Musing #64: Escalation and issue resolution with Amazon, Flipkart and other services

The holiday season implies sales and savings on the major e-commerce websites but along with it comes the headache of dealing with customer service, or lack of it, when things go wrong. This dark side doesn't pop up when making occasional purchases through the year but raises its ugly head during the sale season on account of en masse purchases, which inevitably increases the probability of things going wrong.

Most e-commerce sites may tout themselves as paragon of customer service but it takes some effort for a customer to discover the kingliness. The fact is that all the e-commerce companies, without any exceptions, have set up the initial levels of customer service in such a manner so as to stonewall the customer to submission as much as possible. The initial levels of contact simply spout out timelines and promises of resolution as per company policy without even having the ability to make a difference.

Thus, one needs to peel out the outer layer in order to penetrate where it matters. For all e-commerce sites and services in general, it means escalating the issue through various means. Some make it easy, others make it convoluted, but the fact is that it is always possible to get service, provided you believe it is right and fight for it.

My own experiences across various services this holiday season was as follows:

1. Flipkart:

Flipkart's service will never reach its heydays i.e. its initial years when the service provided used to be exceptional, as a necessity for promotion by word of mouth. Over time, with mounting losses and increasing customer base, the level of service has fallen considerably at the surface level, but it is still possible to resolve matters quickly and amicably through escalations.

In my case, I had 2 return requests rejected for the same product for "technical" reasons as well as 2 pick-up requests delayed for inexplicable reasons until I escalated the matter each time. Unlike Valve, I decided to believe in the power of 3 and it was indeed a case of third time lucky in both cases. Well, calling it luck might be pushing it, since it was more about making the right contact third time around.

In the case of Flipkart, escalations can be made by writing to [email protected]. For good measure, I also wrote to [email protected] and [email protected]. Each of these are teams within their customer service department that operate at different levels of seniority and while I can't say who initiated the action, the Escalations team resolved the issue swiftly with daily updates.

2. Amazon:

In the case of Amazon, it was an issue with the Amazon Pay cashback being not credited. My backpack was classified as a fashion item at the time of purchase and when the cashback was not credited on dispatch, I got the cashback verification in writing from the customer service team. However, even then, subsequent customer care executives denied the applicability of the product for cashback and even the Amazon Pay escalation team to whom the issue was referred internally didn't have a view diverging from the front line.

It was only after I made contact further up the escalation matrix at [email protected], [email protected] and [email protected] that the issue was resolved promptly and a cashback was credited exceeding the original amount. However, it required a screenshot from a subsequent sale where the item was again classified as a fashion product to clinch the deal. Thus, it is always preferable to retain screenshots of applicable cashbacks as they seem to be the only convincing piece of evidence in light of the platitude offered by the initial levels of customer service.

3. Pepperfry:

Pepperfry thankfully has an escalation mechanism built in to the app and one really needs to make use of it to avail returns of small items. The customer care on call does its best to deny returns by mentioning that they don't have a return policy for small items based on quality issues which is frankly, dumbfounding. It is only after using the escalation option in the app, backed by appropriate photos, that a return and refund was initiated.

4. Tata Sky:

Tata Sky service is very prompt as far as operational issues are concerned but can be a pain to deal with regarding financial matters. I was at the receiving end of unstated charges during relocation of the dish and was informed by the first level of customer service that there is no option but to pay these charges in order to reactivate my account. This time it was social media that came to the rescue and the representative contacted over Twitter made sure to reverse the charges within a day.

The observable trend through all these services is that the first line of contact is usually the first line of defence for the service provider to deny redressal of any issue. It is only through persistent follow-ups and escalations that issues are resolved, even when the customer is in the right. A fight at the right level is all that matters and frankly this shouldn't be the case. Unfortunately, that is how things stand and while all's well that ends well, the time and effort required for redressal is inconvenient to say the least.

Lastly, when worse comes to worst, one can raise a public grievance using the Centralized Public Grievance Redress And Monitoring System (CPGRAMS). While I didn't need to register a grievance this time around, it has worked for me in the past and is a last resort of sorts for the consumer prior to perhaps moving the consumer court. Just remember, as a customer the power is with you, you just need to unsheathe it.