Mr. Dravid, You Have Competition!

Vikas Tandon   April 3, 2006   2 Comments

Ever felt like you’re talking to a wall when on the line with a “customer support executive”? What started out as the coming of age of customer orientation among businesses, seems to have inadvertently created an incessant supply of replacements for Mr. Dravid.

I come from an age when businesses were doing you a favour when they sold you a product. Then asking them for any kind of support or after-sales service was like being the proverbial camel. So when call centers happened, it was like the consumer had finally earned his rightful place under the sun. He was the king and here was an army eager and willing to treat him like one. “Good morning Mr. Tandon! Thank you for calling Citibank. How may I help you?”. “Will that be all Mr. Tandon?”. “Can I help you with anything else, Mr. Tandon?”. “Thank you for calling MaxTouch. Have a pleasant day, Mr. Tandon.” Ah, could I ever feel more spoilt?

And yet, 12-odd years on, why do I feel that they’ve managed to pull a fast one on me? That they only created an illusion of putting me in command, when what they have actually done is created an impenetrable, impregnable fortress of automatons trained to do only one thing – keep me under the illusion that I was being helped, and in the process keep me further away from them, and from the actual solution to my problem?

Lets face it. In the good old days, if something went wrong with your telephone line, or your toaster, you trekked to your local exchange/dealer, and, assuming the most servile position possible, pleaded that pretty much your entire existence depended upon his help in solving your problem. Once you had his attention, that is.

The only difference is you do not have to make that trek any more. You dial into the above experience!

And yet I refer to them as a the good old days. There was another crucial difference. When you did, you were talking to the person who could help you solve your problem. If nothing else, you had access to responsible officers who were empowered to do something about the problem, even though it sometimes took a bit of palm grease to get it done.

The problem now is that you end up talking to someone who:

* Is often NOT an employee and therefore has no commitment or interest in really solving your problem
* Is too junior to be empowered with anything more than giving you information rather than solving your problem
* Is sometimes too daft to even comprehend your problem, and
* Is made to believe that sugar-coating the entire conversation with enough politeness will somehow make all of the above unimportant, most of all your problem.

Let me take this conspiracy theory one step ahead. Have you wondered why the calls are automatically routed to the first available officer? You talk to one person to explain your problem, and God forbid, should the line get disconnected, when you dial in again, its like your earlier conversation never happened. You have someone completely new and even more polite asking you what the problem is!

Earlier, when you called a service center and spoke to Pawar, you could call again, ask for Pawar who would remember your problem and give you an update.

Now you do not talk to Pawar, you talk to a Server. “Sir, my records tell me that you had called yesterday and you had a problem with your billing. Could you tell me what the problem is?”

Finally, I believe the masterstroke in this ingenious game of illusion a la The Matrix is the “nationwide, toll-free, 24X7 helpline”. In the guise of providing a “seamless experience”, many companies have even replaced all local/physical contact details with one “nationwide, toll-free” number and one website/email address. Basically, I cut you off completely from me leaving you only the IVRS, servers and automatons to talk to. Hell, I can’t even talk to the local branch of my bank any more. I have to call the call center, perhaps in another state, to have someone take down my problem, then call again in 24-48 hours to find out what happened, when it would have taken my local branch officer just a few minutes.

Many company websites do not publish contact numbers of physical offices or departments. Others have even done away with catch-all mail boxes. A step-by-step contact form forces you to wade through options for hours, only to find that your problem does not have a category yet!

I do believe that somewhere, somehow, this whole race to be more customer centric and use technology to make life more covenient for the customer, has gone a bit awry. In some situations, it has, instead, increased the distance between the company and the customer.

This is one wall I wouldn’t mind seeing crumble!

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