Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Fake iPhone sold on eBay

With the Indian online trade booming, many retailers are becoming extremely cautious about their customers and avoid negative sentiments. Any wrongdoing would automatically undo the tremendous amount of effort that was spent in building trust and faith in the minds of the customer. For my friends father, that is exactly what happened when he decided to purchase a new phone.


A friend of mine approached me for help after her father wished to purchase an iPhone 4 from eBay after spotting a cheap deal on the website. Not very well-versed with doing online transactions, they approached me for help. I promptly conducted the booking using my eBay credentials and the phone reached him, as promised.

My friends father was unable to get the phone to start and decided to approach an Apple service center for help. The service center identified the unit to be a fake, China-made model and advised him to return it. He spoke the seller who delivered him the phone and the seller offered a replacement, which too faced the same issue as the previous one. At this point, he decided to take up the case with eBay and once again asked me to intervene and try to secure a refund. At this point, I must highlight the main concern and the main reason for the article. The issue is not so much about a fake iPhone being sold but the lack of support from eBay to rectify the issue. The seller did his very best to resolve the problem but with eBay not helping him, he could not give a refund either (eBay keeps a small commission for themselves before passing the money to sellers).

The eBay customer service is probably the worst ever and it seems more of 'how customers can not reach you for a resolution' rather than being more friendly to customers. Here are the few solutions that I have tried constantly:

1. eBay Guarantee: I first went on their eBay Guarantee section where there is an option of raising a claim for a full refund in case of any problems. The website asked me for my PaisaPay ID and after inputting the correct ID numerous times, it kept showing as 'record not found'. This is after having a confirmation email and a purchase confirmation on my eBay account.

2. Call Centre: The next step was to call them on their helpline number. Anybody who manages to get through must have a lot of patience to be able to do so. For over a week I must have tried at least 6-7 times and each time I have received a message saying 'We are experiencing higher than usual traffic and wait times would be long.' And by long, they mean over 20-30 minutes. As someone who is working in office and has got many other things to do, they cannot possibly expect a customer to be on hold for this long simply to get through.

3. Online Chat: This option is as bad as the call centre or maybe worse. If you thought that a 20 minute waiting is far too long, how does a 2 hour+ waiting on their online chat system sound? More than 2 hours just to be able to chat with someone? And never go by their 'promised' timelines, they most likely end up being 3 times longer than promised.

4. Email: After everything failing, I decided to email them the entire problem. As of today, it has been over 7 days since the email was sent and I am yet to wait for a response.

Now, eBay has a policy which says that within 30 days of purchase they will solve any problems, after which it is up to the seller and the buyer to resolve the problem. Fair enough, but how does one even send a claim to eBay if they are so unreachable? The seller showed me another method of raising a claim, one that I wasn't aware of. On trying this procedure I was told that the 30 days has lapsed and I must contact customer care (The product was delivered on 26th Sept and hence the last day of resolving was 25th Oct). The seller, at this point, offered to intervene and call eBay on my behalf and rope me in on a conference call. After patiently being on hold for more than 30 mins, he managed to breach the impregnable wall and get in touch with an executive. The executive hears both our sides of the story, takes down all the information and tells us that 'she is not authorised to deal with complains whilst on a conference call and the buyer must call me back individually'. But that is exactly what I have been trying to do for the past so many days! She then tells us that since 30 days have passed there is little that she can do to resolve the complain. I stood my ground citing that I had dropped in an email within the 30 days and did not receive an answer. She put me on hold 'to check with superiors' and promptly disconnected the call. Disconnected-the-call!

Why must it be so hard or difficult for a customer to simply get in touch with a brand and voice a complain, why must eBay be so difficult and hard to approach? Why did I suddenly feel I was a part of a corrupt bureaucratic process where there is a lot of beating around the bush and no real resolution. This post is not in complain of the fake phone that was sent but more for eBay not being there to help. The seller took a lot of effort in ensuring that I get my claim resolved, perhaps he had vested interests but that is not my concern. It was good to see that he did not turn his back and not bother, much like what most sellers would do.

With no resolution in sight, I have asked the seller to close the matter by refunding me the money he has received from eBay sans the commission that they have cut. This is to ensure that he does not lose his money and I get back at least a majority of it. Let's hope that this article might make eBay realise a major flaw in their system.

Issue Summary:
1. Fake iPhone sent, seller co-operates and offers replacement but they all turn out to be fake.
2. Various ways of contacting eBay was attempted but none of them yielded any results.

eBay badly needs to make their customer service more approachable and have such issues resolved in a more seamless rather than complicated manner. With Indian customers, they need that assurance and safety and such issues only go one step ahead in tarnishing it.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

One Night In Paris

Following is a blog post written by a friend of mine, Jay Shah. His experience not only highlights the high-handiness of airport staff but also brings to light the racist approach French people are notorious for. Please read below and do share your views and opinions:

Chairman & Chief Executive Officer,
Air France-KLM

Dear Alexandre,

Can I call you Alexandre? I hope you don’t mind if I call you by your first name, I understand only your close friends and family members would lovingly call you Alexandre. I’m sure by the time we’re through this entire incident; you’d feel like we’ve known each other for years. As was the flight delay time, on one of your aircrafts I had the misfortune of flying.                

You know Alexandre, I seldom read and the only thing I've ever lamented online is the proliferation of religious ideologies. I don't believe in throwing brickbats on any passing subject but I do believe in the fact that writing needs a sense of purpose, which I've rarely come across until now. So you should feel special Alexandre, very special.
The thing is I’ve started dreaming about Air France, Alexandre. I can’t seem to get over. It’s like we’ve been flirting for so long, I can’t take it anymore. Everyday I wake up and I check my inbox to see if I’ve received an e-mail from one of your Customer Relations Executive, I frantically search my mailbox to see if there’s any post from Air France regarding the incident that’s probably going to have lifelong implications on the goodwill of your Company. I can’t take it anymore Alexandre, I can’t.

Please allow me to provide specific details in a timeline format, so that you can either pursue your professional dispensation and seek to resolve these difficulties — or more likely (I suspect) you’ll probably bury yourself in the buckskin leather chair you have and pass this nonchalant piece of information to your interns.
9th October 2013
5.45 pm (New York): I message my older sister good-bye and board Air France flight AF 17 from JFK Airport, New York. More often than not, my trips abroad are marred with unforeseen events so I was pleasantly surprised when I left New York to go back home, and that nothing untoward occurred over the course of 4 weeks. But then again, "impossible" isn't a French word Alexandre and I didn't realize I was still far from home, which means, I had spoken too soon.

See, you’re getting to know so much about me already. Although, a lot of this might come as a surprise to you, but life is full of surprises, no? Okay never mind.

8.15 am (Paris): Everything seemed normal and I tried to sleep my way to Paris with little luck. We landed in Paris around 7.00 am and proceeded to Terminal K Gate 51 to board my connecting Air France Flight AF 218 to Bombay, which was to depart at 10.50 am. I've had an eventful experience while passing through Paris the last time and I wasn't feeling any better this time around either.

10.15 am: The information screen finally comes to life and announces that Flight AF 218 scheduled to depart at 10.50 am for Bombay has been delayed and rescheduled for 12.20 pm. You know the funny part Alexandre? I don’t see any of your ground staff who should’ve shared this information with us. You guys have taken digitalization to a whole new level.

12.00 pm: It’s been 5 hours now since we’ve been at the Airport. Once again Alexandre, there is no word from Air France, it’s way past our Boarding time but I don’t see any of those walking abortions, asking us to Board the Aircraft. I’m worried Alexandre, will I ever get home? I couldn’t tell.

12.45 pm: As more and more passengers panic, voices grow louder; finally two of your immaculately dressed French men come to the floor. The words they utter, go through my chest like a glass splinter, only you could’ve helped stop the pain. They say that the flight to Bombay has been cancelled indefinitely. No clear reasons are given, just a plain, meaningless statement “the aircraft has technical issues!’’ Do you feel the coldness Alexandre? It’s like your wife, sending you an SMS saying your marriage can’t work. She doesn’t say why, she doesn’t even tell you if there’s any possibility of it working out. She just bails out on you Alexandre, harsh, isn’t it? I know, I can feel you.

I’ve been away from my family for a month; do you know how eager I am to get home? You can’t! But as you will realize later in this letter, my eagerness to get back home is nothing compared to, with good reason, the emergencies faced by some of the other passengers.

1.30 pm: The French men have now completely lost it! They forget your beautifully worded guide to solving customer issues and are completely clueless about what’s going on. They stick their ears to their talking devices and arrogantly refuse divulging any information to the stranded passengers. The only thing they promise us is that we won’t be flying out of Paris until next day. How comforting, feels just like your Buckskin leather chair, NOT!

Kindly note, we’re in Paris! It’s the hub of Air France. An alternate flight could’ve been arranged?!

1.45 pm: After some verbal altercations with the passengers, your staff finally decided it’s time for us to have lunch. They handed out meal vouchers which could be redeemed at one of the two restaurants in the Terminal but directed us towards Exki in particular since it was closer to the Gate and we had to assemble at the Air France Office at the lower terminal for further “instructions”.

2.15 pm: Passengers assemble at the office. After waiting for 45 minutes, we’re told that we’ll be given accommodation and Meal Vouchers for the stay. Passengers already holding a Schengen Visa are directed towards the Hotel whereas the rest of us are asked to submit our passports to apply for a Transit Visa.  As of now about 5-6 people have a Schengen Visa out of nearly 40 passengers in total.

Are you with me so far Alexandre? Don’t lose me now.

This is where things turn for the worse. This is where it get’s really serious! Godforsaken company.

3.30 pm: Passengers with emergencies try to get themselves placed on an alternate flight to India. Some are senior citizens, some are patients and some have personal issues to tend to.

27-year-old Mr Subhransu Mishra, who is consumed with emotions, tries to negotiate a seat on any other flight to India but is flatly refused. I later realize that his father passed away in a car accident two days ago and his family was waiting for him to perform the last rites for his father in Bhubaneshwar. If that wasn’t enough, Bhubaneshwar was bracing itself for the worst Cyclone to ever hit the country, Phailin, two days later. I can’t imagine what’s going on in Subhransu’s mind. It’s just really sad!

Suddenly none of my problems hold any value compared to Subhransu’s, I’m taken aback with his helplessness and we try to persuade the Air France Officials to give him a seat on an alternate flight or airline. At this point, I realize the lack of courtesy, even on humanitarian grounds extended to him by the officials as they arrogantly refuse him a seat, saying many people have emergencies and they cannot afford to accommodate all of them. They immediately deny and say there are no flights going to India without making any calls or checking any monitors for alternate flights to India. Seems like this is the only information they’re sure of even though they have no clue when our flight would be departing the next day.

We are later told by one of the informed passengers that a woman flying Business Class on our flight was accommodated on an Air India flight to India.

6.00 pm: The Staff finally arrives with our Passports after 3 hours. To my utter disbelief, only 6-7 people are given the Transit Visa whereas the rest of us are denied. There is no proof of rejection on the passport, nor does it carry any form, that holds any evidence of rejection too. Most of us have traveled to Europe before and considering we were flying originally from New York, we also had US Visas apart from a number of other visas from countries world over. On what grounds were our Visas rejected? We’d never know. 

Ironically the 6-7 passengers who received the Visa are only Senior Citizens as well as women with children. No one else and I mean NO ONE ELSE got the visa.

We’ve now been at the airport for nearly 12 hours and have just been informed that we can’t even travel outside the airport to rest at one of the Hotels. Everyone is furious and we try to reason the refusal of our Transit Visa. It made no sense logically or practically for a stranded passenger to have been refused a Transit Visa. Although, it made a lot of logical sense for the airline to have not applied for our visa at all considering it would help save Visa Fees and money spent for our Accommodation. How can you refuse a Transit Visa to a stranded Passenger? On what ground? This question is directed both, towards the French Embassy as well as Air France, whoever finally decided to refuse the Visa.
By now you’d feel that this is the worst your airline could’ve done in terms of Customer Care but did I say I’m in Bombay yet, No! It get’s even worse Alexandre. I’d be very worried if I were in your place, you see it’s not that complicated, it’s rather quite simple. These things happen world over and I’m sure you’ve faced them too someday. But think about it Alexandre, what would you do if you were Subhransu, can’t imagine, can you? He’s a 27 year old boy who hasn’t seen his father in months, the only reason he’s going to India is because his father suddenly passed away and all he wants, rather all he can do, is see his father, one last time! But by the grace of your ground staff and officials, he probably won’t even get to do that! Do you feel his pain, Alexandre? I don’t think so! I cannot curse your airline enough or the imbeciles running it. What’s your raison d’ĂȘtre? Please tell us, so we can all hear it.

Anyway, I digress.

We ask them for directions to their lounge. At first, they seem perplexed and then comes another one of those cold, illogical and insensitive replies, we’re told the Air France Lounge is only for Business Class passengers and they can’t allow us to stay there. We are asked to take an airport shuttle to the other terminal and fend for ourselves at the upper deck resting area.

Out of the 35 odd passengers, most of them are senior citizens and a lot of them can barely speak English. They are scared and eager to get back home. They cannot speak out for themselves. At 6.30pm we call for four wheel chairs for senior citizens who can hardly walk let alone go to the other terminal, which needs a train to reach. After waiting for over an hour and half, the ground staff arrives with one wheel chair saying they couldn’t find more wheel chairs, so we point out the 20 odd wheel chairs lying right across the hall in a section which was closed and we hear something that baffles all of us, “those wheel chairs are from another company and we cannot use them!” I recorded this on my Camera.

The thing that lingers at the back of my mind more than anything else right now is the gut wrenching fact that everyone you know who had traveled to France earlier warned you about this, you knew you were being targeted because of your race but you’re in denial thinking you’re being irrational. You wonder at this point how could it all go, so wrong, but you’re left with insidious and plausible deniability’s of the fact that you’re attacked for being from a particular ethnicity. You’ve traveled across the world, it’s never happened to you before, but you were warned and, it did.

A French gentleman probably my father’s age, flying Business Class apologetically said, “I’ve been flying since the past 35 years and I’m sorry but I’ve only seen this happen to certain people, I’m really sorry.” I made a few friends there since we all were stranded together, one of my friend Jo who is a Dutch National just e-mailed me saying she was offered a compensation package from KLM. Meanwhile, we are yet to hear from either KLM or Air France. Surprising, don’t you think? Considering we were the ones who were left to fend for ourselves at the airport without an iota of assistance from Air France?

It’s an incoherent mess. There was absolutely no assistance, ever. Every time we needed something, we would have to travel across Terminals, meet new Air France Officials each time and have to request them for all of our basic needs. There were really old, senior citizens, an old patient suffering from Asthma and perhaps, just out of customer care, couldn’t there have been an Official assigned to tend to our grievances personally? 

7.45 pm: We get a Sandwich and a Soft drink from the Air France Office, thank god! The first proper morsel of food in over 12 hours. Although we could probably have been sharing an Indian feast with our families back home, by now. Something is better than nothing.
10.00 pm: Mr Subhransu Mishra, Ms Shruti Kore and I proceed towards the resting area on the upper deck of the Terminal where we are asked to retire for the night. We head to the Air France counter there and request for a Blanket and a Bed Sheet, once again we’re asked to wait incessantly as they’ve run out of bed sheets and blankets. After 45 minutes we get our “resting kit”. They also issue us a new Boarding Pass for the Flight tomorrow and inform us that they’ve arranged a completely new flight for us, which would be flying out at 10.50 am just like our original departure time. We complete the formalities and go back to the floor. We reunite with the rest of the Passengers. A few passengers manage to occupy the sleeping chairs whereas everyone else has to sleep on the floor. It is not surprising to notice that out of all the passengers in the entire upper deck resting area, we barely spot anyone from a nationality other than India.

12.00 am: Subhransu picks a corner to charge his laptop so that he could write to his family and is still overwhelmed with emotions because he isn’t sure if he’ll get to see his father one last time. By now, we’re all tired and exhausted but still in shock about the treatment meted out to all of us. By 1.30 am, I call it a night and put on my headphones to try and catch some sleep in bits and pieces.

10th October 2013

7.00 am: We head to Terminal K Gate 49 once again and go to Exki to redeem our Breakfast Vouchers.

We’re allowed 1 Danish pastry and 1 hot/soft drink. I grab a bowl of soup only, which is half the price of the voucher, since the pastry has eggs and I don’t drink tea/coffee or aerated drinks. I head to the Cashier, explaining and requesting her to let me take the bowl of soup instead of the two. She calls the Chef who is a young man not older than 30-34 years and perhaps, with a missing cerebrum. He is infuriated and with an overcompensating display of anger points out the only two things I am supposed to have as per the voucher. He doesn’t ask me to buy the soup, he doesn’t refuse politely but he raises his voice and tries to insult me in front of every one else. I raise my voice louder than his and tell him why I got the soup in the first place. The pastry has eggs, which I don’t eat, and they’ve run out of vegetarian food. I also point out lividly that anyone who has this voucher is someone who is stranded at the airport without a choice and showing some courtesy to anyone holding the voucher wouldn’t harm him in any way. I push aside the tray and move on. He’s completely startled; everyone around is also surprised with his behavior and they put in a word.
8.30 am: We meet the rest of the passengers who had gone to the hotels for the stay and wait for our flight.

That’s where I meet one elderly gentleman who is going to Baroda. I’m amazed at what he has to say. His flight from Newark to Paris on the 7th was delayed and therefore he missed his connecting flight to Bombay from Paris, so they put him on our flight only for that flight to have been cancelled too. I can’t believe it! He looks like he’s preparing himself for the role of Mr Viktor Navrovski from the movie Terminal. Imagine spending two whole nights at an airport you didn’t prepare yourself for!
9.45 am: Once again, as if this is an endless joke, our flight is delayed. We’ve lost all hope and I feel like I’m part of a stupid prank let alone a very expensive one. They say the flight will leave at 1.50 pm. Sick of their nonsensical replies and unrealistic reasons, I just want to get home but I’m having trust issues with this company on monolithic proportions.

1.30 pm: We realize we’re being accommodated in an existing, scheduled flight as against what was told to us, that a special flight was arranged only for us.

All the pieces of the ever so confusing puzzle finally fell into place. Air France never organized a special aircraft for us, why would they when they cancelled our flight due to under utilized capacity anyway? We were just being accommodated on a scheduled flight. Two flights in one? You do the math!

2.25 pm: We’re finally heading to Bombay.

Now let me throw some facts and figures.

Air France Flight AF 218 is an Airbus A330-200 Aircraft. The average seating capacity of this Aircraft is 209 passengers. The number of stranded passengers in all was not more than 45. The final aircraft we boarded on the 10th of October was on full capacity. Perhaps our original flight was cancelled due to the high number of empty seats? Was it easier to cancel an empty aircraft rather than fly one, resulting in huge savings? Also, it makes even more sense to accommodate two flights in one. Maximum returns? We were not even given accommodation or proper food. Could this be the reason?

My guess is as good as yours!

Getting back to you, Alexandre, I don’t think there’s much left to say.

I’m over and done with this debacle but not without spreading the word about your service amongst my friends and family. There’s no doubt that your company is not competent or professional enough to take passengers world over. You may get defensive and say that this is a one-off incident but unfortunately, it isn’t. Number of people have voiced a similar opinion about the treatment meted out to them by your company. It is rather unsettling. Don’t know the effect this letter might have on your customer service but rest assured, you can thoroughly deduct an average of 5000$ from your annual profits if not more. Although that might be just a whisker in your overall mess, it’ll be one which was done with due diligence. We’ve had enough of your staff’s condescending bullshit. We have encountered inadequacy of service, which I never knew was possible for such a big company along with ignorance and stupidity of humungous proportions.

Let me make it very clear, we don’t fly your airlines for free and more often than not are the only people flying on this particular sector. You might try and make some damage control but be completely sure, that we will never forget the way we’ve been treated at the hands of your staff. You have failed miserably in meeting the expectations of your customers based on the promises you’ve made to them.

I will be circulating this letter amongst popular press and media along with a court summons we’re in the process of filing. This is a true account of what happened in Paris, Charles De Gaulle Airport.

Au revoir. 
Your new best pal,
Jay Shah

Link to EU Law for flight cancellations. 

Name: Shah Jay
Booking Reference Number: 4B7WMU
First Port of Boarding: John F. Kennedy Airport, USA
Connect Flight: AF 218
Flight cancelled at: Charles De Gaulle, Paris
Complaint Reference Number: 6741742001

Worried and extremely tired passengers in the night.

Letter from Air France confirming the events as they occurred.

Certificate of Cancellation
YouTube link to AirFrance Official refusing to provide more than one wheelchair for three passengers

What Jay faced was shocking and something that you would not expect an international carrier to do. Today, brands are far more conscious about customer service and do realise the outcome of not providing the correct facilities can land them in a lot of trouble. An large European airport and one of the worlds largest airlines is not able to carry out an in-transit experience in a peaceful manner is indeed very shocking and rude.

Update 30/10/2013:

After days of venting out on social media, Air France has finally decided to take notice of the issue and revert to Jay. The saddest part is that the airline seemed to show little difference to the ordeal and instead tried to provide for monetary compensation. Acknowledging all their mistakes is probably the first thing to do and providing a reasonable excuse for the ordeal is the next thing that any customer expects. Air France reverted by to Jay with the following apology letter:

Dear Mr Shah,
We write in response to your letter to our Social Media Team dated 10 October 2013, from which we are sorry to learn of the difficulties you experienced whilst travelling on our services. From the outset, we wish to offer you our sincere apologies on behalf of Air France.
Our records show that flight AF218 was cancelled due to the discovery of a severe technical issues with the aircraft.
As an airline, we are aware of the inconvenience that cancellations can cause to our passengers. As such, we seek to prevent and limit such occurrences as much as possible.
It is true that there are occasions in which it is possible to foresee a technical problem and undertake measures to prevent inconveniencing the passengers and avoid cancellations. However, sometimes, as described by the EC Regulation, these safety shortcomings are unexpected and therefore subsequent flight cancellations become unavoidable (as was the case on your flight).
Please be assured that Air France does its utmost to ensure that our passengers' transfers proceed as smoothly and satisfactorily as possible. On this occasion, we did regret to learn that the level of assistance you received at Charles de Gaulle was below your expectations and that due to border restrictions we were unable to offer you an hotel accommodation for the night.
We do remain sympathetic towards your legitimate observations and we can assure you that our station managers, when convening with the aforementioned airport authorities, will take your comments into consideration. Feedback from customers such as yourself is a valuable source of incentive for improvement and development, which we are always grateful to receive.
In closing, we will be happy to assess your case and we would be grateful if you could forward us your bank details such as the name and address of your bank as well as your account number.
We trust the above explanations will go some way towards restoring your confidence in our Company and we look forward to welcoming you back to our services in the near future.
Yours sincerely,
Customer Care Europe

Monday, August 19, 2013

Snapdeal.com: Online shopping disaster

Many people are wary of purchasing items from an online store and at times their reasons are quite invalid. Coming from a strong digital background, I personally motivate a lot of people around me to try out online shopping and that it isn't all that bad. However, when a first-time shopper has a bad experience you suddenly get reminded as to why people are wary of purchasing items online.

An office colleague of mine was looking at purchasing new shoes and was browsing through the selection online. She asked me if these transactions are safe and I assured her that they were. After searching through various websites, we narrowed down to a pair of Slazenger shoes from Snapdeal.com. A good bargain and the comfort that an established organisation such as Snapdeal would not mess up, the transaction proceeded with no fear. The package arrived, on the date promised but what was inside the package was the most surprising. Most of the times the goods are damaged, used or not packed properly. Let the following image speak for itself.

In case you havent been able to fathom what they are, what you see there is not a pair of Slazenger shoes but two old coconuts. Yes, coconuts. The stuff that grows on trees by the beach that you crack open and relish the water, coconuts. It is probably the most outlandish and the last thing on the planet that you would expect to arrive in your package, but it did arrive in this case.

Obviously, my friend was extremely upset with this and the first reaction to this is to call the Snapdeal helpline and register a complaint. Snapdeal responded by requesting for 24 - 48 hours to rectify this issue, which to my mind is too much for a severe issue. Being a part of an advertising agency and with my knowledge of social media, we decided to take this war on their Twitter and Facebook accounts and collected a lot of people to rally against the brand and re-tweet our messages. 2 days of aggressive social media campaigning fell to deaf ears, to the extent that Snapdeal banned my friend from their Facebook page and even deleted her post. Not listening to a customer complaint on social media and ignoring them can have catastrophic results and as a social media evangelist, I have seen that happen.

Finally, almost 3 days later, Snapdeal has decided to act on Facebook and have made a return call to my friend, asking for some further details. A decision is awaited.

Issue Summary:
1. Coconuts coming in the package instead of shoes
2. Snapdeal takes 3 days to respond
3. Ignores all messages on Facebook, to the extent of deleting posts and banning people

E-Commerce in India is still at a nascent stage and it is these very issues that are turning customers away from shopping online. It appears that the courier company has had serious lapses with an employee stealing the shoes and replacing them with coconuts. Snapdeal needs to be sure of the courier companies they partner with and take all responsibility of delivering the right products to the customer. Not responding on social media at the first instance and having to take all the pain and efforts to get this resolved has ensured that Snapdeal has lost a customer along with the hundreds who have read of this instance. It has cemented the fact that e-commerce in India still has a long way to go and if these issues do not get resolved on the first instance, customer confidence will fail.

Update: 26/08/2013
4 days after this issue first came to light, Snapdeal finally got in touch with my friend and agreed to resend a replacement pair of shoes. This was promised to be dispatched instantly and would reach her day after. A courier tracking number was also promised to her.

On the day when the shoes were supposed to arrive, my friend had neither received a tracking number nor any further communication from Snapdeal. Upon calling them they learnt that they have still not sent the shoes out since the company was shut due to a holiday. Snapdeal agreed to send out the shoes immediately along with a tracking number. As on 26th August, 2013, the shoes are still awaited and it has been 10 days now since this issue was first reported.

It is extremely shameful that inspite of all the efforts and the complaints that have been going to Snapdeal, they have been extremely lethargic in resolving them. From giving commitments that they don't stick to and taking days to investigate and come up with solutions is not what a premiere brand such as them should be doing. Our efforts to petition to Snapdeal via social media would continue until my friend receives her shoes, in the exact manner in which she placed her order and I would request all readers to continue spreading this message until a resolution is reached.

Update: 07/09/2013
Finally, after all the petitioning and the back and forth that took place, Snapdeal agreed to refund my friend her money and also give the shoes to her for free. The free shoes were dispatched soon after and reached her on the 30th of August with a hand-written apology letter. The money remitting took quite some time to take place and finally arrived in her bank account on the 6th of September.

Overall, Snapdeal seems to have handled the issue quite badly and has made a big mess of things. From second shipment not arriving, social media disaster and delays in fulfilling commitments, Snapdeal needs to tighten it;s belt and improve on its service quality and offerings if it wishes to retain customers. It took Snapdeal close to 3 weeks to put this problem to rest, something which could have been done much better and faster. Comparing this to Jabong, another friend of mine too had ordered shoes from them and their courier service seems to be far more organised and sorted over Snapdeal. In order to avoid courier companies from fumbling with orders, they have their own people taking care of deliveries and waits till the customer inspects the goods and OK's it. 

These issues need to stop surfacing if E-Commerce in India needs to take off. Every Tom, Dick and Harry thinks they can sell online but actually, cracking the E-Commerce wall in India is far bigger a task than most people think it is.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

PVR Cinemas - Quantity kam, price jyaada!


Theatres have long been associated with over-charging customers on the eateries that they serve inside their premises. Soft drinks and popcorn can almost rival the price structure of any super-luxury hotel. But what happens when they promise more and deliver less?

Fame Adlabs at Andheri West, Lokhandwala was recently bought over by PVR Cinemas and the Lokhandwala theatre was quickly revamped in PVR style. The new theatre was christened PVR - ECX, with ECX standing for Enhanced Customer Experience. Being my first visit to PVR, I was delighted to see an improvement in almost everything from the miserable Fame Adlabs that previously occupied the same premises.

The problem arose when I was ordering for refreshments with my father during the interval. Not wanting a very large serving of 7up, I settled for their 'regular' size which the menu mentioned as 550ml. After ordering for a popcorn + pepsi combo along with the 'regular' 7up, my father realised that the billing machine punched in a quantity of 450ml whereas the menu explicitly mentioned 550ml. When we asked the cashier why this is happening, he gave a clueless reply and asked his colleague to call for the manager. After waiting for a good 5 minutes for the manager 'Vishal' to appear, my father told the cashier that we did not have time to stand here for the entire interval to wait for 'Vishal' to arrive and that we wanted a change in our order to the large 650ml option. To my utter shock, the cashier rudely snapped back that he had intially told us to go for the large one and that we should have made up our mind then and there. This is what really ticked me off and I lost my cool too. Eventually a lady in a blazer appeared who obviously was not 'Vishal' (10 minutes have now passed since we have asked for him) who gave vague reasons about weekend/weekday changes in price. I pointed out to her that the issue is not the price but the quantity being sold for that price is incorrect as per the menu. Another vague explanation of weekend vs weekday rates was given which clearly reflected that the management was trying to hide the issue by giving lame excuses. At this point, I walked off.

Issue Summary:
1. Rude people serving customers behing the counter who had no obvious training in soft skills
2. Quantity mentioned on the menu was not the same as the quantity served
3. Management was trying to give a vague response to this

PVR has definitely taken their ECX motto to a different level by 'enhancing' my experience with them to another level. The entire flare up of the issue would have never taken place if the Manager had apologised and given me a solution to the problem. The fact that they were trying to provide explanations and covering up reflects that this is a known oversight on their part and as long as no one has taken a strong stance against it, they are continuing to overcharge you.

I tried to take an image of the menu but sadly my phone camera was unable to overcome the shine of the overhead menu. I request anyone who visits the particular theatre or any other PVR cinema should take special care of this matter. In fact, why should the buck stop only at PVR? Each time you shop for something, ensure that you are paying for the product, price and quantity as promised. Please share any such experiences you might have had in the comments section below.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The misuse of a monopoly: Fun Republic Cinema, Andheri West

In economics we always learnt that when a supplier has a monopoly in any service offering, the supplier gets to dictate prices and quality, depending on how essential that product or service is for the consumer. Going to the movie is quite essential for middle class and upper middle class families who make efforts to watch various movies every now and then.

Fun Republic Cinemas at Andheri West has been there for quite some time. The specific area of Lokhandwala has 3 multiplexes operating within a short distance and at least 3 more if you don't mind travelling 15-20 mins. However, within Lokhandwala itself, Fame Adlabs recently shut down due to management issues leaving Cinemax and Fun Republic as the only two operators. I have been visiting Fun Republic quite regularly and never found any reason to complain, however, the recent visits have given me ugly experiences which would now probably force me to look elsewhere the next time I want to go watch a movie.

On the 14th of December, I decided to go watch The Hobbit, especially since I am an LOTR fan. A late morning 3D show at Fun was relatively inexpensive and I decided to book it. The very first disappointment were the 3D glasses that were being offered to the audience. The glasses were horribly dirty and it seems no one has taken any care to clean them or shown any concern for hygiene. There were finger prints and dirt all over the glass and when I tried wiping it clean, i unfortunately stained my t-shirt due to all the dirt. Usually, theatres give out disposable glasses or at least take the efforts to properly wrap them and clean it, but it seems Fun couldn't be bothered too much.

When The Hobbit finally did start what puzzled me even more was the fact that the print hardly seemed to be even 3D to begin with! The entire picture was fuzzy and blurred with a very slight visible difference between having the glasses on and the glasses off. Thinking that my glasses might be faulty, I asked my friends who had accompanied me and they all gave me the same feedback. The Hobbit is not a low budget movie and coming from the stable of internationally known production houses, I doubt that the films original print is to blame. What we thus concluded was that either the glasses were not compatible with the movie print and the theatre decided to simply go ahead with what they had or the theatres projector was malfunctioning. Whatever be the problem, the experience was horrible and if the 3D effect of the movie is not right, then the movie can never be enjoyable.

My next visit to Fun Republic was on 25th December to watch the movie Life of Pi. Once again a 3D movie, I decided to give Fun Republic a second chance. The first unhappy experience was at the ticket counter itself with the attendant being very rude and making numerous blunders while giving people change. At least 4 people came back to him (including me) because he gave the wrong sum of money. Instead of apologising for the repeated error, he seemed to be ignorant and snapped back at customers. 

Once in the theatre, my scepticism about the quality of the 3D print was eradicated and the crystal clear clarity was awesome, yet the glasses were still very dirty and my mum who accompanied me was the first to complain about it. With the credits being displayed at the start of the movie, it was very clear that the print was going out of the screen with names of the cast crew getting cut by a huge margin.There was no obvious way to know if that was rectified as the movie went along, but I seriously doubt it.

The second instance that caused inconvenience was the interval. Hollywood movies do not typically have a provision for an interval in their print but since the Indian audience needs it, theatres abruptly cut the film mid-way an announce a 10-15 minute break. The problem is not the interval itself but the duration of the interval and what happened soon after. A long, extended and annoying interval later the cameraman seemed to have lost exactly where the print had stopped and a good 5 minutes were wasted with audience shouting at the person to go back and forth and arrive at exactly where it had stopped.

Issue Summary:
1. Horrible 3D print during The Hobbit
2. Dirty 3D glasses with stains all over them. This was experienced in both the visits and has been present in the past also
3. Print was going out of the screen during Life of Pi
4. The interval was for beyond the promised 15 minutes
5. The projector operator forgot where to resume the movie from after the interval

With their consistent filthy 3D glasses, I would now be tempted to go elsewhere for a movie if the price difference is not very big. The screen clarity and going off the screen can be attributed to one time problems but the theatre management still needs to put in some effort to ensure that this does not happen. Staff seems to be careless and laid back but I cant actually blame Fun Republic for it, this attitude seems to remain consistent across the industry. The theatre should not exploit customers with shoddy service and if repeated unhygienic 3D glasses are continued to be distributed, Fun may find itself in a tight spot.

Share any of your cinemas and theatre experiences in the comments section below.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Dial 'www.twitter.com' for Customer Care

The average Indian is worse than Mt. Krakatoa. Beaten, bruised, let-down and cheated by all, he trusts no one and in return isn't faithful to anyone for the very same reason. The government lets him down by pocketing his hard earned money to buy their children that expensive little toy (read BMW) with which he could feed his family of four and maybe get a roof on his head. 

When the public sector doesn't come out to help you often enough, you turn to someone of your own kind, the private players. Almost 20 years ago when the massive Indian economy opened its pearly gates to let anyone and everyone in, people heaved a sigh of relief that the western world was here to save the day. Better infrastructure, job security, improved quality of living and a better life, in general, was perceived to be not too far from Indian shores. This dream was not entirely fulfilled because most players exploited a gaping loophole in the Indian law and order system. Well, its not really a loophole its simply the mere absence of law and order in the country that was taken for granted. American brands, which had to take astronomical efforts in order to make sure their customers were happy, were let loose to do almost anything they wished. Products without adequate security labelling, sub-standard and at times toxic materials used for baby products, chemically induced food products and life threatening transportation options maybe a norm amongst their lives. The sole reason why the party went on far beyond the deadline is because the night guard was fast asleep and the watch dog was simply never there.

Birds have often been used in mythology and ancient history as a mode of fast communication or fast transportation. We have all heard of pigeons as messaging systems, mythical demons that can fly and modern planes as the fastest mode of transportation in today's era. Flight was associated with speed, quick dispatch, strength and something very hard to catch and pull down. No surprise that it was lone blue bird that came to the rescue, not just for our country but for the entire world.

Social media is one such tool that started off as a mere way of interacting and connecting with people with brands soon jumping onto the social media bandwagon. Where the people at, we go. In earlier days, in fact even today, when we cal a customer care number, our grievance remains confined to the one-on-one conversation with the executive on the other end. The brands solution to the problem is mostly confined to the same corridor of communication and nobody outside it is familiar unless one makes the effort of spreading it. Social media, and the brands presence on it, has allowed customers to publicly voice their satisfaction or dissatisfaction about a brand to everyone who is listening to hear it. Now, the very same dissatisfied customer can tell thousands of others of their problem and hence negatively influence the purchasing decision of other customers. The advantage for the brand, however, is if the problem is tackled smartly and efficiently, consumers would be proud and they might just gain some followers because even the average buyer understands that everyone can make a mistake every now and then.

The reason of starting this blog was to publicly voice satisfaction or dissatisfaction towards a brand and in almost all the cases, the result has been astounding. Brands who failed to take any kind of action when multiple calls to the customer call centre was made now suddenly sprung into action the moment someone tweets about their product. Try it; the next time a major brand upsets you, put a simple tweet and if you can, tag the brands twitter handle on the message. I can assure you that 7 out of 10 times the brand would respond back and speed up the solution to your problem far more efficiently than they would if you had called a toll free number.

Its sad to see that people need a rap on their knuckles to straighten things up but on the flip side, at least we have brands now give two hoots about their customers bad experiences. I urge readers to use social media to bring out that good/bad brand message which would not only tell your friends and family of what is good and bad but also make sure brands don't take the consumer for granted and in the long-run, improve their service and product quality.

Please feel free to post any thoughts you have upon this or share any other similar experiences that you might have had with regards to brand experiences and social media.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Matrix Cellular: Unauthorised contract extension

Matrix cellular became popular for its international sim card services where travellers from India could purchase sim cards with an international number from India itself and thus promising to ease the cellphone dilemma whenever one travels abroad.

I recently undertook a year long stay in the UK and decided to avail the services of Matrix. The sales representative promptly arrived, led me through the formalities and I had a working sim card in my hands withing a few hours' time. I had signed a one year contract that was slated to end on Sept, 2011 which I assumed that Matrix would self-terminate upon the completion of the contractual date.

I received a pleasant surprise when Matrix generated a bill for the entire month of September and October and expected me to pay it. A call to their call centre revealed that until and unless I ask for a termination of contract, the bills would continue to be generated and in order to terminate the same, I must send an email to the concerned department requesting for it. Although a bit flustered at their cheek in extending the contract without intimation, I sent an email as told to me and included the clause that I would be unwilling to pay any amounts due after the official completion of the contract date and a fresh bill with these amendments be sent to me at the earliest. A confirmation of the same was received by Matrix and I assumed the chapter to be closed.

To my horror, a subsequent bill for the month of November was raised. At this point I decided to ignore any communication from Matrix. I had done my part in informing them for termination which they have sadly failed to execute. Constant telephone calls were received by my father from Matrix, demanding he pay the outstanding bill amount. After explaining to every possible person who made the calls, the bills continue to float in, till this day.

The comments section would prove that Matrix attempted to get in touch with me to resolve the issue. They claim that the contract contains a clause where the connection 'rolls over' to a monthly basis after the contract term expires, which I found hugely absurd. After agreeing to pay off their outstanding, Matrix amazingly screwed once more by generating an incorrect amount and attempted to claim payment for bills already paid. The issue is finally resolved with Matrix waving off any outstanding amount.

Issue Summary:
1. Non-termination of services after expiry of contract
2. Non-termination of services after requesting for the same
3. Continued harassment for bill payments

To begin with, Matrix isn't very cheap unlike the way they advertise themselves. Their charges are ridiculously expensive and far cheaper services in UK like Lebara, Lyca, Vonage etc. sell for 1/20th price that Matrix charges. Their back-end services are ridiculous and it is above me on how the company could continue to raise bills even after the expiry of the contract date. I would strongly advise all travellers to refrain using Matrix services and rather purchase sim cards from their destination country itself.

It is disheartening to see such large organisations blunder in such a manner, not once but multiple times. Issues such as bill payments are sensitive to the consumer especially if the commodity is expensive. Although Matrix did waive off the outstanding as an act of good faith, the scar still remains.

If you have any similar concerns about Matrix or any telecom operator, feel free to mention it in the comments section below.