.
  • As a kid, I used to frequent the Croissants‘ outlet near my granny’s place. While I had several favorites there, we sometimes used to take away a lot of the plain croissants, which, when heated and had with hot tea, taste amazing, especially in the mornings. So one evening, mom sent me to pick up about 15 plain croissants. I walked in, to find that I was the only customer in the huge place. Anyway, so I paid at the cash counter, and then walked up to the counter for plain croissants and gave the attendant the little order slip. He looks at it, and then asks me, “Will you be having them here?” I looked around, and then asked him, does it look like I’ll be eating 15 plain croissants here, alone?” Talk about being stuck with your foot in your mouth =O
  • My job in Venture Capital too, made sure I got a regular dose of such situations. Like a few times when I’d get calls or even random visits from aspiring entrepreneurs. They’d go, “I’m planning to venture out on my own. How can your Venture firm help me?”, they’d ask, with a straight, I-mean-business sort of face. That would get me all thrilled, every single time. I mean, it takes a lot of guts and conviction for anyone to start a business on their own, and I always admire that. So then I’d be all curious and ask them about what the venture is all about, how much money they’d need, and all that. Then comes the priceless answer, which normally sounds something like, “I have a few different types of businesses that I could possibly get into. Depending on which one, the venture funding I’d want would vary. However, I haven’t really worked out the exact funding that might be required. You see, I could either start with one of the businesses in one state, or cover like, half of India. So accordingly, the funding I’d need would vary. I wanted to know how your fund could help me out.” Huh.! I could’ve sworn the board outside my office didn’t read ‘Charity Venture’ or something to that effect. Then why.?

Lemme know bout your ‘at a loss for words’ moments…

5 thoughts on “Funny Side Up

  1. An interesting post. In general there is a trend towards ‘low-cost’ services. Customer service in such situations becomes a ‘high-cost’ proposition to business(es) which are already operating in wafer thin margins (or losses, like airlines).

    The other point is that countries like India have experienced sustained economic growth over more than a decade now – growth rates which are much higher than what we are used to in the past. In such situations, we just don’t have qualified / committed staff available. Even if they are available, it costs money and if there is intense competition, then the business(es) in general are forced to bring down prices which then leads to the first situation described above. In such cases, businesses go for low-cost solution(s) or poor/low quality/skilled employee(s) or automated solutions (or) a combination of one or more of these. The net result is that as consumers, we get frustrated. From business point of view, high employee attrition is proving to be costly.

    If you have time, have a look at “Are you being served?” (New Yorker, by James Surowiecki ) (Link – http://www.newyorker.com/talk/financial/2010/09/06/100906ta_talk_surowiecki) and “The Duke of Dis-comfort” (Business Week) (Link – http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/10_37/b4194058006755.htm).

    While I don’t have a solution, once in a while ‘recession’ or ‘down-turn’ might help in reducing the problem a little bit as it might help in stabilise companies, force them to (try to) retain existing customers (customer acquisition being costlier than retention), create ‘fear’ of uncertainty amongst employee(s) and indirectly force some if not all to stay back in same firm(s) unless salary becomes a problem etc.

    One last thought is that if we really want (good quality) customer service, then we ourselves need to graduate from ‘commodity’ goods to ‘prestige’ goods. It’s almost impossible to offer great quality at rock-bottom prices to mass market consumers.

    Regards.

    Sairam.
    – Dilip.

    1. Thank you for your comments and for the links.! I feel that proper screening (during recruitment) and regular training processes and constant communication (with employees), along with constant monitoring of individual employee performance (with the good performers being adequately rewarded for doing a good job), would suffice.

  2. Lol..Good one…
    And about the guy at the Croissants shop, i feel his question was a valid one..You do look like the one who can have 15-30 croissants;)

    1. Haha. Thanks for the vote of confidence. Things were a little different when that incident occurred though. I’d be proud to even finish 2 of those 😉 Lets just say we’ve both come a long way from such days huh. =)

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