Please Treat Us Customers Well!

Three days ago, with quite some trepidation, I called MTNL customer care to try and get my ADSL Internet connection reactivated (I had disconnected it, in a fit of anger two years ago) and I was not particularly looking forward to making this call, given my earlier experiences. A matronly sounding lady picked up in 2 rings. We spoke in Hindi. She was polite, nice, answered all my questions, asked some questions of her own, put me on a short-hold to clarify some stuff and gave me my order number. A normal person…speaking normally and not from some stupid, idiotic script…happy and willing to help and sort things out.

I thought this was a one-off, but the next morning, I received another call to clarify a few other issues. Again, it was a slightly elderly lady calling, more comfortable in Hindi than English (but how does that matter), and willing to help.

If MTNL customer service can reinvent itself and create a reasonably nice and homely experience (wittingly or unwittingly), why can’t others do the same?

I wrote a column last month that we finally dropped, about the terrible customer service that one of our large corporates dishes out, whether it is related to satellite television, Internet sticks and devices or cars. Across board, the employees are disinterested, ill-informed and thick-skinned (except for those in sales) and this makes virtually any interaction with their customer service departments, extremely stressful and troublesome. This poor customer service is not restricted to their call centres, but also extend to their electronic stores, where the employees spend more time talking with each other than the customers and a good many don’t even know where their own products are located.

I am not singling out this group. A quick stroll through any of the Palladium stores at Phoenix will prove my point. Barring a couple who have high-quality employees (e.g. Canali), most of the high-end stores in this premium mall do not invest in the right people required to make shopping a pleasant experience, especially given the premium pricing. It’s as if they expect their items to sell themselves, despite the presence of employees who really couldn’t care less whether you buy or not. And this is not restricted to the shops…branded, multi-chain restaurants have the same issues.

Which is why single brand stores, or restaurants, run by individuals and entrepreneurs with passion, who transmit their passion for their customers to their employees are a pleasure to visit. And which is why an Indigo Deli is always a better experience than Veda or TGIF.

It is all about finding the right people to share your passion about the brand and the customer experience. Unfortunately, the challenges in this country with its varying demographics are so phenomenal that it becomes really difficult for a multi-location brand to replicate a standard customer experience across the country. It’s not impossible though!

Pundits say that the Indian market is different and extremely price-sensitive and brands have a hard time retaining customers. Part of this may be true, but it is also true that people use pricing as the only way to differentiate among brands mainly because there are hardly any brands that deliver a great customer experience. Barista used to do that once and we used to flock to that place. Jet Airways used to be different and had fiercely loyal frequent travelers. But somewhere down the line, they just lost it!

Those who invest in their customers will always do well! And so…treat us well. We are no longer idiots!


  • Prabha Vinay wrote:

    Thank God I have not experienced it yet atleast in shopping malls but yes at leading multi chain-restaurants so-called ‘hospitality industry’ I have few not very good experiences as where we expect a lot and don’t get it upto our expectations, it kind of hurts!

    YES its high time that these shops, restaurants, etc. invest some more to train their staff properly and invest for GOOD !!

  • Ajay Bhonsle wrote:

    You have a point there but as customers we are also at fault because we rarely complain or bother to give feedback.Besides sometimes we prefer to just browse without the assistants breathing down our necks! A sales person should be like a butler,a-la Jeeves,not intruding but within sight and at the ready to assist you when he/she senses that you could do with some help.(Recently I sent a parcel by Speed Post to my daughter at Gandhinagar & the post office at that end, instead of delivering it at the address rang her up and asked her to collect it from the P O there, telling her that since it was handed over at a post office in Mumbai it should also be collected at the post office there!We did collect the parcel from that P O but- under protest and I promptly complained to the Mumbai GPO in writing).

  • You have hit the bull’s eye, sir..for the past one month, my husband and I have been noticing how often these freakishly expensive brands have been giving pathetic service at all our outings..the list is endless and the excuses pathetic..suboptimal coffee quality at ccd citing ‘exhausted supplies of cream’ AFTER serving the coffee, a line of 20 patrons for tickets for a movie which was to begin in 2 minutes and yet pvr cinemas phoenix had just one window open..finally we had to yank the manager out to show the mess and suddenly he managed to get 3 more windows much for ‘shortage of staff’.. Top ups not activated even 12 hours after debiting from our accounts at vodafone..we have been forced to create a scene to get what should have been easily given in the first place..and I firmly believe it is due to overpaid underqualified employees from the top echelons to the grassroots.

  • Sujata Morab wrote:

    As there are all sorts of customers so there are all sorts of service providers. It is upto us whose service we like to visit many times over and whose we dont’s like-don’t go ever. It is part of life’s experience.

  • RAVI GADIYAR wrote:

    Sirji, Mall Guddy Days !!!!!!
    Thanks for sharing as always.

  • RaviRamakantan wrote:

    MTNL support is good with rare exceptions- at least as far as their TriBand internet service is concerned. To me , it is also – by far – the best and solidly sturdy internet connection.

  • This is true. However, the experience is highly subjective. I for once, have never had an issue with TGIF, but MTNL does trouble me sometimes. Also, nicely and rightly pointed out that self-owned businesses always give better experience.

  • H.L. Chulani wrote:

    In a self owned business survival of business depends upon customer care whereas in a Corporate set-up success depends upon the passion of employees. Most employees are looking at opportunities to further their career and look to jobs as short term steps and hence the lack of care.

  • Jaeysh Desai wrote:

    I had same experiences with cus­tomer service of one of our large cor­po­rate some years back. It has history of more then 100 years and so employee do not seem to care at all, Their store sell products which are in display and damaged, I vowed never to patronize them in future and said bye bye T T for ever

  • PREM MAHTANI wrote:

    In this day and time,it’s the price ,quality and after sales service .gone are the days when salesmen told us what to buy.what bugs me with all indian companies is that telephone operator puts you to wrong guy n then you have every other idiot asking you who you want to talk to, n then the phones disconnects after waiting for 10 mins,and you start all over again but get same treatment.
    commonsense and work ethics are missing when it comes to employees in india.

  • […] Sat­ur­days ago, I wrote about cus­tomer ser­vice issues and the sur­pris­ingly pleas­ant expe­ri­ence I had with […]

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