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Airtel – Ripping us off?

Monday, 19th September 2005

Suddenly, out of the blue, Kandha gets an SMS from Airtel saying that his “Hello Tunes has been updated.” True enough, when I try calling his number, I can hear a bhajan playing. I immediately get on the phone trying to get in touch with customer care. The first time, I am cut off after being on hold for 13 minutes. The second time, I am on hold for 15 minutes before I get cut off. I persevere, and the third time, after only seven minutes on hold, I am able to speak to a customer care executive. She is as cool as a cucumber when I tell her what has happened – she doesn’t even listen to me when I’m reciting the number. She assures me that it will be “deactivated in half an hour.” When I ask her whether this will be reflected in the bill, she smoothly says that even if it is, it will be adjusted in the next bill. Having nothing better to tell her, I hang up.

I just figured out what Airtel is up to. Kandha’s bill cycle is from the 21st to the 21st, and his bill will be generated the day after tomorrow. Supposing there are a hundred thousand people (must be a lot more, of course) with the same billing cycle, the billed amount goes up directly by two and a half million rupees (assuming Rs. 25 is the charge for activating the service). So, whoever it is whose performance is gauged by the amount billed gets a raise, or keeps his or her place in the organisation. Of course, there is no proof for this. This is, as all other things that Airtel does, a “system error.”

A similar thing happened about a year and a half ago when I was a Hutch subscriber. All of a sudden, a service was activated that would add Rs.50 to our bills every month. Since everyone in my office was with Hutch then (as all of us are with Airtel now), we got messages about this within seconds of each other. Of course, we rushed to call up customer care and cancel the services, but we were billed for it, and it was adjusted in subsequent bills. It was also ne of the reasons why all of us junked Hutch. Now a similar thing has happened with Airtel.

I wonder if it is standard industry practice to do this when their revenues flag. Or if it is the same person who did it in Hutch is now in Airtel, doing it again.

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  1. I was actually thinking about shifting from Idea to Airtel but this is making me think again. Isn’t a prepaid card simpler, Navin? This billing seems like awfully fishy business. An aunt of mine got charged horrendous amounts and the lady doesn’t know HOW to SMS.

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