Sunday, 21 June 2015

The Akosha Way - Customer Complaints in India

Being a customer in India is not an enjoyable experience. At its best you can be mildly amused with the service offered to you (think about the staff at those multinational shit-food chains). At its worst it can be a traumatising experience that scars you for life (think of the auto-wallah in Bangalore as a north Indian)!

Why do Indians on one side of the table have this remarkable propensity of treating their fellow human on the other side as a sub-human? We have a saying here in our country - 'Atithiti Devo Bhava', which loosely translates into the saying that a guest in your home should be treated like a god (and not a dog). If we equate a customer visiting your premise as a sort of guest, then following Indian values, a customer should be treated respectfully at the very least.

However, something is amiss when a large number of Indian customers are writing negative reviews about organisations on the internet. I would also like to join this list. But I am not going to write about any company but rather a company which claims to work towards resolving customer complaints.

This company is called Akosha. Akosha is a very well-funded startup. It recently got Rs. 100 crores funding from one of those airhead investors incubating India's desi version of "dot com bubble"

Akosha is a company which at the outset sought to 'help' redress customer grievances against errant Indian companies which overcharged and duped its customers (read telecom companies and others). It receives a lots of complaints daily; more than a thousand by its reckoning and it claims a 61% resolution rate, as per its CEO on quora (http://goo.gl/VgYFj0i), which does not seem too shabby.

I learned about Akosha from a friend and visited its site (http://www.akosha.com/) to verify its tall claims. Its website has the usual photos of ordinary looking models with attached quotes that claimed that getting your problem resolved by Akosha is a super, fantabulous, awe-inspiring and an orgasmic experience. The concept is simple. A customer has a problem with a brand. Maybe his telecom company (again) has overcharged him or his swadeshi mobile made with Chinese parts (read Micromax) has malfunctioned. You register your complaint with Akosha. They take the complaint to the company sparing you the hassle of calling up a customer care number. If that doesn't work out they "help" you file a complaint in a consumer forum.

So it all sounds well and fun. What could be wrong with this model. The consumer sidesteps hours of pain and Akosha makes some money by being the mediator. What could be wrong? Then I came across another Akosha site, conveniently named as Akosha OneDirect (http://www.onedirect.in/). Kindly note that there is no Akosha in the URL. Maybe they are aware that this page would blow away their cover as a benign consumer complaints mediator and show them for what they really are which is - a cash hungry wannabe "customer experience management platform" for large corporates (read brand image management platform).

To an enterprising human being this may seem a logical transition. A complaint management firm would generate terabytes of information on customer complaints. Making this data available to organisations would help them to smoothly address persistent pain points of its customers. Thus Akosha would help organisations in becoming more responsive to customer needs and providing best customer service. So what is the problem here? Everyone seems happy - the customer is happy and (more importantly) the brand and Akosha are happy.

There is just a tiny thing called conflict of interest which raises its head here. The troubling fact is that the organisation which seeks to work for the tiny individual against the mighty corporate is also friends with that corporate. Now you will say that: no, they may be friends with the corporate because they provide them services but these services help corporates become more responsive to customers. 

This my friends is plain and utter bullshit! 

Does anyone seriously believe that telecom companies which are impervious to spectrum scams and transfer pricing scams and which even the government and courts of this country could not tame would be tamed after reading a few online complaints routed through a less than benign corporate? 

All Akosha does is that it confines user complaints to its page whereby it is escapes the attention of the rest of the internet. The company's misdemeanour is prevented from being splashed on the internet for everyone to see and now it is going to get even worse.

Akosha is planning to move to an app only model. What will happen now is that these complaints would be forever lost to the internet because they would be conveniently stored in Akosha servers rather than on the internet where everyone can see and comment on such complaints. This is a win-win proposition for errant companies and a massive lose for India's long-suffering and gullible customers who seem to have reposed their faith in e-commerce and other startups with dubious ethics.

Think of this in another way. Akosha has two clients - one is a Mr. Prateek who has complained against Company A on Akosha's complaint forum to get his Rs. 3000 back. Akosha will get Rs. 250 for its services from Mr. Prateek. It would probably stand to make Rs. 10 lakh from Company A for providing its "image management services". So in a standoff between the customer and corporate, whose side will Akosha take? The customer who will give a business of Rs. 250 or a corporate who provides him 4000x more in annual revenues. This is a classic David-versus-Goliath scenario in which David has an additional handicap that he cannot use his sling.

The issue of funding is also pertinent here. Akosha has too much money to spend on ads and marketing. Pretty soon, it would become the Walmart of consumer complaint forums. Other forums would wither away against its financial might. The wily investors have already seen this and have pumped Rs. 100 crore into Akosha's coffers.

So that's about Akosha - a consumer complaints forum that you simply should not trust. It is as far as I know a BPO like setup where its underpaid customer care executives (the same kind as those telecom companies) work long hours chatting with customers on Android apps.

The bottomline is that you instead of using Akosha use a forum that does not have ulterior motives of making money from your pain. They may be less effective but at least if like minded people make an effort, companies may have to improve customer experience sooner or later. 

An Akosha like app would only help such companies to skirt the bad press that such negative reviews on the internet bring. It may not work for telecom companies but for other organisations, which are not oligopolies, it can work if many customers get together on the internet. The effort should be to force companies to mend their ways by naming and shaming. Consumer complaints should not only be about getting your money back but they should also educate other customers about which company is in the wrong. Akosha's image management seeks to prevent this very thing.

That's all about Akosha, an organisation which has pissed me off massively. Anyways, I have already written a post too long for my liking. Sincere apologies to my readers.

Next time we take a look at Oyo Rooms.











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