Customer service in India is a many-headed beast and it takes on as many avatars. In an age when customers pay to upgrade tweets in Paris so they can name and shame an airline for losing luggage, in India, such cyber-justice has a way to go. Here, face time with a salesperson is still worth its weight in Bitcoins. You and your grocer may exchange Diwali greetings on Whatsapp, but nothing beats the occasional 'how do you do', and 'how are the kids' to ensure the next time you get a brand of pesto delivered home that's got some mould in it, you can get it replaced without a hitch.
But things have moved on, even in India. I remember in the '90s when dial-up Internet found its way into residential neighbourhoods. It took days for someone to respond to a call, and even longer for a technician call-out so you could surf on Netscape Navigator (yes Beliebers, Google that!). Today, it's all, 'send us a text and we'll send someone to your door', 'visit our site and let's chat live to work out what insurance policy you need'. India has learned a lot from the BPO wave; outsourcing to India has meant we've been able to give the Indian consumer what they want, with gulkhand on top. So it's a sign of the times when I decided to make pancakes out of a box (yes, I'm a terrible Dad and I'm not going to organic/vegan heaven). It was by a brand I'd used often when living abroad. The pancakes came out gloopy in the middle and tasted more like dosa than pancake. I was not happy. I checked the ingredients. The mix included rice flour and was being packaged in India. How dare they? Did they not think Indians knew the difference between dosas and pancakes? So I tweeted about it, expecting to have simply regurgitated my spite into cyberspace. But sure enough, I received a message from said company on Twitter, and even a phone call. They would be happy to replace my pancake mix at no cost and get my feedback on how they could improve the product. Vegan/organic heaven will have to wait.
Needless to say, it didn't stop there. A favourite ice-cream brand delivered a huge tub of the good stuff home for a party. It was grainy and powdery, unlike what I'd been used to abroad. Friends noticed too. Twitter to the rescue. Another customer service call, another replacement tub of the same flavour and everybody's happy. To tweet when I was weeping was becoming quite satisfying. Then one day, my intercom blew up during a power surge in the neighbourhood. The company didn't have an online presence so I had to go analog, making phone calls and such. Someone came to my door; the intercom was carted away and I was promised I'd get it back within a week. Complications followed. There was some miscommunication. Weeks passed. Calls weren't returned; promises weren't kept, and the intercom-shaped hole in my wall began to grate. Twitter to the rescue? Nope. The company had no website and no Twitter handle. Could I name and shame the manager/owner somehow? Nope again. LinkedIn featured him so I could see what school he went to, and how long the company had been in his family. His photo showed that he favoured those large-collared shirts circa the disco era. It would have to be a stern phone call and some self-righteous customer-is-right type demands.
Moments later I was on the phone to the manager/owner. I issued a stern demand for my goods back, and forthwith. What's this? Manager/owner was shouting at me! I was being accused of failing to be a good customer by checking up regularly on my intercom and so things had gone awry! It was all my fault that things had gone wrong. Either I was going crazy or manager/owner was suffering a bad case of disco fever. There was some name-calling and some mild legal threats issued from both sides. If I wanted my intercom back I would have to come down to the shop and collect its unrepaired remains myself.
It has been a couple of months since that conversation and my intercom remains uncollected. I moved country and that last conversation left a bad taste in my mouth. I guess Twitter can't always come to the rescue. Perhaps I shall wait till they upgrade and get a web presence I can heckle. But that's of small recompense. I shall just have to hope that in this digital era, good old-fashioned courtesy and good customer service still translate to better sales. Those who ignore it should get their cosmic comeuppance. After all, this is India and karma doesn't need a Twitter handle here.