Monday, September 19, 2016

Will Reliance Jio change the rules of the game?

Advertising is the easy part. It is the back end and customer service that will be difficult

A few days ago, I was so miffed with my Airtel service that I seriously contemplated burning my SIM card or gift wrapping and sending it to Sunil Mittal with a sarcastic note. And then switching to Reliance Jio.

But before doing something so impulsive, I went to Facebook to ask my friends about Reliance Jio. I got several long posts cautioning me and a solicitous friend, whom I have not spoken to for some time, frantically called me and gave me invaluable advice. Having been bitten by the Reliance Jio bug and hurting, he advised me not to “Make the mistake of making this your primary number” because I won’t be able to make calls.

Even as I realised the increasing importance of word-of-mouth marketing in the digital age, my mind went to one of the biggest launches in recent times: a diversification of staggering proportions and a start-up (as described by Mukesh Ambani) of ₹2.5 lakh crore without a single rupee of revenue as we speak.

In the words of the greatest writer of all times (PG Wodehouse, in case you were wondering), “Imagination boggles”! But Mukesh Ambani clearly knows his onions and if anyone has the capability of taking on some well-entrenched Indian and global giants, it is him.

Should one stick to one’s knitting?
Reliance Industries is an Indian giant that has consistently delivered year on year by thinking big, thinking global and managing the environment with surprising ease.

Clearly, their strength has been in business to business. Their ability to make a success of business to consumer is yet to be seen.

But I have a contrarian view. Many management theories we idolise and follow blindly have been conceptualised in Western markets, which are stagnant, if not declining. In markets like those, conservation of resources is laudable. But India is a growing economy.

Let me explain. Consider one of the most successful diversifications of Titan Industries Ltd, Tanishq. Imagine a watch company diversifying into jewellery and making a success of it! That’s the opportunity India provides and the risk taking ability it rewards.
Who knows what the future might hold for Reliance Jio?

Surrogate brand ambassador?
Reliance Jio’s launch had its own share of drama, as its ad in major newspapers had the dominant visual of Narendra Modi speaking about his vision of a digital India. Here’s the ad that literally launched a Twitter war, as people went to town saying Modi had joined the Reliance bandwagon, among a lot of other uncomplimentary things. 

I am not for one moment saying that the ad was creative or, worse still, unethical. It could well have been a tribute to Modi’s vision for India, which tied in with Reliance’s own plans and could have even been their inspiration.

But the ad certainly subscribed to one point of view that the advertising industry holds sacred — “Love me or hate me but for God’s sake don’t ignore me”. Well, you could not ignore the ad nor could one ignore the free offers of unlimited calls within India and the abolition of roaming charges it claimed to give.

There were a number of blogs explaining the offers and clearly, the demand was not being met as hordes of customers waited for days for their connection and activation of their SIM cards. This reminded me of the great Flipkart fiasco as millions of customers logged on to a website that soon crashed.

Remember, advertising is the easy part. It is the back end and customer service that will be the difficult part and if early days are any indication, Reliance will have its hands full.

So what must I do?
I am an unhappy, dissatisfied mobile services customer. Like million others I am sure. I have been wooed and cheated by service providers before, but I am still searching for the Holy Grail of customer service and coverage. I am willing to take a chance with Reliance, but will not put all my eggs in that one basket. (I have horror stories of my brief engagement with the earlier Reliance).

I will hang on to Airtel and keep fighting with them every day and look at Jio as my second line. Who knows? They might even get their act together. Because it is time for them to get off the newspapers and television sets and focus on things that matter — like speed of response, coverage and customer service which has foxed the Airtels and Vodafones of this world. Yes, Dhirubhai Ambani’s dream was “roti, kapda, makaan aur mobile.” Will this be a mere pipe dream?
Oh yes, I have decided. I will ask my wife!

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