C Y Gopinath : Our passive-aggressive service providers
It's a long list: phone companies like Vodafone and Airtel; and travel platforms like yatra.com and makemytrip.com
IN BANGKOK, WHERE I LIVE, I have two mobile phones, from the phone companies Dtac and AIS. As pretty much with cellphone providers anywhere else on the planet, from time to time I get SMS messages and alerts from them, bill reminders, promotional offers and so on.
Like pretty much most other phone-owners on the planet, I ignore these messages. In Thailand, this is easier to do because unless you change your settings, the messages are in Thai language, which I do not read.
From time to time, I do not pay an outstanding bill on time, either because I am travelling or just plain forget. In such cases, I will get a message first warning me of imminent disconnection. If I ignore that, then I am quietly disconnected. One morning, I will wake up unable to call anyone. Typically, I will get all hot and bothered and arrange an immediate payment. Within 15 minutes, I will be reactivated.
IN INDIA, THE MONTHLY BILL on my one Vodafone mobile is about Rs 450, since I only use my India number when in India. I pay it through online banking, but being human, I am sometimes late by a few days.
An odd thing happened last month. My Mumbai friend Shanti, whose number I had given as my emergency contact, began getting persistent calls from Vodafone telling her that her friend Gopi had not paid his bill. Her protests that she had nothing to do with my financial life made no difference. She continued to be harassed.
Pissed off with Vodafone and quite upset with me, she messaged me to settle the darn bill. Not only was I embarrassed, but deeply angered. Vodafone's collection policy seems to be to harass friends of their clients till they start nagging you on Vodafone's behalf. There's a colourful American phrase for this kind of emotional blackmail: do what I say or this kitten dies. Vodafone threatens to turn your friends against you as a bill collection strategy.
There are several obnoxious assumptions here —
1. That people only pay when threatened.
2. That emergency contact numbers may be misused for non-emergencies like collecting bills.
3. That harassing consumers who'd pay anyway is a fair corporate policy.
My brother, who owned an Airtel phone account while alive, would start receiving emails, SMS messages and reminders from the call centre a full two weeks before his due date. A few days before the date, the nightmare would begin. Every time he tried to place a call, a cloying female voice would remind him, slowly and with deliberate verbosity, that he had a payment due and should pay without delay to avoid disconnection.
This message would be delivered in Hindi, Marathi and English because India is so diverse. The four or so minutes that pass is enough time for a person having cardiac arrest to die while someone waited to get through to the emergency ambulance number.
The clinical term for these egregious corporate strategies is passive-aggressive behaviour, defined as "harbouring aggressive emotions while behaving in a polite, calm or detached manner". No paying customer deserves such monstrous treatment.
PASSIVE-AGGRESSIVE BEHAVIOUR is also embedded deep within India's two travel platforms, yatra.com and makemytrip.com. I routinely book my tickets with them, but the problem started when I started getting irritating notifications about their promotions and vacation ideas. I only wanted notifications about my upcoming trips.
Yatra and MakeMyTrip were like salesmen who don't stop yelling at you even when you close the door.
In today's intrusion-conscious world, deciding who may harass you with their products and deals is a basic right. Some sites let you set your preferred privacy level in your profile settings. Most websites feature single-click unsubscription and up-to-date, consumer-sensitive privacy policies.
Neither Yatra nor MakeMyTrip provide any options for controlling alerts and notifications on their mobile and desktop versions. After their daily bombardment became unbearable, I wrote to their tech supports, requesting to be unsubscribed. Here is Yatra's reply, which I have received five times already, one every other day:
"We would like to inform you that we have forwarded the details to our concerned department. Please provide us 24-48 hours for further investigation."
Further investigation? There is nothing further to investigate about a customer's wish to unsubscribe. Yatra's and MakeMyTrip's game here is to make gaining privacy so tedious and time-consuming that the average person will just give up in disgust.
Something in me feels violated by these corporate arm-twists that victimise and pressure consumers. If you agree, and have similar experiences, please write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. If enough people are interested, I will be more than happy to explore public interest litigation against these companies and such practices.
Here, viewed from there. C Y Gopinath, in Bangkok, throws unique light and shadows on Mumbai, the city that raised him. You can reach him at email@example.com Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
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