Your Call is Important to Us: The Tragicomedy of Customer Service

In the old MTNL days, customer service used to be quite honest. It may not have been good, but you cannot fault them for honesty. So when you called them for some request, mostly you were welcomed with something like “कृपया प्रतीक्षा करें, आप कतार में हैं” which made no bones about the fact that you have to wait and we will attend to you when we reach you perhaps after all else is done. Even the English version said, “Please wait. You are in queue” or something like that. So you basically called a number and waited for something to happen.

Now the onus has shifted. You call a number, and try to make things happen! When English, Management Principles and Technology get together, it can create good things as well as bad things. So today, customer service may be better, but it is not honest. The approach is you are important to us and we will attend to you when you are able to reach us, and when it suits us well. * Conditions apply.

So my South Indian friend Swami who grew up in Matunga in Mumbai during the MTNL era complains that he has to pay a lot of attention nowadays when he calls his bank’s, or for that matter, anyone’s customer service number.

“Every time I call them, it starts with – ‘Please listen carefully as our menu options have recently changed’. For the past few months, I have been searching for the change, but haven’t found it”, he complained. Well, I was not sure what exactly he was complaining about, the change or not being able to find it. But be that as it may.

“That’s just to wake you up, Swami. They are telling you please don’t blame us later if you stand in the wrong queue”, remarked my broker friend Jigneshbhai, tongue in cheek over our customary weekend coffee.

“Yes I know. That’s when I realized that the thing that has changed is that they removed the ‘Press 0 to talk to our service representative’ link from their menu options”, Swami said pleased at his discovery.

“So they removed the counter which had people earlier, so you cannot form a queue there”, Jigneshbhai continued with his expert comments.

Not one to give up, Swami added, “But I have mastered all their tricks now. A few times I tried all options in their menu to get to an agent. I pressed 0 like I used to earlier. But the system said ‘I haven’t understood your inputs’ couple of times and disconnected me saying ‘please call back later’.” His initial spirit of discovery changed to a mood of disappointment as he was saying that.

“They know that stubborn callers like you will fight for that counter which had people earlier, so they want to make sure that the queue does not start, or at the very least it is tough to find that counter!”, reiterated Jigneshbhai.

“Exactly. But finally, I got it. If you want to speak to someone, you do nothing! You wait at the main menu itself – and it will say ‘Transferring your call to a customer service representative. This call may be monitored for quality and monitoring purposes.'” He informed us almost with a triumphant smile on his face.

“Great”, I said, thanking Swami, thinking this was the end of it.

But Jigneshbhai poked him further. “That quality and monitoring stuff was to discourage you, and put a doubt in your mind, so that you reconsider standing the queue, even though you have reached it. But you are tenacious. So finally you got what you wanted?”

Swami’s victorious face suddenly turned to anger. “Arre Baba, I had just got into the queue now. Now they said, “Your waiting time is expected to be 13 minutes. Please hold. Your call is important to us.”

“Of course, you have proven your tenacity and finally got into a queue. Well – they are saying if you can’t serve yourself and insist so much on being served, we will serve you, but wait for some time till we have tea. So this is perhaps the final hindrance.” said Jigneshbhai adding insult to injury.

But Swami had internalized his customer service experience beyond our expectations. “I wish it was the final hurdle. Someone came up after some time, and after some hello, how may I help you, asked me my address, date of birth and mother’s maiden name for security reasons. Now I remembered the first two but could not remember the third. So she told me that she will need to direct me to the system again where I can enter my account details.” As he said this, I could see the sense of dejection making its appearances on his face. “And on top of it she asked, ‘Can I put you on hold while I transfer you to the system?’ As if I had a choice.”

“Hmm. I think this is like reaching the counter in the olden times and the agent asking you for a set of documents she needs which you did not know”, remarked Jigneshbhai.

“Yeah – so I entered my account details and then the system asked me for some verification. And after just one “Your call is important to us” she came back, and she said, ‘Sir, thank you for your verification. While I pull up your account details, may I place your call on hold?’ Well if you say so, I said. Then I started listening to some promotion of their products to be added to my account for a good 5 minutes”, Swami’s sorry tale kept getting sorrier.

“ see you did the right thing in having all your documents ready when you reached the counter this time”, Jigneshbhai remarked with his first positive comment, poking Swami who was no longer finding it funny.

“Ok, then what happened?” I asked, trying to give Swami some empathy.

“Finally, she asked me what I wanted. I said I wanted to downgrade my account plan and change the address.”

Continuing, Swami said in a flabbergasted tone, “I don’t know what happened after that, but for 10 minutes I spoke to three people from three different departments every time the system kept transferring the call and saying “Your call is important to us”. They kept telling me how my current account plan was the best and how a downgrade would be disastrous given my profile. Eventually they gave me some discount in my account, and I agreed not to change anything!”, reported Swami with an emotion that had a mix of victory and defeat.

“And what about the address change?” asked Jigneshbhai, almost spurring Swami into anger.

“Nothing, she took down my request, and gave me a request number. And told me that it would be effective after I submit my address proof at any of their branches.”, said Swami with a dejected look.

“So that was it?” I asked, trying to close it. Any further and Swami would have had a nervous breakdown.

He was close to it when he finally said, “Yeah. As I disconnected, a voice said, ‘Thank you for your call. It would be our pleasure to serve you again. Please provide your feedback by sending an SMS to 56076.”

As we left, Jigneshbhai remarked, “Sometimes I wonder if ‘कृपया प्रतीक्षा करें, आप कतार में हैं’ was better than ‘Your call is important to us’! If not for service, at least for mental health!”

One Response to Your Call is Important to Us: The Tragicomedy of Customer Service

  1. Now you phone will listen to their merry music on your behalf!
    The application waits for the operator’s voice on the line and signals when this happens.

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