When I used to live in India in Pune, India until a few months ago, I had faced a tough time getting a broadband connection at my home in Kalyaninagar. Around six months ago, I had written a letter to a magazine about my experience. I am giving below an extract from this letter.
I recently relocated to London, where I live in the Docklands area.
When I saw a spate of ads from different broadband providers (Sky, BT, Virgin-NTL, Tiscali and AOL, to new a few), I assumed that the customer would be king in such a competitive market.
Alas, that is not to be! From connections not provided for months on end, to days of downtime, I’ve already heard many horror stories during my short stay of just over a month.Â
Which made me really wonder how much of a king the customer is in the broadband market.
After I went through the process of opening my bank account, I’m beginning to wonder if the customer is king in any market!
I first went to the branch of a Global Top 5 bank situated near its EMEA headquarters in Canary Wharf. Citing shortage of manpower, the customer relations representative told me they were no longer able to open accounts in 2-3 days, it would take at least one week. After a week, there was no sign of my account being opened. My telephone calls and emails to the customer service representative went unanswered. I gave up after waiting for more than two weeks and went to the Canary Wharf branch of another Global Top 5 bank situated at the basement of its global headquarters. I was pleasantly surprised to walk out of the branch in 45 minutes with my account details and the welcome pack!
I was shocked at the drastically different service levels between these two banks, both of whom belong to the club of top five banks in the world.Â I was immediately reminded about my observation around a year ago when I used to live in India: the call center hours of a leading Indian private bank were actually shorter than the branch timings of another leading private bank (which had virtually 24/7 call center operations)! Both these banks are amongst India’s Top 3 private banks.
Free market practitioners forever hold that the customer is king in a competitive market. According to them, competition will force all players to offer similar products and similar service levels at similar price points, or otherwise face extinction.Â
With my aforesaid experience with telecom companies and banks, not just in emerging markets but also in first world economies, I wonder how true this notion is.
Maybe, there’s nothing wrong with free markets … only the notion that customer is king is flawed? Maybe, the customer really doesn’t want to be king?
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