Sometime on the morning of Sunday 26th May, I received a typical marketing SMS from Tata Sky congratulating me as I had been ‘awarded’ a free trial subscription for a month for Tata Sky Binge. Binge is a product that Tata Sky has on offer that allows access to various Internet-based streaming content sites and latest movies and shows, including Amazon Prime, Netflix, and Hotstar. The ‘award’ also included installation of a free fire-stick.
Normally, we are very wary of such offers. But we had been considering the purchase of a fire-stick; so we thought the offer would save us the hassle of either ordering online or going to purchase the fire-stick and then getting someone to install it. I called back the number to register my acceptance of their offer. Pronto! Their representative called back to set up the appointment for the installation. It would be on that very day – Sunday, at 4pm – within just about four hours of our accepting the offer.
Even as the service engineer was installing the equipment, I received an SMS from Tata Sky that my subscription pack had been altered as per my request and that the renewal date would be changed from 22nd August to 18th July. Our first thought was that perhaps the service engineer had made a mistake and had not registered the installation for a FREE TRIAL for a month that we had agreed to. Since he had not yet finished with the process of installation, he showed us his log book wherein he had clearly mentioned that it was free. He asked us to confirm immediately on the helpline and register our complaint.
Thus began my odyssey with Tata Sky grievance redress mechanism which has taken nearly a month to resolve. It was a ‘trial’ alright – but a trial of my patience and persistence.
The helpline numbers, as our readers would know, have an IVRS (interactive voice response service) which requires you to have tremendous patience to hold the line until you finally come to a human voice – even though it is of a call centre staff. You narrate the entire sequence of events leading up to your grievance and all you get are standard replies. And you have been already warned at the beginning of the conversation that the call is being recorded ‘for training purposes’. So you better not lose your cool and patience! You are then put through to a ‘senior’ and his/her senior, who in turn asks you to restate your grievance and is unable to provide a suitable answer about the cause of the subscription period change and wrongful deduction of charges for a service you have not availed; again he/she puts you through to a supervisor, who promises to look into your complaint and revert to you ‘within 48 hours’!
Tata Sky does keep to the timeline. I got an email saying that they tried to contact me on my registered mobile number but did not get a response – a patent falsehood, because someone did call and I had responded. The guy who had called insisted that our subscription had been modified on 24th April and would not believe that we had not made any change. We asked him to put in writing all that he was telling us, since he was refusing to accept the information from our records, or to provide evidence for his part of the story. He refused to do so point blank.
So, I sent an email about the grievance – since, as a customer, I had not recorded the conversation. I followed the procedure -- of addressing the first email to the ‘nodal officer’ but also marked the copies the designated officers in TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) and to Moneylife and Bombay Telephone Users’ Association (BTUA). My grievance was articulated quite clearly. The following points were mentioned in my email:
I write re my account statement.
1. The last account statement that I have recd from you AFTER I had done my channel selection is dated 31st March.
2. This statement showed an outstanding amount to my credit as Rs xxx (rounded off).
3 If the subscription fee for the channels I have selected is Rs250 per month, then my balance should last me up to mid-August -- which is what your SMS (message) to me had shown. And it would be correct.
4. Since I have not selected any other channel in the interim, how come my subscription period is truncated to July instead of August?
5. It can only be IF your accounting software "by default" deducted the monthly fee for Binge @Rs250
Please correct your account statement.
Dr Nita Mukherjee”
I got an auto-generated response with an 8-digit ‘service request number’ – one that I had to remember to quote along with my 10-digit subscriber ID!
My assumption is that because of the CCs that had marked the email to, I got a reasonably prompt reply from the nodal officer. But it was a classic case of obfuscation; there was not even an indirect mention of why my subscription period was truncated or charges wrongfully deducted. Instead, it was a long spiel on the advantages of long-duration packs, etc. And by way of my account statement, what I got was my name address and registered mobile number!
Please find below the details of your account, as available in our records :
Email Address: xxxx”
So, as a compliant consumer, I took the next step in the redress process – wrote to the appellate authority Tata Sky. And would you believe it? That email bounced back, because there is no email ID for the appellate authority at Tata Sky! I forwarded the message of undelivered mail to TRAI, as well as to Moneylife and BTUA.
While looking into my subscription records to make all these complaints, I found that there is a long delay in receiving account statements from Tata Sky – on an average, of two months. Also, there is no consistency in the information that customers are given about the monthly charges. One message, in my case, says it is Rs307, another says it is Rs297 and a third says it is Rs250. Wondering whether the free trial was worth all the time I had spent, I decided to give up Binge and return the fire-stick. It was done on 6th June.
Now, I got a call from a customer relations executive. He referred to my complaint to TRAI and said that Tata Sky had taken my complaint very seriously and had restored my subscription period to 22nd August. He was still unwilling to offer an explanation about why it had been truncated in the first place! He kept repeating that your grievance was about restoring status quo ante, which we have done; so as far as they were concerned ‘grievance redressed; matter closed’.
But since I insisted that I wanted a reply in writing, I got a letter by registered post on 21st June. The content is interesting; hence, worthy of being quoted. “Our customer care associate last spoke to you on 17 June 2019 on your Registered Mobile Number to address the issue raised in the Complaint. It was informed that Tata Sky Binge has been dropped as per your request and the due date has been restored to previous date. Hence, the complaint stands resolved and closed.”
Isn’t this an indirect acknowledgement of the fact that what Tata Sky had done was to have charged me for the free trial period? And doesn’t it prove that their customer executive who was trying to fob me off, saying that I had modified my subscription on 24th April, presenting ‘alternative facts’?
I am sharing this personal experience so that customers don’t fall for such FREE TRIAL offers. And remember that vigilance is really the price we have to pay for Binging!