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Guest Times: Happy to leave you, Vodafone

Prathap Suthan, Managing Partner and Chief Creative Officer, Bang In The Middle, writes strongly on why he dumped Vodafone and why a customer should never be taken for granted by a brand

Guest Times: Happy to leave you, Vodafone

Prathap Suthan, Managing Partner and Chief Creative Officer, Bang In The Middle, writes strongly on why he dumped Vodafone and why a customer should never be taken for granted by a brand 

Delhi, July 15, 2013

Prathap Suthan

Until this morning (he wrote the piece on July 12, 2013), I was one of your faceless customers. But as I write this, I have successfully ported my number to your competition. Whether Airtel turns out to be better or worse is the least of my worries. I actually don’t care.  In fact, I couldn’t give a rodent’s backside if they turn out to be worse. Because getting out of your network alone was my principal focus. I had to redeem my ego, my existence, and my forgotten power as a customer. Long live number portability!

Here’s why I left you.

I was your customer for the last 17 years (initially with Matrix before they moved me to you). I’d suppose that’s a sufficiently long period for anyone to garner a fair amount of credibility, loyalty, and rating within your base of customers.

While I wouldn’t have been on the top of your list, across the years, I'd have paid you an average of Rs 4,000 every month. Multiply it by 17 years, and that’s a tidy little sum you have gained out of me.

In all these years, I never counted or calibrated the calls I made, contested any of the amounts you put inside my bills, debated or demanded discounts for dropped calls, undelivered messages, poor voice quality, ineffective DND service, etc.

I trusted you completely, and paid you full to the paisa. Without a peep. Completely aware that your machines and minions might have put in a few critters that secretly ate my wallet. I never worried about it. Been stoic really. As have 99 per cent of your customers. Despite all the newspaper articles that yell out the wicked things telecom companies do to inflate bills and fleece customers.

But then, that's a completely different weep. The continuing plight of the toothless and unprotected Indian customer.

Cut to last month, mid June 2013

I had to go to France for a reason, and as usual I faithfully carried your connection along with me. Despite being harangued and tempted by Matrix to carry one of their French SIM cards.

It was all kosher for the first couple of days, when all of a sudden and without any warning, my phone went kaput. Initially, I thought it was a momentary black hole.

But nope, I soon discovered that I was no longer allowed and permitted by your SIM to hook up with any network.

Poof. I was snipped off. Red carded!

There I was, in the middle of France, betrayed and thrown out by my most preferred, follow-me-anywhere, friend and brand. The pug had turned wolf.

Just how can you do this without informing me?

No SMS, no text, no email, no call, no telepathic message, no nothing.

The messages that reached me after money was paid and services were restored don’t count. The messages that weren’t delivered don’t count. The messages that reached me after I came back to India also don’t count.

You just pulled the plug on me. Without intimation, without notice, without choice. Life support removed without mercy.

Dude, that’s just not done

Even if I were to be executed – someone would have asked me for my last wish, last words, last meal, etc. They wouldn’t just spring up from the shadows, pull out a sword, and chop off my nut.

But your callousness was dirty. Treacherous. Hello, there’s honour even among executioners. Learn from them.

I’d have understood if I was a new customer. Or if I had unpaid outstanding bills. Or if I had gone on a rampage and rung up a bill of half a crore.

My total bill eventually turned out to be around Rs 24,000 – but considering that I have paid you much fatter bills for wandering the world, you should have judged better.

Ideally, when you take such a drastic step, don’t you have a manual method of scrutinizing the customer and analysing the immediate circumstances?

Haven’t you hired people with brains and intelligence to override machine slaughter? Don’t you look at past history? Length of the relationship? Geographical position?

Wouldn’t that data be available in seconds?

As a professional, and as someone who goes all out to deliver delight to my clients, the last thing I’d do or urge anyone in my team to do is sever ties without notice.

Even at the cost of pride and revenue, the last two-way call is my responsibility and ethic before I push my client off the edge.

A bond with a client and a customer is a great moral commitment. Not a cold business relationship. Brands live inside hearts, not wallets. It’s sacred ground.

I had trusted you blindly and depended on you all these years, and then you go and do the one cruel thing you shouldn’t have done.

You abandoned me. You ditched me.

You disconnected me, and left me most vulnerable in another country. Didn’t it cross your mind that I could have got into trouble?

How do you guys go to sleep? Doesn’t it hit you that you could have endangered someone’s life and business by summarily taking him/her off the network?

Just how far removed can you be from your tagline that says ‘Happy to Help’?

Is this customer service or customer disservice?

As one of your long standing customers, I deserved and should have received an SMS letting me know that I had crossed all allowable limits, and that my connection was under threat.

Supposing I couldn't read that message, missed the message or messages, didn’t receive those messages, or didn’t respond to those messages, your customer desk could have called me, warned me, and offered help to keep my connection alive.

Wouldn't I have counted that as a gesture of blue chip customer service? Couldn't I have expected such grace and elegance?

I could have been asked if I wanted the connection to be on, in spite of crossing my credit limit. Couldn’t I have been given that freedom, respect, and flexibility?

Couldn’t I have been logically allowed the time to contact my office in India to make payments, or to use my credit card to put up a required deposit?

I am sure you have your reasons and excuses

On the contrary, I’d be surprised if you don’t have ingenious escape clauses.

Maybe the decision was taken by a computer or a bot with zero emotional faculties to consider the human consequences of disconnecting my phone.

Or maybe this possibility was indicated in 4 pt Helvetica when I signed your terms and conditions.

Or maybe this was done to ensure that you don’t incur loss just in case my return flight crashed into an iceberg in the skies!

Damn. You were heartless 

Why didn't you as a premier network of my country do all what was possible, beyond written rules and call of duty, to ensure that I was not stranded in a foreign country?

What if I had a medical emergency? Or any other emergency that needed my immediate attention and action?

What if a major business opportunity went down the drain because a client couldn’t reach me?

Or what if my bank needed to get in touch regarding an investment or a cheque that needed my nod?

Didn’t you also overlook the possibility that my extended use of your service could have been a potential opportunity to derive more revenue from me?

Don’t you see how I would have sworn by your care, written an opus of praise, and been your absolute unpaid ambassador for all time?

I suspect I can write better than your eggheads.

Bad business call. Very bad business call

Finally, this isn’t a complaint. This is a free piece of advice.

Ever since I came back and re-registered on to your network, couldn’t you have anticipated the fact that I could port to another network? Remember you weren’t exactly pleasant to me.

Shouldn’t you have responded to my Facebook rant post – both on my wall, and on your wall? Why didn't anyone call me? Couldn't your social media expert who tweeted back, sense my anguish, and got in a crisis manager to speak to me?

Why did the one lone call happen only after I sent in my request for porting? Is this how you treat all your ‘valued’ Vodafone customers? Shouldn't you have done all you could have done to stop me from defecting? Customers are sentimental fools. Perhaps a single sorry could have stopped me.

Now then, just why was Airtel listening to me so much better? Why did their service department almost instantly swing into top speed to reach out and help?

Maybe the Indian-ness of a brand helps. Maybe the eagerness to grow bigger and better helps? Maybe they are truly the ‘friend’ that they jingle about.

Any which way, I am happy I was able to do unto you what you did unto me. Better still, I’d now be paying just half the money that I was unquestioningly paying you.

I know losing me won’t exactly upset your bonuses. Nor will you be bothered to actually haul up anyone who was directly responsible for losing me.

But do remember this in capital letters

I may have been just one of your zillion customers. But for me, you are only one of the 4 brands competing for my hard earned money.

I am the one with the choice. Not you.

You need me more than I need you. Because without me, and other customers like me, you won’t exist.

I am the most important thing that makes you a brand, a service, and a success. I am more powerful than you think.

Look after me. Take care of me. And don’t mess with me. I am not just a customer. I am your competition.

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