Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Vodafone: it gets worse

I call Vodafone's Bombay Nodal Office about my recharge problem. A five minute wait, while a recorded message assures me my call is important. Then, a gentleman named Sushil comes on.
Me: Hello, I recharged for 1000 rupees and got only 7 rupees talktime plus a 3G data plan I don’t want.
Sushil: We have not received payment from you.
Me: But I got a message from Vodafone confirming the recharge.
Sushil: Could you check your bank account to see if any money has been deducted?
Me: OK, hold on. (I quickly sign on to my Netbanking account) Yes, 1000 rupees was deducted yesterday.
Sushil: I request you to send us a scan of the bank statement.
Me: I’ll do no such thing. I’m confirming that the money’s been deducted and I have a message saying you have received the money. I can forward that text if you want.
Sushil: It’s OK. Somebody will get in touch with you within 24 hours to solve your problem.

A few hours later I get a call from a Vodafone customer care executive. I explain the issue.
Executive: Sir, the 1000 rupee recharge comes with the 3G dataplan.
Me: But there was no information about that on the ATM screen when I recharged. I don’t want 3G and I don’t want any dataplan. I just want my talktime.
Executive: Sorry sir, but the 1000 rupee recharge comes with the data plan.
Me: I’ve recharged for years from the ATM, occasionally 1000 rupees at a time. If there was a change you should have informed customers about it. You send so many text messages otherwise, why not for this.
Executive: I’ll get back to you, sir.

He doesn’t get back. The next morning, I call the Nodal Officer’s number again. This time there’s a fifteen minute wait, after which Sushil comes on line. We have a long back and forth during which he keeps telling me I have no option but to accept the data plan. Frustrated, I ask for his senior.
Me: What’s your full name Sushil.
Sushil: Sushil Dhuriya.
Me: Put me through to your boss, Sushil Dhuriya.
Sushil: I can’t do that.
Me: The Vodafone website says there’s a Nodal Officer to whom complaints can be addressed. Her name is Zillah Vaz.
Sushil: The Nodal Officer does not deal with individual complaints.
Me: So if I want to complain that you have failed to solve my problem, there’s nobody I can talk to?
Sushil: No.

Apparently, Vodafone India plans to make money from 3G by forcing data plans down the throats of customers without their consent. I’m ready to jump to a different service provider, but I need to get my grand’s worth of talk first.

Meanwhile, some guys at the company have read my blog and are posting messages saying they want to help. I filled in the form as requested, now they want an alternative number because mine wasn't on when they called. Well, I switched it off because I attended a lecture yesterday afternoon. They obviously just tried at one time and then gave up.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Keenan-Reuben silliness

Last month, two Bombay boys, Keenan Santos and Reuben Fernandes, were killed by a group of youths. It began when girls with Keenan and Reuben were sexually harassed by strangers outside a pub in Amboli. After Santos and Fernandes roughed up the abusers, the men got together a large group to exact revenge.
What seemed to me peculiar about the coverage of the sad incident was the focus on supposedly heartless bystanders. The friends of the slain boys harped on this on every interview they gave. A Mumbai Mirror article, headlined 'People watched quietly as our friends were dying', was typical of the general media response. The Times of India carried this quote from Reuben's brother Benjamin: "On the night of the attack, the street was crowded, but no one came forward to help us. People have become numb. They do not want to get involved . Perhaps they are afraid of the visits they will have to make to court and the police station; perhaps they don't care enough."
Barkha Dutt anchored a predictably obtuse discussion on NDTV, and wrote in the Hindustan Times, "Within minutes the assaulters had knives and swords out and soon the boys were lying collapsed in pools of blood, their insides ripped out as 40 bystanders stared on passively, ignoring all pleas for help. It would not be unfair to say that more than the mob it was urban apathy that killed Keenan and Reuben... the basics have broken down — the sense of community, kinship and humaneness appears to have evaporated. More brutal than the murder is the image of the onlookers who refused to help."
These statements all strike me as foolish, because only idiots would get involved in a fight involving a dozen people with knives and hockey sticks. A mob like that doesn't listen to reason. It is out to maim and kill, and will harm whoever stands in the way. Castigating urban apathy is warranted when someone's left to die at the streetside after an accident, but no such moral lesson should be drawn from the Amboli tragedy.
Why am I writing this weeks after the incident? It's because a news item in today's papers indicates what would probably have happened to anybody getting in the way of the thugs who murdered Keenan and Reuben. In this case, two teenagers fought over a girl. One of them brought in brawlers to beat up, maybe kill, his adversary. A young fruit seller named Sarfaraz Sheikh tried to stop the mob.

Sarfaraz (mugshot above) was stabbed to death. Two youths named Munish Patil and Mayur Patil, who had come out of a nearby cybercafe, also intervened, and were also stabbed and critically wounded. Maybe they had viewed a programme where panelists went on about how terrible public apathy was, and how citizens ought to intervene promptly in such matters.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Vodafone India: how bad can customer service get?

Interacting with MTNL always makes my blood pressure rise. But Vodafone has proved that a privately held MNC can do a worse job of customer service than a public sector undertaking. So bad is Vodafone's service, in fact, that it has shaken me out of my slumber and got me blogging again.
First stage: I travel to Thailand. The international roaming function does not work, so I can neither make nor receive calls during my stay. I don't mind that overmuch, since it's not a work trip. A while after I return, a message arrives saying 99 rupees have been deducted from my account for International Roaming. In other words, IR gets switched on automatically when I travel abroad, though it does not work. Then I keep getting charged each month unless I deactivate a function I have no idea was ever activated. The news about the IR-related deduction arrives, as do all Vodafone messages, at 4.30 am. Maybe the company believes disturbing customers' sleep helps keep them loyal.
Last evening, I recharge my Prepaid account for a thousand rupees at the ATM. I get a message telling me my recharge has given me talk time of 7.04 rupees. A second message says my Data Pack is active. I have not applied for any Data Pack, but I presume that's what has gobbled up most of the recharge money.
This morning's 4.30 am SMS says International Roaming has been stopped because of insufficient funds in my account. Had the proper amount from my recharge been credited, I'd have lost a chunk of it because I'd forgotten to deactivate IR. Small mercies.
Once I'm fully awake, I try getting to the bottom of the Data Pack mess. Vodafone provides three Customer Care numbers: 198 and 111 can only be called from a Vodafone Mobile phone, while +91 9820098200 works from any mobile or landline. 111 is a chargeable call, and 198 is toll free. The two serve exactly the same purpose, but most customers are used to 111 from the old days, and have that number saved on their phones. Nice trick.
I call the three numbers in turn and, in each case, am provided a series of options by an electronic voice. None of the options relates to my problem. Not only is there no way to lodge a complaint, but there's also no way to get past the electronic messages to speak to an actual human being.
Here's where MTNL does better than Vodafone. 198 on MTNL is a number dedicated to complaints, and one which gives you a docket number at the end of your call. Vodafone's website states, "You can contact our Nodal Officer with the complaint docket number (the unique complaint number you get when you register your complaint at Vodafone Care) anytime from Monday to Friday, between 9:30 am and 6:00 pm." The problem is, you will never get a docket number, because Vodafone Care does not allow you to actually complain about anything.

When Vodafone was Orange / Hutch, if one didn't choose any of the nine options offered by the recorded message on the customer service number, the call would be transferred to a customer service executive. That no longer happens. India might be the call center capital of the world, but, after Vodafone bought a stake in what used to be Orange / Hutch, they've downgraded customer service functionality. And it was never very good anyway. In fact, one of my Time Out columns focused on its shortcomings. Naresh, Time Out's editor at the time, printed the piece even though the magazine was (and is) published by the Ruias, who owned Orange / Hutch and hold a large stake in Vodafone. I wrote, in that column, "I’ve concluded that customer service in India is a simulacrum. It does everything it is supposed to do except serve customers. It’s a bird which looks like a duck, swims like a duck, quacks like a duck, but is not a duck."
Vodafone's Customer Care has refined the simulacrum further, taking it to a new level of sophistication.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Match fixing: Playing the race card

Yesterday, two Pakistani cricketers, Salman Butt and Mohammad Asif, were found guilty by a London court of conspiracy to cheat, and conspiracy to accept corrupt payments. Another cricketer, Mohammad Amir, had already pleaded guilty to the charges.
Discussing the issue last night on NDTV's Left, Right & Centre, the veteran commentator Kishore Bhimani played the race card. He said (starts at 16.18 of the discussion), "Both Mark Waugh and Shane Warne, two great cricketers, they were involved in fixing a match on the 9th of September 1994. This was the Singer Cup in Colombo, you don’t have to take my word for it, this is recorded... But they were mollycoddled so much that it wasn’t even told to the ICC. There seem to be different rules for the English and Australian players, and different rules for the continental players." Earlier in the programme he named Tim May along with Warne and Waugh as one of those guilty of match-fixing. Needless to say, he did not mention a single Indian cricketer among the guilty. Bhimani was media manager during the World Cup, and, like all Indian cricket commentators, knows the side on which his bread is buttered.
What he said about Warne and Waugh, though, is slanderously inaccurate. What the two did was deplorable, but could in no way be described as 'match-fixing'. They took money from a punter and in return for opinions about fairly innocuous stuff like pitch conditions. When asked to alter their play for money, however, both immediately refused. Pakistani cricketers, in contrast, were in the fixing game wholesale. Testimony heard by the Justice Qayyum is utterly damning of Salim Malik (the person accused most frequently in sworn statements of directly offering players money). Wasim Akram and Ejaz Ahmed come off pretty badly too. Inzamam, Saqlain, Waqar, and Mushtaq Ahmed appear involved in shady stuff at least some of the time. A finger is pointed at Saeed Anwar, too, but he appears to have struggled with temptation and gone over to the clean side (represented by Aamir Sohail, Rameez Raja, Rashid Latif and Aaquib Javed).
The Indian team was as embroiled in this jiggery-pokery as the Pakistanis. One of the prime accused in our own match-fixing scandal, Ajay Jadeja, is now contracted by, wait for it, NDTV. Wonder why they didn't ask him to comment on the London verdict?
Jadeja's interview with the CBI back when we had an inquiry of our own makes for interesting reading. Evidence was presented to him that he was in regular contact with bookmakers. He brushed it off, saying he met many people and couldn't remember them all. Some of these people, though, called him dozens, even hundreds of times during matches. The CBI had cellphone records to prove it. One bookie, Uttam Chand, called Jadeja ove 150 times in the course of a single Test Match in 1999. Here's Jadeja's explanation for his frequent chats with this guy: On being asked whether he knew Uttam Chand, a bookie/ punter of Chennai, he stated that he did not know him. On being confronted with Uttam Chand's cell phone printout, which disclosed very frequent telephonic contact between both of them just before or during cricket matches, he stated that he recognised Uttam Chand's cell phone number but knew him as 'Gupta'. He did not know how Uttam Chand got his telephone number. Jadeja stated that Uttam Chand used to ring him up often and tell him that if he did not talk to him, he would run into bad luck and because of superstition, he used to return his call. On being asked whether he knew that Uttam Chand was a bookie, he stated that he had an inkling to that effect due to the nature of conversation Uttam Chand used to have with him. On being asked why he did not discontinue his association with Uttam Chand after that, he said that he could not explain this.

So Jadeja's defence is that he took hundreds of calls from a bookie (and, on rare occasions, made calls to the man himself) out of fear he might face a run of bad luck if he didn't. If you believe him, I'd like to introduce you to a friend of mine, a Nigerian businessman with a Swiss bank account.