Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Cost of outsourced work

For last few years outsourcing work is routinely adopted by companies to reduce costs. Now a days we see various non-core activities like after sales service, salary payments, marketing activities, claim processing, event management, house-keeping, physical security of premises and so on - are routinely handled by outside agencies. While cost reduction may be true in short run - there is a cost that a company pays for outsourcing its activities.

For example, look at the quality of service provided by outsourced agencies for After Sales Service. Is there any credible proof that outsourced agencies can offer to its customers that their customer's are served well and are happy with their service? I doubt.

Take this instance of a leading software product vendor who routinely outsources its Dealer Incentive scheme management to third parties.  Yesterday we learnt about a dealer scheme from this vendor's newsletter and clicked on the link to register for the same. And we got a Google advisory saying:

Site is listed as suspicious - visiting this web site may harm your computer.
Part of this site was listed for suspicious activity 1 time(s) over the past 90 days.
What happened when Google visited this site?
Of the 2 pages we tested on the site over the past 90 days, 2 page(s) resulted in malicious software being downloaded and installed without user consent. The last time Google visited this site was on 2010-03-13, and the last time suspicious content was found on this site was on 2010-03-13.
Malicious software is hosted on 2 domain(s), including waimaighaiphahxi.in/ , weedshop.org/

I brought this to the notice of the Agency who was administering this scheme with copy to Partner Account Manager of the software vendor. In about 1 hour I got a telephone call from the Agency - a girl told me not worry - as we were pre-registered for the scheme!! When I asked her about Free Malware given out to the dealers upon registration - she feigned ignorance and said she will check up. There is no response from software vendor yet.

Few days back I had written to the same vendor's Senior Manager asking him if any quality checks are in place to ensure that all dealers are informed about the "schemes" launched by them and agency informs and distributes the incentives in time? After a reminder I got a email saying all distributors are advised to include my email id in all their communications to dealers! I asked him why have I not received the Incentive after 10 weeks of scheme closure - I've yet to receive any reply. Of course, I did not ask him about the schemes - which we did not know about - and lost out on incentives in this period of  4 to 5 months.

Take another example, recently we got cheque of more than Rs.1,00,000/- from one of customer through their outsourced agency - a bank - who makes payment to vendors on behalf of this party. Can you believe that this payment was already made to us few months back - as an advance payment after deducting TDS? When we pointed this out to the customer they asked for the cheque back by courier. Not a word of appreciation or complaint! Is this a routine? I believe so. Else how can you explain customer behaviour as noticed by us?

Believe me, this incident is not an isolated incident. We see about 1 or 2 incidents every year like this and return the cheques.

Un-used and expired Sodexo Gift Vouchers have no value?

Sodexo is a french company allowed to issue pre-paid Gift Vouchers in India. There is a guideline given by Reserve Bank of India giving directions for their operations. It's published in April 2009 under "Issuance and Operation of Pre-paid Payment Instruments in India (Reserve Bank) Directions, 2009".

We had got this Sodexho Gift Vouchers in 2006 from one of the Vendor as an Incentive. We thought we had used it all. But recently - while clearing cupboard - my wife found unused Gift coupons worth Rs.2,600/-. They had expiry date of 31-12-2006.

When I approached Sodexo they said nothing can be done about them as everything has been accounted for so far and accounts are closed.

When I read the RBI directions- it says following:

Issuance and Operation of Pre-paid Payment Instruments in India (Reserve Bank) Directions, 2009

April 27, 2009

9. Validity
9.1 All pre-paid payment instruments issued in the country shall have a minimum validity period of six months from the date of activation/issuance to the holder.

9.2 In the case of non-reloadable pre-paid payment instruments, the transfer of outstanding amount at the expiry of the payment instrument to a new similar payment instrument of the same issuer, purchased by the holder may be permitted.

9.3 The outstanding balance against any payment instrument shall not be forfeited unless the holder is cautioned at least 15 days in advance as regards the expiry of the validity of the payment instrument.

12. Customer Protection Issue
12.1 All pre-paid payment instrument issuers shall disclose all important terms and conditions in clear and simple language (preferably in English, Hindi and the local language) comprehensible to the holders while issuing the instruments. These disclosures shall include:

i) All charges and fees associated with the use of the instrument.

ii) The expiry period and the terms and conditions pertaining to expiration of the instrument.

iii) The customer service telephone numbers and website URL.

12.2 An effective mechanism for redressal of customer complaints shall be put in place by the entity issuing pre-paid payment instruments.

So, I asked them if Sodexo had given 15 days notice to me (as holder) as per direction 9.3 and also inquired about "effective mechanism for redressal of consumer complaint". They had no answer. They noted my contact number and promised to revert. This happened about 4 days back. Before that, I had written an email to the address they have put on the web site in first week of Feb 2010. But, so far, there is no reply to my email.

I feel that such companies - who are authorised to issue pre-paid  Payment Instruments i.e., Gift Vouchers must be making a lot of money due to such expired and lost Gift vouchers. But RBI guidelines is not detailed enough to stop such operations. What to do?

Update (21 April 2010): After some telephonic follow-up Sodexo agreed to issue revalidated Gift Vouchers. I've sent the original Gift Vouchers to their Mumbai Office. I should get it in 21 days.

Excessive electricity bills paid for 10 years due to a defective electric meter

We were suspecting our electric bills to be high - so after several complaints starting from Feb 2009 - meter was taken for testing in Aug 2009 and found to be defective. Meter was found running even when mains supply was switched off. Reliance gave us 20% refund for 5 months starting from Feb 2009 based on Meter test report - which had tested meter for 10%, 20% and 100% load at Unity and 0.5 lag Power Factor. Average Percentage Error of this 6 readings was 20%.

We went to Grievance Forum - they gave order for 20% refund for additional 3 months - as per MERC regulation. But, our current (new) meter reading shows reduction in consumption of units by 61% compared to old meter. This is in spite of the fact that consumption pattern has remained unchanged - before and after the meter change.

So, we're thinking of approaching Ombudsman for the same. But problem is that of MERC regulation - which states following (relevent provisions are reproduced below):


Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Commission (Electricity Supply Code and Other Conditions of Supply) Regulations, 2005

15.4 Billing in the Event of Defective Meters
15.4.1 Subject to the provisions of Part XII and Part XIV of the Act, in case of a defective meter, the amount of the consumer’s bill shall be adjusted, for a maximum period of three months prior to the month in which the dispute has arisen, in accordance with the results of the test taken subject to furnishing the test report of the meter alongwith the assessed bill.:

Provided that, in case of broken or damaged meter seal, the meter shall be tested for defectiveness or tampering. In case of defective meter, the assessment shall be carried out as per clause 15.4.1 above and, in case of tampering as per Section 126 or Section 135 of the Act, depending on the circumstances of each case.

Provided further that, in case the meter has stopped recording, the consumer will be billed for the period for which the meter has stopped recording, up to a maximum period of three months, based on the average metered consumption for twelve months immediately preceding the three months prior to the month in which the billing is contemplated.

I feel that meter was running fast since May 1999 - when we had shifted over from Single Phase to Three Phase supply.

So, problem we are wondering is from where and how to get refund for a fast running meter for almost 10 years? Any sugestions?