Sunday, April 17, 2011

Why I Hate Vodafone

A few months ago, I switched my pre-paid cell phone connection to a post-paid. This seemed like a major step to me, proof that I was here to stay, a well-established adult with a fixed address and a long-term plan. It seemed serious and mature, like owning a house or investing in a retirement plan.

Pre-paid, by contrast, was temporary and fly-by-night.

While pre-paid, I often ran out of money on my phone in out-of-the-way places, frequently with no options for recharging. I would simply forget to add money to my account and then, arriving at 11 PM in Delhi with a balance of 35 pesae, I would trudge to my hotel hoping in vain to find a paan-walla still open from whom I could buy a recharge coupon. When that didn't happen, I would hope that my husband would think to call me, rather than waiting for me to call him. The next morning, I would be stranded in my room, unable to confirm my appointments because I couldn't call out (people who have pre-paid connections are constitutionally unable to use hotel phones because every call costs five times as much as it should) . . . I thought and acted like all my fellow-travelers on the pre-paid route: "I'll give you a missed call," I would say. "Call me back."

Post-paid meant an end to all that. I would have options. I would walk with my head held high. I would be given credit for my timely payment of bills. I would be viwed as a good risk, a safe bet. If, while traveling, I needed to run up a large bill, no problem! I would now be a post-paid customer, a known factor, a person who could be trusted.


Phone companies are desperately keen to convert pre-paid customers to post-paid, but short sighted in their rush to sign us up. Almost as soon as I switched, I began to regret it. My bill came due on the 22nd of each month, for example. By the 15th, the SMS messages would begin. Five, six, sometimes seven times a day, I would get a reminder: Your bill is due by the 22nd. Please pay today to avoid discontinuation of your services. If I made a particularly long phone call, the messages would come even earlier: You are reaching your credit limit of Rs 1500. Please make an interim payment of Rs 500 to avoid discontinuation of your services.

Paying my bills was complicated by the fact that there are only two payment offices in Dehradun, both at a considerable distance from my home. When I tried to pay online - after a lengthy registration process (which included a password setting with upper case, lower case, a number and a "special character" as mandatory features - which I devised and then promptly forgot) - the system would invariably freeze just at the payment gate. Go to the 24 hour kiosk and credit cards were not accepted (inconvenience caused is deeply regretted).

So finally, inevitably, I decided to go back to being a lowly, unappreciated pre-paid customer. No fancy, colorful bills delivered to my door by courier anymore, I would return to the ranks of those who buy their recharge coupons from the guy who sells cigarettes and beedis. So be it.

Again, NOT.

This evening I went to the Vodafone office to announce my decision. The same office which had welcomed me with open arms when I went from pre-paid to post now informed me that a "request" had to be entered for the switch to be made. In 24 to 48 hours, I would get a call from a service representative who would ask me why I was making this decision. After THAT process, I could return to the office with proof of residence, my old bills and a passport photo. After these documents were scrutinized, I might be allowed to return to my old status as a free bird on a prepaid plan.

Clearly, Vodafone would prefer this not happen. Although I am not valuable enough as a customer to treat well, they would still rather keep me on a little string which they can yank anytime they feel I am getting a bit beyond myself, any time they decide I am straying a tad outside of my "credit limit."

And while I am tempted to "Get Idea" or come home to Airtel, I don't think it would be any different if I did. Company policies all seem pretty much the same. No matter how much I rant and rave in the shiny Vodafone (or Airtel or Idea) office, the sweet, well-trained kids in their red uniforms (with their "Happy To Help" name tags) will answer politely and vacuously, spouting lines they have memorized but never thought about: "Company policy, Ma'am." "Sorry, Ma'am, that's the process." "I understand, ma'am, but we have to follow the procedures." "You are absolutely correct, Ma'am, but it's not in my hands."

With pre-paid, the answers all vary according to the mood of the seller and the word on the street. I may buy my first card near Bindal from a guy in a little bania shop who remembers my kids from when they were small and were always hoping for a Thums Up. If I need a calling card for the US and Israel so I can call Anand and Cathleen, there's this guy in Panditwari who keeps a good stock of the bargain rated ones. When I notice my balance dwindling, I'll take a walk to Sethi Market to my old pal the paan-walla. He'll ask me where I've been all these months and I'll tell him I've been away. Then he'll say "The 888 card?" and I'll nod. It's still Vodafone behind it all, but it feels more like home.

1 comment:

Entropy said...

More or less all service providers are same

ie legitimate mafia - They large virtual, ruthless faceless corporation -

In fact Vodafone in my opinion is better of the lot