109159792_984aed8fb0I. Hate. Standard Chartered Bank. I had HUGE trouble with Standard Chartered Bank with my home loan. I used to call their customer service numbers, only to be put on hold, endlessly playing their idiotic theme music and a ‘your call is important to us’ quip, and finally, when I do get a human to help me, he/ she is extraordinarily unhelpful. All I wanted was to close that loan and move to HDFC Bank. Standard Chartered does not have anything online – so even if I want a simple provisional certificate, I need to call them, spend an hour listening to their muzak and then request the certificate. That, according to them, would be sent via snail mail, within 4 working days.

In fact, when I ask them to email that to me, they baffle me with a, ‘we’re not allowed to mail anything to our customers’. When I explained them that I need it urgently, the service rep actually told me that he’ll help me, but needs to get special permission to go out of office, to an internet parlor nearby. To his credit (his personal initiative), he did mail that document to me! But, how can a bank even behave like this? HDFC, on the other hand, has been a complete darling. Everything’s online and is just a matter of a print-out.

Another example: Citibank. I wanted to close my savings account, since I’m not using it anymore. I called the service numbers…long ‘hold’ muzak…and was told that I have to send a written request via snail mail. I do not have any stamps/ envelopes at home. I had….in 1990. I’m in 2009 – can’t help it if Citibank wants to go back in time. So, I simply asked that fellow – what if I just transferred the balance amount up to the last paise, to another bank account of mine? He was stumped. He said I can do it, but would still need to send that letter to close it. And no, there is no online option either – no ‘click here to close account’ option. So, I did what I had to do – transferred the balance to another account. I was sent a account statement yesterday – shows a ‘liability’…I suppose it was for having Rs. 0 in my account and not fulfilling the minimum account balance criteria. Lets see where this goes!

And finally…Airtel. I was supposed to get on a conference call by dialing a ‘000 800 xxx xxxx’ number and entering a conference code. Sounds simple, right? I try the number through my Airtel mobile, my wife’s Airtel mobile and my two landline phones. The same message – ‘Number not in use’. But, that number is IN use – and my colleague was able to get on the call through his Vodafone mobile! So, I call up Airtel customer care and explain my predicament. First, they assume its a problem with Airtel’s own call conference facility. I explain to them after great difficulty, that it is not. Then, the service rep put me on hold and comes back and tells me, ‘I tried that number from 3/4 mobile and landline phones here – it doesn’t seem to be in use’.

My sarcasm intact, I tell him that it was my exact predicament and the reason for the call. I ask him if he tried any non-Airtel connection to try that number. Seems he doesn’t have any non-Airtel connections in his floor since he’s working for Airtel! Brilliant – so, how do I even convince him I have a problem? I have got my blessed service request number and my issue will be resolved by Friday the 13th, 11:42 am…it seems. I’m going to sue them if it gets resolved at 11:43 am 🙂

That begs the question – why are banks and telephone service providers not using social media for customer service – in India? If comcast can do it, why not Airtel? Can’t any social media outfit/ IT service outfit offer such a package to these folks?

Think about it – almost everyone complains about the amount of time we’re put on hold by banks and telephone companies in India. And most guys who make such calls and complain about defective service are likely to spread that word around. So, why not get onto Twitter or create an Orkut forum where some soul can officially offer help? I’m sure a Twitter feed from Airtel would overtake voice calls pretty soon! For call center companies that provide voice support for bigger players like banks and telephone companies, this is an opportunity waiting to be tapped – customer service via social media channels…channels where your customers are already cribbing. Big time. In a recession, they should ideally seize this opportunity!

They do have their fancy phone numbers (that are publicized well) and secret email IDs (wonder who uses them!) for customer support. But, as Dell found out via Dell Hell, if they do not have an official channel open for customer support, customers will start supporting each other. So, the first attitude change is to completely open up the customer support channel by letting all customers know about each others’ problems. That is something so easily possible via social media channels enabled by Twitter/ Facebook/ Orkut, since every customer grouse/ complaint is there online forever, for all other customers to see and learn. They also get to see if those complaints have been addressed by the company in question. Now, if that isn’t an opportunity to build positive word of mouth, what else is?

Photo courtesy: Kitty White via Flickr.



5 thoughts on “Social media for customer support in India?

  1. The requirement for a written and signed letter to terminate a banking account is an RBI requirement.

  2. Fair enough. But, I still don’t have stamps and envelopes nor am I planning to procure some in the near future. The banks just need to think of some innovative way to please customers who want to *gasp* close their accounts!

  3. It’s not really their fault, so one might be barking up the wrong tree on this. Some banks and telcos have tried to be think ahead of the curve (in introducing services, not sure about customer service) but the RBI is too archaic and has clamped down on them in the name of security. The only two ways that it can happen without you having to procure stamps is i. courier it ii. wait till RBI allows consumers to send emails to banks with a personal digital signature.

  4. Or if you are a HNI customer they could send someone over to your place to complete the necessary formalities 🙂

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