Thursday, April 28, 2011

Consumer rant #3: How can I ‘rely’ on them?

The stunts companies pull! All to ‘serve the customer’. Like this large telecom company that is my ‘Internet on the go’ service provider.
A few days ago — on April 23 to be precise — I got my monthly bill. Along with it came a sheet of discount coupons. Problem is:
a. Half the coupons on the sheet are for use only in Tamil Nadu. And I live in Kerala. So those coupons are useless.
b. All the coupons were valid only till March 31 this year. And I got them on April 23, three weeks after they have lost any utility.
I know that customer service is an oxymoron in India’s telecom industry. But I can’t help wonder what the purpose of this whole ‘privileges’ exercise was. As any basic book on marketing would declare, it’s not a very bright idea to offer consumers promotions they cannot use; you’d probably end up pissing them off.
Of course it could all have been the result of a ‘system error’, as this other experience with the same company shows.
Over the past three-four weeks I’ve received three calls from the company’s customer care executives wanting to know if I would like to upgrade to a faster ‘Internet on the go’ package. Each time it sounded like I was talking to the same customer care executive, and each time my answer was ‘no thank you’.
Logically, my first ‘no’ should have been captured by the company’s computer system and should have prevented follow-up calls. At least, follow-up calls over consecutive weeks.
So when I got the third call I asked the guy at the other end why the company was calling me a third time when I’d already said no twice. There was a moment of silence, followed by the cover-all answer: “Your ‘no’ is not showing up in the system.” Some system that, not to have got my ‘no’ twice!
Perhaps it’s just that the company’s marketing strategy hinges on the  ‘pester someone sufficiently and they’ll agree to anything just to get rid of you’ philosophy. Oh, and I got another call — the fourth one — yesterday offering to upgrade my Internet connection. I wonder when they’ll give up.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Moment of truth

A great victory was won in Delhi last week.
India liked, tweeted and candlelit its way to ‘persuading’ the Government to see the light on the Jan Lokpal Bill. It also helped that Kisan Bapat Baburao Hazare went on a fast unto death to get the Government of India to act on the Jan Lokpal Bill. And so we had our own little Jasmine Revolution. Or so it seems.
There is, I guess, little doubt that the Jan Lokpal Act, also labelled the Anti-Corruption, Grievance Redressal and Whistleblower Protection Act, will soon be a reality. In some form.
And once the Jan Lokpal framework is in place, corruption will be a thing of the past in India. At least that’s what the theory is.
But try telling that to someone I know who had to pay a ‘service’ charge last week to have a vehicle released by India’s finest. Of course, this was in addition to a mountain of paperwork, including several ‘no objection certificates’. And this was for a vehicle that had not been in an accident or violated any rule.
So why did he pay, thereby encouraging corruption, even when he had done no wrong? “Because I paid, I got my vehicle back in a day. If I hadn’t paid, I would probably still be running around to get the vehicle back. Or I would’ve had to get someone influential to make a couple of calls on my behalf,” he said.
I’m not too certain how much of this will change with the Lokpal Act.
Yes, the version of the Lokpal Act drafted by a group of social activists outlines a system for people to make complaints against corrupt government officials. But how many of us will take the time and effort required to see the process through to the very end.
For all the tweets and candlelight vigils against corruption, how many of us will actually take the road that’s currently less traveled? Not just by not taking a bribe, but also by not giving one and also by not using our influence to get something done in government. Ever.
And do so knowing that not paying up is going to have a direct impact on our lives or the lives of those we care about?
That will be our moment of truth.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011


We were driving along Trivandrum’s Shangumugham beach on Sunday evening. Suddenly we noticed a commotion on the beach and the road alongside; cars were pulling up and people were pointing towards the South. We looked back and saw this slender column of water rising up of the sea towards the ominous sky.
By the time we were able to find a place to park and get the camera out, the waterspout had almost dissipated. The leaden sky, cleaved by flashes of lightning, still looked threatening though and we decided to leave, just in case ...

Saturday, April 2, 2011

For a billion minds

In about 12 hours, we’ll know who the winner of the 2011 Cricket World Cup is. Like in any other game, it will be the team that plays better during those 9 or 10 hours that make a one-day cricket match.
A billion dreams may be riding on an Indian win and several million on a Sri Lankan victory. But in the end, it’s just a match. 
At this moment it may be worth considering what US astronaut Jim Lovell told the Financial Times in this piece:
“The lunar flights give you a correct perception of our existence. You look back at Earth from the moon and you can put your thumb up to the window and hide the Earth behind your thumb. Everything you’ve ever known is behind your thumb, and that blue-and-white ball is orbiting a rather normal star, tucked away on the outer edge of a galaxy. You realise how insignificant we really all are. Everything you’ve ever known – all those arguments and wars – is right behind your thumb.”