02 Dec 2016 14:48 IST

How to lose a customer

The writer has decided not to renew annual maintenance contracts with her home service provider

This is an account of how a business is going to lose a customer. And how frustration and anger fuelled her resolve not to pay for shoddy service, at least immediately, and saved her some money. In August, my air-conditioner went kaput for the second time this year. When it did so earlier in April, it took three weeks to come back from the home service provider we have an annual maintenance contract (AMC) with. Of course, this was after their telling us it would take a maximum of just four days to set it right.

Inadequate communication

In mid-August, the AC started leaking and growling. We called our home service and after the usual round of home visits, calls back and forth and Facebook messages to their page – which was the only forum where we got some concrete response – it was finally hauled away for repair. They did not give us any receipts and we did not insist either. Our proof lay in the text messages that announced so-and-so was on his way to our place to address the problem. After two weeks, they called to say the condenser and the coil needed replacing. That would cost ₹11,000. We told them to go ahead.

Barring text messages that ‘service completion is subject to spares availability’, there was no news for the next few weeks. Angry enquiries only resulted in entreaties for patience – and the news that some other part needed to be repaired, and our bill would now be ₹17,000.

Delays galore

What was the guarantee this ‘new’ damage had not occurred in our AC’s sojourn of six weeks in their workshop? They said they would send someone to answer my queries.

I told them to just get the job done and return the AC to me. They did not. I started telling them to return it to me, without setting it right. Finally after eight weeks, they returned my AC, repaired.

I told the technician I would pay after two weeks – I needed to ensure it worked properly, I had lost faith in them. He said his instructions were to dismantle the units if clients didn’t pay.

I said I would scream if he touched the AC. He called his supervisor. I didn’t give in. He left.

The AC did not cool. It had to go back. I insisted on an undertaking that they would not charge me a paisa, and that they would return it by a certain day. Only if it worked, I would pay, else, they would take their new spares back and not charge me. They called back to say the compressor was at fault. We decided to get a new AC. And no, thank you, not at the big retail store that is associated with their home service operation; according to the technician, we would have had no choice but to call them, for service and repairs, not the customer care service of the brand we buy.

A case for the consumer court?

I had toyed with the idea of going to consumer court but was dissuaded because of the clause that service completion was subject to spares’ availability.

There are a host of other terms and conditions on the printed service agreement that would have subsumed it.

I was curious to know if I would have had a case against the home service firm had I not decided to end matters. S Saroja, Director, Consumer Advisory and Outreach at the Chennai-based Consumer Action Group, said that as the AC was under an AMC, the firm was supposed to address the problem or present the customer with an alternative.

She confirmed that I would have had grounds to proceed against them. According to her, they could have sold us a new AC after taking the old AC in exchange, calculating the depreciation on it, rather than keep it with them for a long time indefinitely.

I am now curious to see whether this firm will honour the other AMC I have with it for another air-conditioner. The previous year, it took some reminding.

(The article first appeared in BusinessLine.)