Saturday, December 29, 2012

A few lessons at a cost!

 I was sent a Lawyers notice last month. Hopefully the last! It was on behalf of an internet service provider demanding Rs.783/- or else. The notice threatened legal action, both civil and criminal.  In addition I was asked to pay interest at 24% and Rs 500/- legal charges. It was the culmination of a battle between me and the service provider.

The story begins with my cancelling their service in Jan 2012. I walked into one their collection offices after making sure all dues were paid. There was no form to fill, so I jotted  my details on a piece of paper and gave it to the boy at the counter and thought that was it. As the server  was down, he promised he would do it later.   I discovered a week later that he had forgotten!  My getting upset had no effect. He said 'You can complain!'  It meant I had to pay for unused services for an extra month! This should have given me a clue about the future. The first lesson:  Keep a copy and follow up the same day! (Obvious to many!)

Then a girl called and offered safe custody for six months with no charge! While not fully sure, I agreed as this would give me time to test the new service provider! I also enjoyed the thought of having options! Then it was time for my second lesson. A bill came even though it was a no-charge safe custody. Don't trust the promises, as the systems do not work the way the girls/boys tell us!.

Luckily I had the letter which had promised me safe custody! So after many exchanges, I was given the good news that I need not pay. The wordings were, 'We would like to inform you that amount of Rs. 951 has been waived off docket number ******* as a good will gesture!'  This good will gesture made me mad! It was their system error and there should have been an apology! The third lesson:  Do not expect anyone to accept mistakes! It is only human. It may also affect their career if they admit mistakes!

It was quiet till August and then the unexpected bill came for the month of August. Apparently the service was automatically restarted, even though they do not say so! In fact, I do remember a girl reminding me about the safe custody period which was about to end! I had told her clearly that I did not need the service anymore and thought that was enough. Not really!  Finally: Reconfirm with a letter, preferably a registered letter! 

 As soon as I received the legal  letter, I spoke to Roopa, the attorney in the family. She asked me 'Do you want to contest?'  and I said, 'yes!'  She then asked me to send her all the correspondence I had and cautioned me not speak to anyone from the service provider. That was ominous! After she read the stuff I had sent her, she told me 'You are too emotional. Stick to facts and in any case do not write them again!'

There were at least a dozen phone calls from different people asking for 'Doreswamy' and chasing for payment. Some cajoled, some  polite and a couple were rude and I reacted to them depending on my mood, but basically asking them whether they had read the mails I had sent. In short asking them 'Did you do your home work?'. Anyway I am still not used to being called Doreswamy! So invariably the conversation began on a wrong note!
                          

 Then a letter from the District Legal services Authority, Bangalore Urban invited me to present myself at the office of the Deputy registrar, at Mayo Hall. It was the day after my return from Rajasthan.  Roopa advised me that it was Lok Adalath and I could pay under protest, if need be and we could take it from there. She would not be in town or else she would have come with me.

Anyway I took the copies of my correspondence and stepped into the premises. The door in front said, 'office of the Public Prosecutor'. That was a sentimental moment, as my father had worked in the same office ages ago!

I finally made it to the registrar's office. And it was all streamlined from there on. They were two persons with tables at the door of the registrar's office and a couple more from the lawyers office on a bench. Two persons were ahead of me, one was a lady who was totally upset as she had to take leave from work. The man ahead of me said 'I should go to court, but who has the time!' and paid.

Then it was my turn, the person was polite and made a token attempt to see the bunch of papers I gave him and said, 'You could pay Rs. 400 or you could refuse, but then you have go to the consumers court.'  I agreed to pay, wondering whether Roopa would approve! Luckily, I had taken along papers of another bill for Rs. 328/- which was still brewing to become a legal case. The service provider rep. agreed to waive off the demand as it was within his powers, but not the one in question!

I paid up and walked in to the deputy registrar's office with the receipt. It seemed the registrar dealt with a case only if there was no agreement. A letter was typed and I signed and was asked to collect a copy of the letter from another court in another location after 3 days! Speak of bureaucracy!

As I look back, I know I should have talked to the deputy registrar before accepting the offer made, as it was my intention to protest. But, I fell in line with the others! In fact, I was expecting that discussions with the company rep. would be in front of the deputy registrar. Wonder why it was not so? Something to think about!

The companies do off-load their work to contractors for saving costs and obviously there are problems of communication and of systems. It is also true that companies have to deal with customers who avoid paying. Hence there is a need for a system to collect dues, the collection department and the lawyers.

But it is also easy for the same team to make deliberate mistakes and the customer, who is the weakest link in the chain, is made to pay. While individually the amounts could be small collectively they are not!

Anyway, I did meet the registrar to make a statement, 'Sir, I have agreed to pay, but I am paying for the lapses in their system.' I was a bit mollified and also not surprised when he said, 'Yes! And it is true of every service provider!'

Disappointing  that service providers have such a poor image. And when I had mentioned earlier to Roopa that 'some young men and women on the phone  were just lying!' She replied 'Forget truth! There are only lies, white ones and other types!'  All very depressing! It seems that lack of ethics is all pervading in this industry!