Evening at Zambezi River, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, May 2015
and so does everything around... the situation, the people, the perspective, the needs.... and we too change.... the wise and courageous seek change.. because only change is constant!

Monday, January 3, 2011

115. Benefit of Doubt

“What is your name?” he asks.
I am little reluctant to answer that question.
Not that it is an uncommon question. I am not shy about disclosing my name.
But here I am – pressing my cell phone buttons to make a call and it is transferred to someone else. I think it is a cross-connection. But no, the unknown man claims to be from the office of Telecom Service Provider. He tells me that a process of ‘Customer Verification’ is on. Until I verify my identity, all my outgoing calls will be automatically transferred to him. In short, I have no alternative but to answer his queries.
I do not like such ‘no alternative’ situations. That tempts me to search for alternatives.
Somehow, I tell him my name.
“Tell your full name”, the man shouts from the other end.
I hesitate for a moment and then tell that too.
“Are you married?” he asks next question.
Now I feel that the person at the other end, whosoever he may be, is crossing the limits.

Question about marriage is not uncommon. If you permit me a little exaggeration, I would say that I have answered this question at least one crore times! Generally people like to ask these questions about family, education, marriage, children, job, even salary – and they don’t feel comfortable until those are answered. I don't ask such questions unless the situation demands, but accept when others ask it. I have been interacting with rural and tribal communities for more than two decades. I have to answer this question almost every day as I keep on meeting strangers. I believe in egalitarian approach and hence I accept that people have every right to ask me questions – any question they want to ask. Asking questions to others is my job: and not answering those would be authoritative. I generally trust people and don’t mind sharing ideas, thoughts, feelings, and facts of life with them. At certain times, with certain persons if I am not comfortable answering questions, I generally tell people that. I say, “Would you mind if I don’t answer this?” And every time I have said this, people have accepted my answer with smile and sensitivity.

However, answering questions face to face is different – here it was on the phone.
Answering questions of those with whom I spend some time is different – here it was not the case.
Answering questions when I too have liberty to ask questions is something different – here it was one way, which I completely dislike.

I decide it is time to be assertive.
“Sorry Mister, I don’t think this question is necessary for customer verification”, I try not to be rude, but certainly I am not polite.
“I have no means to verify that you really are from the Telecom Service Provider, so, I won’t share this information with you,” I add.
I continue, “Even if you are from the Telecom Service Provider, you can’t ask for such personal information”.
“Then I have to deactivate your connection,” the man is adamant enough to irritate me.
“You cannot deactivate my connection without a cause and without a prior notice,” now I am getting angry.
“Either you answer this question or your phone will be deactivated,” the man threatens me.
I refuse to answer.
Next minute my cell phone is deactivated. Not only Outgoing calls but Incoming too.
It is 7.30 in the evening.

For last three years I have been using BSNL CellOne. I had no issues with BSNL; it actually provided me best range in the remote areas. BSNL roaming is not that costly. When I moved to Delhi, I found DOLPHIN (BSNL in Metro cities) had a very poor range. I was not able to receive calls properly – the voice always cracked. Due to lack of good range, communication was often disrupted and hence I opted for another service provider. I was wise enough to keep on BSNL connection too. That was about one and half month ago.

The Service Provider did not send and SMS/Mail to intimate that a process of Customer Verification was to take place. Instead of calling me, they just interrupted my outgoing call, which was irritating. In addition to that the tone of the person who spoke was not cordial. And the deactivation of the phone really tested my tolerance.

I contacted the dealer from whom I had purchased this new SIM, but he was not able to offer any help. I could not do much in the night.

When a system goes wrong, it is always tempting to curse the system. However, experience has taught me that a single insensitive, irresponsible, irregular, irrational, selfish, arrogant person can make the system appear wrong and brings out all the disadvantages of the system. But one has to distinguish between an individual and a system. If the System is wrong, I fight with it. However before taking such a step I ensure that I am not equating individual with system and vice versa.

Next morning, at about 10.40 I wrote a message to the Nodal Officer (thanks to JP, for such a great help! It is funny that we have met only once but are good friends through chatting and emails – thanks to internet!). I copied the message to Customer Care (which I got from their website) and one Senior Official whom I had met couple of times in professional meetings. I explained what exactly had happened, told them that “I fully understand the need of Customer Verification”, but expressed my disillusionment with the way they did it. I added, “I feel that you are treating me as a criminal for no apparent fault of mine.” I also gave them few suggestions about ‘how to make customer verification process customer friendly’. With that I provided my residential address and workplace information for verification.

I expected that they would take at least 24 hours to sort the problem out. I was not sure that just an email would trigger any process on their part. I was planning to follow it up on phone.

To my utter surprise, and the credit must be given to the Service Provider; within an hour I received response regretting “the inconvenience caused”. There were detail instructions about reactivating mobile at my end. I followed those instructions and the connection was reactivated.

One insensitive, immature person: the system goes wrong.
One sensitive, mature person: the system works well.

I have doubts though.
Is every complaint processed with this speed? Was this attention given to me as a ‘normal’ customer? Or was it because I am associated with some ‘important’ workplace? Was it because I copied to a very senior official – whose email id (and introduction) I just happened to have!
Will they stop asking such personal questions during Customer Verification process? Will they really improve their process? Will they be more sensitive and polite?
I don’t know.
I give them a ‘Benefit of Doubt’.

We all do this – time and again.
2010 brought too many scams; we give ‘Benefit of Doubt’ to 2011 – wishing all would be well.
In fact, the system of Democracy is all about ‘Benefit of Doubt’.
Sometimes your colleagues, neighbors, people you know, friends behave in an unexpected way and you give them ‘Benefit of Doubt’.
Sometimes you are different than what you were so far, and by bringing in logic, constructing logic to justify your behavior you give yourself ‘Benefit of Doubt’
If it creates happiness, satisfaction, trust, confidence; I would prefer to give (and have) ‘Benefit of Doubt’ rather than the cold logic of rules, regulations, systems, norms and tradition.


  1. loved to read it.
    "one has to distinguish between an individual and a system."
    So very true.
    It changes perspective of many things around us. It helps to give and take benefit of doubt, grab that chance to make it better.

  2. Thanks Anu :-)
    Grabbing the chance is important :-)

  3. "One has to distinguish between an individual and a system." - BANG ON, there.

    Remember always that you not only have the right to be an individual, you have an obligation to be one. :)

  4. Savita,

    Slightly off subject.

    Your blog posts reveal 'Savita' as she is. What use is information about your "family, education, marriage, children, job, even salary". Interesting facts, perhaps, but where is Savita in the midst of those facts?

    Thank you for your thoughts in this post, but also for the thoughts it engendered.

  5. You talk about others' sensitivity, I admire yours. And I think, and am glad if it is true, even if you are a 'normal' person some Service Providers (not just cell phones) are really cordial, professional and sensitive. Customer Care is turning a new leaf I believe. Of course, as you say some individuals do disrupt that but overall I think we have made progress.

  6. Arjitjee, very true .. it is not only right but obligation, I completely agree with you! Welcome to Times Change!

    David, good that we agree on this aspect. I have always found such introductions i.e. name, family, job .. etc funny when we can know people better through what they do and speak etc. I am indeed glad :-)

    Guria, I agree with you. We have certainly made a progress ..but you know, the habit of doubting :-)

  7. appreciate your patience and putting things in their correct perspective!
    well done!

  8. Thanks magiceye.
    Patience works most of the time :-)

  9. Someone told me "in giving a 'benefit of doubt' i am making you a beneficiary !"

    This is indeed a great example of how a common man can get treated and what is possible !

    Great account. All is not lost ! Atleast, not yet !

  10. Kavi, yes, all is not over YET! There are always rays of hopes!!

  11. lucky u!!till date MTNL never works so fast!! I guess the credit goes all to ur friend!!

  12. PriPat, Welcome to Times Change.
    Yes, I guess I was indeed lucky! :-)

  13. wow, Savita- you have done it again..
    You are a role model for many of us..

  14. Thanks, Sachin. I guess it works and so I keep on doing it :-)

  15. Awesome. Lots of lessons learnt..
    Thanks a lot!! :)

  16. Thanks For Sharing....really loved to read it.

  17. Too good !!

    People leave managers not companies : Marcus Buckingham

  18. Thanks Vidyadhar.
    Welcome Heramb here too :-)
    Yogeshjee, you are most welcome.


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