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IVR usability and Airtel (India) Call center

Recently, I came to know that Airtel ( Mobile Service provider in India with largest number of mobile subscribers, around 135 millions) charges caller to its mobile subscribers at the Rs. 0.5 per 3 minutes when they call their helpline number ( customer care) and speak to

AIRTEL Charges for speaking customer care


any human agent. The charge starts as soon as some human agent answers the call and the IVR prior to that is not charged. Apart from Airtel, few others telecom/Mobile operators have also started charging customers for speaking to their customer care executive. And they have consent from TRAI ( Telecom Regulatory Authority of India).

I think the logic behind Airtel charging customer for ‘talking’ human agent/customer care executive is to discourage subscribers speaking to human agent and encourage using the ‘self help’ or ‘Do It Yourself’ IVR right from booking any complaints to find out any information about Airtel. This will surely help them reduce ‘human agents’ in their call centers and bringing down cost of operation further. Also, there may have been many spam calls and this kind of charging may help them reduce these spam calls.

But, few questions remain:-
1. Have Airtel/Other mobile operators done any usability tests on their ‘self help IVR System’ ?
2. Have they done any bench marking of IVR abandon within calls ?
3. Is their IVR system can solve any kind of problems faced by their customers ? How about genuine customers who face some genuine and ‘new problems’ IVR does not have menu option for it ?

Though most of the times, the complaints or problems faced by customers are similar and can surely be automated using a well designed IVR which can fetch all data related to the caller, but thinking IVR is sufficient enough to solve all kinds of problems is quite ambitious!

It is true that Indian masses are not educated enough to use IVR for lodging complaints as well as intelligent enough to navigate through the menus provided in any customer care IVR, but in order to force them use of IVR by charging when they opt to speak to human agent too does not look a logical step. Instead of charging customers, Airtel could to usability test on their IVR and find out reasons for abandoning IVR and then try to improve its usability!

Servicing its huge subscribers of more than 135 millions using IVR would have made a good case studies and bench marking of IVR usability. Airtel also provides large number of value added services apart from its basic telephony services, so one can expect its customer care IVR to be quite complex. Apart from this, add 22 languages in 23 circles it operates, to its difficulty!

So, one can expect customer care IVR of Airtel to be quite complex browsing through complex menu options starting with language selection to service selection. But in India, being home to 300 million ( almost equivalent of total population of USA) of illiterate people, it may not be possible to expect them to know their service names which would be announced in IVR menus to choose.

Though I would rate IVR in Airtel customer care to be fairly good, but still, charging customers for speaking to customer care executive is beyond my comprehension. There might be some spam calls though and charging may deter and decrease this kind of spam calls, but it also penalizes the genuine calls/callers.

I have sent an email to Airtel asking about their usability test/benchmarking of IVR. When I get answer, I will update this post.

UPDATE : I got call from Airtel PR department and they had explained that this decision of charging callers for speaking human agent was taken collectively by COAI ( Cellular Operators Association of India ) and approved by TRAI. The charging has started from Feb 2010 only and according to them, all other operators have also started charging and if they have not done so far, then they would do soon.
As for the IVR usability issue, they did not have any data about IVR abandonment and I assume they do not have much idea about IVR usability.
According to them, any further communication regarding this ‘charging for talking to customer care executive’ and IVR usability, COAI is the right organisation and forum to discuss.

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{ 9 comments… add one }
  • Ankit Bhargava June 21, 2010, 11:16 pm

    Do they have option of “customer satisfaction survey” pertaining to the paid customer care immediately after the call ends?

    RCOM does offer this option and despite of my 4 times negative feedback so far no one has bothered to look back and ask.

  • Jacks call answering June 23, 2010, 2:05 pm

    It’s evidence of a poor quality control system. If they aren’t constantly trying to get feedback from their customers then they won’t be able to improve the service for them.

  • Debdeep July 2, 2010, 11:12 am

    Airtel IVRS is very bad, tricky, over and above, their charging policy for human representative is another way of sealing real customers money. I recharged with Rs 500/- without knowing that it was an offer for 1 month validity and the time will not be added to my base time. I noticed it is not deducting from the Rs 500 offer anymore for every call and my base value is reducing. When I tried to call helpline, I lost 30 mins to get a human on line, then it started to charge my call. Afther that person lestening to my problem kept me on hold for another 5 mins so that they can charge me a sufficient amount for the as I am complaining!!!. Then he gave me a time 7 days later my problem will be resolved, which means I can’t call from my mobile for 7 days for their system problem!!! Can you imagine why not I am thinking to change my service provider now?

  • Uttam Pegu July 2, 2010, 11:17 am

    Hi Debdeep,
    Interesting observation :-

    “Afther that person lestening to my problem kept me on hold for another 5 mins so that they can charge me a sufficient amount for the as I am complaining!!!. ”

    I hope Airtel will try to improve their IVR soon.

  • shailendra July 2, 2010, 11:41 am

    Yes, not even airtel, vodafone customer care is also very very poor. I have to wait for 20-25 mins to get human help, It is very hard to get to human help, sometimes i got irritated disconnect call in between.
    1 more thing i want to share with you all, I purchased Airtel Digital TV, when i login to my account online, it is showing my postal address wrong.
    I have sent almost 100 e-mails to Airtel, and scolded the guys of Airtel, but still they did not corrected my address.

    THIS IS HOW WORST CUSTOMER CARE OF AIRTEL…..
    And the worst thing is that they even charge for this WORST SERVICE…..

  • rajnish singh October 15, 2011, 3:44 pm

    no coments

  • Lavanya Sethi February 9, 2013, 3:23 pm

    I have recently bought an airtel 3G dongle and I have been harrased to the extreme point with pathetic speeds. At times it stops downloading and automatically disconnets thereafter refusing to connects for hours and sometimes even for a while day !!
    Customer Care number: 1800 103 0405 is a bogus number. It doesn’t work and after select options 1 (for airtel 3 dongle support), 2 (for english), 1 (for postpaid) it just disconnects.
    I am fed up and with the services and will be taking appropriate action in a few days. Also it has billed me for 5000 + INR when my credit limit itself is lower than 2500 INR. and i find no justification to the billed amount!
    Please, i urge all consumers not to subscribe to airtel 3G services!
    I have even filed a complaint against them on their site as well as here, http://www.consumercourt.in/mobile-services/87223-issues-airtel-customer-care.html at Consumer Court site but so far no action has been taken on this case.I hope i will get the proper solution of my complaint very soon.

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