Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Pre-paid Mobile Phone Connection: This is how Airtel does it !

To be very frank I used to be an admirer of this company named Airtel, a Bharti Communication venture, which was a sort of pioneering private organization which brought about the telecommunication revolution in India, breaking the monopoly of the Government of India's Department of Telecommunications (DoT). Prior to this revolution, the telephone instrument used to be called the P&T phone, an acronym for the Post and Telecommunication department, and was usually a black ebonite moulding with some electro-mechanical things in it.

Those in the government had made such rules and regulations that it was not even possible for any one to use a phone instrument having a different color. Having a telephone connection at home and office used to be a status symbol which only those well connected could manage. The members of the parliament (MP) had the special privilege of recommending any one a telephone connection! A telephone connection used to cost a few thousands of rupees at a time when the average salary of a government officer was much lesser!

With the opening up of the telecommunication sector by the government of India in the Nineties suddenly proved that India was not a poor country any more as it used to be thought earlier. In just two decades time ever since, India has over a billion telephone connections, an average of a phone for every citizen!

The big crowds that you see any where in any retail shop in India is perhaps in the foreign liquor shops and in the mobile phone shops !

The post paid telephones were the order of the yester years. But now it is the era of the pre-paid mobile or cell phones.

In the telephone business the old P&T is bifurcated into a few PSU companies called the Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) which serves on a pan India basis and the Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited (MTNL) which takes care of the telecom business of the metropolitan cities like Mumbai, Delhi etc. The arm that dealt the international communication business was made Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited (VSNL) which was later sold out and now owned by the private Tata group.

There are scores of private players in this big business. One of the pioneers was Airtel. Then there are companies called Idea, Vodaphone, Tata Docomo, Aircel, Hutch, Reliance, etc.

Migration of this business from the earlier monopolistic regime to the present open market system has been mired in controversies and corruptions of very high order and the details of which are not very much understood by the common man. 

In the earlier days the DoT officers holding the Indian Telecom Service (ITS) title used to manage this business. Now personnel of varying competencies and calibre manage the show of the private players. Many of the personnel that the telecom companies have in the field offices are employees of franchisees and not direct employees of the companies concerned.

Both in the government sector and in the private sector, it is not very easy for the common man to meet a responsible officer representing these companies. In fact, the responsibility of selling their products and services have been outsourced to such an extent in these companies that the pre-paid mobile connection means purchase of a small electronic chip called the SIM with a unique telephone number which can be inserted to your mobile set for activating the connection by the respective telecom operator company.

India of late is a country where internal warfare of extremist groups sponsored by both internal and external terror groups take place here and there most unexpectedly. Such a situation has made the government pulling its strings to tighten the telecom companies to ensure keeping records of  proper identities of their customers, especially those who are pre-paid mobile connection users. The logic behind such a move is to prevent individuals belonging to the extremists organizations using their pre-paid mobile handsets for their acts anonymously.

So the government rightfully has put the onus on the mobile companies to ensure the identity of the SIM purchasers.

The SIM cards are offered for sale by small time vendors and shops who displays the logos of the telecom companies prominently advertising the SIMs that are available with them for sale.

A customer who wants to get a connection goes to any one of these shops and ask for a SIM of his desired operator of choice. The vendor takes out a set of SIMs well packed with the connection number displayed outside the cover.

The customer selects his SIM. He has to then fill up an application form which is available with the vendor. For his convenience, he only has to sign at one or two places, and the vendor or his agent does the remaining filling up for him later. That is fine for the purchaser, because he should be well educated to get it filled up by himself. More over the shop from where he has purchased the SIM does not have such facilities for the purchaser to sit down conveniently and fill up the form!

Together with the application form, the customer has to give self signed photocopies of an identity proof document. There is a big list of such documents which are accepted as per the directives of the government. How to get an identity proof originally is a thing which is yet to be decided in this country ! Because, any identity document to be made requires providing some other identity proof. Then he has to give a document in proof his address. Now this is a ticklish issue. Many of the documents that he had given for the identity has also some address on them. But those addresses may not be the same located in the place where he is now purchasing the SIM, if he happened to be a person who keeps changing the residences due to his profession.So the address proof has to be a land line telephone bill of the BSNL ( how can he have this because this BSNL will ask for a address proof!) any such thing. But for a person of a changing job nature, none of this can be made without some original address certification by some authority. [In this connection it would be interesting to see these blogs also : 1. The Unique Identity Crisis of India !  2. Unique Identity to All: the Simple Thing to Do ]

Now coming back to my experience of getting a pre-paid mobile connection in Ranchi, the capital city of the meneral rich and Naxal infested Jharkhand state of India. I came to this city nearly an year ago, after staying in the near by state of Chhattisgarh for three decades. My PSU employer wanted my services here now. The company provided me an official mobile connection operated by the PSU telecom company, BSNL. After a couple of months, I thought of having another mobile connection for my private use. So I went to a shop near to my residence, which displayed the logos of many mobile telecom operators. The shop owner told me the mandatory requirements for getting the SIM. I should have an identity proof and and address proof and a photograph.

For the identity part, I had many things with me. I had a passport, a PAN card issued by the Income Tax Department, a driving license issued the Transport Authority of my previous state of residence and my company's photo identity card. Except the PAN card all had my address also recorded, but those addresses were all where I lived before and not my current residence- the current residence at that time being my rented accommodation.

The shop keeper explained that any of the identity proof are okay, but for the residence proof none are acceptable. Then he suggested to have a notarized rent agreement for my rented accommodation. Fortunately I had that and all documents were submitted happily and I was issued the SIM of Airtel.

The SIM costed just about Rs.50. ( approximately one US dollar). Due to the cut throat competition and large scale volumes the connection costed just pea nuts !

So happily I went home with the SIM to be inserted in my new mobile hand set. The shop keeper had told me that the SIM would get activated by the Airtel company after they receive the documents. And I waited for that moment.

To my surprise, nothing happened for some days. I kept enquiring with the shop keeper. At last, after a lapse of about two weeks, he informed me that the company officials did not approve my address proof ! I asked the shop keeper to return my documents. Though he could not give it back, thankfully he returned the Rs.50 that was taken for the SIM. Since the pre-paid mobile connection was not such an important thing for me, I just left the thing there.

After a few months, my employer allotted me my official residence in the company's own township in a prime location in the city, a well known address of its own. Now I had my CPSU company's quarters allotment letter as the proof of residence at last.

With these documents, BSNL was happy to give me a pre-paid SIM which was activated in no time. BSNL being a PSU was now working much more efficiently than the private players. Thanks to the competition that the latter created !

Recently, I thought of having another pre-paid mobile connection. This time I went to the shop owner who got me the BSNL SIM connection. Since I had the BSNL, I thought of trying another operator and opted for Airtel once again forgetting my previous bad experience. At least this time I was pretty confident about the address proof.  I gave him the same kind of documents I gave for getting the BSNL connection !

Fortunately, the connection got activated and I used it for nearly a week. In between I recharged it twice. Then all of a sudden, I got a SMS on the mobile asking to meet my shop owner in connection with the documents. Since the shop was near to my residence I went to him. He casually said to forget it. It is a common practice of this Airtel fellows, he informed.

Then to my surprise, in the next day, the mobile went dead. I approached the shop keeper, my only contact in this connection! This time he gave me back all the documents with an unsigned checklist with a tick mark on the column marked 'un acceptable address proof'. While all the documents had the signature and rubber stamp of the vendor who sold the SIM in the first place with due attestation of the verifications, the checklist returned did not have any such thing. It did not say who is returning the same or on whose behalf. It even did not bear the Airtel logo. Obviously, the company had outsourced this function to some local fellows who are either not competent or arrogant with their whimsical 'power' of deciding who can get an Airtel connection in Jharkhand.

This time I decided to do some research on this. Through google search I came to know that this kind of complaints are frequently happening with Airtel .

Just for a curiosity, I wanted to know how this company disposed their customer complaints.

So I found out their customer care e-mail from the Internet and wrote about this to :

I had clearly stated all the things regarding this new Airtel Prepaid SIM .

I had given my contact details and all such things that they would need to have a proper enquiry.

The next day a lady contacted me on my cell phone. She talked about the complaint which I had. She seemed understanding the problem.

She was apologetic for the whole incident. But her solution was that I should find out their office located in this city and meet some one there to resolve the issue. Perhaps to listen to their new demands! I do not know.

Having purchased the SIM from the local shop, I did not feel like spending my time and energy again to go in search of some offices of this company for making an argument with their incompetent staff once again to have the connection restored.

When there are many options left to the customers, no one would like to do such a thing.

But had this company cared really for the customer, they would have seen that a legitimate customer is not lost, even if that individual customer is not worth much for them taken solely. That is what customer care is all about.

But for many of the Indian companies, this is what the employees are not taught well.

And after some time of their existence, the employees start making rules of their own, pulling down the company that provided them their bread and butter for some years !

Unless the top brass of the companies take special interest, such things keep happening in all companies, not only with this Airtel.

Before concluding this, I remember how some similar instances of customer grievances that one of the prominent private banking company of India handled. The top management of this bank deliberately chose to be a six sigma company with regard to customer complaints, not just in words, but in action. The effect is that now most of the businessmen for whom banking transactions are very important for sustaining their businesses, chose to be the customers of this bank, for they knew that the bank would solve their problems if at all something wrong happens. In less than a decade, this bank became a consistently profit making venture and the number one in private banking sector in India.

That is the importance of customer care.

But when companies begin to forget it, the stage is set for them to perish !

[View the linked list of all Blogs of the Author Here ]


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