A Long Long Way to Go

Two Saturdays ago, I wrote about customer service issues and the surprisingly pleasant experience I had with MTNL. Except for one negative feedback, I received at least 20 odd comments that were all pro-MTNL and in the same breath, anti-Vodafone/Reliance/Loop/Tata Indicom, i.e. essentially anti- all the other private players in the telecom market. This is something the private telecom corporates should pay more attention to…there is general dissatisfaction with their customer service.

The next Monday, two MTNL engineers landed up home to complete the installation. In 10 minutes we had the modem configured and the Internet working. I offered them tea and then a tip. They took the tea, but refused the tip…point blank!

In the past, they would have asked for the “chai-pani” in advance. Now, they were refusing to take a tip. I was impressed.

This is really what Mr. Anna Hazare wants to change, isn’t it! And this is the reason why the vast majority of Indians have been supporting him. What we really need to do is to figure out is what has made MTNL and its employees change and then try and replicate this across board.

That Saturday, around noon, I also received an email apology from the VP-Marketing of the Palladium, Ms. Bredemeyer. This was a pleasant surprise…here was someone willing to give an unconditional apology and take responsibility for the deficiency of service within the outlets in the Palladium, given that the Palladium itself cannot really be held responsible for the issues within the shops and brands that it hosts. I found out later that she had also circulated the article to many of the outlets in the mall and also forwarded a subsequent email of mine that had named more specific issues with some of the shops.

None of them bothered to get back barring one. And even that one came up with a boilerplate, corporate-speak apology, without actually addressing the specific issue that had led to the “ugh” experience in the first place.

We lack a consumer-centric culture. While it is so easy to blame the brands and the stores, the fact is that we as a people just don’t value polite human interactions. When receptionists and front-desk people have never seen or learnt anything better, how can one suddenly start expecting them to be nice to customers and clients? Training works to a certain extent, beyond which it is the individual’s own temperament and upbringing that make a difference. Unfortunately, these qualities are just not easily available for the right price in our country. I face this problem at my work place day in and day out as well, and it just doesn’t get any easier.

Perhaps these are the pains of a fast-growing nation and hopefully things will change in a couple of generations. But that seems to be a few decades too far away!

Given these constraints, our companies and brands need to try harder, which they don’t! Assuming that a store or brand can’t really do much about the caliber of its clerks and that all the training given can’t really change the basic nature of the people working within that salary range, then the least the brand / store can do is to empower its managers to go the extra mile to compensate for the failings and mistakes of the front-line staff! Which, unfortunately is not done as well!

Most of us, perhaps all of us in the service industry, just have a long, long way to go before we can be anywhere close to being customer-centric or customer-focused.