By Sanjay Pinto


‘Welcome Kits’ couched in such polished terms and glossy brochures with high resolution pictures that invariably accompany branded products in the market are designed to make you feel that your purchase is perhaps the best decision you’ve made in your life. Don’t, just don’t be bamboozled by these tall claims. Why? Read on…

‘After Sales Service’ is the first yardstick you need to assess before buying any product. For consumer durables like air-conditioners, washing machines and refrigerators, that starts with the installation. Now here’s the real welcome! ‘Same Day Installation’ is an alien concept in India. Make that request to the salesperson and you will get a classic ‘are you from this planet’ expression. The default practice is at least a couple of days for the VVIP installation team to deign to show up at a time of their royal highness’s convenience. I wish there was a requirement to disclose ‘No Guarantee’ on timely installation.

After paying the bill, you are at the mercy of the manufacturer for installation. A classic ‘dog in the manger’ stance ensues. The company will take its own sweet time. Yet installation through the customer’s private technician, will be construed as unauthorised tampering affecting the warranty! Ditto with servicing even post the ‘authorised company installation’ for periodic maintenance and repairs. Such policies are illegal and will not stand judicial scrutiny as they constitute deficiency in service, an unfair trade practice and an appreciable adverse affect on competition, actionable under the Consumer Protection Act, 2019 and the Competition Act, 2002.

The irony is that the so called ‘authorised service centres’ are not employees of the manufacturer but mere outsourced contractors, possibly a lowest bidder, with little or no expertise or experience in customer service. So what’s the remedy? Complain to the manufacturer? By now the dealer, after having got rid of that product, may be disinclined to weigh in. And the contact details on the company website would be limited to an email ID and social media handles, often not capable of anything beyond programmed, template auto replies, ranging from hilarious to downright outrageous and frustrating.

This is where the Customer Service or Corporate Communications or Public Relations departments must come in. There are officials designated but many behave like they are busier than the Prime Minister. Why are their email IDs and contact numbers not on the company websites? Considering that many customers are spammed with sponsored advertisements on the social media, why are many of these company executives hardly ever active on these platforms? An outsourced service agency cannot be expected to have the competence or patience to deal with customer queries.

On the subject of warranty and installation by the much glorified authorised agents, there is often no record for the customer that a product was installed by the company. The common refrain is that the bill will suffice and must be read in conjunction with the warranty card. The practice of affixing the retailer’s seal and signing the warranty card is hardly ever followed as this document is ensconced inside the packaging and comes straight from the warehouse to the customer. The fact is that the warranty conditions are stated on the Warranty Card. What does the bill contain? A standard disclaimer, again illegal, that goods once sold cannot be exchanged or taken back! Only customers who are extra diligent and legally aware of these aspects will take the trouble of getting the warranty card endorsed by the seller.

That’s not all. The customer is always asked to sign at the bottom of the invoice which will have a clause, usually in minuscule print, that the product has been duly inspected and is in perfect condition. How would the customer know if the packed item carried out of a store or is delivered later from the warehouse is of a particular standard, quality, quantity, grade, composition, style or model? How can he be sure that the retailer has not falsely represented any re-built, second-hand, renovated, reconditioned or old goods as new goods”? These may not be regular scenarios as there is always an element of trust in business but they cannot be ruled out.

A journalist friend who got a wrong product delivered through an e-commerce site is struggling to get redressal. Should video recording the opening of the package as proof now become the norm?

Another sore point that I’ve noticed of late, is exasperating frugality in terms of basic product requirements. As basic as the length of the connecting chord being way too short to reach existing power points. The only reason I can conjure up is that additional wiring work by the installation team is chargeable, as opposed to ‘free service’.

Companies that spend a lot on getting catchy tag lines and brand building, must focus on ensuring that customers don’t regret their purchases, triggered by the red rag of installation blues.

(Sanjay Pinto is an Advocate practising at the Madras High Court, an Arbitrator, Columnist, Author & Former Resident Editor – NDTV 24×7)



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