(UPDATE: Sanjay Swamy has posted that they have fixed this problem)

This is first in series of posts where I will share some of my (unfortunately, mostly negative) experiences with brands, with a purpose to highlight my learnings in designing services and managing customer experience. Will welcome contributions and experiences from others as well.

This one has to do with Airtel and there newly launched slew of mobile payment services (yes, the nice tv campaigns) through mChek. One of the services they have is that a postpaid subscriber can topup another prepaid account using credit card through the cell phone. My mom still uses a prepaid account, and I decided this was a convenient way for me to top her account up – so I paid Rs 250 (the signup and payment process was a bit clunky, but this post is not about that), promptly got a receipt for Rs 250, and then on my mom’s cell, got a message that her account had been topped up for Rs 50! I thought the software had missed a leading “2” somewhere 🙂

I called Airtel customer service, and they promised to have a call back to me in 24 hours. I didnt get one for over 48 hours when I called them back. I was promised a call back in 1 hour, and again didnt hear back for over 2 hours. I called back – unfortunately, no one there seemed to have a clue what had happened. The supervisor suggested different options – I could wait for my credit card bill, and may be it was charged only Rs 50. Or perhaps call the prepaid customer service line (its a treasure hunt trying to find the operator option there). Or may be take my sms receipt for Rs 250 to an Airtel outlet and show it to them (with no idea of what they would do once they see it). Almost saying, “Just get the monkey off my back!”. He promised he will have his supervisor call back, and by now I knew what that meant.

So I figured I had to resort calling up friends in Airtel and mChek. What I heard back is this – for Rs 250 payment, the talktime is only Rs 50 – Airtel deducts Rs 195 (including tax) out of Rs 250 as service charge! 80% service charge and no mentioned of that on the web site!? Sanjay from mChek clarified that if I had recharged for Rs 100/255/300/500, there would have been no service charge – what was this? A game of roulette? And tomorrow, these zero service charge promotion price points may change with no intimation to customers. Will there be an invisible service charge tomorrow for other payment services – you’ll never know until you pay and figure it out!

Here are my learnings:

  • Don’t rip customers off – it never pays.
  • Establish trust – will I use this service again? or will I see every Airtel promotion and think of what the catch is? My friend at Airtel told me this is the same service charge that is applicable offline. But the point is – when I go to the retailer, I can have a conversation regarding this. Here, I can’t.
  • Be transparent – why was there no intimation of service charge either on the website or during the transaction?
  • Train customer service – these guys had no clue as to how to handle calls relating to mChek. The people who designed the service knew instantaneously. The fact that they never lived up to their call back commitments made things worse.
  • Control damage – my friend at concerned organization asked me to hold off writing this post for a day. I did. No communication.

Actually, another learning – I landed up waiting for three days instead of one. It helped – instead of a vicious customer complaint, it helped me think of what I can learn from this experience, and the lessons certainly have been worth more than Rs 200! Feedback welcome.