Influence Peddling: Part of Indian Way of Life?

Posted on May 3, 2011


When I turned 40 last year, I promised myself that I will resolutely guard against one habit of middle age – cynicism. Unfortunately, over the past month or so, my resolve has been severly tested. I despair that peddling influence to get work done is now part of the Indian way of life. It is quite likely that working for large organizations and having someone take care of stuff for me has prevented me from realizing this fact earlier but that is cold comfort. I despair not because it was a government agency that gave me the run around; I despair because it was a much adored and admired private, for profit organization that treated me, a paying customer, like dirt. Here’s my story.

6 weeks ago I bought a Rs. 2000/- 3G data service dongle from Airtel. I also signed up for a plan that offered me the use of 600MB worth of bandwidth in a month for Rs. 450/-. Trouble started in a week’s time. I got a text message from Airtel asking for an interim payment of Rs. 500/- or risk disconnection. I called Airtel’s customer service number for explanation. The rep-on-phone agreed that my usage was below the 600MB monthly entitlement but could not explain why I was being asked to make the payment. He promised to have somebody call me back. Nobody did and 24 hours after I got the text message my connection was killed. Repeated calls to the customer service number yielded no answers, just direction to pay Rs. 500/- immediately. Exasperated I trotted to an Airtel office and paid them Rs. 2000/- just so that I didn’t have to make another interim payment later. Thankfully, my connection was restored in about 8 hours. However I still had no explanation why I was required to make an interim payment when my usage was below my monthly entitlement. I then called my friend P who worked for Airtel in the recent past and knew folks. I narrated the entire episode and he agreed to speak to a friend and get me an explanation. Thanks to P’s influence peddling, I did get a call from somebody in Airtel who explained that Airtel monitors my cumulative bandwidth utilization on a daily basis, pro rates it to predict my likely monthly utilization and if that predicted utilization is certain percentage over my entitlement, demands an interim payment. It seemed like a fair explanation; I just wish I got it earlier when I called the support lines. Why did I have to get P to call somebody he knows at Airtel for them to take my question seriously? However, the story doesn’t end here. This was merely a taste of things to come.

When I got my first month’s bill, I realized that I had signed up for the wrong plan and decided to change it. I duly called the support line on 21/Apr and asked for my bill plan to be changed. The customer service rep. took the request and gave me a service request number 37019426. I called back on 28/Apr to check on the status of my request and I got a shock when the rep told me that my service request has been closed without any resolution and he didn’t know who had closed the request and why. I got upset and so he said that he will take another request, this time to be resolved on priority. Now I have a new service request number 37150110 and the resolution date was 2/May. Accordingly I called Airtel customer service on 2/May to check on the status and now the rep tells me that my request to change the plan can not be executed. I asked him why and again he had no answer. I now have no idea what to do next. I really needed to get my plan changed and I didn’t know why Airtel was making it so hard. At my wit’s end, I called my friend P again and asked for help. He laughed at my plight but promised to help. Sure enough in about an hour after I called P, I got a call from Airtel. It was one J who assured me that my request had been executed and that I was now on the new plan I desired. I was stumped. It had been 12 days since I first asked for a change in my plan. I was made to wait for 12 days, given non-answers and here was J who got it done in less than an hour after I had P call him.

It raises several uncomfortable questions:

  • Was I an idiot to have waited for 12 days to get my problem resolved when all I had to do was to get P to peddle some influence?
  • Clearly what I was asking for was simple to execute (J got it done in less than an hour). Is it that folks at Airtel work only on those requests that are backed by one or other influential individual at Airtel?
  • What would I have done if I didn’t know P or if P didn’t know anybody influential at Airtel?

I despair.


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