Friday, December 26, 2008

A call centre saga...no...make that two...

Over the last week, I have been wondering if I should refuse to call any customer care centre as a mark of protest. The first of my two experiences was exasperating. But, the second, was infuriating. But, let me start from the beginning.

It was Monday morning. Our fax in office was not functioning. I had to call HP customer care and complain. More importantly, the printer was not picking up paper properly and I had to get an engineer to visit. The process took me 45 minutes. Here is how the conversation went. I call, identify myself and my company and politely ask explain my problem. My first call goes waste as the Customer care executive has no clue what to do. She promises to call back. Which she does. Here is how the conversation went.

Me: I have an all-in-one. The printer and scanner are working fine, but the fax is simply not going through.

Customer Care Exec.: Ma'am, you will have to follow our instructions so that we try to resolve your problem over phone.

Me: Uh, ok. What should I do?

Customer Care Exec.: Ma'am, there are three cables behind your printer; a fat one, a very fat one, and a thin one.

Me: (already exasperated) Which one are you talking about, the power cable, the RJ45 or the RJ11 telephone cable?

Customer Care Exec.: Pardon me ma'am, but I don't think you understood. There is a fat cable...

Me: (interrupting) Yes I know. But which one do you want me to check? The phone cable, the data cable or the power cable.

Customer Care Exec.: (Finally catching on to the fact that I am not completely illiterate.) The power cable ma'am. Please follow it to the other end and check if it is plugged into the mains.

Me: Are you mad? I am telling you my scanner and printer are working fine. How would that happen if the printer is not turned on? Will you please send an engineer to set my fax right and to check on my paper pick-up mechanism?

Customer Care Exec.: Sorry ma'am, we are only authorised to send our service engineers for hardware problems. Is your fax having a hardware problem or a software problem?

Me: How the hell am I supposed to know? You must tell me.

Customer Care Exec.: But, we can't send an engineer unless we know ma'am.

This conversation continues for a good half an hour before she has a brainwave and decides to log the complaint for referral to her supervisor. Soon enough, she returns.

Customer Care Exec.: I am sorry ma'am. The paper pick-up seems to be a hardware problem. We will send an engineer and he can fix the fax also while he is there.

Me: Thank you.

Customer Care Exec.: And ma'am, we have a special offer. Would you like to go in for a low-cost inkjet at just Rs.7999 for pesonal use?

And and that point, I give up trying to reason with her. I am calling from an office that will soon have close to 200 employees. And she proposes a personal inkjet?? I do wish these call centre executives would use their God-given brains once in a while!

Now, the second incident. The call centre in question is Airtel. I was getting unsolicited calls from a particular Airtel number. The calls were sometimes exasperating, but mostly irritating. The subscriber has obviously got my number from somewhere and the calls I got were bordering on sexual harassment. I decide to report abuse to the Airtel customer care, despite the fact that I have a Vodafone prepaid connection. The conversation goes like this. The emphasis, needless to say, is mine.

Me: I am calling to report abuse by an Airtel subscriber.

Customer Care Exec.: I am sorry ma'am. We cannot reveal details of one subscriber to another.

Me: I don't want the details. I don't care who he is. I want to register an abuse complaint against him. That's all.

Customer Care Exec.: Ok ma'am, I will register your complaint. I will send an acknowledgement number. Please save it. Thank you for calling Airtel, have a great evening.

Please note, that at this point, he neither asked for my name, nor my number, nor even the number of the person I was complaining against.

Me: (almost shouting now) Will you please listen? I have not finished. I want to file a complaint. A complaint of abuse. This is sexual harassment.

Customer Care Exec.: I understand ma'am. But, we cannot do anything. You must go to the police.

Me: Are you telling me you will not register a complaint against the subscriber?

Customer Care Exec.: How a subscriber uses his number is not Airtel's responsibility.

Me: Are you willing to go on record on that?

Customer Care Exec.: Yes ma'am.

Me: Well, all right then. I will register a police complaint. I will include Airtel as accomplice, as you are refusing to register my complaint.

Customer Care Exec.: Ma'am,  understand your problem. You must go to the police. Handling cases of sexual harassment is not our business.

Me: Do you have an email id where I can put this down in writing?

Customer Care Exec.: www...

Me: I was an EMAIL ID, not a web URL.

Customer Care Exec.: oh. ok then, 121@airtel.com

Me: Ok.

Customer Care Exec.: Thank you for calling Airtel.

The phone line is cut. The executive has still not taken my name, number or the number of the person. The name of the executive is with me. He revealed that after asking three times, while they are in fact trained to identify themselves personally before proceeding with the call. Is there something I can do? The call centre executive I spoke to treated me as if I was the criminal, not the victim. He hasn't bothered to get the basic minimum details from me. He has in fact, on record, absolved himself and Airtel of all responsibility for how a subscriber uses his number. If the problem was a terror threat and not sexual harassment? Will Airtel behave the same way?

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Spread the cheer...it's Christmas time!!

Yay! I have been awarded again. And since it's Christmas time, I am spreading the cheer by awarding my fellow bloggers. Here we go...

The proximity award and the Cup

the-award-cup proximidade_blog_award

Nita awards me the Cup and the Proximity award. I love the proximity award. And I am certainly glad my readers love me. Thanks people. :-) I pass these on to Imp's Mom, Chandni, Mad Momma Silverine, Alankrita, Krishna and IHM.

Butterfly award

butterfly

 

Trailblazer and Nita give me the butterfly award too for being the coolest blog they know. :-) Thanks. Me feeling shy now. Here, I pass them on once again to Alankrita, Krishna and IHM. I seem to be giving them a lot of awards. And to Nita of course, whose blog is super duper cool.

Certified Honest Blogger award

honest-blogger-award

And, saving the best for the last, Trailblazer gives me the certified honest blogger award. What do I say? I am absolutely thrilled. Thank you so much Trailblazer. It is greatly satisfying. This is perhaps the most satisfying award I have ever got. Thanks again. And I pass it on to the Minking Than, and Idea Smith. Good work dude! It's quite obvious you think. I award Alankrita, Krishna and IHM, again! But anyway.

There! I am finally done!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Mob justice is not justice

I recently came across a news item, where a lawyer was forced to give a written statement that he would not represent Kasab, the lone arrested terrorist of the Mumbai attacks, by activists of the Shiv Sena. A blogger asks why we must not skin him alive, because the public is baying for blood. He is outraged that we are actually talking legal action against someone who was seen massacring people on camera. Now, there are two things to consider in this issue. The first is firmness in dealing with terror. The second is respect for the rule of law.

Rohit, in his blog on Nationalinterest clearly argues that this is not the way to fight terror. I agree.
The first of the concepts is firmness in handling terror. India can show the world it is firm by bringing the culprits to justice. And bringing them to justice through the due process of law. Lynching, skinning him alive, killing him in a fake encounter or throwing him to hungry lions will not do the job. After all, there must be something distinguishing India from the terrorists. That something is its justice system. I am not saying that India's criminal justice system is infallible. I am just saying saying, let's save what we have. It is easy to get carried away and demand an eye for an eye when we are angry. But an eye for an eye is not bring back our lost eye. Of course Kasab must be brought to justice. But, this time the evidence is watertight. The judgement will surely be favourable to the victims. He will be punished. But, to argue that we must not contemplate legal action but hand him to wild dogs is unacceptable in any democracy. If there is one thing we must pride ourselves on, it is our democratic system. To behave in such a barbaric fashion would amount to compromising the basic principles that India represents. On that note, read this excellent article by Salil Tripathi.

If philosophy and justice do not appeal to the likes of Roshan (the blogger who calls for blood), I think one simple technical detail will. Our criminal justice system is founded on the British Common Law principle. If an accused is not represented in a trial, and if he refuses to defend himself, he can be released and walk scot-free. Indian jurisprudence speaks of such a situation. The course before us is now clear. We allow our best lawyers to defend Kasab, but still mete out the sternest punishment to the man who massacred before our very eyes. After all, that is only fair. Kasab will be punished, but not by throwing him to hungry lions. The courts will still be the supreme deciding authorities. The rule of law will still prevail. After all, that is what we fought long and hard for. And that, to me, is what distinguishes us from Pakistan.

Edit: Dr. Roshan, whose blog I linked to in the first paragraph, has changed his mind. He accepts he was frustrated and that his was a knee-jerk reaction. I will only say this. Thanks for understanding Dr. Roshan. :-)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

On the media in terror attacks

This is a continuation of sorts of my previous post on the Media and Government in Mumbai. I came across this post by Anjali Deshpande and S K Pande in the Hoot that effectively chronicles all that is wrong with media coverage of the Mumbai attacks. Also, Mukul Kesavan makes a couple of compelling points in his article in the Telegraph. At least someone is thinking right! This is reassuring. And both articles make a compelling read.

But today, my point is somewhat different. While there is no debate on the fact that the media behaved irresponsibly, the Times of India came up with something worth reflecting on. In a short write-up on Page2 of the Chennai edition, it spoke of the psychological effect of constant media coverage on kids. This is especially true in Chennai, because kids were home all day, thanks to incessant rains and flooding, and sat glued to TV all day long. They may not understand the gravity of the situation, but they certainly understand that something is wrong. They can’t figure out why people are killing one another. This trauma is especially high when one of the parents is always travelling.

This is exactly why the television media needs to show some restraint in airing unedited images of the carnage. News channels are aired 24/7. There is no censorship possible, nor is it desirable, with respect to news channels. But, is the media not responsible for what it airs on prime-time television. As an adult, I remember being both shocked and traumatised with the gory images and bloodshed on television. The image of two guests lying face-down, shot dead by terrorists at the Taj were too horrible to forget. Of course, with the level of maturity I possess as an adult, I was able to overcome that shock. But, imagine the state of mind of a 10-year-old who watches this on TV. The child, being a child, is scarred for life. Does the media have any answer to all this? Or will they continue to be guided by the cardinal principle of TRPs and viewership? We may never know.

Friday, December 05, 2008

On media and government in Mumbai

A lot has been said about the role of the media in covering the Mumbai terror attacks. And the government has often been criticised for colossal failure. But, we need to take a step back from the blame game and think. Who is responsible for the current state of affairs?

First, the government. Over the past few days, I have heard many people tell me, time and again, that we need a strong government that will impose emergency. We need someone like Indira Gandhi. Do we really? Think about it? Many of us were not even born at the time of the Emergency in 1977. But, ask your parents and grandparents. Would they like to go back to a time when banks were nationalised, IBM and Coca-Cola were thrown out, and unmarried young men were forcibly sterilised to meet some quota? Are we, as a people, willing to give up our liberty and right to free speech in exchange for security? Let me tell you. I am not. I would rather die free than live a long and bonded life. Yes, everything is not right in India. Yes, the government is weak. Yes, we have a lame-duck Prime Minister who listen to high command at 10, Janpath. But, at least he is an elected representative. Let us not forget that his faults are not his alone. Who is responsible? We. We elected him right? We elected the government. We are responsible for the government we have. In a democracy, people get the government they deserve. And we are a democracy. I would rather India remain that way.

Next, the media. The way the media behaved was unpardonable. This article by Barkha Dutt hits the nail on the head. In trying to justify the media's actions, she actually exposes the real motives behind their actions. The viewer is king, she says. So, what the public wants they will give. This is pure and simple commerce. With no sense of responsibility, they cater to the whims of the market. For all they want are TRPs. The coverage of the attacks were simply irresponsible and reprehensible. There are no two ways about it. Whether the likes of rajdeep Sardesai and Barkha Dutt accept it or not, the media has lost its credibility and given in to sensationalism of the worst kind.

That said, I still stand by the right to free speech. However much we may want to censor and control, it is not the way to go. We need to give space to differing opinions. We need to encourage free thinking. And most of all, we need to stand by our democracy in the worst of times. Only then, will we survive the threat.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

An open letter to Vikram Chandra

This is a guest post by my friend Sriram. He is sending it to NDTV. I was not sure they would actually publish it though. So, I got permission to publish it on my blog. Mail him (and me too if you want to), with comments and feedback.

Thanks to the storms that ravaged in Tamil Nadu, I was marooned in my house through the latter part of the past week. This in fact gave me enough time to become a couch potato. I had been sitting glued in front of the proverbial idiot box as things unfolded at the three places as also the programs in the after math of the incidents.

In a sense I was taken in by the moving comments of Prannoy Roy and that of Vikram Chandra. I also concur that some thing needs to be done. But what?

Where do we start was a question that kept coming back to me. I guess, we were posing all the right questions at the right time but who was asking, mattered the most.

Will the Home minister take the responsibility?

Now at least will we have reforms in the Police?

Will we have reforms in the home land security?

All these were on air, for the most part of the week end. Let us stop here for a moment to think over these questions. Are we on the right side to question the Central ministry? I guess not. Here I am putting myself on the frying pan and try giving an answer this simple question.

I guess I am not. The mere fact that I exercise my franchise does not give me the right to question the top most authority. I have also exercised the same franchise to elect the local governance. Do I stand up for my rights, when I am affected? Here I mean, Power cuts, water logging, etc. which affect my life on a daily basis. Sincerely, I don’t.

Then when such a ghastly act of such magnitude happens how can I pose questions like these? The truth is we are all caught up in our own rat races in life? And as Shekhar Gupta put it in your channel - Let us see if we carry on in this same vigour two weeks from now. It is not only for your media channels, it is the same for any common man. The simple truth is – Life must go on.

Having said this I am not meaning we should take this lying down. Yes we need to do some thing. Most of the times we expect the government to do everything that we desire. Let us face it, it is impossible for any elected government to always fulfil every dream of every citizen.

What we can do is, start taking over a few things that we expect the government to do on ourselves. For example, have mock drills similar to the fire drills in all places of employment. Highlight the importance of saving a injured soul, an invalid, aged persons who might be caught unawares. In cases of such hotels please invite the guests to go through the drills by highlighting the importance of such drills. Have experts come on television and talk of the importance of staying focused on what has to be done in such situations. These should be made mandatory in all offices, Places where there can be a mass movement of people.

On normal days, How many of us stop and help people who have met with an accident. All we need to do is call a toll free number and state that a person needs help. But do we do that.

We should look at organizations similar to that of St.John’s ambulance Association in India and get those organizations to train common people in First Aid and help in Trauma care. These kinds of measures will mitigate or in the least try to mitigate knee-jerk reactions by the people affected. We can at least save a few souls, rather than mourn for the colossal loss of human life.

This would at least help the agencies of the government who take over the control during such situations carry on with their work and not get overloaded.

I guess this is an important lesson that we have learnt by being a citizen of this glorious country. This is only the beginning, everyone who has been affected by this incident will learn a lesson and the question is how we put that lesson into practice in the most objective manner is what matters.