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
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.