“Dear Shohaib, as you’re a Muslim and I have no faith in your working ethics because Kuran may have different version for customer service, thus requesting you to assign a Hindu representative for my request. Thanks”. This statement was tweeted by an Airtel user who refused to be served by a Muslim employee after making insulting and prejudiced statements about his religion. What should an organization do in such a situation? What should its policy be? Should it stand by its employee when he faces discrimination because of his religion? Should it make a strong statement that such behavior towards its employees is unacceptable? It seemed that Airtel complied with the request and a ‘Gaganjot’ took over the case, replacing ‘Shohaib’.

Airtel’s response caused huge outrage on social media. Faced with a backlash from angry netizens, it sought to stem the damage. The customer care team sent out a follow-up response from a team leader to the customer stating “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 may be noted that Airtel responded to this controversy several hours after it was pointed out on social media.

A report by The Hindu has quoted the spokesperson of the company who 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.”

The social media user in question, Pooja Singh (@pooja303singh) describes herself as a management professional who is a “Proud Indian/ Proud Hindu/ Nation First/ Love our army”. As is the case with many such “proud nationalist” profiles, this user too is followed on Twitter by prominent leaders of the ruling party.

Singh has since retweeted several tweets of like minded people who have come out in her support. She has also posted a screenshot of selected responses to her tweet alleging abuse.

The Airtel incident comes on the heels of a similar incident involving Ola cabs. When a customer canceled his booking because the driver was a Muslim, Ola’s response to him won it many accolades.

Both the responses of Ola Cabs and Airtel will go down as management case studies on how to handle racial / religious abuse by customers. The values that a brand stands for are demonstrated not by lofty statements on a ‘Vision Document’ but by its responses in real-time to the challenging situations it faces.