Dear Airtel, here's what you can learn from Google about customer service

Technology helps build connections among disparate systems to enable and surprise us. So why are more companies not using it to improve customer service?

Nishad Ramachandran December 01, 2014 14:46:28 IST
Dear Airtel, here's what you can learn from Google about customer service

Google just freaked me out. But before I get to that, a bit of a back story.

I have been lax in paying my Airtel Mobile bill last month. The October/November one lying unpaid, with me knowing fully well that I can pay the small fine and get through with it all in November/December. Airtel however didn't think so. So on every other call I made, I am forced to listen in to a broken recorded message, in Hindi, Marathi, English once even in Gujarati, telling me that I have a Rs 2143/ bill lying unpaid. And as is the norm, I receive a bunch of SMSs and mails that remind me of my non-compliance.

I had had enough of Airtel rebuking me, so last evening I decided to pay the bill online. Like with everything these days I headed to Google to search for a link to "Airtel Bill Payment" and this is what popped up.

Dear Airtel heres what you can learn from Google about customer service

For a moment I was stunned. Google actually knew the amount pending with Airtel and alerted me even as I was heading to pay my bill.

I soon realized that my Airtel bills come into my Gmail account and hence Google could know how I much I had to pay up. That my bill was password protected, and that even I had not opened it myself was not something that Google worried about. Its mission "to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful" was far more important than the care Airtel took to "secure" my bill.

So was I pissed off at Google for having snooped on my bill? Sure I was surprised. Angry? Not so much. I just saw it as the outcome of technology being able to build connections.

If I am angry, I am at Airtel more than Google. Because soon after I paid the bill I got an SMS from Airtel of them having received my payment, and then some.

Dear Airtel heres what you can learn from Google about customer service

What pissed me off about Airtel is the second SMS, one that told me that either the billing system in Airtel is disconnected from the messaging system. That even though I had used a credit card to make the payment, this was unknown to the system that was shooting out the transactional message. Or worse, some lazy guys in the customer care department decided that they didn't need to personalize their messages depending on what mode of payment I used.

Google on the other hand was smarter. When I later Googled the earlier search term "Airtel Bill Payment" the search result told me, basis a new mail from Airtel, that a credit of Rs 4,200 had been made.

Dear Airtel heres what you can learn from Google about customer service

There's more that Airtel does in its own disconnected way. When I recently tweeted out to them on how they needed to improve their existing networks before going on to offer 4G plans I was engaged in conversation by their customer service rep who had no clue who I was, this after being a customer for over half a dozen years.

Dear Airtel heres what you can learn from Google about customer service

And despite Rohit's assurances I have not had a final answer from Airtel. Yet.

Mechanical Vs Connected. The future of customer engagement

One of the biggest obstacles for companies operating in a connected world is silo based thinking. Despite all the efforts, technology and money (Airtel made over Rs 1000 crores in profit in the October quarter) available, I understand that the company's billing department is not really connected to the customer communications department. Airtel's customer relationship guys are not adequately interfaced with the online listening and response team. And these become glaring inadequacies when customers reach out to resolve issues or start having conversations with companies.

This is particularly galling when I know that I pay Airtel a few thousand rupees every month to help me stay connected and all the services I enjoy with Google are virtually free. And as I read through Airtel's vision and promise I discover that they have put the customer (me) at the heart of everything they do.

Airtel is not alone in living a silo based existence. Each one of us may have experienced how seemingly simple things get complicated because different systems within a company are not connected.

It's easy to pen down mission and vision statements. Google has not promised to put me, or any user at the heart of the company and yet does amazing things that stun, shock and inspire me from time to time. Airtel, keeping with the times calls itself The Smartphone Company yet needs to go a long way to build its customer smarts.

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