Fallout of Airtel and its customer service

When the going gets tough, the tough get going. This seems to be truer in case of Airtel.

I have been Airtel’s loyal customer more than a decade now, ever since I took my mobile phone connection. Few years later I have taken broadband + telephone connection as well. In both cases their customer service was really good, always used to have great experience in every other interaction of support. For example they have surprised me even during a normal phone call, which I wrote in post titled ‘A great customer experience’. However over the years their service quality is consistently taking toll. During 2011, I again wrote a post titled  Irate customer – A lost opportunity, where I called out painful experience I had with Airtel, while resolving some issues related to Jwritings domain.  Over the past two years their service level even gone down, which I heard from many of my friends who have Airtel connections.

My recent experience was awful when I visited them to get my mobile rate plan changed. Even after spending 30 face-to-face minutes with customer service representative he couldn’t even locate which rate plan I am currently using. My objective was to convert my plan into a corporate plan, so that I can bring down my monthly rental as the corporate plan seem to offer more benefits in terms of free minutes. The issue hit the roof when I asked him about my current data plan, when the customer service representative enlightened saying “Sir, till 2 GB data limit, you can download anything from the Internet. However after that limit you can only browse the Internet”. This guy doesn’t know the difference between browsing and downloading from the Internet. I thought I will forget my computer science fundamentals if I continue to stay in their showroom.

Definitely Indian service providers are under tremendous cost pressure due to various issues (Regulatory issues, scandals, ARPU challenges and maintaining healthy top- line etc.) in telecommunication sector. In order to meet these challenges, Airtel looks like subcontracting customer facing services to third party providers who are ruining customer relationships.

An Irate customer….a lost opportunity

In the blog post titled ‘An Irate customer….a great opportunity’ by co-blogger NWritings called out few important points that organizations should take care when they deal frustrated customer.  By providing excellent service, the frustrated customer can eventually play significant role in building the organization brand image. However when it is not done properly, irate customer will become even more frustrated.  Recently I had an experience, which I would like to share along the same points mentioned by NWritings.

Let me give some background. For about a month, jwritings.com site was having some serious issues with loading its content only from Airtel Broadband network. However it was working perfectly fine when I accessed it via BSNL or office network. Some of my friends (including NWritings) who got Airtel connection reported the same problem. I called their customer compliant number 198 and raised a ticket to resolve at the earliest. However the way Airtel took up this case was really bad, where they consistently failed to meet my expectations and eventually forcing me to write this post. Let me line up the list of issues.

Delayed response: To start with, Airtel always have a Service Level Agreement (SLA) by which they will resolve the issue, whenever a support ticket is logged. I have been a long term customer for Airtel, always respected the company for the customer focus as they stuck to SLA commitment all the time. This time they failed to meet the SLA, where nobody turned up to investigate the issue reported by me. I need to do multiple follow-ups to get a customer support engineer to visit my home. Added to that, the long IVR menu made the experience a non-pleasant one.

Blame the customer: The real fun started when the customer service engineer visited my home for the first time. During my initial days of work, I was a test engineer responsible for testing DSL routers, mainly focusing on networking protocols (ex: PPPoE). With this background I did initial level of technical troubleshooting by checking out various options (LAN/WAN connections, executing utilities like ping/trace-route/packet capture etc…) which I clearly explained to the support engineer. In spite of me providing all the details, he went on checking local wireless connection, which has got no relation to the issue. Upon further conversation he made lot of loose statements like ‘once in a while such sites become inaccessible, why are you so bothered?’, ‘Airtel nowadays not paying much attention to customers’, ‘In case you are still having issues, try to change the modem’ which made me all the more frustrated. Eventually he put a request to the backend L2 support team and confirmed back saying ‘there is no issue from our side sir, there is something wrong with your laptop’ and eventually closed the support ticket without informing me. In spite of me doing most of the technical troubleshooting, this was the last answer I was expecting from them.

After doing some more follow-ups, I got a new support ticket created. Now the second support engineer visited my home, who was even worse than the first one. He had no idea about basic network troubleshooting utilizes like ping and went on complaining that there is something wrong with my machine or with the web hosting provider. Without getting into further details I politely requested him to leave my house.  Again, after multiple phone-calls, explaining to different customer support engineers the conclusion was very simple – the problem is with me (customer), there is nothing wrong with Airtel.

No proper follow-up: To provide a last opportunity, I reached their escalation department and clearly told ‘See boss! If you don’t fix the problem, I will be terminate the connection’. After couple of days, I got an SMS saying my problem will be fixed by a time-frame, which already passed. Throughout the issue, there is no proper follow-up from their side trying to understand the problem and provide the solution. As a customer I was totally unhappy to see the  ‘don’t care’ attitude expressed by them in every other step. Nobody was even able to understand the core issue and associated emotions (of my passion for writing, not having the site up and running preventing me from writing) which were clearly below the standards.

No call-back: After my escalation phone-call, the site started working just fine. I am not sure what exactly they did and where the eventual fix was made. Till date there is no call-back from Airtel to confirm whether my issue is really fixed. In case I run into the problem again, I am pretty sure it will again start from ‘square-1’.

I am one of the long term customers of Airtel, mainly because of their excellent customer service. Especially during the initial days of me purchasing the Broadband connection, the service levels were simply outstanding with 100% adherence to SLAs. In case the SLA is not met, they will pay penalty as compensation. I clearly remember getting 200 rupee deduction in my monthly Broadband bill as they were not able to meet their SLAs. This level of great customer service is something very unique in Indian context. As a matter of fact, I purchased Airtel stocks, when I started my share market investing. This was mainly because of the fundamental belief that any organization with such strong customer focus will eventually become great organizations.However my recent experience clearly indicates clear degradation in their customer service. When I put a message in Facebook about this incident, many of my friends responded with similar examples.

Never the less, I still continue to be an irate customer!