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IT, integration, and an identity crisis

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DQW Bureau
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In a Douglas Adams book, detective Dirk Gently checks his post. A threatening letter from Amex, about unpaid card dues. Next: a special offer from Amex to become a privileged card member. Next:...

Gently must have felt an identity crisis coming on. I did, last month. My Amex card statement showed 70,000 reward points and thanked me for being an old, valued, gold card member. Next: a letter from Amex rejecting my ‘credit card application’ due to my payment record. (A sales rep got me to sign up for a free ‘pre-approved’ card.) Third: a letter offering me a platinum card, due to my ‘outstanding record’. Fourth: a call selling me a charge card. “All different departments,” a call center exec patiently explained.

A month earlier, I had a letter from ICICI, saying that I had skipped a home loan repayment. A call followed. Oh, yes, they had taken post-dated cheques, but maybe one was missing? I checked on ICICI NetBanking. Payment debited on schedule. “Oh. Can you ask the bank to fax you the statement, so you can fax it to us?” Wait, I said. Our bank is ICICI. You're ICICI. Same company. Can't you sort it out? "Sorry, sir." And so it was.

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Another colleague tried to get repayments auto-debited through standing instructions with his bank - both companies are with the HDFC group. “Sorry sir. We can do that with MTNL and BSES bills, but not with our own housing finance company…”

Wait a minute. These are enterprises at the cutting edge of IT deployment. They set the standards, even among the IT-savvy banking segment. And they're yet to really use IT to leverage their own customer base.

Apply for a card or loan, and a giant form asks for your details. So they can re-enter it into a new database that doesn't talk to the old one which already has all your details.

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You'd think a bank would want to convert customers to other products. A colleague applied online three times for a credit card to her bank. Response: "We will forward your request to that division." Three months passed. She bought another card.


Of course, almost all other companies are even worse off.

And let's not even talk about the government, which has five agencies separately compiling citizen databases that do not talk to each other, wasting thousands of crores. The Census Bureau, Election Commission, Income Tax Office, Food and Civil Supplies, Home Ministry... And the taxpayer pays.

Just as when your bank wastes money through inefficiencies, you pay.

Here's the challenge for enterprises - to integrate their IT strategies enough to leverage their customer base. To present one face to a customer. To create happier, and loyal, customers.

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