How Airtel is alienating its premium customers


I am not sure if there is any official terminology, but in my opinion, a premium customer to a telecom company is one who is ready to try their new (and expensive) services, pays bills well within due date, subscribes to ebills & pays bill online (as it saves logistic costs for the company). There may be more criterion, but these are the basic ones in my opinion. By this logic, most software professionals (including me) will be premium customers to the telecom sectors.

If I were running Airtel (or any other company for that matter), I would make sure that I do not piss off my premium customers. However, it looks like Airtel has no interest in retaining such customers. Here are a few examples indicating why I feel this:

Example 1: Annoying non targeted alerts

I am subscribed to Airtel’s 3G data plan which offers me about 3 GB of data per month at a monthly charge of ? 675. Airtel has this check in place for each subscriber, that if their data usage is high, they send SMS to the customer warning them of the same. Now any sane & logical person will apply the check on the percentage of data the customer has used. However, people at Airtel seem to have applied the check on certain pre-defined values. Now, even if I am at 20% of my usage, I start getting annoying messages everyday informing me the same and suggesting me to upgrade my 3G data plan.

The problem is that Airtel seems to have applied the check on usage above certain MBs. This will be fine for most of their subscribers (who subscribe to 500MB to 1GB plans mostly). However, it is super annoying to subscribers of upwards of 2GB plan. Since the number of those subscribers are few, Airtel doesn’t seem to feel the necessity to create a proper alert for them.

Apart from the obvious fix of applying the check on a certain percentage of data usage, another simple solution is to enableĀ USSD based data balance check as they do for prepaid balance check. The least they can do is to enable subscribers to turn off these alerts.

Example 2: Billing issues & awful customer service

I was a subscriber of Airtel’s 8Mbps broadband plan. I recently switched to BSNL due to Airtel’s billing issues & super awful customer service (more on this fiasco in another post). After a few weeks of disconnecting my connection, I got an email from them stating that they “miss me” and that if I re-join their network, as a gesture towards our long standing relationship, they will offer me an “exclusive” bill plan and also “upgrade” my plan to 2Mbps !

Now, if they really miss me and valued the so called “relationship”, I would at least expect them to know what plan I was using and that shoving a 2Mbps plan onto my face and calling it an “upgrade” will just add insult to the injury. They also had the audacity of mentioning that the “offer” is only valid for the next 15 days.

The reason is simple. Airtel lost a lot of its Broadband customers in this period because of the same reasons as mine. Out of these, only a handful would have been the subscribers of plans greater than 2Mbps. Hence, Airtel chose to ignore them and decided to send a generic hardcoded email to all their lost subscribers. It is another example of Airtel not caring about their premium subscribers. After a few days, their twitter account went crazy tweeting the same message every 2 hours and pointing to a web based form where users can register for re-joining the network.

To make matters worse, Airtel doesn’t give any credit to customers who have been paying their bills regularly on time. Imagine how you will feel if you have been diligently paying upwards of 2 – 3k to a service provider and then, due to some billing issue at their end, you pay part of the unjustified bill and they give your number to crappy collection agents who call you every now and then and ask you to pay your dues in the rudest possible way. They fail to understand that someone who has been paying them on time regularly doesn’t usually start defaulting unless there is an issue with their services. In their opinion, their services & billing systems are perfect.

Example 3: Ignoring existing customers

Airtel has multiple plans available. Many plans have the same speed, but different FUP quota. They keep changing these plans. Sometimes, they offer more FUP with same speed for the same price, sometimes, they offer more speed with same FUP at the same price. I can understand that they probably have some really smart market analysts who suggest these changes. However, what Airtel fails to do is inform their existing subscribers that they might get a better plan with the price they have been paying. I am pretty sure most subscribers will be happy to migrate to a new plan if it offers them better value for money. It looks like Airtel doesn’t care once you are onboard their network. They only care about roping in new subscribers.

Example 4: Bad broadband coverage

Another major failure from Airtel is their inability to provide all plans at all locations. I can understand that they might not have the best of the equipments required to handle high speed plans in all locations, but I know a friend who has been trying to upgrade from a 2Mbps plan to a 4Mbps since the last year. Every time he places a request, Airtel performs a feasibility study and then say that they do not have such high speed plan in that area. I am taking about a super posh sector in Noida (Delhi NCR).

I have another friend who has been trying to get his connection shifted to a new address in the same city since the last few months.

I am sure there are more examples.

Airtel seriously needs to do something if they want their brand to have the same level of respect it had a couple of years back. Otherwise, they will keep loosing customers like this.

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