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.


  • As you have mentioned in your article, the basic issue is “the individual’s own tem­pera­ment and upbring­ing”. I live oppostie the JBV school in Dadr Parsi Colony and every day face the nuisance of cars blocking the entire road as parents attempt to drop their children right at the doorstep. Polite requests not only fall on deaf ears, many parents (supposedly educated and obviously well-healed) vent their ire on us in language that would make Atilla the Hun blush! With this kind of behaviour from people from our generation, what makes you hope that ” things will change in a cou­ple of gen­er­a­tions”?
    In my humble opinion Mr. Jhankaria, to use a corny Indian phrase, “we are like that only!”

  • H.L. Chulani wrote:

    It is only when you respect yourself that you can respect others. This trait is sadly lacking in us.

  • I have a particularly nice store owner to talk about. The tiny Monginis cake shop in Orlem, Malad(w). I never asked the guy his name, but, his behaviour keeps bringing me back to his store everytime. Unlike all his employees, this man in particular makes it a point to greet every customer with a smile and a Good Morning / Afternoon / Evening. Small courtesy you may say, but, it makes a world of a difference to the experience at his shop. It always ends with a parting thankyou; have a nice day/evening etc.

    I’ve seen this behaviour abroad, but, I think it is time we begin being the change to feel the change. I always start with greeting the person at the counter and end with a thank you. Even the rickshaw man does need a thank you even if the majority of them are arrogant.

    Small courtesies beget larger ones like the youtube video I saw where kindness begets kindness.

    Hope your blog and maybe your column might be the ripple which makes this change happen.

  • A little long but thought worth sharing. Uncle gave this talk to every new wardboy or nurse transfered to his ward. “it takes the same time to talk politely as it is to talk rudely. If I find you being rude to patients or the relatives I will have you transfered out” It worked. 20 years later a doctor from port trust whom I met, said “O you are
    Dr.V’s wife. It was pleasure working there, such harmonious place.

  • Dear Mr.Jankharia;

    I agree with you almost completely. However, I believe that there will always be people who will not behave civilised, irrespective of the treatment they receive or the surroundings they are in. Although in the coming generations their proportion to decent human beings will change, they, sadly, can never vanish.

    As far as the corporate environment goes, ill treatment should definitely not be tolerated. As you rightly pointed out, even the companies can’t help it much, given the “type” of employees it receives in the constraint of salary range.

    As far as MTNL and other telecom operators go, I wish to point out that MTNL has made a significant amount of improvement in it’s customer service. It is especially applaudable, since it’s a public sector enterprise.

    I received a decent reply from Vodafone only when I opted for number porting. If I call their regular customer care, I receive no answers at all. If I put a request for number porting, a representative shows up at my doorstep to stop me from doing so. I’ve done this about 3 to 4 times now. Anyone having issues with Vodafone should try this, it will be a lot more effective than waiting for a knowledgeable person to answer the phone at a random call centre.

  • PREM MAHTANI wrote:

    service and courtsey whqt is that?
    we are family oriented and are hostile to society,where as in the west it is society that comes first.

    At KFC or Mcdonalds the person serving you is a raw bum from a village who has no idea of service one gets abroad at these outlets,he behaves like he does in everyday life,99% are basically kaamchors,we get what we give.zubin is right in pointing out if educated people behave like morons we have over one billion people .god help us.

  • Prabha Vinay wrote:

    Great read once again with the Saturday morning cuppa tea!!

    I felt proud of myself not for something I did but for what the 2 MTNL engineers did -‘Refused the tip point blank’ and I spontaneously saluted them thinking that atlast the wave of change has started !!

    About the behaviour of the front-line staff at various places that we experience in our day-to-day life its very true that we still have to go a loooooooong way. What irritates most is people show-off to be nice but at the end of the day prove to be really mean and still have this broad smile on their faces that ITS REALLY COOL !!

    P.S. : Of good or infact sincere behaviour I must really share this. During my recent vacation in Goa I came across this gentleman – an authorickshaw driver who dropped us to our destination in the late hours and charged Rs.10/- more than the normal fare and was really feeling guilty about this and apologised twice and we were shocked by this nice behaviour of his, which is a stark contrast of what we witness in this city or any other metro for that matter!

  • Sujata Morab wrote:

    You have captured the feelings of many. Gone are the days when a customer was God to the business people. Now they have become arrogant because they are in demand. I hope the next generation will have the sense to show common courtesy in their daily life. If not, I shudder to think about behaviours of our children……….

  • Meha Savla wrote:

    Dear Mr. Bhavin
    After a long time something for me to reply/comment on.
    As far as the tip ( MTNL Staff ) thing goes that has been stopped since long. I have experienced this quiet sometime back. I do not think this is the Anna Effect.
    As far as Palladium apology goes you are lucky to even received a reply. Majority of us, never ever get an acknowledgment of our complaints. When we our mentioning Palladium, its slightly sober sister sky zone, which houses Costa coffee on level 1, i must mention about that guy serving us coffee, he was polite & courteous that i felt to have another cup of coffee.

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