Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Election Commission India's Voter Helpline app - a Great tool !

Election day in India is always like a festival. You can see autorickshaws offering free rides to the elderly and disabled people from home to the polling venue. You can see people queuing up early in the morning at the polling booths, to avoid long queues. You can see party members getting ready and setting up their "May I help you" kiosks around the polling venue. 

It's election day in Tamilnadu, today. This time, all of us in my family got our voting slips, except for my wife. If you don't know what a voting slip is... it is a slip that helps the poll booth officer to quickly identify your voter record in the ledger (which appears like the Chitragupta's book of records). The voting slip has serial number that helps the poll booth officer to tracer your voter record in the ledger. This serial number is different from your "Voter Identification Number". If you go to the polling booth without the voter slip, the poll booth officer would take a longer time to identify your voter record and it may unnecessarily delay your voting process. Normally, the different parties that are contesting in the election would give you a copy of the voting slip, at your door step. There are elections where we had 4 or 5 copies of the same voting slip in our hand. However, this time, none of the parties distributed any voting slip. Probably, they were trying to go green or they were busy distributing cash :) A government representative ended up handing over the voting slips to my family members - but somehow, my wife's slip was missed out. 

I thought we can get the voting slip in one of the "May I help you" kiosks setup by the party functionaries, outside of the polling venue. I went to one of those kiosks. They said, I've to visit the kiosk in my street, to get my wife's voting slip. We rushed back to our street, but didn't see any kiosk in our street. When we checked with a couple of people in my street, they redirected me to the next street. Finally, I found a kiosk in the next street. The guy in the kiosk took my wife's Voter Id and scanned through the different pages in the ledger... and after spending 10 minutes he said, "Sir! We couldn't find your wife's record. But, you can still go to the booth and cast your vote". I felt like the Kamalahaasan in Indian movie, who gets tossed around to different government departments, to get some basic stuff done. 

We again rushed back to the polling venue. By this time, the morning sun has pierced my skin to get the juice flowing out of my body. I made my wife stand in the voters' queue and quietly sat under a tree nearby with my mobile phone. I was searching in Google for voter's slip. I found a website, http://www.electoralsearch.in/, but it was incredibly slow. It reminded me of the days, when we used to type "http://www.yahoo.com", in Internet Explorer, go to college canteen, have a tea and come back to see the page fully rendered. After nearly 10 minutes, the page displayed. I filled all the details of my wife's Voter Id and was about to click the "Search" button. The webpage asked me to enter a "Captcha" without showing any "Captcha". I hit the refresh button again. This time, it showed the Captcha properly. I entered all the details properly and hit "Search". After taking 10 minutes, the website reported that the record could not be found. I was disappointed and frustrated with the experience. 

I started Googling again, and found the "Voter Helpline" application. I downloaded it from the app store in a few seconds and punched-in my wife's Voter Id details. It immediately displayed the Serial Number of my wife's voter record in the ledger. I took a piece of paper, wrote the Serial number and handed it over to my wife, who was still in the queue, which was crawling like a wounded snake. The poll booth officer was able to quickly identify her record in the ledger, using the Serial number. Voter Helpline app is a great tool for the voters. I wish they make a computer or a mobile phone with the Voter Helpline app loaded, and keep it outside the polling venues. It will greatly help the voters and save a lot of time for the voters and the officials manning the polling booth. 

Saturday, January 05, 2019

Airtel Store in Ekkattuthangal, Chennai - Poor Customer Service

In Airtel Store at Ekkattuthangal, Chennai, right from the store manager to the store representatives, nobody cares for the customer. I've been an Airtel customer for the last 10+ years. I had used the Airtel stores in Ashok Nagar and Nelson Manickam Road in the past and they were very good. My fate, I landed up in the Ekkattuthangal store recently, and I had a terrible experience. Over the last 10 years, I would've easily paid them Rs. 1+ lacs for service and I'm totally disappointed with the treatment that I received. No wonder why Airtel is continuing to lose its market share / profits to Reliance Jio.

I had to change my phone from a post-paid corporate account to a pre-paid personal account. It took me nearly 20 days to finish the process, got tossed around to 3 Airtel facilities, with 4 visits to the Ekkattuthangal store, several follow-ups over phone calls (which seldom got a response) and eventually they said, they can convert it only from post-paid corporate to post-paid personal account. Every visit to the shop costed me nearly 2.5 hours, as I had to commute from Choolaimedu (the place where I lived) to Ekkattuthangal.

At first, I reached out to the local Airtel booth in my office to initiate the corporate/postpaid to personal/pre-paid account transfer (with all the documentation), The rep in the booth said, I'll have to go to a Airtel store to do the same. I went to the Nelson Manickam Road store for help. They said, they are a franchise store and I'll have to go to any of the Airtel owned stores to do the transfer. Hence, I landed up in the Ekkattuthangal store.

Visit #1: The store rep in Ekkattuthangal Airtel store (Mr. Srinivasan) collected my application form. I told him specifically that I had been already bounced to 3 different stores... and I don't want to go through any more hardships. He said "Once your corporate settles the outstanding bills, we can finish the transfer the next day". I followed-up with my corporate and after a week, they confirmed that they had settled all of the outstanding bills. I tried calling the store rep, but didn't pick my calls at all.

Visit #2: I again went to the shop. But, this time, the person to whom I gave the application was absent... and others couldn't trace my application at all. They said they'll search offline and get back to me. They also warned that I'll have to submit a fresh application with proper documentation. After a few days, I didn't get any calls from the store. I again called them. They asked me to come to the store with all the documentation.

Visit #3: I took photocopies of documentation and visited the store again. This time, I spotted Mr. Srinivasan and he found my application again. He said, he doesn't have the login name / password for the portal to initiate the transfer. He said, he'll complete it and confirm to me by evening. I waited, waited and waited... and no calls/confirmation from Mr. Srinivasan. When I called him again in the evening, he said I had to convert only from post-paid corporate to post-paid personal, as the IT application has a technical glitch. They asked me to come to the store to file a fresh post-paid application.

Visit #4: I reached the store with a lot of frustration. When I raised the voice, the store manager Ms. Saranya started showing some sense of urgency. But, they couldn't complete the conversion. They said, they'll have to reinitiate the KYC process again for my post-paid connection and it will take at least a day for the transfer to be complete. I told them, I had been a customer in the past, I have neither changed my phone number or residence for the last 10+ years and moreover, I furnished my Aadhar too... and couldn't understand why a new KYC is needed. I had to escalate to the Zone Manager Mr. Narayanan (Ms. Saranya's boss), to accelerate the KYC process. They managed to finish the process in 2 hours, however, my phone number is still to be converted to post-paid/personal account. I hope the number will get converted tomorrow.

Reasons why I feel that the Airtel Store in Ekkattuthangal Chennai offered a bad customer experience:

  1. No proper communication / No updates from the store rep. I had to continuously follow-up several times to get some updates. They don't give any attention to a long time customer, especially someone who have done several lacs worth of business with Airtel. 
  2. Occasionally, when I get to Mr. Srinivasan, he would continuously promise me that the process will be complete in the evening or in 4 hours. But, nothing happens. He is a liar and not fit to serve corporate customers / customers who are professionals.
  3. During my 4th visit, Mr. Srinivasan said in an angry tone - "Sir! You'll have to visit the store a few times like this... if you really want to get your number converted" (in Tamil "Sir! number change pannanum-na indha maadhiri than naaalu (4) anju (5) thadavai alayunum"). The last time I heard such statement was in an RTO office. I worked for a leading service provider and if I had made such a statement to the customer, I would've been fired the same day. 
  4. Store manager Ms. Saranya tried to justify what happened to the customer instead of listening. When she was not in action for 3 days... she didn't handover the login name / password to anyone. Did she assume that no customer will come for a post-paid to pre-paid conversion request, for 3 days?
  5. There is no ledger or process in the store to properly track the incoming applications / service requests. They didn't even give me a service request id or challan to track my application. I was shocked when they said my application is missing and it couldn't be traced. 
  6. Even the customer care numbers are not of use. When you call them, they redirect you back to the store. Customer lands up in a helpless situation. 
Hope Airtel will do something to fix these gaps in the Airtel Ekkattuthangal store.

[Update from 1/6/16: My phone number was finally converted to my personal account. Ms. Saranya followed-up with me to confirm that]

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Kovilpatti Railway Station - Super Clean !

It is a common sight in railway stations to see coffee cups on the railway tracks, empty chips/biscuit covers/wrappers on the platforms and most importantly, overflowing trash bins. But, Kovilpatti Railway Station is an exception. Kovilpatti is a well known city in South Tamilnadu. Recently, I boarded a train from Kovilpatti Railway Station. I was amazed by the cleanliness of the Kovilpatti Railway Station.

There was absolutely no trash in Kovilpatti Railway Station - be it on the platforms as well as on the railway tracks. I always believed that rules alone cannot change people’s behavior. In addition to coming up with rules, you need to educate people, and make it simple/easy for people to follow the rules. For example, in Kovilpatti Railway Station, I noticed that there are multiple sign boards educating the passengers to keep the railway station clean. In addition, there were trash bins kept at least once every 100 ft. This makes it easy for people to dump trash in a trash bin, nearby.

Any shop that sells food items has a trash bin nearby. Also, there is a sign board that clearly lists down the various rules which have to be followed by the food vendor - as per the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) policies. They have also mentioned the owner’s phone number and FSSAI phone number for filing a compliant - if the passengers found that the shop keepers are violating any of the rules.

Also read: A ban on spitting pan in public places - who enforces it?

It is not just the cleanliness of the station that stood out. The authorities have worked hard to provide a great overall experience to the passengers. The station has a good parking facility and they charge just Rs.10. There is a chart on the wall near the entrance of the railway station which clearly describes the location of various coaches in the platform, for different trains. There is also abundant seating space in the railway station. In fact, they have a separate seating area for second class passengers. That facility is well maintained too (including the rest rooms that are maintained very clean). If there is one challenge, it is the number of mosquitoes. You cannot escape from the mosquito bite. I don’t know what authorities can do for that, given the vegetation around the station.

(Also read: Traveling near restrooms in Train isn't fun)

The drinking water taps at the station are functional too - which is again a rare thing to see in such railway stations.

I get thrilled when I see a clean public place... as it takes lots of efforts/support from both the authorities and the public. I hope Kovilpatti Railway Station - continues to be super clean. Waiting for a day when our Chennai Egmore and Chennai Central becomes like Kovilpatti Railway Station.

(Also read: If I don't care, who will care)

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Delhi - Agra - Jaipur Trip through Panicker's Travel (2 of 2)

Also read: Delhi - Agra - Jaipur Trip through Panicker's Travel (1 of 2)

Agra - Jaipur - Mathura trip starts at 6 am from Panicker's Karol Bagh office. We got up at 4 am and started getting ready. The bus departed Panicker's office sharp at 6 am. After a 2.5 hours drive, there was a breakfast stop over at Hotel Highway Prince. Panicker's had arranged a special breakfast menu for Rs.125 each. We finished our breakfast and departed to Jaipur. We saw Birla Mandir, Jantar Mantar, Maharaja Palace, Museum and Amber Fort in Jaipur. The night stay was arranged in Hotel Red Fox within the city. We reached the hotel by around 6 pm. The buffet dinner at the hotel costed Rs.200 per head. The stay was very good. We went to bed at 8.30 pm, as the next day trip starts at 5 am.


The day 2 of the Agra - Jaipur - Mathura trip started at 5 am sharp. The travellers had a quality 3 hours of sleep during the bus ride to Fatehpur Sikri. We had a stop over at a private venue where Panicker's had arranged the breakfast. They charged Rs. 100 for the breakfast, but had a number of items in the menu. Then, we covered Fatehpur Sikri, Agra Fort and Taj Mahal during the day.

The day temperature was very high - mostly 40+ centigrades. Each of us would've had 4+ litres of water every day.

In the evening, we were taken to Mathura, specifically to the Mathura Temple. The places around the Mathura Temple appeared as-if they belonged to the Independence era. There was absolutely no signs of development. We then headed back to Delhi. On the way back to Delhi, we witnessed dust storm on the highway. It lasted for about a minute and then, it started raining. Though the dust storm lasted just for a minute, it looked disastrous. We reached Delhi by 9.45 pm and checked-in to Hotel Sonil. We ordered dinner at the hotel and went to sleep. 

The next day, Delhi sight seeing trip started at 9 am. So, we had enough time to sleep. We reached Panicker's office by 8.45 am. The bus departed at 9 am, sharp. The quality of the Delhi sight seeing bus was somewhat average. They had a super cool luxury bus for the Agra - Jaipur - Mathura trip. We visited Qutab Minar, India Gate, Lotus Temple, Indira Gandhi Memorial,  Parliament House, Gandhi Museum, Rashtrapati Bhawan and Red Fort. The lunch was served in Tamilnadu Tourism Hotel. We wrapped up the day with a visit to Birla Mandir Temple. We were brought back to the Panicker's office by 7 pm. We finished our dinner and slept early. 

On the last day, we woke up a little late, had our breakfast and started packing our luggages. We reached airport by around 1 pm. We finished our lunch at the airport. Our flight was at 4.30 pm. So, we had a lot of time to kill. The kids spent bulk of the time in wandering around and by going up/down the travelators. We reached home by around 8.30 pm and cherished the memories of the trip.

Those 5 days taught me some critical words in Hindi, such as Bhai, Bhayya, Kitna, Udhar, Idhar and Lao. You can simply survive with these words. We had a very enjoyable trip to Delhi, Agra & Jaipur. The kids had more fun than the adults. We are now geared up to make yet another North India trip.

Also read: Delhi - Agra - Jaipur Trip through Panicker's Travel (1 of 2)