Indians don’t deserve global standards-just yet

We recently moved. One of the ills of living and working away from home is the annual battle of shifting places every time a rental lease expires. And every time, it brings with it a growing list of administrative obligations. Social security numbers are still a distant dream for us, and every shifting iteration is followed by a hundred trips to banks, gas agencies, and broadband offices to get address records updated. And yes, to get your WiFi transferred. After all, WiFi comes a close third to food and alcohol for survival in the Millennium City.

Around the time while we were shifting, I saw a promoted Facebook post from Tata Photon WiFi promising the sun. Incredible speeds, great connectivity, and incredible prices- the kind of stuff that could make you look like grandpa on a Cyrix desktop in the age of quad-core phones. I couldn’t believe my stroke of luck and clicked it. What lay ahead was even more incredible- Tata Photon had a cash on delivery option! Could it get any better than that? Next steps were simple— a few clicks and my “deliver at doorstep” order was placed. The “doorstep delivery” never happened of course. Not that I was expecting it either- I suppose, like others, I’ve come to peace with the professional predictability of our fellow countrymen. After all, what’s service without some good ol’ banter and heartburn? Would anyone even remember a brand if everything went smooth?  The days that followed gave me long and profound insights about us Indians, and why we are the way we are.

Professionalism is a far cry for Indian companies

Several days, phone calls, and twitter complaints later, I received a call from Tata Docomo apologising for the “technical problems” and their inability to deliver the product sooner. After all, ‘apologise for the technical problems’ is the first sentence written in the preface of every customer-service-for-dummies user manual in the country. As a student of management and an observer and writer of consumer brands, such a red flag at the beginning of a relationship is akin to the blue screen of death on a Windows PC. But around the same time, an idea cropped up. I decided to follow it through, until either of us gives in or gives up. And I decided to do it with as much grace as my patience would allow.

Sure enough, every alternate evening, I’d receive a new call from a customer-care-executive promising delivery the following day. Of course, no phone call would be complete without the closing touch- “Our executive will call you before delivery.” And after yet another no-call-no-show, I’d politely submit a telephonic or twitter complaint. A couple of days after every complaint, the same technoerror-apologise-we’lldeliver routine followed. It would be hard to put a number, but I suppose I underwent this routine anywhere between six and nine times. Above everything else, as a follower of the “Zen” way of living, maintaining one’s calm under repeated test conditions is a true test of character. Tata Docomo already has an established infrastructure and trained service staff to start a “patience and personality development” service line. They could do it over the phone!

The next step was visiting a physical store. This time, I visited a dealer and bought an awesome-er “Tata-Docomo-3G-WiFi- incredible-unbelievable” package.  While I narrated my history with the brand earlier, the dealer was convinced that the only thing coming between me and Tata Docomo awesomeness was my delay in finding the man himself. I purchased this at 11am, and the guy swore that his money, wife, and fertility are just three of the few things he’d be willing to forego if the connection is not activated by 9pm! Fertility? This guy had to be serious right?

Several mornings later, while I write this post and if I could guess correctly, I’d say that it’s been about four and a half weeks since it all started.  Tata Docomo awesomeness still evades me and my Zen score has increased at least by a multiple of 4.

Have we really evolved from the Kirana store mind set?

Several brands and corporations have imported global customer services and products to the Indian market. While one may consider this as a signal of the increasing maturity of the Indian consumer market, something remains unaccounted for. Brands and corporations seem to have overlooked the fact that at every delivery and purchase touch-point, stands the crucial layer of human interaction. Have brands asked the question, “Is the Indian consumer ready for global standards yet?” In every store, behind every counter, and on the other side of each phone call, there is a human being facilitating the transaction. Were these global standards and practices built with the Indian employee and the Indian consumer in mind? My Tata Docomo experience is among several other examples which solidifies my belief that we are not.

If I look back, my only risk-free purchase experiences are the ones where I’ve visited a physical store and bought items with little risk exposure and perfectly predictable outcomes. We are still far from the time where purchasing anything more than a bar of soap from the local kirana store will be a risk-free and effortless experience. Not to take anything away from #Flipkart; I think these guys are awesome. But buying even a book from #Flipkart has its share of risks. There is bad internet connectivity, unpredictable power supply, and lousy computers involved in an online book purchase process. It’s risky! And if you run into rough weather, one thing is predictable- “the person on the other side of the customer service will surely give you a hard time.” And on that, I could bet my money, wife, and fertility!

P.S.- The reason why I decided to try out Tata Docomo was because of another nightmare called Airtel Broadband services. But that’s another story, of course!