The hybrid Indian online model

There is no denying that the increasing popularity of ‘online’ in India. Since moving back to India a couple of years ago, I have been regularly using a plethora of online services – ride hailing, food delivery, house rentals, packers and movers, shopping – and by and large, the experience has been pleasant. It has certainly made life easier and more fun, though I still have reservations about the long term viability of some of these companies (but that’s a topic for another post!).

One aspect, though, that has intrigued me, and in some cases, irritated me, is the amount of human interactions that some of these services entail. A couple of examples:

I had registered on a property website while casually looking at some properties. And a few days later, I received a call from the company saying that they would be happy to help me shortlist a property, asking for my details, talking about a few properties and then the catch – they will share my contact details with the property developers who would then call me to schedule a visit, etc. Please note that this was completely outbound as I had not expressed any interest in these properties on their website or even asked anybody to call me.

One of the reasons I prefer to use online services is the relative degree of anonymity – I do not have to talk to a customer service agent, provide details, then have further people calling me, etc. I would rather do all the activities myself and only have an option to talk to someone at the company if I need any help.

This got me thinking. Is it that our digital economy is not mature enough that companies still have to hire a team of agents to call its users and be enablers? Or is it that companies are not happy at the volume of business they are getting from pure self service users and feel the need to hire people to push things along? I appreciate that this provides employment opportunities and, in our country, that is very important. But is there a case then, for companies to provide an option to users who prefer to be completely self service?

Case #2:

I went on to the website of a very popular DTH provider with whom I have an existing relationship. I had to make a service request. It was easy to find the service request section on their website and within a few seconds, I had made my request which was time bound. And then the wait started. It’s been a couple of months now, so the details are a bit vague but I do not believe I received even an acknowledgment that my request has been received. So, two days later, what did I have to do? You guessed it right, I had to call their Customer Support and within minutes, I received a follow up call and things were sorted.

It begs the question, doesn’t it? Why have a Service Request option on your website when clearly, it is not being monitored? In western markets, companies love it when users self serve, saves them significant costs of hiring and training call centre agents and the operational costs involved (office space, telecommunications, etc.). I wonder, if in India, the cost structure is so skewed that it is still cheaper for companies to have a team of people on call than build a technological solution? I am not sure that it is, but would love to hear from experts.

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