Why customer service is so broken

For generations, companies have been trying to solve for customer service. A deep dive into why they continue to do a piss-poor job of it

It took Harish Kanchan six years, eight lakh rupees and the might of an online forum to not set his car ablaze. Turning his sedan into toast would have been an act of desperation for the tenacious businessman, who’d managed to bring an automobile manufacturer to its knees. But even the best fighters get desperate. If at all he was to lose, Harish thought, he wouldn’t go down quietly.

There should never have been a fight in the first place. Harish, who was driving from Mumbai to Nashik 11 years ago, had met with an accident. He was lucky to survive and lucky that the only repairs his car needed were for its undercarriage. But the authorized service centre back home in Mumbai took an excessive amount of time to do the job: first, two weeks, then a month, then 45 days. Harish’s gut told him something was amiss, and it was right, as most gut feelings are. Nearly everything, from the car battery and steering rack to the tie rod and brake disc, had been replaced with rusted counterparts ripped from old cars. The value of the original parts stolen from his vehicle was Rs 4 lakh at the time.

Any company with a sliver of integrity would have righted this wrong. But this automobile manufacturer chose the opposite.

Harish, betting on alcohol’s knack to make people talk, decided to treat one of the service centre mechanics to drinks. It paid off. “You’ve should’ve taken your car anywhere but there,” the drunk mechanic began. “Service centre waale aur upar ke log sab chor hain (everyone in the service centre—and higher up—is a thief).

Armed with incriminating information and pictures of the spurious parts, Harish wrote to the auto manufacturer’s country heads. He marched to their offices, and to consul generals and chambers of commerce. He marched to the district consumer forum, which ordered a restoration of the original car parts. But the carmaker, steadfast in its shamelessness, contested the ruling. The case went into limbo. Harish approached an online forum and the media for help. A subsequent boycott by 70,000 forum members and unflattering print coverage forced the conglomerate to settle.

“I’d spent lakhs on the fight by then, and would’ve burnt my car on national television if nothing else worked. It was the only move I had left,” Harish recalls.

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Cover image by Negative Space on Pexels.

Illustrations by Swati Addanki.

Update: We earlier categorized this story as Chaos by mistake; it has been changed to Business.


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