Thursday, 5 November 2015

BSNL Customer Care – More Scare Than Care

11/05/2015

                “Ideas are easy. Implementation is hard.”
 —Guy Kawasaki

When the feature of Subscriber Trunk Dialling (STD) was introduced in India some four decades ago, the customers had to make numerous attempts to get through one call. Often the experience was testing and tiring. In view of this, some smart aleck gave a witty expansion to the abbreviation STD as Subscribers Trying and Dying.  As technologies kept advancing, the situation improved much and this humorous expansion of STD was forgotten.  Or so I thought. But I realized that BSNL customers would still ‘try and die’ – not dialling STD calls but trying to register a complaint online through its Customer Care portal. And this is the story of my first and last encounter with BSNL customer care portal.


It all started with the falling speed of my BSNL broadband connection. The service plan to which I subscribe should give me a speed @2 Mbps for the first 8 GB of data transactions in a month and @512 Kbps beyond it.  My broadband use is limited to accessing my email accounts and managing my blog, Google and Facebook accounts. By no chance could I run up a volume of 8 GB data a month. Thus, I have been enjoying a speed of 2 Mbps all through the month. But lately I found my connection agonizingly slow. And before making a formal complaint, I decided to confirm my feeling of low speed through a broadband speed test.   



I did a Google search and discovered the link provided by BSNL to test broadband speed online at the ‘BSNL Broadband Speed Tester Portal’ (http://speedtester.bsnl.co.in/). The page that opened had a link ‘Click To Start Speed Test’. That was easy, I thought. No questions… No hassles... I clicked the link. Another page with a message appeared on the screen. It read, ‘Conducting bandwidth tests. It may take a few seconds to exchange payload’. (Payload?  The operation sounded more like the launching of a guided missile, rocket or torpedo!)

In a moment’s time, the test result appeared on the page. It said. ‘Your current bandwidth reading (in Mega bits per second) is: 0.00 kbps. The tool obviously was defective. My connection was slow, but certainly not as slow as 0.00 kbps. I did another Google search. This time I found another speed tester provided again by BSNL at http://218.248.245.5/initialmeter_slow.php I clicked the link.  The look, feel and messages that appeared on this portal were exactly similar to the previous one. The system did the ‘payload’ exchanges. I waited expectantly. Lo and behold! The test result came in through a message that said, ‘Your current bandwidth reading (in Mega bits per second) is: 90.30 kbps’.    

I should say something about the speed tester portal before turning to my attempts at resolving the speed issue of my connection. I am afraid that the developers had paid little attention to the script displaying the result of the speed test. The static part of the message reads as follows: ‘Your current bandwidth reading (in Mega bits per second) is:' A broadband connection does not necessary have bandwidth in Megabits per second. In fact, the initial definition of a broadband was a connection with a minimum data speed of 256 kbps. This was subsequently revised to 512 kbps. Bulk of the BSNL broadband connections operate with plans offering a speed of 512 kbps to 2 Mbps.

The output message would become confusing when the speed tested is below one Mbps. For instance, assume that the speed as measured by the system is 550.35 Kbps. This would generate the message, ‘your current bandwidth reading (in Mbps) is 550.35 kbps. (Incidentally, Megabit is a single word and not two separate words as appearing at the portal).

Turning to the test result of my broadband speed. At 90.30 Kbps, the speed was roughly one-twentieth of the speed to which I was entitled as per my service plan. I decided to lodge a complaint. Since I mostly worked online, it was easier for me to register an online complaint rather than suffering the agonies of traversing IVRS maze. (Besides. I avoid phone conversations since it often ends up in bitter quarrels). I was already a registered user at the BSNL portal (http://portal.bsnl.in). So, lodging a complaint online should be cakewalk, I thought.    

When I tried to connect to http://portal.bsnl.in, I was automatically redirected to another address (http://portal2.bsnl.in/myportal/).  I glanced through the page and realized that it had undergone some major changes since my last visit. Overall, the page appeared more appealing than the previous one.  

I signed into the portal using my username and password previously registered with it.  Once inside, the system sought extra details to facilitate the migration of my account from the old system to the newly mint system. The first field I had to enter was my Customer id. I did not know it. In any case, it was too lengthy a number for most people to carry in their heads. Thankfully, the portal informed me that I could obtain it from my phone bill.  

I did not have a phone bill close at hand. I knew that the portal itself must have been holding some of my recent bills. I looked for a way to get it. I clicked the menu item ‘Land Line’ followed by its sub-item ‘Postpaid Accounts’ and its sub item ‘Individual/FTTH Bills’. The portal was displaying the numbers of both my landline connections.  I clicked on the phone number over which the broadband was riding.

A summary information on the last bill appeared on the right half of the screen. Account number and bill number were there. But there was no Customer id/Unique Id. A message at the bottom in extremely small print said, ‘For detailed billing information, please use ‘View Bills’ option’. Somehow, I had missed it in my hurry. I just could not understand why Customer Id was not part of the bill information displayed.

But I had no time to waste on higher thoughts. I had to get some previous bill. Then I remembered that I was receiving my phone bills by email. I opened a new tab, logged into my email account and located the last bill. I noted down the Customer Id and hurried back to the BSNL portal.  But it had already timed out.

I logged into the portal once again and entered the Customer Id and other information that the portal sought. It said that the username of the new system would be my mobile number, email id or the username of the previous system (How does it help having no fixed username Sir?). I decided to retain my old username and password.  But the system would not accept the old password since it did not fit the password specifications of the new system. I modified the password and my account was eventually migrated successfully to the new system.  I thought I was finally ready to register my service complaint. But I was downright wrong.

I scanned the menu, located the item ‘Book Complaints’ and clicked it. Another drop-down menu appeared asking me whether the complaint was with regard to Landline/FTTH, GSM, WiMax, CDMA or Pre-paid Mobile. Again, the portal just did not have the intelligence to understand that I had only my Landlines registered with it.

Since I had no choice ‘but to do and die’, I clicked the ‘Landline/FTTH’ option.  Another selection ‘Before Payment/ After Payment’ was presented. At this point it struck me that ‘Book Complaints’ item actually meant ‘Book Billing Complaints’. I had no billing complaints. But just out of curiosity, I clicked the option ‘After Payment’.  

A list with Radio Buttons appeared. The first item read, ‘Previous Paid Amount is included in the Current bill’.  I selected this and got the following message on the screen. “If the present outstanding bill is including with the past bill, please contact your accounts officer for rectification. However, if you wish to pay the bill, the excess amount paid will be adjusted in the next bill automatically …blah…blah”. 

Now, I do not understand what is meant by “If the present outstanding bill is including with the past bill”. Perhaps, what was intended was something like this. ‘If the amount payable on the current bill includes dues related to bills already paid, please contact the Accounts Officer concerned’. So much for the attempts of BSNL in ensuring user-friendly language.

Another problem with the advice was that the Accounts Officer often sits some fifty or even hundred kilometers away at the SSA headquarters.  Why should BSNL advise a customer to waste his day to go and meet the Accounts Officer?  Is it rocket science to capture the specific details of payments already made and pass it on to the Accounts Officer?  Why should not the system allow the customer to click a button to send an appropriate message to the Accounts Officer enabling the AO’s office to call back the customer to obtain further details, if any it needed? Or at least, why is the customer directed to the AO and not to the nearest Customer Service Center?

I cannot help observing that people in BSNL are still living in the 20th century. They should know that after the rolling out of the CDR based OSS/BSS (Operation Support System/Business Support System) the Technical and Finance functions related to services no more remain separated in to two watertight compartments. There is considerable overlapping and flexibility. I do not know whether the portal is directly integrated with the CDR system. If it were, the portal activities would have been directly notified to both Engineering and Accounts personnel.

Incidentally, standalone systems employing outdated technologies have been the bane of BSNL. It was hoped that the CDR system and an ERP system integrated to it would be the only two Management Support systems operating in BSNL. Unfortunately, this does not seem to be the reality on the ground.  For instance, take the case of ‘Leased Lines’ which is high income and ARPU business segment for BSNL. God alone knows how many different systems were created and how much money was spent in the past by BSNL to deal with the management and billing of this service. It was hoped that CDR system would be the final solution for all services. However, I understand that ‘leased lines’ service is not dealt with through the CDR system but through some other crude system independent of the CDR system.

I hope that someone would seriously look into the CDR implementation agreements to assess the extent to which the requirements as per agreements have been fulfilled in actual execution. And just wait and see how fast the CDR based system would be besieged by primitive non-standard systems since people have vested interests in keeping things in an utter mess. Also, it would be revealing to conduct an inquiry into the amount of money spent on IT system development and implementation in BSNL. Systems were procured and either not used or where discarded in a matter of months. I believe that IT system costs are one huge expense item that has been bleeding BSNL white.

The curse of BSNL has been an over-abundance of technology experts. I hope that BSNL would disband all its in-house software development groups (if they still exist) where talent badly needed on its core functions are simply wasted or are self-groomed for seeking greener pastures outside. (This is more or less the case with its plethora of training centres). For instance, does the BSNL management really know how many ‘Inventory Management’ systems have been developed internally and also bought from local vendors and how much money went down the drain on it? It would not be an exaggeration to say that BSNL could have purchased a dozen Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems with the money it invested on the silly solutions it developed in-house or bought from outside.  In-house solution development endeavours and local non-standard systems were relevant 15-20 years ago. A modern organization simply cannot afford the luxuries of such experimentation. It needs systems of international standards.

Returning to the story of my adventures on the booking of broadband complaint, I left the ‘Book Complaint’ page. It was clear that the portal offered no facility to ‘book’ billing complaints. At best, it was a poor attempt at FAQ. Even at that level, it was not an easy one to traverse.  

I returned to the main menu and looked for an item on booking a service complaint. And there it was – ‘Customer Care’. Interestingly, it was the last item on the menu. (Speaks volumes about how serious is Customer Care for BSNL). I clicked it. I was taken to another website (http://www.bsnl.in/customer-care.html). I found a rectangle with the label ‘Complaint Booking’ in big fonts on it. Underneath it was the names of the services viz.
LANDLINE/BROADBAND/GSM/CDMA. I clicked LANDLINE. I selected my State and was asked to login.

As a registered user at the BSNL portal, I entered my username and password.  The system threw an error message saying that password was wrong. I knew that the password was right and tried again receiving the same error message. Then truth dawned on me that the problem may be that the customer care portal might not recognize the payment portal registration. I needed another registration for the customer care portal.

I clicked ‘User Registration’.  The registration form popped up. I entered the details starting with Customer Id/Unique Id once again. I tried to use the same username of the (payment) portal. It would not accept it. The rejection had nothing to do with the username already existing in the system. The rejection was because the customer care portal has system prescribed specifications for username (like there must be at least one alphabet and one numeral etc…). To make a long story short, after considerable struggle, I was successfully registered with the customer care portal.   Hallelujah!

Now, I could not find a link to register service complaints on the home page of this portal (http://selfcare.sdc.bsnl.co.in). I tried clicking the menu item ‘Service’. A page opened and to my immense thrill, the first item on this page was ‘Submit a Complaint’. The message underneath the link said, “Are you unable to make calls or hear clearly…for solutions to all your service problems, just submit a complaint”. Look at BSNL’s idea of a telephone complaint. I wonder why BSNL did not limit the description to just the second part…

I clicked the ‘Submit a Complaint’ link. A page carrying the heading, ‘My Service Complaints’ popped up. Great! The first item to enter was ‘Service Id’. I was stuck once again. I had no idea what ‘Service Id’ was. On the registration page, I was asked to provide Customer Id/ Unique Id. On this page, I have to provide Service Id. I once again glanced through the bill available online. I could not find any item matching the description ‘Service Id’. In fact, the bill had only Customer Id and not even Unique Id.  

Since I knew only Customer Id, I entered it. The moment I left the field, the screen refreshed and the entry vanished. After several attempts, I left the Service Id item blank and moved to the next item ‘Complaint Type’. I had to choose one of the two options displayed. One was ‘Technical’ and the other ‘Billing’. I chose Technical and the screen suddenly banked out. A message appeared which said: 

‘The page at selfcare.sdc.bsnl.co.in says: Your session timed out because you were idle for too long. Please login again to continue’.

That was reasonable. But there was second part to the message that read:
‘If you had Seibel attachment open, your changes may have been lost. Please save the file locally save it and reattach it to the appropriate record’.
What on earth did that mean? No idea… No idea… No idea…

I once again logged in to enter the portal. This time I went straight to the second item ‘Complaint Type’ and selected the sub-option ‘Technical’. The next item on the page was ‘Complaint Sub Type’. I clicked the arrow underneath the item. A little field in blue appeared. It was a dummy. There were also other items on the page like Service Type, First Name, Last Name etc. that neither sought nor displayed corresponding values.

There were two blank text entry spaces to record the complaint. The first part was ‘Summary’ and the other ‘Description’.  In the Summary rectangle, I typed in ‘Low broadband speed’ and in the ‘Description’ space a couple of lines explaining my broadband speed problem.  I did not supply the ‘Service Id’ for fear of the page going blank.  If the value was in error it should have said so at the first instance and helped the user get the right value. I decided to test my luck with the Service Id column blank.  

I looked for the ‘Submit’ button. I expected it to appear somewhere at the end of the page. It was not there. I eventually located it squeezed underneath the page heading. I do not know how many page designers would put the ‘Submit/Cancel’ option almost as part of the page heading. I clicked the submit button. For once, I was happy receiving the following message, “OM00116: Service Id is a required field. Please enter the value”. And for once, the page was not blanked out.  

I entered the Customer Id in the Service Id column. With my heart racing and hand trembling, I moved the cursor to the submit button and clicked.  The page shuddered for a moment and refreshed wiping out everything I had entered. I found the following message on the top of the screen. Wrong field values or value types detected in field Service Id <font color=red><b>*</b></font>. Please re-enter your field values. If you need additional assistance, please refer to the documentation (SBL-UIF-00299)”.  

My foot! That was unmitigated insanity...   

At this stage, I decided to seek some ‘additional assistance’ from the system. I pressed the help button. A page opened. At the very bottom of the list of help items, I found the link, ‘Contacting Us’. I clicked it. I had two options. One was ‘Finding Contact Information’. The other was ‘Submitting Feedback’. I clicked the former and another page appeared. It carried the same two links ‘Finding Contact Information’/ ‘Submitting Feedback’. I clicked the first link. Nothing happened. I clicked the second link. Again, nothing happened. I glanced down the page and found some text under the above headings.

There were no Phone/Fax numbers or email ids under the heading ‘Finding Contact Information’. There was no mention of ‘BSNL’ anywhere on the page. It was clear case of copy/paste…

The following items were listed under the heading ‘To find contact information’:

1.   Navigate to the Contact Us page.
2.   Click the hyperlink for the communication channel that you want to use.
3.   Follow the on-screen instruction.

I navigated to the ‘Contact Us’ page.  The page had two items. The first one was ‘Selfcare Portal Help’. I clicked it. Nothing happened.  The second item read, ‘Dataone Broadband’. I clicked this too with the same result. I wondered when the page was last updated. For instance, ‘Dataone’ is no more the brand id of BSNL Broadband service. Similarly, its Mobile Phone service is, perhaps, not ‘Cellone’ any more.  

I looked at the Copyright information. It said the solution is copyrighted to Oracle Corporation. Holy Cow! Sorry, ‘Cow’ could be a dangerous term to use in these times in my country. Holy Christ! Could Oracle Corporation produce garbage like this? I am sure that BSNL must have paid through its nose for this sickening solution.

I was too exhausted to go any further with my experiments with BSNL portal. I was more or less convinced that BSNL created its customer care portal simply because it was fashionable to do so.  Customer tries it. Finds it does not work. He tries again. Some go mad trying. Some die trying. Some others like me quit at the nick of time and save themselves from serious harms…

---------------

Tail Piece

This morning, I measured the speed of my broadband connection. The reading showed 3.6 Mbps! Really! But, my connection was supposed to have a maximum speed of just 2 Mbps. Well…That is BSNL. Truly, “BSNL Best Hai Mere Liye”.  

PS
I have since been told by a friend that Service Id is actually the phone number! When would BSNL start speaking plain English?

Read more articles by the author here

Editor SKN Achari

A blogger from God’s own country, thinking about various things and speaking loudly about what he have learned and observed. And acting as one man Army against corruption and mismanagement.

2 comments:

  1. Your blog provided us with valuable information to work with. Thanks a lot for sharing. Keep blogging.

    soundboss car stereo player

    ReplyDelete
  2. Very informative and detailed narrative. Hope someone looks at it and improves the processes///

    ReplyDelete

 

© 2015 Speak Post. All rights resevered to The Publisher Speak

Back To Top