After Twitter war on Airtel ‘bigotry’, telecom giant replies

Airtel issued a long statement clarifying what really happened on their part, and how a regular process was misunderstood as obliging to bigotry

A screenshot of a tweet shared by a Twitter user responding to the Airtel controversy

Dubai: After landing in a Twitter row last week, Indian telecom giant Bharti Airtel Limited has finally issued a long statement to clarify what went wrong on their part. However, not many are satisfied with their reply.

On Monday, tweep Pooja Singh contacted Airtel’s support on Twitter. When a Muslim customer care agent replied, she requested to be connected to a Hindu agent. Airtel obliged and tweeps started slamming both Singh and the telecom company.

When their first official response didn’t seem to have any effect on calming down outraged tweeps, Airtel put up a longer note on the social media platform, titled: “Did Airtel really bow down to a discriminatory request? Maybe you should read this.”

The note clarified: “For us, Monday was simply a case of two dedicated professionals, Shoaib and Gaganjot, following a dutiful course in their regular work shift… The idea is to minimise the time taken to resolve any customer query. So when a customer writes in and one advisor is busy, the query gets assigned to the next available advisor automatically. Which is exactly what happened with Shoaib and Gaganjot,”

Referring to the woman’s request as “unfathomable” Airtel said in the statement: “We are still trying to wrap our head around how one colleague responding on behalf of another is being misconstrued as our ‘acceptance of discrimination’. We did not and we repeat, DID NOT change the advisor because of the unfathomable request from said customer. At Airtel, we never have and never will succumb to differentiating on the basis of religion, ethnicity of caste.”

Airtel further posted, that it was because Shoaib wasn’t logged in that Gaganjot took up the case but it was mistakenly seen as bowing down to bigotry.

Twitter user @BabuSaheb90 replied: “It looks like justification of that incident more than clarification or apologies. You gonna lose more customers with this. You have not mentioned Pooja once in this letter.”

And @Joydas felt this was just a well written public relations draft. He posted: “This is exactly how beautifully crafted PR draft reads like. It has power to make the naive believe in the b******* offered as explanation and also convince them that the ‘client’ is a victim.”

@Joydas also added, that like mentioned in their statement, the problem lay with the training manual. He posted: “It is apt that Airtel India mentioned a lot about their training manual. Because that exactly is where the problem is. Their executives are just trained to paste templates replies without reading content.”

Tweep @rokade_rahul agreed: “Your training/work manual should include sidelining racist/abusive customers. That would help maintain dignity. ‘shift change’ is an excuse.”

Some regular customers did sympathise with the customer care agents involved in the issue, while some others said it was common of Airtel’s agents not to look at the history of a conversation thread on social media.

@CricFarmer tweeted: “It’s pretty common… Happens across all the companies who are managing customer requests. Now for Shoaib or Gananjot, they didn’t realise how big an issue this might become.”

and @satyajeettweets wrote: “Yeah. It is true. Different customer representative comes for same case and I don’t think that they look history. Because we have to repeat our same complaint to every new representative. Most of us face has faced this at some point of time.”

Airtel in their note wrote: “While Shoaib and Gaganjot went about working on this case they learnt a harsh lesson. That their religious identity matters. That they should check identities before taking up the responsibility of a service request. Maybe from here on, they will. However, we will resist that. Strongly.”

Twitter user @3rd_Handle replied: “Gaganjot should be mature enough to have understood the malicious content of the tweet and contacted superiors before responding to that. But more likely, Gaganjot is innocent because it seems that these types of issues are not covered under your training manual.”

Airtel further posted that their training manuals will never carry instructions to pause and check one’s identity before serving a query.

Keeping their letter open-ended, Airtel responded that while Gaganjot, Shoaib and others continue to respond to customer queries, it is up to customers to decide what ‘impression’ the episode has left on their minds.

Notably, Airtel signed off with “Official Airtel Spokesperson”, adding that the name has been withheld so people can read it free of religious and caste overtones.

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