Friday, 20 July, 2012

Sorry for the inconvenient

If I tell you I will sell you a mobile phone with its charger for Rs.10,000 and then I don't give you the promised charger, what would that constitute? That would constitute stealing because you I lied to you and took your money without giving you anything in return. If I felt 10,000 was not enough for me to give you both the phone and the charger, I should have told you that I am going to need extra 2000 for giving you the charger and then you could have had a choice as to whether you want to pay Rs. 2000 extra for the charger. Nothing is stopping me from quoting any price I want for my product . If customers feel my product is not worth its price, they will simply not buy it. All this seems simple enough. Substitute mobile phone & charger with the services offered by a household cook, a car cleaner, a sales representative, a maintenance engineer, Airtel Digital TV,basically your not-so-friendly neighbourhood service provider.

When the product in question is a service, how come we just feel disappointed and not outraged? How come we don't scream "Chor! Chor!". The quality of service across the spectrum is poor and we grudgingly accept it. We crib, complain and the most extreme form of protest we undertake is threatening a poor call-centre executive with consumer court proceedings. (I once asked a poor call-centre executive to spell her name and told her I am suing her and that she can expect summons form the court. She replied saying she was "sorry for the inconvenient" ) and writing a strong letter of complaint to the company ("I am shocked and dismayed to see such poor quality and service from a reputed company like yours") . In case of the cook or the maintenance engineer, we can't even do that lest we displease the moody gods of customer service executives and incur their wrath in the form of a untold resignation by the cook or a compressor-less refrigerator filled with now-rotting food.

If service providers feel that this is the best they can offer in the price we are paying, then its time for differential pricing. When you call customer care, along with "Press 1 for english", the kind and enthusiastic recorded-voice lady should also say " Press 1 for standard, Press 2 for gold and Press 3 for platinum quality experience". Standard would be "sorry for the inconvenient", gold would be "sorry for the inconvenience" and they would try to solve your problem and platinum, well they would agree to come on a sunday at a godly hour, they would fix the problem once and for all and they would compliment you on your glowing skin. When you take on your cook, she could tell you about three packages : rare, medium rare and well-done and you could pick a package based on your taste and pocket.

Maybe if we classify poor service as a form of theft and create strict non-acceptance of such theft, service producers will become more accountable for their product and realize that delivering poor quality service is as objectionable as delivering only one shoe out of a pair. Maybe then we can hope to actually get what we paid for.

P.S. My Airtel-digital TV showed "No signal" last Thursday and I paid a service engineer Rs.100 to come and change the angle of the dish by a quarter of a degree. This is the fourth time this has happened this year. Yesterday I got home and switched on my TV and the poor thing had gone all blue because again it had no signal.

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