Consumers of services often short-changed

Last Updated: Fri, Mar 15, 2013 18:00 hrs

New Delhi, Mar 15 (IBNS) As the world celebrates the 'Consumer Day', majority of Indian consumers polled by ASSOCHAM said they were often short-changed mostly by providers of services like telecom, electricity, toll roads and education than merchandise goods.

The survey done among 2,500 consumers across ten major cities threw some useful points relating to the response time of the service providers, lack of immediate relief and redress by regulators and poor follow-up by the companies providing services.

The poll was done among the age group of consumers 18-65 and the services also included insurance, pensions, mutual funds and monthly income schemes of different financial intermediaries. The cities covered were: Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkatta, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Ahmedabad, Pune, Chandigarh and Lucknow.

They included college students, young professionals, blue-collar factory workers, housewives and senior citizens. The coverage not only included the services offered by the private sector companies but also the government organs and bodies like municipal corporations, banks, insurance companies and the power utilities.

"The most common complaint against the providers of the government services was the apathy of the staff, no redress at the senior level, lack of automation. The worst performers in terms of consumer satisfaction among the government departments were the transport licensing authorities, house tax payments, property transactions and electricity connections and billings," said D S Rawat Secretary General ASSOCHAM.

The private sector thanks to information technology applications fared far better in the areas of mobile telephony, credit cards and in some cases electricity (where it has been privatised). But the main problems even in the private sector pertained to over-billings, no follow-up, over-promising by the sales staff and delays in installations and commissioning.

"While automation has helped and the call centres are of some help, the consumers' calls are kept on hold and they are made to press one button or the other - for language synchronisation or service matching," revealed the ASSOCHAM poll report.

The worst problem among the private sector service providers is the lack of connects between the regulators and the consumers, who do not really know how to approach about their complaints. "Besides, the procedures are complicated... Secondly, several of the regulators are kind of quasi-judicial bodies, the consumers fear as if they have to go through the court proceedings with involvement of level help," the report found.

As far as the Consumer Forums of the state governments and the consumer courts are concerned, the problems are that of delays and costs.

In the area of toll roads, the users feel that they are charged tolls but the quality of the roads is not upto the mark, and in several cases the motorists end up paying tolls even for the roads which are under constructions.

"Over-crowding at the toll gates is a major irritant and the service providers have got themselves a bad name from the motorists," the survey across all the cities showed.

Unfortunately, there was a trust deficit in the mind of consumers even for the regulators. For instance, several of them posed this question why the telecom regulator has not been able to crack a whip on the unsolicited phone calls and SMS.

Likewise, the complaints against the companies offering medical insurance companies have not been fully addressed leaving a lot of mistrust.

The problem in the education sector is that no single authority has been named since it is a state subject.

"Mushrooming of universities pose a different problem. Earlier if a student has an issue he/she could approach a university. Now virtually each college is a university itself. All kind of false promises are made to students in terms of placements prospects and the delivery is not there. The consumer in the education sector is paying the most," the comprehensive ASSOCHAM report found.

As for the merchandise, the grievances related to over-promising, sub-standard service of the products.

The report a lot of work needs to be done at the state government's levels.

"We in the ASSOCHAM would like to work with them after all, the industry has a stake in the consumer, who only is all about India story," said Rawat.

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