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.