Showing posts with label Mobile. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mobile. Show all posts

Thursday, 5 November 2015

BSNL Customer Care – More Scare Than Care

                “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’ ( 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 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 ( So, lodging a complaint online should be cakewalk, I thought.    

When I tried to connect to, I was automatically redirected to another address (  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 ( 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 ( 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 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”.  

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

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

What is Killing BSNL? - An Inquiry

“If you want something you’ve never had, you must be willing to do something you’ve never done.”
-Thomas Jefferson

My mobile phone rings. I am inside the house. I grab the phone and run out. It is the only way I can hope to connect with the caller. Outside I press the ’Answer’ button and shout ‘hello’. I hear nothing from the other end. I look at the phone screen. It shows ‘connected’. I disconnect and return the call. A recorded message tells me that the mobile number does not exist. I make another attempt. This time the message on my screen says, 'Radio Path Unavailable'. I do not go back into the house but wait for the caller to make another attempt. He does. The phone rings. This time we are fortunate. We speak for a few seconds. Suddenly, the line goes quiet. The call drops. It is an important call. I continue my wait outside. After two or three more call drops and muttered curses, we finish the call. Night or day, rain or shine, every time my mobile rings, this happens. I am a BSNL mobile customer…

Some time back, I read in the Hindu daily a news item on call drops and network problems faced by BSNL mobile customers in Kerala. It quoted a senior executive of BSNL saying that the Circle was taking steps to mitigate the problems by upgrading systems and installing more towers.  However, the same report carried the response of another BSNL executive saying that there was nothing wrong with the network and everything was hunky dory. I wonder why this guy is so utterly oblivious of the can of worms on which he sits.

“Why can’t they eat cake?” asked Marie Antoinette, the last queen of France, when the starving millions of France cried for bread. The aftermath was the French Revolution (1787-1799) and the brutal killing of the queen. In January this year, BSNL lost a whopping 12.37 lakh mobile phone customers. In March 2015, the surrender figure was 3.7 lakh.  This was against nearly one crore mobile phones added to the system that month by other service providers. Does the company really have grasp of the ground realities?

This post seeks to take a brief review of the reasons and realities of the present sorry state of affairs in BSNL.

The Amazing Story of Indian Telecom

The Telephone came into existence on March 10, 1876, thanks to five years of painstaking research by its inventor Alexander Graham Bell. In India, the first manual telephone exchange came up in Kolkata in 1882. Nothing spectacular happened for the next one hundred odd years. In 1994, India had just eighty lakh telephone connections with twenty-five lakh people in the waiting list. The tele-density (number of telephones per population of 100) stood at 0.80% against the global average of 10%. 

The Department of Telecommunication was the nation's sole telecom service provider. Fixed line was the technology available.  Then National Telecom Policy of 1994 changed he scene. Government monopoly over telecom ended with the entry of private players. The New Telecom Policy of 1999 triggered a dream run for the Indian Telecom. Indian Telecom grew surpassing the most ambitious forecasts. As at the close of March 2015, the number of telephone connections in India stood at 99.65 Crore (Wireless: 96.99; Wire line: 2.66).  India’s overall tele-density reached 79.38 (Wireless: 77.26; Wire line: 2.12). The country has achieved a one hundred-fold increase in its tele-density in just fifteen years.  This became possible thanks mainly to the entry of mobile technology.

With several big private players in the market, competition in the telecom sector soon turned aggressive. The Department of Telecom became just one of the operators competing for market share. With the proclaimed objective of making the Department of Telecom more autonomous and efficient to meet the challenges from the private operators, the government converted the Telecom Services arm of the Department into a Company. Thus, Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) took birth on October 1, 2000. The expectations were huge. The fanfare was rousing. Unfortunately, fifteen years later the glamour has disappeared and the applauses have died down.  Today, BSNL is not even a major player in the Indian Telecom arena…

The Dismal Story of BSNL

Six months after its creation, BSNL had a market share of 77.73%. This meant that nearly 78 out of 100 telephone connections in the country were with BSNL as on 31.03.2001.  All the private players together then shared the remaining 22 connections out of a 100.  Things looked quite promising for the state-run company.

However, by 30.09.2012, the overall market share of BSNL had tanked to just 12.90%. By this time the private telecom service providers increased their market share from 22/100 connections as on 31.03.2001 to a whopping 87/100.  Mobile (Wireless) technology had more or less driven out fixed line connections from the scene. However, in the wireless segment, BSNL had a market share of just around 11%. The company was way behind its competition. 

BSNL management did nothing effective to arrest the downslide. By 31.03.2015, the overall market share of BSNL shrunk to 9.39%. Its share in the wireless segment was a mere 7.96%. In other words, BSNL mobile system connected only a measly eight out of a hundred mobile phones in the country. It has been great fall for the company.

Its steady fall in market share is reflected in BSNL’s financial performance data. The company is sinking more and more into the red. A cursory review of the historical profit and loss data of the company indicates the serious financial troubles into which it is steading slipping.

Financial Year
 Profit/Loss    (Rs. Crore)
(-) 1823
(-) 6384
(-) 8851
(-) 7884
(-) 7085

The sad reality is that while India has been celebrating its huge telecom success, the state-run company steadily went downhill… 

What is killing BSNL?

It is not easy to answer the question. Its failure is the consequence of the interplay of many complex issues. I have neither enough information nor the requisite expertise to deal with those issues. In any case, it is beyond the scope of a blog post. Nevertheless, I seek to discuss briefly three major factors, which, I believe, have substantially contributed to the present ills of this public sector monolith.  

1.      Political Interference

The avowed purpose of converting a wing of a government department to a government company was to grant the organization more autonomy. The government told that corporatization would equip the outfit with the professionalism needed to meet competitions in the market place. However, such pious declarations changed nothing on the ground.

Telecom was turning into a critical infrastructure and a driver of development. Amazing technologies and solutions leveraging on telecom were emerging. The market and the monies involved were mindboggling. Telecom was a treasure trove. No politicians would resist the lure of a share in this mouth-watering pie. So BSNL never had the freedom to operate as a business enterprise. It mostly danced to the tune of its political masters. More often than not when the politicians asked them to sit, the officials simply crawled.
Irrespective what they put out for public consumption, the loyalties of the politicians have seldom been with the state-run company.  Many a time they took decisions that seriously damaged the interests of this public enterprise. Often extraneous considerations drove decisions. For instance, mobile technology was the harbinger of telecom revolution. BSNL was ready to launch mobile service for the first time in the country. As the pioneer and a government company, it deserved the chance to do so.  However, the Minister would not give the green signal. The launch remained on hold.  While BSNL waited, a private telecom operator rolled out the service and captured the market. It took something like a year for the Minister to give the go ahead. The public response was huge. In many locations, the authorities had to call police to control the mammoth crowds that gathered to get a BSNL mobile connection. Sadly, that public enthusiasm would soon turn into public resentment.  

The political leadership blocked tenders, stalled equipment procurements and often, imposed unviable technologies and out-dated equipment on the organization. Politicians often had their private interests. While BSNL waited for the nod of the politicians, its competitors worked with frenzy to capture the market. We had a Minister who allegedly had whole telephone exchange installed in his business premises for its exclusive use. Another acted as if the whole telecom ministry was his personal property to be shared at his whim and fancy with his chums. The heart of the politician was seldom in the right place. If BSNL now finds itself in the doldrums, the responsibility should substantially rest with the political leadership, irrespective of their rhetoric and the colour of their party-flags.

2.      Management Incompetency

Charles Darwin wrote, “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change”. Just as the ecology in which an organism lives undergoes constant changes, the environment in which an organization operates too experiences incessant changes. Survival depends on the speed and efficiency with which the organization anticipates and responds to such changes. Those failing would simply perish - be it an organism or an organization.

Corporatization led to no positive changes within the organization. The company continued to operate in its old bureaucratic ways.  The management had no skills or experience in running a commercial outfit in an environment of intense competition. Many were not adequately qualified to deal with the new challenges. They were experts in running a government department through its archaic processes and procedures. The people were hardened in their outlooks and attitudes after being long in their cozy and opulent ‘Public Servant’ cocoons to attempt to break out and face the discomfiting world of business and its staggering challenges.

In addition to the problem of lethargy and the lack of business acumen, BSNL had to keep almost its entire higher management personnel on some kind of ‘neither here nor there’ basis. The Indian Telecom Service (ITS) officers declined to get absorbed as company employees. The government retained them in BSNL on deemed deputation. The then Telecom Minister had told the media that the ITS officers had five years to make a final decision on whether to get absorbed or get out. Now after fifteen years, those still in service continue to be ‘neither here nor there’. The ham-handed manner in which the authorities dealt with the Human Resource issues left so much of bad blood and confusion within the organization that it has long ceased to exist as a cohesive unit driven by a common purpose. Ownership and accountability became the casualties. The so-called external consultants roped in at enormous costs to suggest ways and means of improving matters, impressed all with their bewildering jargon and crispy business suits.  They pocketed their hefty fees and went away, leaving BSNL in more disarray. 

While BSNL wasted its attention and energies on superfluous issues, it ignored the reality of the environment around it changing. Government policies were changing, regulatory mechanisms were changing, competitions were changing, technologies were changing, the economic outlooks and structures were changing, customer needs and aspirations were changing… Those changes did not wait for BSNL to learn the ropes or settle its internal squabbles. The ground was fast slipping from underneath its feet while the management remained blissfully ignorant or unconcerned. 

3.      Knee-Jerk Decisions

Data is critical and precious for any organization. It is more so for business. Every business worth its salt relies on data to reach decisions. One wonders whether BSNL uses data analysis as a tool to support decisions. Individual notions and fancies seem to drive critical decisions in BSNL. Someone somewhere suddenly gets a brain wave and lo and behold, a decision is born.

Also, BSNL does not seem to realize that the price tag does not necessarily determine customer loyalty. Products from Apple Computers often have the highest price tag. Yet it enjoys the highest demand and customer trust. BSNL should wake up to the reality that serious telecom service users do not seek cheaper service. For such users, network availability and service quality are more critical. They would pay higher prices for better service and customer care.  Only such customers bring in the moolah. Marginal users would put up with bad service for its lower costs. They hardly make any positive difference to the bottom line.
BSNL provides the cheapest service. Yet its customers are not inclined to stick with it. As the company keeps losing customers, it goes on reducing tariff or granting discounts and freebies. Its revenues further dip leaving little to be invested in ensuring quality of service. As quality declines, more high-end customers leave. The whole process turns into a vicious circle. Being cheaper often ends up hurting the long-term prospects of the business. However, for reasons best known to it, BSNL continues with its destructive ways.

The latest in this series of concessions offered by the company for its landline customers is, ‘unlimited free calls to any network and anywhere in the country’.  From May 1, 2015, this facility became available from nine in the night to seven in the morning.  Let us remember that the company has been in the red for the last six years in a row. In the landline segment, the company had recorded a loss of Rs.14,979 crore in 2013-2014. (The overall loss of Rs. 7085 crore for that year is the net after setting off the profit from mobile and other services). The story was no different during the previous years.  The losses were Rs. 13,445 crore in 2012-2013 and Rs. 12,669 crore in 2011-2012.
The offer of free calls may look irrational for many. However, the company considers it a big success. The head of a telecom district recently said that his unit received requests for 3000 new landlines. It has already provided 500 new connections. And he pats himself in the back for it! Would someone disclose the amount spent by BSNL  just for setting up those connections? What would be the net earnings from those connections?  Had anyone done a Cost-Benefit analysis or an appraisal of the Return on Investment? What is the basis on which BSNL concludes that it is a financially prudent decision?  BSNL should perhaps look back and see what it achieved by such concessions and freebies in the past.  Had lower tariff and freebies brought bonanzas for BSNL, it would not have found itself in such dire straits today.

Let us look at some relevant data on the landline business of BSNL. The number of landline connections BSNL had as on 31.03.2015 was just 1.66 crore. In the year 2013-2014, the average number of fixed phones were around two crore. The company had lost nearly Rs.15,000 Crore for servicing those landlines. A simple calculation shows that BSNL lost roughly Rs.7500/- per every landline connection in 2013-2014. The landline service is bleeding the company white. Any other service provider would have tried to cut down costs, increase tariff or shutdown the segment. Euripides   had rightly said, "Those whom God wishes to destroy, he first deprives of their senses."

While I hate to burden the reader with more statistics, it is necessary that we look at one more piece of data. The statistics for March 2015 released by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) shows that with a market share of 19.03%, BSNL ranks at No.3 in the Broadband segment. The operators higher in rank are Bharati (22.19%) and Vodafone (19.53%). Interestingly, BSNL has almost one crore (99.6 lakh) broadband connection over its 1.66 crore landlines. (Assuming wired broadband connections are riding on land phone connections). However, it has only 89.20 lakh broadband connections over its 7.72 crore mobile connection. In other words, 60% of BSNL landlines have broadband over it while only less than 12% of its mobile customers have broadband. It looks that there is substantial demand for broadband over fixed line. This being the reality, the company should be  increasing the tariff for ‘voice alone’ landlines rather than offering discounts. Let 'voice alone' customers either surrender their connections or opt for broadband over it. For the future, BSNL should adopt a policy that it would give landline connections along with broadband only. Would BSNL dare it? Would the political leadership permit it? Your guess is as good as mine.


Recently I encountered a problem with some transactions related to my account with the State Bank of India. I went to their website looking for their complaint redressal mechanism and found a simple document. I wrote a complaint and sent it to an email id found in the document. To my disbelief, I received an interim reply within hours. My complaint was resolved to my total satisfaction within 24 hours. And a senior officer wrote to me regretting the inconvenience caused to me. I never received such prompt responses even from the so-called new generation private banks. No wonder State Bank of India remains one of the most trusted Indian brands.

Now, here is an instance of my experience with BSNL. Sometime back, a friend told me that his landline was dead. He had complained. When nothing happened, he went and met the local Sub Divisional Engineer. Then he wrote to the Divisional Engineer, General Manager and the Chief General Manager. Weeks and months passed. Nothing happened. He asked me whether I would help.  I drafted a complaint and asked my friend to send it by email to the ids I found at the BSNL website. We waited for weeks. Nothing happened. None bothered to respond. Months went by. Phone bills continued to arrive. In spite of the dead phone, he paid them all. Eventually, it so happened that there was a marriage of a girl in the neighbourhood. The bridegroom was a BSNL employee. The couple came to my friend’s home to seek his blessings. He then told the ‘just married’ BSNL boy about the problem with his phone. He went outside and opened the internal cable termination point. He found the wire broken. He reconnected the wire and the phone came alive. (I hope the situation has since improved after the commencement of complaint booking through the IVR system).

I have mentioned my contrasting experiences just to emphasis the criticality of customer care. BSNL still suffers from its ‘Sarkari’ hangover to realize that it is running a business and it cannot hope to survive without ensuring prompt and effective customer care. The Telecom Minister recently said that BSNL would become profitable by the year 2018. I hope this would happen. I hope the Minister already has the blueprint for turning the company around. I also hope that the Minister is aware of the plethora of reports given by celebrated committees constituted in the past to recommend ways of improving the performance of the company, long gathering dust in his ministry.

Irrespective of what the Minister would do, or the committees had recommended, matters simply would not improve in BSNL without drastic internal changes. The attitude of people has to change. The organizational culture has to change. Ownership and accountability must become imperative. There must be a recalibration of priorities. The company should make customer its focal point. It should wind up unviable operations and projects. The organization as whole must become leaner and meaner.  Also, there must be budgetary support for activities undertaken and concessions offered on the behest of political leadership. (An SMS I received some time back says that there would be no charges for incoming calls while roaming thanks to the dynamic leadership of the present Prime Minister. Would the government compensate the consequent revenue loss suffered by BSNL?)

Let me now close. Louis Gerstner Jr. is a globally renowned CEO who had saved the computer giant IBM from the verge of collapse. In his international best seller, ‘Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance’, he recounts his struggles to turn around the company. He believed that IBM needed a new outlook and  organizational culture. He lists eight principles, which he tried to enforce as the underpinnings of IBM’s new culture.

I list those principles below since I believe that more than anything else, what BSNL needs today is a change in its organizational culture.

1.     The market place is the driving force behind everything we do.
2.     At our core, we are a technology company with an overriding commitment
        to quality.
3.     Our primary measures of success are customer satisfaction and
        shareholder value.
4.     We operate as an entrepreneurial organization with a minimum of
        bureaucracy and a never ending focus on productivity.
5.     We never loose sight of our strategic vision.
6.     We think and act with a sense of urgency.
7.     Outstanding, dedicated people make it all happen, particularly when they
        work together as a team.
8.     We are sensitive to the needs of the employees and to the communities
        in which we operate.
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