It happened a few weeks ago. I was at a meeting in Gurgaon when, in the span of a few hours, I received four, maybe five calls from Vodafone India, asking me if I wanted to switch to its service.
My number has been on the do-not-call registry for some time, but as most victims of telemarketing know, since when does that matter in this country?
That morning in Gurgaon was particularly Kafkaesque, so I tweeted about Vodafone India’s CEO waking up once morning and discovering that he had turned into a giant junk call while he slept. The tweet didn’t help, but someone on my timeline noticed it, forwarded it to Vodafone India, and several hours later, the company took my name off its database. By then, I had received more calls from Vodafone India beseeching me to shift allegiance.
Like most people I know, I hate telemarketing calls (yes, I know Mint’s own marketeers use it to drum up subscriptions, but more on this later), and I have often felt the best way of dealing with this is to publicize the phone numbers of the CEOs of the offending companies. Several months ago, this newspaper capped a series on junk SMSes with an editorial that asked Ratan Tata whether the only solution would be to publicize his phone number and have irate victims bombard him with calls and messages. Tata Teleservices was the worst offender back then, though I am happy to report that the company really seems to have cleaned up its act in terms of selling bulk SMSes to telemarketeers since (an improvement that this newspaper acknowledged in a follow-up story).
On the day I received the calls from Vodafone, I was all set to tweet out the phone number of the company’s CEO. There was one problem; I didn’t have it. Then, if you are the editor of a newspaper, you can get anyone’s number, so I mailed my telecom reporter who, true to form, responded after several hours with the details. By then, the issue had been resolved, and my anger had diminished some.
Otherwise, the company may have sued me as it did Dhaval Valia, a Mumbai resident for, among other offences, publicizing the phone numbers of its senior executives. Mint’s Sapna Agarwal broke the story earlier this week and, while there could well be some merit to the company’s imputation that Valia misbehaved over the phone with some of its female customer service executives, my sympathies are with the individual, not the company. After all, which one of us hasn’t gotten angry with a telemarketeer and either heaped abuse on him/her or, at the least, considered doing so? I stopped getting angry with the callers themselves after some time because I realized it wasn’t their fault. The real culprits are the senior executives of the companies they work for who, judging from the publicly available facts of the Vodafone case, believe that there is one set of rules governing the use of phone numbers of other people, and another set of rules for the use of their own numbers. And the real culprits are the banks, mortgage companies, insurers and telcos with whom we have relationships because it is they (or someone in these organizations) who sell our contact details to telemarketeers.
I have mentioned Vodafone because of my own experience and the Valia case, but I know that this is how all telcos and banks operate. The wife is a longtime Vodafone customer and she has the same complaint about Airtel (my service provider). My driver complains about Idea. And I have issues with Birla Sun Life, HDFC Bank, and Standard Chartered (I only remember recent offenders). Clearly, most companies operating in India do not have consistent telemarketing policies. Which means that if I have not received a call from a certain bank or telco, it is more a function of chance than a foolproof telemarketing policy.
PS: Shortly after my troubles with Vodafone, I called the person in charge of Mint’s telemarketing efforts to understand the extent of our own crimes. She launched into a spirited defence of telemarketing and telemarketeers, abused the regulator’s anti-telemarketing stance, and gave me a valuable piece of advice: never take a call from a number you don’t recognize. She also reassured me that my company didn’t buy databases and, instead, relied on its own. Follow-up questions about the origins of this database, and whether the people who were on it knew they would be approached by telemarketeers, elicited responses that were, at best, vague. Still, you shouldn’t worry if you get a junk call from my company. All you need to do is mail me and I will send you the phone number of the CEO.
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