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Case Study: Can You Trust That E-tailer?

“As far as the customer is concerned, the interface is the product” — Jef Raskin, who started the Macintosh project for Apple

Photo Credit : Shutterstock

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Madhur Nayyar sat before his banker, looking most stunned. In most bizarre manner, the previous night he had found that his credit card had been used in Luxembourg thrice in two hours in online purchases while he was asleep. Madhur had woken up at 5 a.m. when his phone rang several times. It was an unknown number and he disregarded it but when the same number called for the fourth time, Madhur answered it. It was the call centre of Bank of Bensy. The lady at the other end said, “Sir, have you lost your credit card?”

Then, the conversation went from bizarre to bad. At the end of the conversation, she connected him to a senior gent who went through the protocols with Madhur and finally said it would be best to cancel his credit card. He advised Madhur to call his CRM first thing and meet him or her personally.

That was how Madhur was sitting before Chhaya Vasant at Bank of Bensy. As they went over his movements, where he had used his card last and so on, Madhur also mentioned that he used this particular credit card to buy books and some electronics from time to time on Prescott, the e-tailer, which sold just about everything he needed. Chhaya nodded and said, “Do you leave your card information online or do you delete it?”

Madhur: What I recall is that after every payment, the page changes. And the credit card information does not remain there.

Chhaya: Um, no, it would work differently. You do need to consciously remove your data. Many online retailers store your data.

madhur glazed and felt his heart beat faster. He never thought that was happening because the site never asked him “Would you like to save your card details?” At least, in his scheme of things, that was how people were supposed to work.

Chhaya: There is no law that compels them to ask you that. They store it anyway. Some do.

madhur was now very angry as he opened his iPad and logged into Prescott.in, the retail site where he bought his headphones, USBs among several other stuff. As Chhaya directed, he went to ‘My Account’ then ‘Card Details’. He was now even surprised that such a thing existed. “Click on card details,” said Chhaya. But the moment he clicked on ‘Card Details’, it showed some card information for a split second, then swiftly changed to ‘Shop by Categories’. She urged him to try again; then again. But each time the ‘Card Details’ page just flashed before them and changed to something else. “Hmm…” said Chhaya. “Something does not give…”.

Chhaya: So, this is the gag. Your data is stored there. This is not the only site. Others do too.

madhur was very surprised. He had been ordering from Prescott India for some time now. Did that mean they had left his card information sitting on their website all along? Seeing his disturbed state, Chhaya said, “Ok, why don’t you do this? Place an order and let’s watch the process.”

Madhur placed an order for a music album priced at Rs 2,700. When he clicked on ‘Place Order’, Chhaya expected the payment options to show, but instead, the site thanked him for placing the order and the screen displayed a document of ‘Order Confirmation’ and payment received. Madhur was taken aback.

Chhaya: That means they have used your card and processed the order without asking you if they can proceed, etc. Good sites are supposed to ask first. There are online companies like Lawson Cards, etc., that tell you upfront that they are keeping your card data and when the subscription expires, they send you an invoice and ask you if you would like to renew.

harried, Madhur looked for a button for ‘Help’ or ‘Customer Care’; but these were nowhere to be found. Madhur searched all obvious heads but customer care was nowhere. After much searching he found it and used the ‘chat’ option to engage with Prescott.

This is an extract of Madhur’s chat with Prescott India’s customer care call centre:

You are now connected to Jyoti from Prescott.in

Madhur: I just placed an order but I was not provided Secure Password; instead the system seems to have used my credit card information likely stored by you after my last purchase. Yet according to the RBI guidelines, you are supposed to send me a secure password to confirm the purchase. How come you did not?

Jyoti: Hello, my name is Jyoti. I will certainly try to help regarding your concern. Yes, you are absolutely right. The secure password is asked to complete the purchase.

However, it would take approximately 15 minutes for the purchase to be authorised by your bank. If that does not happen, the payment would not go through and you would be sent a ‘Revise Payment’ link to your e-mail.

I see that there has been no transaction made on this order. I would request you to please wait for some time for the confirmation of the order.

You may also remove your card details from your Prescott account and place the order again by adding the details at the time of checkout, I am positive that might work.

Madhur: You have not addressed my question but gone on to say so much! Clearly, you are aware that my card details are with the website. How did Prescott save my card details without asking me if I wanted it to? I did not feed any card information this time. I only clicked on ‘Place Order’.

Jyoti: It is an automated process and the details would be saved for you to place the orders quickly, however, we do not save the complete details, due to security reasons.

The cart would become empty, once you proceed to checkout and thus, it means the order is being processed. You may cancel this order and place a new order for the same item, or else, I request you to please wait for the ‘Revise Payment’ link to be sent to your e-mail address for you to revise the payment for the same order.
chhaya whispered to Madhur: “Almost every sentence here is copy pasted from a template. Their mandate is to distract you, engage with you using very kind words. It is a gag.”

Madhur (to Jyoti): You are answering questions I have not asked. My question — I repeat — how did Prescott save my card details?

Jyoti: It would not be saved, it would just show the recent card details that you have previously used. So that you may place the order quickly. We do not have any of your card details.

Madhur: I am trying to tell you my transaction is complete. The system just told me that my order is confirmed. The ‘Order History’ has already updated and I have a confirmed Order #325.

Jyoti: Yes, I understand that. However, to confirm the order, we need an approval for your payment from your bank, which we have not yet received.

If the payment has not been approved by your bank, the payment would be declined and Prescott would not be able to receive the funds.

Madhur: You are trying to confuse me. You are answering questions I have not asked. Pay attention: When a customer places an order, and enters his card details to make payment, you grab that data for yourself without checking with him: ‘May I save your card information?’ Your site is so designed that without him finding out, his card is being saved. You don’t even tell me, ‘Hey, I have saved your card data’. You sneak it into your system.

Jyoti: That is only ‘last card ’ data stored so that.... So that you may place the order quickly. We do not have any of your card information.

Madhur: You don’t need to save my time for me. Let me take care of my time. Prescott simply should not save my card data whether in part or whole. I think, it is unethical and an invasion of my personal security.

Jyoti: Okay, then I will forward your feedback to the concerned team and look into this. I am sorry, if this has made you uncomfortable.

Madhur: Technically, I had not approved the order! Even before my bank approves I have to approve by placing my card data on your site. You did not give me a chance to do it.

Jyoti: Yes, I understand.

Madhur: I fear you understand nothing. Your ‘I will look into this’ is very upsetting. You simply need to NEVER STORE CARD DATA and always ask the customer upfront and clearly, not slyly where you sneak in that caveat in some corner.... You say you understand everything, yet the actions of Prescott make me wonder...

Jyoti: I will forward your feedback to the concerned team. I am sorry for all the inconvenience caused.

Madhur: You can do that. But how do I know that you have deleted my card details?

Jyoti: You may delete the card details, which are saved in your Prescott account.

Madhur: Please hold on...

Jyoti: Sure.

Madhur (After checking his ‘My Account’ page with Prescott): There are no cards details here. How come?
I am looking at ‘Your Account/ Add Card Payment Options’

Jyoti: OK. Please check the ‘Edit /Delete/Add Payment Options’.

Madhur opened the subfolder and gasped. “You have all my cards there! Good Lord! Unfair! Unethical! What customer will imagine his data is stored under a heading like that? Normally people will look at ‘Debit Cards and Credit cards’. Why, even your site is designed to confuse and mislead!

When a customer places his card number, here is where Prescott needs to ask: “Would you like us to save this data?”

Jyoti: I totally understand your concern. I am sorry for the inconvenience, I would definitely, right away forward your concern and see to it.

Madhur: My concern? You need to be concerned that you are doing something downright illegal and unethical. And how will I know that you did raise the issue with the ‘concerned authorities’ and got a reply for me?

Jyoti: I am following up this for you. Once an update is received, I would send you an e-mail. I request you to please allow us some time.

Madhur: Do I have an option? Oh, what is this….? My order seems cancelled. So, that ends everything.

Jyoti: It has not yet been cancelled, you would still have the option of revising the payment, if you are willing to.

Madhur: If your concerned authorities are concerned about my inconvenience, then they will post a question in the flow of the process where a customer places his card information, and ask, ‘May we save your card information with us?’

Jyoti: Sure, we will definitely look into what we can do in this case, thank you for bringing this to our notice.

chhaya chuckled, “Idiotic templated responses! They should at least have the sense to change the mood of the response sentences!”

Madhur (to Jyoti): I will place my order but have to see how to do it without my card data being saved. Let me end this most unpleasant interaction: Good companies take permission, they ask this question. And those that don’t take permission are called ‘dishonest companies’.

Thank you for your time and engaging with my query. I will now see how to place the order.

Jyoti: Sure, please do. I would definitely look into this. Is there anything else I can assist you with?

Madhur: No, thanks ten minutes later, Madhur was horrified when Akon Bank’s (another of his cards saved by Prescott) automated SMS told him they had (already) cleared the payment. Madhur called the chat line again.

Madhur: Hi, may I speak with Jyoti who was chatting with me about my order please? I was told my payment has not been cleared by my bank and then I cancelled my order. Now I find out that my bank had, in fact cleared the payment.

Dinesh: Thank you for contacting Prescott. My name is Dinesh. I will be glad to assist you.

Madhur: Hi, Dinesh, to save time, can I speak with Jyoti? Since she knows the story...

Dinesh: Sorry sir, it is not possible to connect a chat to a particular person.

Madhur (typing furiously): All right. Here is my story: I placed an order; Total was some Rs 2,700; The site just went and made the payment using my credit card information; Did not give me a secure password to operate the card; I chatted with Jyoti; She said only when the bank clears the payment will I get the secure password. Sounded absurd but I trusted her. I told her I did not want my data sitting with Prescott, without my permission. She agreed; I cancelled my orders….
Now I find that the bank had cleared the payment, although she assured me that process would not permit. But there you go! Your process is rotten, as I see that I have an SMS confirming that my bank had made the payment the moment you used my card!
A few things:

a. All that Prescott said about the fact that it saves only a part of my card data and that I will get a password after bank approved... is wrong, a lie.
b. I have cancelled my orders
c. You have my money

Now what do I do?

Dinesh: I am sorry for the inconvenience caused to you in this payment issue. I can understand that your amount has been deducted and the refund not yet credited back to your account.

Madhur: Isn't it much more than something so simple? I don’t understand what you guys say in response to customer questions. I still need that music album I ordered and which order I cancelled.

Dinesh: I checked and see that order has been cancelled and the amount will be credited back to your account within 2-4 business days.
Madhur: Can you please confirm this to me in an e-mail? I have no documentary proof of anything.

Dinesh: Sure. Once our chat ends, I will send you a confirmation e-mail.

Madhur: Thank you. All this is so unprofessional and messy.

Dinesh: I am sorry to hear that. I will escalate this issue to our supervisors and request them to coach the agent. Is there anything else I can do for you?
Madhur: Why coach the agent? The fault lies with Prescott's systems!

Dinesh: Thank you for contacting Prescott. We hope to see you again. Have a great day. Bye!

an exhausted Madhur looked at Chhaya who had been following his chat. Chhaya looked concerned. “I have known this happens but this time I am seeing it happen. This is serious. I suggest you directly file an FIR against Prescott for misleading and cheating. Get in all the section numbers covering every area from misdemeanour to deliberate cheating. I will step in with our bank lawyers. Meanwhile your card has been deactivated so you do not have to worry for now.”
When he reached his office, Madhur was very disturbed. He felt betrayed and cheated. These e-tailers project such a glorious image of themselves through advertisements… How is it that time and again we fall for their claims of service and dependability?

Angry that he had not been able to find their customer service number on their website (and had to use a less emotive chat window), Madhur called his assistant Aniket and asked him to somehow get the number of Prescott’s customer service.

Madhur: It is very annoying that when they speak to you through their ads, they expect you to be present and listening and attentive. Then, when you begin to engage with their services, they disappear into the woodwork and …. It feels like they are all laughing at you for your stupidity!
Aniket: I know how you feel. I will find the number for you soon.

Madhur: This is the first time I am realising that they never leave a number for you to call them. But they have every damn information about you! Why do they distance the customer from customer service?

Aniket: Simple answer is cost cutting and efficiency. Cost is spent till you are in their grip. After that they will not spend to be in touch. Initially everyone had armies of call centre agents answering the phones. As the costs started rising, everyone started investing in technology, BOTs, IVRs, essentially to try and reduce per call cost so that maximum problem gets resolved before they reach live agents.

What I have seen is all large organisations have similar procedures — it will all seem like distancing the customer from engaging with the
e-tailer — so they will add IVR (interactive voice response) — which is by far the most annoying especially when it is in that phoney American accent, add many steps, add xyz layers till you reach a person on phone, then add four more steps till you reach a customer service head.

Madhur: But there are companies that have human interface (where you hear voice on calling) in customer care.

Aniket: Those are mostly small companies who will die if they don’t give ‘good service’. But it is mostly cost reduction at play. Once they grow bigger, organisations try to bring more and more technology to reduce human involvement here.

Yes, it is frustrating for people like you and me as customers, but if you keep asking the agent to speak to his manager and then ask the manager to speak to his manager, you will eventually reach the head of customer service.

Madhur: Then find him for me quick.

when he got the Prescott customer service manager on the phone, Madhur blasted him. “I am very angry that your site has been retaining my card information without my permission and now my card has been used by someone in Luxembourg!”

Atul Bali (Manager): But how are you blaming Prescott for that?

Madhur: Because only you are retaining my card details. Yours is the only site I use — for books, for furniture, for electronics, to buy gifts… everything!
Atul: I am sorry you are distressed but Prescott has nothing to do with the theft of your card.

Madhur: You are deliberately skirting the issue. My card has not been stolen; my data has been breached so that someone has been able to use my funds! How dare you keep my card online with yourself? And now don’t bother to reply to me. My lawyer will make that easy for you…

To be continued...

Also read case analysis: Vikram Chandna | Rajan Chhibba

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