Citizens' Issues
They’ll sell you a cell and tell you to go to hell

Telecom companies will go to any extent to convince you to go in for their product or services. But the moment you become a customer, they’ll place you at the mercy of their after sales and customer service.

There are a lot of Indians out here. Over a billion of us populate this planet. Naturally, the country is a huge market for anybody to sell anything under the sun. Be it mobiles, PCs, automobiles, bank accounts or fizzy drinks, every marketer is raking it in.

However, when it comes to after-sales service, it is a very different story.

Earlier, shops used to sell and also service products. But now, different entities take care of sales and service. That's why service standards have plummeted. Even in the case of banks, where both sales and customer service (should) be under the same roof, the treatment you get after you become a customer is more or less the same.

All telecom service centres operate between 10.30am to 6pm during weekdays. Are we back to the heady days of the mixed economy? One must admit, these centres manage to squeeze in half a day's work on Saturday. Sundays, of course, are when they rest.

So if you maintain regular working hours, and your mobile decides to develop a mind of its own and go on the blink, you face the prospect of having to leg it to the nearest service station and let your files (or emails) pile up. But better be warned. A visit to the service station is no guarantee that your device will be repaired.

I'll let you in on what happened to yours truly. Two-three months ago, I bought a Samsung mobile. Unfortunately, my son took a fancy to the device, and dropped the mobile while playing a game at home. The screen went kaput.

Now I had to read the fine print on the guarantee card. Screen damage, said the card, is not covered in the guarantee. The service centre wanted me to fork out Rs950 for a handset which cost me Rs2,500.

I had no other option, so I paid the amount. Unfortunately, the service centre did not have the required new screen. They asked me to keep my handset with them and promised that they will call me as soon as they get the screen. I waited for a week. No call from the centre. I had to phone them. Then they told me that they did have the new screen and it was promptly attached to my mobile.

But my woes were in no way over. My mobile was not getting charged any more. When I asked the service centre about how they plan to resolve this new problem (before accepting the handset), I was told that there might be a problem with my phone's battery.

You guessed it. They did not have a new battery in stock. After yet another week, I went to the service centre again, but the they still did not have a battery. Another week passed by. When I went to the service centre for the fourth time, to my horror, they told me that the problem was not with the battery, but with the motherboard of my handset. And pray, what was the cost of this motherboard? Around Rs1,200-Rs1,500. Great... I bought the handset for Rs2,500 and within two-three months, the 'authorised' service centre wanted me to spend the same amount to get it repaired.

The handset is a living proof of how easily I was fooled by Samsung and its authorised service centre. Every time I look at my handset, this thought still mocks me.

But the point is, this is not an isolated case of an errant service centre. I'm sure that you will have - or must have had - the same experience with all kinds of service centres. As soon as you enter any kind of service centre, the chaos you face will put a crowded fish market to shame. There are no indications, signboards, instructions or smoke signals on how your problem will be resolved.

If you stars are in the right position and the gods are smiling on you from the blue yonder, you might actually be able to speak to someone from the inside.

Let's assume that it is a mobile service centre that you are visiting. That elusive representative will ask you if your handset falls under the stipulated warrantee or not. If you answer in the affirmative, then you will be asked for a photocopy of your purchase bill - which, of course, you would not have thought of carrying with you.

Therefore, you have to come out of the service centre, search for a photocopy shop (it will always be nearby, since they get huge business from customers like you), get a copy and again enter the service centre.

From my experience - as well as feedback from fellow sufferers - one thing is pretty sure that unless you visit the service centre at least a couple of times, your complaint will never, ever, be resolved.

I have seen something happening all the time at these service centres. First, people plead with the service centre personnel, then they beg for their handset to be serviced and later they threaten them with some dire consequences.

But nothing works with these centres. You just have to grin and bear it. You are left with no other option but to get your mobile device serviced from your friendly neighbourhood mobile mechanic, tearing up your guarantee card into a zillion pieces in the process.

Why then, does the customer have to suffer at the hands of these 'authorised' service centres?

Am I being a conspiracy theorist, or does this have something to do with the business model of these companies?

Many moons ago, in my hometown, there were shops which sold all kinds of electronics goods. From different companies. But they serviced them as well. There, the shop-owner never treated any sale as a one-off deal. The customer was a lifetime patron. This may be the secret behind the success of these shops, despite competition from 'authorised' dealers located all over the place. Are the mobile handset companies listening? Are they even bothered?

(This is the first part of a two part-series)



Sachin Bhutada

5 years ago

I had a Samsung phone costing Rs2000.
There was problem with the mic.The Authorised service centre told me it would cost Rs800 to fix it.
I gave my phone to "unauthorized" service center and got it fixed for Rs 3 (THREE).


5 years ago

Same was the case with me after buying my OLIVE VG300 from the INTERNET I had to face the somewhat similar situation, simple as that I did not shell out money for extra, It was warranty period still running but no one cares specially service center, tells me have to wait for new PCB as it does not have one have to come from COMPANY which is in JAIPUR, no chance of coming almost waited for a month repeated calling the service center resulted nothing, so had to take back the phone as it from them after giving them my piece of mind to them,

Sunil Date

7 years ago

Several comments.
1 I can site n number of stories of service centres. Since they are not the sellers they don't feel any empathy for the customer. If things have to improve then sales & service centres have to be same.
2 I wonder whether the modern day MBAs are taught anything about customer satisfaction ( customer delight is a word form another galaxy)
3 Have any of you come across any customer care no where " to talk to our excutive select No x" is in the first level menu of the ARS ? They cunningly hide this particular option in some sub sub menu and you have to spend some half an hour and several phone calls to discover it. Moreover though you know that 9 is to be selected to opt for talking to somebody, the system is so designed that if you select 9 randomly the phone either gets disconnected or the ARS says it is a wrong choice.
4 What would you say to a phone service provider call centre who advices you to personaly visit the office if your work is to be done ? They refuse to even give phone numbers of their sales offices. " Not authorised" to it seems.
"Darling Yeh hai India"


7 years ago

Insurance companies are the biggest looters. Once I got a chance to attend training to become an agent,The insurance company offered 35 percent commission from first installment of premium and 10 percent trail of remaining installments also trained ,how to make fool of the customer to compel for insurance.
This commission plus heavy expenses.salaries highly paid staff in AC rooms,hardly 40 to 50 percent will be left for further investment in equities at the risk of investors then what do you expect only to see hell


7 years ago




K Narayanan

In Reply to krish 7 years ago

The country consists of people like us -forget the rogue politicians and business rogues.I fool you,you fool another and he/she fools another and the circle goes on.You don't deal with the politicians or the top level business tycoon rogues everyday.You deal with the employees who are paid to fool you and for a salary they happily do it.The vicious circle follows.Except some, nobody is happy and we have godmen and art of living and other yoga teachers to manage the stressful life for a price.You pay again to destress yourself.We shd become entrepreneurs and offer some exotic solution to the stressed people and merrily make money.In my case I generally try as much as possible to get on life with minimum gadgets,machines etc and if I have to buy something I am mentally prepared in advance and pray God that things work out alright.


7 years ago

New reality of process oriented service and no more man oriented.. like Call Centre/KPO/BPO etc.. Key man the customer facing has limited knowledge and authority and he should do what he asked to do by the Supervisor.... This will make the customer helpless many times which he used to resolve with personal intervention of officials.


7 years ago

Consumer Care in many companies is a casuality. I pay my annual subcribtion without fail to this DTH company through their distributor. Yet in the mids of the programme there comes aninterruption and announcement advising renewal. When a complaint is made to the distributor they advise me to keep a particular channel alive to resume. By this way i had lost lot of live programmes. Phone calls and threats do not work as they have already received my annual subscribtion. I wonder why the annaul subscribers are not allotted seperate VC numbers and allow them interuption free service.


7 years ago

Yogesh, you are lucky, you can vent your ire in public..not many people can do that...But the larger point you are making is common..My wife bought a Max handset bcoz it had a service centre in Borivali. When the mobile went kaput, the service centre disappeared...


7 years ago

Presently this is with most of the companies also specially with insurance companies

k a prasanna

7 years ago

We purchased M blaze mobile broad internet connectivity from MTS dealer. It was not functioning from day one. We approached the dealer who sold the product to us. We were directed to go to a third party service center in Dadar area, who in-turn gave us some other address in the same area. There were 20 customers of MTS with the same problem as ours. The technician took the instrument inside and after 5 minutes he came back and said that the fault has been rectified. A blatant lie, we came to know after reaching the home, when it did not function. Again after10s of phone calls to the customer service center we were directed to the same shop in Dadar. The people at the center(third party- Spice/Videocon), informed us it will take another 15 days to get it right and no guarantee of trouble free internet connectivity. We are now decided to take up the matter with consumer court.


7 years ago

Dear friends,
I fully agree with the contents. I recently had similar experience with Nokiacare. I was under the impression that Nokia is a professional organisation. Since the ringtone is not audible while going in Hyderabad traffic I thought they could do something to eliminate the problem. If the basic product itself has this problem the service person should indicate. Instead he said he would change the speaker and make it alright. The charge was Rs 350 for the speaker and Rs 150 for software correction. I had no other way except to pay. After servicing there is no change in performance. In addition memory card would not be scanned there. We have to get it done in some shop where it is done. When I got it done I was told that it will not work and the only way is to change it costing another Rs350. Are these companies professional.? The service centre is not bothered about my complaint. I was asked to drop the letter in some box. God only knows whether it would reach the proper person if there is one. Earlier when ECIL colour TVs were ruling the market their representative used to rectify the problem and guarantee performance. With all the technological advancement we have Service centres are only making money without bothering about the customer who is feeding them. Is Nokia listening?

K B Patil

7 years ago

If consumer courts were more generous in their fines on erring companies, the companies would have learnt to respect consumers. For instance, for a loss of Rs.1,000 to a consumer, if the company had been forced to shell out 5 to 10 times the amount of loss, they would have perfected the art of servicing customers with a smile.

Ajit Misquitta

7 years ago

It is obvious that you are claiming for service for a product that has been damaged due to misuse of the product i.e. dropping it and breaking it. The consequences are also obvious that the guarantee will not apply and thus you will have to pay for the broken product and replacement parts. In hindsight it is prudent not to let children play with expensive gadgets if they are not able to take care of it or are unsupervised and also that it is better to invest in a new set than attempt to repair any handsets as the cost of even minor repairs is more than what I pay for my motorbike which is worth three times as much and give me a lot more in value.


Ajit Misquitta

In Reply to Ajit Misquitta 7 years ago

Nevertheless it goes without saying that Service Centers need to have a more streamlined process in their dealings with customers and companies must give in large print how to go about claiming service with a feedback form for them to evaluate the service they are supposedly rendering to their customers.


7 years ago

I have a slightly different story to share. My son took a fancy for an LG Cookie Pep 510. In a few months, its screen stopped accepting touch commands. I immediately took it to the nearest service centre at Tardeo. They agreed to replace the screen FOC but did not have a replacement. But what I liked is their proactiveness. On my request they called up Fort Service Centre and when they confirmed that they have screen in stock, I was given the address of Fort and asked to go immediately there and was told that they will replace it immediately on the spot. I rushed to Fort Service Centre (Behind Capitol Cinema) and though there was quite a lot of rush, I was told to collect my handset after 1-2 hrs. And voila, they indeed replaced it with a new screen and touch wood, everything has been working perfectly well since then.

I have had good experience with my LG refrigerator too where I get prompt service.

I bought a Dell laptop (Studio 15) in Sept 2009 (with 3 yrs. warranty). In Decmber 2009 it's hard disk started showing signs of problems. When I called up their call centre they promptly agreed to replace the hard disk FOC and within 2 days it was done. Right now, it shows that the battery has reached its end of life. I called them up and they are willing to replace it FOC (ofcourse within 1 year as battery replacement is not valid beyond 1 yr). Ofcourse, in comparison to this, my Toshiba laptops (three consecutive for last over 15 yrs) I never had to replace the battery. The last Toshiba was bought in Nov. 2003 and the original battery lasted till Sep 2009.

R Balakrishnan

7 years ago

Everything is like buying insurance. Till they screw you out of your money, you are the best friend. After that, you can run round in circles trying to break the speed of sound. Every thing is like that. And all marketing divisions are headed by MBA's from IIM or some such institution. Marketing is to sell at any cost. Customer be damned.

Fair & Lovely Max Fairness: Goras get girls… and jobs!

It’s sad that Fair & Lovely is now busy parasiting on the insecurities of dark complexioned men as well, as if making dark complexioned women feel inferior for all these years wasn’t bad enough

So at least now makers of Fair & Lovely can't be dissed on the grounds that they make only the dark complexioned women feel like complete losers. With another new variant called Fair & Lovely Max Fairness, they have enlarged the scope of colour discrimination to include dark complexioned men as well.  
The television commercial (TVC) for the brand features a typical corporate interview setting, where all the suits are naturally pretty, fair and lovely. However on this occasion, the maha confident Fair & Lovely Max Fairness using candidate is seen grilling the prospective employers. He is the one asking questions, egged on by his fair skin shade, instead of the other way round. So it's role reversal. And this neat little trick works for Mr Fair & Lovely Max Fairness. He is hired on the spot, without any back-checks, without any queries. (Just for the record: the man's so-called confidence is actually smugness… I would reject the dude immediately… fair, brown or dark skinned, but I digress.)
Quite naturally, since this is a Unilever commercial, the mandatory 'brand window' makes an unwelcome appearance. So graphics are used to educate us on boring things like maximum sun protection, spot reduction, skin lightening and blah, blah. Obviously the brand manager wasn't feeling as confident as the featured candidate, so he/she didn't want to risk losing out on providing chemical gyan to us dumb viewers.
Now while it's commendable that they have moved away from the usual men's personal products ad cliché, which is that all of them are positioned to impress them chicks, the commercial is quite dull. And the brand window makes it even more tiresome. The dialogue is pretty trite, the body lingo uninspiring, and the situation itself is very off-putting. The only thing going for the commercial is the little twist in the tale, about the role reversal, and once that's out, it becomes torturous to watch the commercial the second time round. In short, poor advertising.
Just two quick points before I rush off to purchase a Fair & Lovely Max Fairness: One, it's sad that Fair & Lovely is now busy parasiting on the insecurities of dark complexioned men as well. As if making dark complexioned women feel inferior for all these years wasn't bad enough. And two, as far as the creative goes, please bring back the much impressed girls! I miss them already!




7 years ago

I read that Advertising Standards Council of India is a self - regulated body. Either this regulator is fast asleep or "self-regulation" means "self-serving" in this case. Both, perhaps!


7 years ago

The old adage "We get the leaders that we deserve" can be rephrased as "We get the ads that we desire"

Skin color, caste & religion based commercials and politics will continue to play with our lives into the foreseeable future.

Manali Rohinesh

7 years ago

Many people will be taken in by such products...with the ads greasing the process. More fool them. I'd rather be an intelligent consumer than a vain, emotionally manipulated, insecure person. If lighter skin complexion could be got out of a tube, then please prove this, by trying these products on blacks. Not hybrids like Halle Berry, who has the 'Indian' complexion or Mariah Carey who is white skinned, despite having a black father...but the real McCoy - Nelson Mandela perhaps.

Some people much rather pose with Neruda or read Isabel Allende for real, than waste time creating and making false impressions because at some point, the makeup has to come off. So there won't be much left to say for a relationship that is based on such shallow precepts.

Imagine conning a person into thinking you are something, which you are not, and this is about something basic and intrinsic like your skin colour - there are not many convincing explanations for skin colour to keep changing like a litmus test paper.

Permanent whitening of skin could be a Michael Jackson kind of a 'host-of-medical' problems issue but otherwise, such people are just deluding themselves, and on some level they know it.

Watching more intelligent advertising might help. Or better still, pick up an Allende book.


7 years ago

These are false, ficticios and befooling the public.They have no proof or test report jn support of their product tbat any dark complexioned person have been benefited.These are illegal,malpractice and should be banned.Consumer Forum is requested to come forward to initiate action against false/baseless product publicity unless they get it approved Govt.Lab


7 years ago

advertising by nature has to be shrill.have you ever courted a woman?.dont you remember how you would go out of your way to preen and impress -intellectually -carrying that plato republic /neruda poetry with you or showing off your gym clothes etc etc.
there is nothing dumb about the may not appeal to you.but it sells.thats what matters.the buyer decides it is good for him.playing on insecurities? .then what do you want ads to do?appeal to your sublime intellect?. clearly you havent sold a thing in your life


7 years ago

Indians' tend to exhibit Atavism still remembering their British rulers.Matrimony coloumns abund with demand for "Fair Girls". I wont be surprised if soon somebody markets
Fairness washing powder, offering a plastic bucket free for three kilos of purchase.

Manali Rohinesh

7 years ago

These fairness cream ads seem to play up the fiction that to achieve anything in life, you've got to be fair-skinned and not necessarily talented, intelligent or the possessor of any abilities apart from good looks. Besides Indians do have a fetish for fair skin - matrimonial columns are a good place to start a research on this subject - so these ads know they are pandering to some seriously insecure and deluded people.

I don't know any seriously dark complexioned person who has benefited from such products.

I personally think such ads should be mocked and satirised by say, cosmetic or lingerie brands which can show light skinned Indian or foreign models 'opting' to go and get a tan to look good in sexy lingerie. This would be such a laugh.

It's actually a reality though, that a lot of celebs abroad hit a bottle of tanning lotion or a salon to get that bronze 'healthy' complexion, which we Indians and Latinos are blessed with. If only more Indians woke up and started counting their blessings.

May be a trip to Goa will help, where a lot of foreigners want the 'coloured' complexion, which they are looking to acquire at the cost of courting sunstroke and skin cancer, and which leaves them looking like barbecued meat instead.

The IFCI scrip continues to be a puppet in the hands of market operators

Bond conversion: Where are the 'reports' coming from?

Lets first look at the 'conversion' story. Who triggered this rumour? IFCI officials told the media that they had no 'official' word from the government on the issue.

Then where were these stories coming from? Even after an extensive web-search, I could not narrow the source to any responsible publication. Theoretically though, only two types of entities benefit directly from such rumours-market operators and insiders (in this case government officials). They can take advantage of the price movement that follows such rumours and make a quick fat buck. Investors certainly don't benefit.

True or not, the market is naturally upset at the possibility of such a conversion of bonds to equity. If it actually happens, government holding in IFCI will rise to 42% (market reports suggest the conversion will be at par). The government already holds 28% in IFCI through banks and insurance companies (Life Insurance Corporation of India, General Insurance Corporation, IDBI Bank and Punjab National Bank). And, it clearly stands to gain if it increased its shareholding through a conversion to equity and then offloads a significant shareholding to a 'strategic investor'-which is also being speculated by the trader community.

 In 2007, there was a big brouhaha about government divesting its holding in IFCI. The move was dropped when prospective investors pulled out because of the lack of clarity about government control. That lack of clarity still exists. IFCI ostensibly has autonomy,
but it is an open secret that government has a vice like control on the company.

Restructuring plan: And now a bank

In February this year, the government appeared to have started work on restructuring IFCI with three options in mind-bringing in a strategic investor; merging it with a public sector entity; or allowing it to continue as it is. It has even called bids to appoint a consultant to look at various options and shortlisted three names last November-Boston Consultancy Group, Ernst & Young and Mckinsey & Company-but nothing came out of that.

Of late, the buzz around the IFCI scrip is that it hopes to secure a banking license (most investors have given up on the government finding a strategic investor). This is based on finance minister Pranab Mukherjee mentioning fresh banking licenses for private players and finance companies in the FY11 Union Budget. A banking license could breathe new life into the company, and make it more accountable-a welcome change from investors' point of view. But for all these hopeful rumours about a banking license for IFCI, there are also counter-rumours that the company is uninterested in a bank license.

In June 2009, managing director Atul Kumar Rai had told PTI, "I don't want to say that I would like to be ICICI because ICICI was converted into a bank ... What I would say is, now you see ICICI, after five years there could be an IFCI way also."

Unwilling to share information

The Registrar of Companies (ROC) had issued notices to IFCI on 22 and 23 April, 2009, seeking information on loans-against-shares of promoters pledged by leading business houses. The ROC had sought details such as disbursement of loans, list of non-performing assets, perks of its top officials, etc. RoC had also directed IFCI to furnish information about whether Mr E Sreedharan, MD of Delhi Metro Rail Corporation, had said (in his capacity as a director of IFCI) at a board meeting that he was unhappy with the functioning of the company. It had also hinted at some fraudulent activity in IFCI in the notices. However, instead of providing the information, IFCI moved the Delhi High Court for quashing of the notices.

The company has posted regular (though erratic) profits in the past four quarters and has been more or less consistently profitable from the September 2006 quarter (with only a couple of quarters of losses). In its FY09 annual report, its gross non-performing assets were at Rs51.5 billion, slightly higher than FY08. Its loans and share capital put together was Rs134 billion and investments were Rs41 billion. Its quoted investments (investments in companies listed on stock markets) had a book value of Rs17.5 billion and market value of Rs15 billion. The unquoted investments were much higher-Rs31.8 billion, of which Rs8.2 billion were in equity, Rs5.4 billion in preference shares and an ominous Rs18 billion was in others. Its freehold land was valued at Rs770 million in its FY09 balance sheet but the actual market value could be more.

In November last year, IFCI had said it had plans to offload its holding in some 16 companies including Hotel Paraag in Bengaluru (8.5%), Mela Hotels in Ghaziabad (4%) and Sun Granites Exports (16%). IFCI usually acquires these holdings in lieu of project finance. Sometimes when these companies don't buyback their shares it offers them to the public to recover its investments. Last year it took a Rs1.2 billion hit after the Hindalco rights issue devolved (it had underwritten it) and in June 2008 had taken Emaar MGF to court when the latter refused to return Rs500 million that IFCI invested in it in a pre-IPO placement.

In a December interview to Business Standard, managing director Mr Rai had said that IFCI had been revived but was not very clear about which lines of business it should pursue. He said that it has been lending for the last three years and has created fresh assets of around Rs30 billion each year. Its long-term cost of funds was around 9% and the strategy continued to be to lend where banks do not or cannot. In short a high-risk model.

IFCI has been planning to raise Rs 10bn to finance business expansion, but hasn't done it so far.

For investors, until there is stark clarity about the government's role in this company, how serious it is about inducting a strategic partner or how serious is the company about acquiring a banking licence -- in short, until there is a clear direction -- this stock will continue to be a puppet in the hands of operators and unnamed 'sources' who leak information to manipulate the price.

Disclaimer: The report is based on secondary sources and this writer's own experience of tracking the stock.



bharat gandhi

7 years ago

i had brought this rumour to the notice of moneylife n sucheta dalal on thier respective pages. cnbc broke this story n did not follow it up. i requested both of them to follow up the story with SEBI. u should not let this things happen. pl lodge official complaint with SEBI n finance ministry. thank u

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