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When Tata Photon won the “product of the year" award in 2011, I mentally cheered for it. Mobile broadband Internet was not something you took for granted even two years ago, like we do today, so the Photon stopped us from saying “let me reach my office because I am in the car and have no net access." It is also a popular alternative in offices where the local area network is frustratingly slow. But after wowing us at the product level, the time has come for Tata Indicom and other data card companies to grow up a little and look at their services. Here’s how:

Exactly what do you mean?

Market researches fret about how they cannot get accurate responses from customers because culturally Indians don’t like to be direct about what they want. Men are always tearing their hair trying to figure out “what women want" because of the veiled talk that women allegedly engage in. We Tata Photon users sure know how it feels.

When payment is overdue for a Tata Photon device and the service has been cut off, the messages that pop up say, “The remote computer did not respond" or “Modem is not configured properly". What it really wants to say is “Hey customer, you better pay up." But it coyly avoids the point, and says oblique, technical things hoping the user will read between the lines. I learnt this the hard way. When the Photon had just been introduced, I took mine to Mumbai. It wouldn’t work and messages like the ones above kept showing up. I spent many minutes with the call centre, which kept telling me about the technical solutions that I could try -- reboot your system, pull out the Photon and plug it into another socket of the laptop, etc. Nothing worked so, as advised by the wise people on the phone, I went to a Tata Photon service centre, which was located far away from where I was. No one there could help either and I returned to Delhi without using the Photon.

When it still didn’t work back home, I realized it was a payment problem. How much simpler it would have been if the messages that popped up simply said “Your payment is overdue. Your services will be restored as soon as it is made." Now when I see the technical snag messages, I simply smirk and pull out my credit card.

Hari Charan, a user from Chennai, doggedly pursued a complaint about the slow speed of his Photon Plus device for seven months and has written a detailed account about it in the consumer forum Akosha. In the course of his battle, he found that the company’s claim of “speed upto 3.1Mbps" is a ‘spurt speed’ which means that on a good day, in the right locality where connections are good, the device can touch that peak speed. It isn’t the average, as a lay consumer would assume. Words, they can be so misleading.

Payment improvements

To set up an auto debit for any mobile broadband device requires registering by getting a form signed by your bank and then submitting it to an outlet. A fortnight later the debit from your credit card or account is set up. Or sometimes not, as Manish Agarwal, a professor at the Indian Institute of Management-Raipur found out when he tried to set up an auto payment system from his credit card for his Reliance data card unsuccessfully three times. At the back end, the telco connects with the bank and establishes that it’s okay to debit a customer’s account every month for each bill presented. “But the back end in telcos is very weak," Aggarwal comments. “So forms get misplaced or are supposed to be sent in time for the next billing cycle, but are not. In one of my attempts, the bank issued a new credit card, but this information did not flow to the telco, so the auto debit failed."

I haven’t set up one because I will only be able to go through the long process of printing the form, giving to the bank, taking it back and submitting to the outlet when I retire. Surely telcos and banks together can find a way to authenticate the customer and set up an auto payment system online?

Easier call centre options

If one is talking to an agent and wants to return to the interactive voice response (IVR) to make the payment for Tata Photon right then, one can’t. The agent asks you to call again. That’s fairly primitive for the call centre of a smart tech device that has significantly changed our lifestyle. Toggling between IVR and agent has been a feature available in call centre technology for many years now.

Remind us, please!

Paying by credit card through the IVR of a call centre is treading on treacherous terrain. You never know when your call may be cut or you may be sent back where you started. (Or like me, you may be exasperated because your earring keeps touching a wrong digit on a super sensitive touch screen phone.) The point is that callers are already high strung while attempting IVR card transactions. So would call centres taking IVR payments please remind us, right in the beginning, that we need a One Time Password (OTP) to use our credit card. Last week, after many failed attempts, just when I thought I was reaching closure in paying my Tata Photon bill, the voice asked for an OTP. As I hurriedly tried to send an SMS to the bank, the voice ticked me off for not giving any input and hung up on me, leaving me to repeat the exercise.

And please don’t say customers ought to know. Dumb it down for us, the way everything else these days is dumbed down.

Vandana Vasudevan is a Delhi-based writer on urban consumer and civic experiences. Your comments are welcome at

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