Posts Tagged Kolkata

Twice Bitten, Nary a Chance to be Shy – The Vodafone Kolkata Tales


Some years back, during a somewhat extended visit to Kolkata, I was made to jump through hoops and rings of fire after picking up a prepaid Vodafone connection for my local communications during my stay. There was no 3G those days; nevertheless, the experience was distasteful enough to make me launch into an uncharacteristic and rather long and rambling rant in a blog piece. Those of you, interested in going through this rather long piece, will find it here.  [ The Vodafone Pummel ]

Six years later, circa 2013, very little has changed. Or so I discovered when, during another extended visit to Kolkata, a combination of laziness, convenience (in the form of a nearby Vodafone store @ 204, Sarat Bose Rd. , near the Southern Avenue crossing) & possibly a subconscious streak of masochism led me to revisit this onerous institution which could well be representative of the state of Telecom services in India.

Unlike my earlier ramble, intended in parts to be sardonic & mildly amusing, let me confine myself to the bare, dry facts.

After initial inquiries and a brief wait, I was handed over to an executive with the name tag ‘Debashis’.

I made it known to him that I wanted to pick up 3 post-paid 3G/ mobile broadband connections, two of them to be used with smartphones and one to be used, together with a dongle which I intended to purchase, for broadband internet access on my laptop.

After a quick discussion, we settled for a 8 GB scheme for the broadband internet access using the dongle and two supposedly ‘unlimited’ schemes for 3G access on the smartphones (in reality, that translates to up to 1 GB / month at 3G speeds ; subsequently at 2G speeds). After furnishing the necessary documents & identification and making all payments on the spot, we were repeatedly assured by Debashis that activation would happen shortly, possibly in a few hours time.

Later that evening, I dialled a number I was asked to, for activation. After going through the identification procedures, I was assured by the Vodafone person at the other end that activation will happen within a couple of hours. True to form, that assurance fell by the wayside.

The next day I received a SMS about ‘physical verification’. Fortunately, later that evening, a person turned up for the purpose (apparently they are under instructions to pay surprise visits). He went through the process clinically & quickly & assured me that he will be ‘calling in’ his report very soon and that ‘activation’ in a few hours that day itself. That didn’t quite turn out to be true.

Sometime the next day, I discovered that internet access had been ‘enabled’, though the speeds were the painfully slow 2G speeds. I called up Vodafone Customer Care to mention this, registered on the Vodafone site, wrote an email for good measure and requested for a quick resolution of the issue. Despite various platitudes & assurances, nothing happened really for the next couple of days. Someone at the Helpdesk finally told me that if I was indeed interested in a quick resolution, I would do well to visit the Vodafone store and speak to the executive concerned who had sold me the packages.

I did so a couple of days down the line, picked out Debashis from the several front desk salespersons at the store & asked to speak to him. He assured me that he will take care of this right away and complimented me on my patience and tolerance (compared possibly to most other customers who by this stage start getting somewhat prickly & thorny).

Some hours after this, internet access on the smartphones started happening at 3G speeds, though neither on my laptop nor on the smartphones, I ever managed to attain speeds of 7 Mbps or more ( which, I had been repeatedly assured initially, was the least I should expect.

Despite the delay and several hiccups and the considerable amounts of time spent in even getting the service I had signed up and paid for, I was almost ready to believe that my previous experience was a one-off aberration and that Vodafone had improved in the 6 years that had elapsed since that first experience. Having spent over 3 decades in the IT & Telecom industries across Asia Pacific including India, I should have knownfeline mattress better.

Vodafone delivered the sucker punch a few days later, when the bills arrived. I will spare you the gory details but even for a fortnightly period, the amounts were humongous and not at all in accordance with the postpaid 3G mobile internet packages I had signed up for.

I went through the same routine that I have mentioned earlier and eventually was told by someone in customer care that I should take up the matter with the executive who had sold me the ‘packages’. In less than 3 weeks, I had to undertake my 3rd pilgrimage to the Vodafone store and pick out Debashis.

I was again reassured by him that he will sort out the issue that day itself or latest by the next working day. I was told to remind him through SMS messages and ‘missed calls’ (apparently much in vogue in this city ) if I didn’t hear from him by the end of that day. As I was beginning to expect by now, days passed and there was no comeback from the ‘friendly, reassuring’ Vodafone sales executive, despite my sending out text messages to him with the concerned numbers regularly. Nearly a week passed by during which I received a call late one evening from him, telling me that while he had referred the matter already to the concerned department, there had been no comeback from them till date. Finally, in utter exasperation, I made a ‘missed call’ to his number one evening and he responded shortly afterwards. What he had to tell me this time blew my mind. Apparently, since I had started ‘using’ the services even before my 2nd visit to his store (refer narrative above), after which he taken on the task of getting the ‘3G mobile internet services’ activated, despite the 2G speeds at which the mobile internet  had been operating till then, I had been charged for a few days as per some ‘fancy ad hoc rate’ Vodafone has and not as per the 3G mobile internet package I had signed up for.

If the narrative above is rather too labyrinthine, here’s the elevator pitch. Vodafone, despite repeated promises by multiple agents & individuals, repeatedly delayed activation of the contracted services, failed on more than one occasion to respond promptly and satisfactorily to my queries & concerns and capped it all by sending me a bill which was way too high and not at all in accordance with the package I had signed up for. Subsequently, the concerned Vodafone salesperson  tried to fob me off with the story that I was somehow ‘responsible’ for all this, particularly the ‘erroneous’ amounts reflected in the very first bill. [ Check out update 1 below ]

To be fair, amidst all these crumbling rooftops and falling pillars, the only folks who have responded professionally to some of my emails till now are people who man the Nodal care services for Vodafone Kolkata ( ). The rest of it, as I have endeavoured to explain at some length here, has been a veritable train-wreck in terms of customer service & orientation.

A quick search on the net as well as a glance through Vodafone’s social media pages / accounts tells one that not too many are exactly enamoured with their services. Additionally, Vodafone seems to be under investigation by regulatory bodies like the TRAI for apparently flouting certain laid down norms and by the tax authorities for defaults on taxes payable. The only bright spot amidst all this are some of the interviews by the person responsible for Asia Pacific & Indian operations, Mr. Marten Pieters, that I came across. Well, Mr. Pieters, I am not quite sure what the priorities are at this point of time but, as you can see, things weren’t too hunky-dory six years back and have hardly improved noticeably since then. Possibly these heathens in chaotic developing countries like India need to go through some pain to understand the big favours MNCs like Vodafone are doing to them.

I leave it to the readers of this blog to mention whether this is the case particularly with Vodafone Kolkata or with Vodafone all over the country.  I am also curious to hear about a cross-section of experiences people may have had with some of the other major Telecom service providers in this country.

This narrative, at this moment is an unfinished tale and I will be back with updates in the not-so-distant future. Keep watching this space to find out how the saga unfolds.

Update 1

Emails detailing the problem and linking to this blog by way of details, copied to other IDs which are meant for escalating such problems, one presumes,  were met with stony silence. In the absence of any kind of comforting communication, which is possibly unrealistic to expect under these circumstances, even a mere acknowledgment would have been somewhat reassuring. Possibly, one-off retail customers like yours truly don’t quite merit such attention. A routine mail from local customer care, tried to reiterate the same ‘storyline’ as the one narrated above through an email.  Subsequently someone from Vodafone Care, Kolkata’ called up and needed to be explained in great detail, over & over again, all that has been narrated here. At the end of these rather irritating exchanges, the picture became clearer though. Here is the executive summary.

1. On 31st July, while at the Vodafone store, I had clearly discussed & settled for 3 data plans, 2 of them being the 1 GB Unlimited plan for 2 Smartphones & one the 8 GB unlimited plan which was planned to be used, together with a dongle purchased during that time from the Vodafone store,  for 3G internet access on laptops / other mobile devices. Despite being repeatedly told about the urgency for activation of the data plans, the salesperson in question did not activate the 1 GB Data plans for the smartphones. He did so for the 8 GB plan however.

2. This fact clearly escaped me because the elaborate forms needed were filled up by the salesperson alluded to, who, after obtaining the necessary ID documents & proof from me, got me to sign on the dotted line, assuring me that everything else will be taken care of by him. In good faith, I signed and exited the store, feeling reassured.

3. Due to non activation of the 1 GB Data plans, internet access, after a couple of days, was restricted to the slower 2G speeds. Puzzled by the fact & unable to resolve the issue, as stated earlier, I was forced to make my 2nd visit within a week to the Vodafone store & speak to the concerned executive. It appears that thereafter he quickly activated the data plan, which as per the discussions & earlier agreement, he was supposed to do on Day 1 itself i.e. on 31st July.

4. Vodafone apparently charges such ad-hoc accesses of the Internet at 2G speeds as per some humongously high rates. Unknown to me, Vodafone kept charging me at these rates for several days till the data plan I had signed on for initially on Day 1 itself was quietly activated after my 2nd visit to the Vodafone store.

5. Whether this is an error of omission or commission on the part of the salesperson mentioned, is not quite clear. However, Vodafone customer care executives have been repeatedly trying to obfuscate the issue & claim that they were quite justified and right in billing me the way they did. If there is any intent to redress the wrong done and resolve the issue satisfactorily, it has not been evident from the tone & tenor of the communications, written & verbal, till date.

Update 2

Since multiple people from Vodafone continue to try & obfuscate & distort the issue and fabricate post-facto scenarios in an attempt to cover up for their acts of omission, commission & negligence, I have sent out the following detailed communication to all concerned in Vodafone and to the various regulatory authorities and statutory bodies on the 12th of September, 2013. Here it is, unabridged:

It is now fairly clear to me that Vodafone, Kolkata circle is engaged in a game of hoodwinking first-time & gullible customers, fabricating a sequence of events post-facto to justify their acts of omission, commission & negligence, possibly wilful & deliberate at times & backing up frontline salespersons who commit such acts possibly because they do so with the active encouragement of the management.

It is also evident that despite various fancy names & slogans, Vodafone’s attitude towards the customer is one of supreme indifference & unconcern, bordering on hostility at times.

As would be evident from the various communications below, Vodafone has neither cared to answer several pertinent questions raised during these exchanges but has stuck to a crafted scenario which is, in parts, fabricated post-facto to cover up for their negligence, acts of omission & unprofessional & unethical practices.  Here is a summary of the queries which have not been answered either satisfactorily, convincingly or at all.

1. On 31st July 2013 when I stepped into the Vodafone store on Southern Ave, / Sarat Bose Rd. crossing, Kolkata, as a first-time retail prospect and was directed to a particular salesperson, no attempt was made to either show me the internal forms which are now being alluded to as the defining & clinching document in this whole process. Instead, various talk time & data plans were told to me by the concerned salesperson at the end of which I chose 2 specific talk-time & 2 3G data plans for two smartphones I already had as well as a 3G data-plan solely for usage on internet enabled devices like laptops etc.,.  While I repeatedly requested for a quick activation of all services and the concerned salesperson repeatedly assured me that this will happen in a few hours time, at no stage was I ever informed that the activation, particularly the data-plan activation might take several days. I have subsequently come to understand from informed external sources that this is the case presently. This constitutes a deliberate suppression of facts and an attempt to mislead and provide glib & false assurances for ‘closing a sale’.

2. After asking me for the requisite IDs & photographs, the salesperson was insistent on my paying the sums mentioned on the spot and on my signing on the dotted line in an internal form, assuring me repeatedly that he will take care of all other formalities & processes. At no stage was even an attempt made to explain the various entries in the internal form that is being alluded to repeatedly here; neither was any attempt made to walk me through the form or to get me to fill in any details in the mentioned form. This appears to have been a willful attempt to keep me from reading any fine print in the form and to build up a provision for covering up internal errors & acts of omission and possibly for deliberately misleading customers who may not know any better.

3. It is now claimed that since apparently no data plan for the smartphones had been opted for (a white lie which Vodafone keeps clinging on to & repeating), I was charged for access at slow 2G speeds @ 10 p / 10 KB. At no stage had Vodafone either informed me of this fact or obtained my consent in any manner about such services & charges before or during this event. To state this now, after the charges have been levied already, constitutes clearly unethical & less-than-transparent business practices on Vodafone’s part.

4. It is also now claimed by Vodafone that during my 2nd visit to the said Store on 3rd August, I had opted for certain 3G data plans for 2 smartphones which were subsequently activated.  In fact, the 2nd visit to the Store was to get the issue of ‘slow, non-3G speeds while accessing the internet on my smartphones’ remedied, as advised to me by someone from the Vodafone helpdesk earlier. Since I did not either fill-in or sign any form on that day, how did someone in Vodafone go about deciding that such 3G data plans could now be activated? If, as stated by Vodafone in their several responses, such ‘internal forms’ are essential documents for activation of services, including data plans, how can anyone in Vodafone take it upon himself or herself to activate such ‘paid services’ without a filled-in & signed form from me? If someone can indeed do so, it clearly shows that their internal systems are susceptible to & designed for gross customer abuse.
Further, how did someone take it on himself to activate such 3G data plans for smartphones without ascertaining in any manner or form whether the handsets I have are indeed capable of  accessing such services and operating at 3G speeds? Is this not another example of callousness, negligence & either misleading or demonstrating complete unconcern for the customer?

I now understand from some friends and associates with whom I have shared this experience that several even old-time customers have suffered similarly at the hands of Vodafone Kolkata and that unhappiness with one or more of their services as well as their attitude towards customers in general is the cause for considerable unhappiness among quite a few.

What has been your experience with Vodafone in India? Do share your experiences by commenting on this post.


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The Cathartic Experience Of Passing Through Kolkata’s International Airport

Air travellers, specially international ones, go through the routine of immigration & customs and then baggage clearance before taking a cab, a bus or a train to their destination in the city they have travelled to, almost with a bored air of having been through it all. No doubt there are good, average & somewhat poor terminals and the average length of time in going through the cycle mentioned above can widely vary across different cities.  The overall experience can be anything from being a pleasant to a trying one.

Even if one is a frequent traveller, nothing would quite prepare one for the entire range of new experiences, sensations & moods that one can invariably experience while getting into or out of the Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport at Kolkata. Mere words would hardly suffice to bring you a true flavour of what lies in store for you. Here are some vignettes though which could serve as a prequel for those who haven’t quite experienced it yet.

Before the aircraft quite comes to a complete halt, most passengers, at least in most economy classes of most arriving flights, would have jumped out of their seats and wrestled their hand baggages out of the overhead baggage compartments, announcements & admonitions by the flight crew notwithstanding. If you happen to be occupying an aisle seat, you would be well advised to either follow suit or get out of the way to avoid being bonked on the cranium by one of these hand baggages on their involuntary downward descent path.

Once you have wrestled your way out of the aircraft, you are usually confronted by a ladder, apparently of World War II vintage, which subscribes to the open concept. If it happens to be drizzling at the time, accompanied by gusty winds, the ‘open’ concept is not exactly conducive to your reaching the terminal building in bone dry condition.

International Boarding Gate 1 at NSCBI Airport...

The boarding gate at the NSCB Int'l Airport, Kolkata

Once you have successfully descended, you are directed to get into a bus which, under other circumstances, is possibly used to ferry heavy luggage around the airport. After it has picked up its full complement of deplaning passengers, it chugs its way lugubriously towards the main terminal building.

Once you get off the bus, just outside the main terminal building, your acclimatization process starts. Dogs & cats can be seen sheltering under broken down trolleys housing dilapidated brooms. Once you have negotiated your way past these relics, you find yourself  in a large, starkly painted room with no temperature control except a couple of whirring, somewhat noisy ceiling fans. Other than the immigration officers, this enclosure is manned by members of the Kolkata police who may direct you to one or the other queues snaking their way across, in between shouting out instructions and terms of endearment to each other.

The immigration officers are mostly taciturn, silent men who give you the occasional up-from-under look while riffling through your passport & associated documents. Any attempts at being friendly are roundly rebuffed and I have actually seen a person who thanked the officer on completion of the process, being chided.

Once you near the baggage carousels, you are likely to find that most functional trolleys have been taken up by those who got there ahead of you. You might still find a large number of trolleys lying around. Unfortunately, they have seen better days and as you will discover,  are not quite in shape for ferrying heavy baggage from Point A to Point B. Unless you happen to be one of the first ones out of immigration, finding a functional trolley becomes a somewhat tense experience. While cooling your heels and running around to discover a functional trolley, if you want to relieve yourself, maybe just to while away the minutes, why, you only have to follow your nose to get to the right place. Signages are simply redundant.

Just when you may start breathing easy after having found a trolley which is generally in one piece, you would discover that your passage anywhere near the particular carousel where your baggage is supposed to arrive, has been cut off by a solid thicket of bodies, fenced-off by a forest of trolleys parked just behind them. You have very few choices other than hanging back and occasionally trying to sneak the occasional peep through the thicket of bodies. By the time the front-rankers have collected their baggage and departed from the spot  and you have managed to edge in to a vantage point in the immediate proximity of the carousel, you may find that it is stationary and your baggage isn’t visible anywhere on it. Don’t lose heart though, for the ‘friendly’ baggage-handlers who mill around are wont to pick up certain pieces of baggage from the carousel and stack them in some unobtrusive corner where they may not quite be spotted easily. The parameters they follow in choosing certain pieces of baggage for this treatment is best known to them and to the airport management possibly.

What happens when you finally make your way out with the baggage, specially during the late evening hours, is well documented. You can read all about it in detail [ here ], [here], [here] & [ here ].

Some actual passenger feedback can also be found [ here ] & [ here ].

What happens when you are planning to depart from this airport? Let me narrate one of my many experiences, which is fairly typical, with additional details wherever necessary.

The airside of the International Terminal, Kolkata

The airside of NSCB Int'l Airport Kolkata

Recently, while returning, since the flight was delayed, I virtually spent the better part of the night & early morning in that airport. I witnessed passengers in front of me at the gates being turned back by security because some bozo in immigration had stamped the wrong date on their passport earlier. While getting my boarding pass I noticed the guy at the counter taking over twenty minutes for one passenger. Now this boarding pass is issued at one of a series of counters which are situated in a cul-de-sac of sorts, right at the end of a hall. Both while making your way to the counters and then wending your way back to the immigration counters, you encounter myriad other passengers, for your & myriad other flights, either making  their way to this cul-de-sac or rushing back from it after having secured their prized boarding passes.

Anyway, to get back to my story, at about 2-30 am in the morning, the stationary nature of the queue I was in was just a wee bit too much, so, after a while, I was energized enough to step out of the queue and let the guy have a short, sustained burst of monologue  from me, telling him in no uncertain terms what I thought of him and his mode of operations. His supervisor then ran out from some room where he was possibly playing Pac-man all this while & tried to explain away the delay by fibbing that the response on the terminal he was using for ticketing was pretty slow that day. He then quietly took the guy’s place & I figured out that the earlier guy was a trainee who was actually learning on the job while the people in the queue kept shuffling their feet & gazing at the ceiling.

The overall experience, once inside, is further enhanced by hordes of passengers either aimlessly milling around or rushing for something or the other(often one can’t fathom what the rush is about in any case) while a horde of their family members & relatives crowd around outside the main entrance, waving vigorously and shouting out instructions, admonitions

Kolkata,  Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Internat...

One of several notices in NSCB Int'l Airport, Kolkata

and terms of endearment. Many of these guys revel in elbowing you, jamming their overloaded wobbly trolleys against your ankle or your nether regions & stamping on your foot when you have just stretched them out a wee bit and are trying to get philosophical about the ordeal you are undergoing while trying to complete the mundane, staid task of getting into an aircraft going someplace.

Once you are through with the security check, during which, going by the law of averages, you are fairly likely to encounter a mustachioed Jat or a Bhaiyaa from U.P. who is quite clear that his job entails checking out the shape, position and actual quantity of your nuts among other things, you get into a somewhat filthy lounge with filthier restrooms to match where you are supposed to cool your heels (after parking your derriere in a rather uncomfortable chair) till the gates open. Once inside, you truly begin to realize what ‘collective farming'( যৌথ খামার ) is all about and why Lenin and specially his latter-day flag bearers who have ruled the State for the last three decades are so enamoured of the idea. Since flights generally serve meals on-board you are not expected to gorge yourself while waiting for the gates to open. In case you have difficulties resisting the temptation to stuff your face, the fare available inside is severely limited in both range & scope. And if all that still does not quite manage to discourage you, paying through your nose for a tiny cup of near-cold coffee which tastes like dishwater, would do the trick.

The boarding area of NSCBIA International Term...

The boarding lounge at NSCB Int'l Airport Kolkata

By the time you get on-board, you are a suitably chastened, humbled person who has just had the wind taken out of his sails. Possibly Kolkata International airport is designed to have that effect on all who may happen to pass through its dysfunctional terminal.

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