Telecom giant Airtel got embroiled in a controversy after a subscriber sought to interact with a Hindu customer service representative, a demand which the company said it never accepted.
As it faced online criticism for allegedly not standing up to bigotry, Airtel said it does not differentiate between customers, employees and partners on the basis of caste or religion.
It all started with Lucknow-based Pooja Singh, an Airtel direct-to-home (DTH) customer, taking to the Twitter yesterday to lodge a complaint of poor service.
A customer care executive from Bharti Airtel India replied to her saying the company would take a closer look into her complaint and get back shortly.
The customer care executive appeared to be a Muslim from his name, Shoaib, which prompted Singh to demand a “Hindu representative” as she had “no faith in his work ethics”.
“Dear Shohaib, as you’re a Muslim and I have no faith in your working ethics because Kuran may have a different version for customer service, thus requesting you to assign a Hindu representative for my request. Thanks (sic),” wrote Pooja, whose Twitter handle declares her as a management professional, a “Proud Indian” and a “Proud Hindu”.
Following this, Gaganjot, another executive, contacted her expressing the intent to assist her, which the company attributed to automated system assigning any new customer complains/requests to the next available service executive.
Asked why it agreed to Singh’s request for change of representative, Airtel said: “This is incorrect and baseless and Airtel did not agree to any such thing.” An Airtel spokesperson said: “At Airtel, we do not differentiate between customers or our employees/ partners on the basis of caste or religion. If a customer contacts us again for an ongoing service issue then the first available service executive responds in the interest of time. We request everyone not to misinterpret and give it unnecessary religious colour. The said customer has been responded to.” After the change of service representative drew criticism, Airtel had yesterday responded to Singh saying, “we absolutely do not differentiate between customers, employees and partners on the basis of caste or religion. We would urge you to do the same”.
It said: “Both Shoaib and Gaganjot are part of our customer resolution team. If any customer contacts us for an ongoing service issue then the first available service executive responds in the interest of time.” The move had however drawn criticism from many. Historian Irfan Habib said that he “can’t believe this is for real and some of us have degenerated to this dangerous level”.
Former J&K chief minister Omar Abdullah said he would change his mobile operator and dump Airtel DTH and broadband.
“Dear @Airtel_Presence this conversation is genuine (I’ve seen the timeline myself). I refuse to pay another penny to a company that condones such blatant bigotry. I’m beginning the process of porting my number to another service provider & cancelling my DTH & Broadband,” he tweeted.
Singh, whose followers seems to have grown from over 10,500 to 13,000 since the controversy broke yesterday, received support from some, which she retweeted.
“I am overwhelmed with the kind of support I got from you all and really thankful to you from bottom of my heart. What I said was my personal choice as per my past experience and it was not a publicity stunt by anyway,” she said in a statement posted on her Twitter account today.
She also received a lot of hate tweets for her bigotry. To this, she responded: “I simply made a request to change representative from Muslim to Hindu as my experience in past was not good and that’s my right as well. After that, the kind of abuse I’m facing are beyond imagination and that in itself proves that I was right at very first place.”
This is published unedited from the PTI feed.