സെലിബ്രിറ്റികളും പരസ്യങ്ങളില്‍ വഞ്ചിതരാകുമ്പോള്‍

സാധാരണ കമ്പോളത്തിൽ‍ ലഭിക്കുന്ന ഒരു സോപ്പും ക്രീമും തന്റെ സൗന്ദര്യം വർ‍ദ്ധിപ്പിച്ചതായി ആരും പറഞ്ഞുകേട്ടിട്ടില്ല. ഇത്തരത്തിലുള്ള പരസ്യങ്ങളിൽ വഞ്ചിതരാകാതിരിക്കാനുള്ള യുക്തിബോധം ഉപഭോക്താക്കൾക്ക് ഉണ്ടാകണമെന്ന് ചിലർ ശഠിച്ചേക്കാം. എന്നാൽ‍ ടെലിവിഷൻ‍ സീരിയലുകൾ‍ സത്യകഥകളാണെന്ന് വിശ്വസിക്കുന്ന ഒരു വലിയവിഭാഗം ആൾക്കാർ കൂടി നമുക്കുചുറ്റും ജീവിക്കുന്നുണ്ട് എന്നോർക്കണം. എളുപ്പത്തിൽ‍ കബളിപ്പിക്കപ്പെടാവുന്ന ഇത്തരക്കാരെക്കൂടി‍ ബോധവൽക്കരിക്കുന്നതിനേക്കാൾ ഗുണപരമായ കാര്യമല്ലേ, സമൂഹത്തെ തെറ്റിദ്ധരിപ്പിക്കുന്ന പരസ്യങ്ങൾ‍ ഉണ്ടാക്കാൻ പാടില്ലെന്ന ഒരു കോടതി നിർദേശത്തിന് ഉണ്ടാക്കാൻ‍ കഴിയുക? മറ്റെന്തിനും ഉപരിയായി സൗന്ദര്യവർദ്ധകവസ്തുക്കളുടെ പരസ്യങ്ങൾ‍ സമൂഹത്തിലേക്ക് പടർ‍ത്തുന്ന ഒരു തെറ്റിദ്ധാരണയുണ്ട്. കറുപ്പ് നിറമുള്ളവർ ആരാലും ഇഷ്ടപ്പെടുന്നവർ‍ അല്ലെന്നും ആത്മവിശ്വാസം കുറഞ്ഞവരാണെന്നുമുള്ള അപകർഷതാബോധമാണ് ഇവ സൃഷ്ടിക്കുന്നത്. ഇത് ശരിയായ അർദ്ധത്തിൽ‍ വർണ്ണവിവേചനം തന്നെയാണ്. വെളുത്തവനായ ബ്രിട്ടീഷുകാരൻ‍ കറുത്തവനായ ഇന്ത്യക്കാരനോടും, കൂട്ടത്തിൽ‍ വെളുത്തവനായ വരേണ്യവർ‍ഗ്ഗക്കാരൻ താഴ്ന്നവനായ ചെറുമനോടും കാണിച്ചിരുന്ന അതേ വർണ്ണവിവേചനം.

Read my column on Emerging Kerala by DC Books.

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Vision Express has frames, lenses, and surprises too!

There are some people that promise a lot, but fail to deliver. Then there are people who deliver when you least expect it. Here is a story that made the customer in me happy and content. I felt as if I were in the United States where customers are truly valued and respected.
I had purchased a spectacle frame from Vision Express in Trivandrum six months ago. It had metallic eyewires and wooden temples, and cost INR 6000. At the time of purchase, I was assured that the frame and lenses would be covered under warranty for one year. I have been given many such promises by various parties in the past, but all of them would come with hidden riders making it virtually impossible to claim full warranty. Not surprisingly, I was skeptical about this promise too and gave little heed to it. 
A few days ago, the right temple of the frame suffered a shock while removing the spectacles. The wood broke off near the hinge, causing an irreparable damage. I was aware of the warranty promise and walked into the showroom with the frame and the purchase bill. My personal experience with such shops has been dissatisfactory and I had to fight with several of them to get what I wanted. But Vision Express had a huge surprise on offer. They accepted the damaged frame, did not ask any questions, ordered a replacement of the same type, and in five days, delivered a brand new frame for free! Vision Express is a joint venture of GrandVision and Reliance Retail. I must confess that I never thought Reliance would offer such commendable service! I think other businesses can take a leaf from Vision Express’ book to educate their staff to offer better services to customers, increase business prospects, and become highly successful. Vision Express surely knows that a return customer would bring more direct and indirect business.

Teaching SBI a second lesson!

I had a bitter experience at the State Bank of India (SBI), RACPC branch in Trivandrum a couple of months ago. At that time, the Deputy General Manager (DGM) came for assistance and he cleared the mess created by the other staff. Today I had to visit the branch again to create equitable mortgage on my property as per the home loan agreement. This was following a letter I received from the bank asking me to be present at the branch to create the mortgage. I waited almost an hour at the branch before my turn came. Since my flat and loan were in the names of my wife and me, the person in the section asked me to bring my wife along to put her signature on the paper. I asked him if both of us were to be present at the branch, why was the intimation letter not addressed to both. I also told him that it was not possible for us to visit the branch on any other day in the next few days, by which time the stipulated 14 days for mortgage creation would be over. I told him I wanted to meet the Assistant General Manager (AGM) who sent out this communication to me alone, and talk about it.
Hearing this, the person in the section took the intimation letter from me and wrote my wife’s name also in the address field! I was baffled by this act and asked him why he did that. Although he did not have an explanation, I knew why he did that. I immediately called up the DGM and informed him of this shameless act of document forgery. I wanted the DGM to talk to the branch and get them to strike off the handwritten name from the letter, write an explanation, stamp it, and sign it. I also told him that my wife was not present at the branch because the communication wasn’t addressed to her. He apologised, and after a while, called me up and said he spoke to the AGM and an arrangement could be made, if I agreed to it.
I walked into the AGM’s cabin and she offered an apology, stroke off the handwritten name from the letter, wrote on it about the removal, stamped it, and signed it. Then came the compromise proposal. You wouldn’t believe this came from the State Bank of India! The AGM said since it was a problem in the communication from the bank, she was ready to make up for it, by sending a car to my flat to pick up my wife to the bank and drop her back afterwards. I was so disturbed by the bad experience and wanted them to take the trouble this time, and agreed to it. Soon came a car to bring my wife and kid to the bank. We signed on the papers and after that, we were dropped back to the flat.
Most of us would have gone back and come again another day. But the bad past experience with the bank had already made me stubborn. The act of tampering with the letter ignited the feeling and I wanted them to clear the mess on the same day. Moral of the story remains the same – customer is king, if he so desires!

Voltas AC: What Mr Murthy does not know!

I have always been a stickler for product and service quality. The latest in my fights with brands was against Voltas air conditioners. The remote controller of my AC fell down from the hand of my one year old and I requested the customer care for a replacement. I informed them that the problem was due to the misuse of the product, and did not claim free replacement.

I was informed by the service centre personnel that a replacement of the same type was not available, and they only had a universal remote which could be used with all Voltas ACs. I was not happy about this idea, but wanted to give it a test. The technicians brought the remote, but failed to pair it with the AC. Then the area service manager wanted to check another remote. But when I learnt that all functions of the AC may not work with the universal remote, I discouraged that. I demanded for the replacement of the same type as the original one, with printed bill as my proof of purchase. They said they were unable to procure one as remotes for replacement were not manufactured by the company. Strange reason!

I informed them of my rights as a customer. I told them clearly that the company was bound to give me a replacement because the product was in the warranty period. Since mine was a case of misuse, I would need to pay for the product but not for the service. In any case, they had to issue me a replacement. After 45 days of phone calls, emails, and escalations, the state service head informed me that they procured one finally. I demanded for the printed bill too, but he said he cannot give a bill, but if I wanted he could give me a receipt. I told them that I would not accept the product without a bill. Finally they yielded to my demand and issued me the remote along with a printed purchase bill.
I am sure Mr Murthy of the Voltas commercial does not know that the company struggles to perform in their service department! What made me laugh during this episode was the claim of the state service head that the replacement remote was taken from a sealed AC package and hence they could not produce the bill. Needless to say, he did not have any answer when I asked him, “If the remote was taken from a sealed package, how can you sell that AC?”! On a lighter note, Malini Bhupta wrote on Business Standard last month an article about Voltas titled “Voltas: A breath of fresh air in troubled times”; yeah, I truly missed the breath of fresh air in those 45 troubled days! 🙂

Photo: Mr Murthy of the Voltas commercial.

When State Bank of India denies customer service

Had to visit the SBI RACPC branch in Trivandrum today to get the copy of a 22-page document. On account of some inspection there, the staff refused to give the document today itself. They cited several other reasons too – heavy workload, staff shortage, time to search for the document, effort to take photocopies, and what not. Spoke with two Chief Managers without much luck. I asked the staff for details of the information officers and everybody pretended they were hearing those words for the first time. Finally, I roamed around the branch and found out the details displayed in a corner. A computer monitor was installed right in front of the appellate officer information, blocking the view from the public. I finally met the Assistant General Manager and asked for the stipulated time frame within which such documents should be given upon request. The AGM didn’t divulge any information and told me that it was not possible to get the document today itself. She spoke arrogantly and even attempted to snipe at me when I spoke about Right To Information and Right To Service. I moved out of her cabin, took a photo of the concealed RTI notice board, wrote an email to the Chief General Manager about the incidents, and attached the photo.

Soon, the Technopark branch manager and Personal Banking manager spoke to me on phone, and in 10 minutes, I got the document in my hand, duly attested – a document that would otherwise need several days to reach the customer! Just then I received a call from the Deputy General Manager offering an apology. I told him that I waited at the bank for 2.5 hours to get the document. The DGM told me my case should have been resolved in 5 minutes and the inspection should not have been an excuse for denying the service I requested for. Couldn’t help but walk into the cabin of the AGM, smirk at her, look into her eyes, take a long pause, and say “I got the document I wanted, along with an apology from the DGM”. There she was, all pale, winking repeatedly, and just stammering out the word ‘o…k…’. Her looks suggested that she had already learned what Right To Information and Right To Service were, thanks to the DGM/CGM! I quietly closed the glass door, still looking into her eyes, and sporting the same smirk on my lips. Customer is truly the king, if he so desires! And by the way, did I tell you that on my way back, I saw the computer monitor kept on a chair, away from the notice board? 😉

When United Colors of Benetton bled blue!

I had purchased a pair of dark blue jeans from the United Colors of Benetton showroom at Kesavadasapuram, Trivandrum last week. By the end of the first day of use, its blue colour was all over my shoes and belt. It also managed to daub the colour onto my office identity card. I approached the shop and demanded them to compensate for the loss of the shoe due to this. At first they said they cannot exchange the product or refund the money. When I reminded them of the consumer laws, they said they could at best replace the product or refund the money. But I insisted that the cost of the shoe must be compensated by them as it became useless thanks to the lack of quality of the jeans. A few days later, they asked me to return the product as they wanted to send it to Delhi for quality test. I agreed on one condition that they should give me an acknowledgement letter stating that the product is found to be defective prima facie. They said they can issue the letter but cannot write that the product was found to be defective. In that case, I said, I wanted to retain a piece of cloth cut from the jeans so that even if they tell me tomorrow that it passed the quality test, I could approach the consumer forum with the retained piece of cloth. They said they cannot do that too. That was the heights! Then how do I make sure they conduct the test impartially? 
Their Kerala Sales Head then told me that he can issue me a gift voucher as compensation. But what do I purchase in exchange for the voucher? The same Benetton products, right? I said I cannot agree to that and gave him two options. One; compensate for the damage to the shoes (INR 2500) and Two; fight it out at the consumer forum. Finally, he agreed and on the next day, the Benetton representative visited my office and gave me a new pair of jeans and INR 2500 in cash. But the new jeans was not the same type, not the same colour, not the same design, and not the same fabric. It was something of “their choice”. Also, it did not have any price tag on it for me to verify whether it was of the same price. I tried it but it was not a perfect fit for me. When I informed their Sales Head about this, he told me that I could either go for an exchange or a refund the next day. The next day, I returned both denims (the defective product as well as the replacement) to the Benetton showroom and got a complete refund, including the alteration charges. Their Sales Head was helpful in arranging the refund without issues this time. The moral of the story is simple – Customer is King, if he wants to be!

Customer is King!

A personal experience that can stand as an example for the protection of the rights of a customer – several tiffs, verbal wars, and exchange of emails involved! It is about a mobile handset, bought one year ago, had a warranty period of one year, used fully for one year; finally the manufacturer had to replace it on the brink of warranty expiration, with a brand new one!
I had bought an HTC HD2 in last December from Trivandrum, for around 37,000 rupees. The phone did not have any issues until an evening two months back. Its proximity sensor stopped working all of a sudden. Proximity sensor is a small equipment that rests under the front glass of the phone, which enables the screen go blank when the phone is kept close to the ear during a call. This would prevent the touch screen from responding to inadvertent swipes on it while a call is in progress.
Two weeks later, the touch screen also stopped working. I soft reset the phone a couple of times, and then hard reset it once, but that did not solve the problem. So I took it to the newly opened service centre in Trivandrum. When I checked the repair status on the same day, they told me that they were working on it, and it would be ready the next day. On the next day, I was told that the problems were due to water damage and so the repair and replacement of parts could not be covered under warranty. But since I was sure I never exposed it to extreme weather conditions, I told them to show me the proof. If it was a case of genuine water damage, why didn’t they tell me about it on the previous day? I asked the same question and got the answer that may be the problem was due to the changes in humidity! I told them it cannot be categorised under the “improper use” clause and claimed for the warranty. Finally they yielded to my argument and promised that the repair and replacement would be covered under warranty.
Four days after submitting the phone to the service centre, they informed me that the phone was in shape and I could collect it on the following Monday. On Monday morning, they informed me that its volume keys were not working. Again, they cited water damage as the reason, and “no warranty” because of it! I never faced any issues with the volume keys. Since the phone was submitted to the service centre after hard resetting it, and the only way to hard reset the phone when the touch screen doesn’t work was by using its volume keys, I argued for my case all over again. Finally they gave up the fight and told me that the replacement can be covered under warranty!
At this point, I really got irritated and escalated the matter to the HTC Asia Customer Management Team. They heard both sides and insisted that I should collect the phone after the replacement of the volume keys. I was adamant in my stand that I wouldn’t take the phone back from the service centre, and claimed for a replacement since I did not want to use a handset that was made defective by the company authorised staff. Since the warranty period would expire soon, I didn’t want to take a chance.
It was not easy convincing the HTC people. Everyday, they would call me twice and send email once about the phone status. They reiterated that a replacement would be possible only if the problem is reported within two weeks of purchasing the product. In my case, only two weeks were remaining for the one-year warranty to expire! After each passing day, I was getting more and more irritated. By this time, I had decided to give up on the quarrel and was planning to approach consumer forum as last resort.
I told HTC very clearly that if they are not ready to replace the phone, I would be forced to sue them; in which case I would claim for the complete refund of the purchase amount and compensation. I also gave them two days to think about it. A replacement was easy for them as the current market price of the phone is only 27,000 rupees. On the very next day, they called me up to inform that they were ready for a replacement! It was a long battle for protecting consumer rights; a battle that lasted for more than five weeks!
Moral: Customer is King. To make it more clear; a customer who protests is King! If you are aware of the laws of the land and the rights of the customer, you too can win your genuine case. In the case of mobile phone repair, water damage is cited as a common problem by the service personnel. No company provides warranty on such cases, and hence they can ask us to pay for the service and the replaced parts, and also cover their own mistakes in situations such as these! Don’t buy their story, if you are sure about your case!
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