Thursday, 23 September 2010

Should there really be a dispute on the Ayodhya Land?

Tomorrow is the big day. The verdict on who the disputed land in Ayodhya belong to will be given by the Allahabad High Court on 24th September 2010. Who can claim that it is their God who should be granted residence on that spot? Which set of believers will have the opportunity to pray on that holy spot? These are questions that are riling up Indians and creating anxiety amongst citizens. Corporates have issued travel warnings. Tension is in the air in cities that saw riots due to the Babri Masjijd issue almost 18 years ago. And I am wondering on the necessity of all of this.
I have been brought up to believe that there is one God. I mean seriously. Think about it. If a corporation cannot function with a co-head structure, if teams need only one leader to guide them towards efficient productive working style and if countries can only take one prime minister or president; is it possible that the world can run as smoothly as it is with more than one God directing the play on planet earth? Impossible that there are more than one God. At least my little brain believes and lives by this theory.
So taking my theory forward, if there is one God; does it really matter whether there is a Ram temple or a Babri Masjid that is constructed on that holy spot! No one is advocating the creation of a casino or a bar or anything that would be considered disrespectful to God. And there is no barring Muslims praying in temples or Hindus praying in a mosque. So I can pray to God at the holy spot irrespective of what place of worship it is.
Should it really matter in what shape is God represented there? Should it matter how the place of worship is addressed? I am a daughter to my parents, a sister to my siblings, a friend to my friends and a colleague to my co-workers. I live many relationships and carry out my duties and responsibilities according to each relationship. It does not change the essence of who I am. And I am but a mere mortal with many a flaw. So if I am recognized as my own person by people, despite the varied relations I share; why can we not accept God as one. He is at the end of the day the Supreme being. The one who is all compassionate and loving. Why do we need to fight over His identity! Do we have our own identities taken care of to fight over how He is represented!
Be it Hinduism or be it Islam or any other religion; love is supposed to be the biggest prayer that human beings can offer to God. Will we really be doing our duty and rendering fair prayers on a spot that is created after spilling blood and spreading hatred? In my view, it will defeat the very essence of God and religion. Why can we not channel our energies for better purposes remains a mystery to me. One that I try to slow unravel everyday; second by second and step after step. I am but a small speck in the world and a cog in the wheel. However, if I make any sense to even one of you, my humble request is that let the cogs work together to run the wheel rather than go in our own directions and tear it apart.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Are You Being Served or Is It Being Dished Out?

Ever since I have moved back to India, people (friends, colleagues – old and new, family etc.) have been asking me just one question; am I happy with my decision. My instantaneous reaction is – but of course! How can home coming not be a happy and satisfying event? But when the thought lingers on, I can feel my disappointment and sadness. Neither of these emotions is driven by a sense of loss of my life in London. Rather it is driven by the sheer increase of chaos, dishonesty and the prevalent lack of customer orientation in this economy that claims to be a services sector player. In an attempt to improve the short term earning, most individuals and professional setups fail to see the long term benefits of servicing clients and post sales services. This is a phenomenon that I have seen in daily life and these observations are the reason for my post.

Mumbai is the financial capital of the country and public transport its life line. Taxis are an important part of this public transport system. On my return from London, I was nostalgic and hence insisted on using the city’s very own traditional black and yellow cabs that can be hailed on the roads. I refrained from using radio taxis which have better vehicles, safer drivers and air conditioning. My attempt of contributing to the earnings of the hardworking black and yellow cab drivers soon started to become hesitant. The fares quoted were more often than not inflated, the drivers most often refused to go short distances and in fact at the domestic airport they ran a cartel in nexus with the cops there overcharging passengers by even 25% at times. On one occasion I decided to do the right thing by a law abiding citizen and filed a complaint at the airport police booth. That was probably one of the scariest times of my life. In a dark and dingy mobile van sat a cop sipping from a glass just close to midnight. As I entered, ushered by the marshal of the taxi rank, he kept his glass away and asked the marshal to leave. The door closed but the light never came on. I wondered if my decision had been prudent. Nonetheless I pretended to be fearless and filed my complaint. It was noted in a register, my signature duly taken. I was promised that this trip home the cabbie would dare not overcharge. Then suddenly the lights came on, I heaved a sigh of relief and walked out. The marshal escorted me to a taxi and told me that I would pay by the meter. I felt maybe I should have complained earlier and that there was fairness in the system. But I had thought too soon. On reaching home, the driver indeed quoted from the meter but asked for INR 350 for a journey that usually costs INR 230 or INR 280 even in the more expensive radio taxis. It dawned on me; the meter was rigged as were the marshal and the cop! Since then I have sworn off the traditional cabs at least from the airport. I am not the only one. The instances of people turning to radio taxis are increasing. The traditional taxi service of Mumbai, in a few years, is likely to fade in importance, impacting the earnings of all concerned.

Well the radio taxis that I mention are no better in their service. The green Meru cabs are the most populace, yet the most unreliable. Their drivers come late, the call center operators allot cabs for longer distances and many drivers give their numbers to clients not sticking to the call center deployed pick ups. Filing any number of complaints is of no use. With the advent of more radio taxi companies, Meru stands to lose clientele and hence not grow after a point. But is someone bothered? I am not convinced.
India prides itself on its world class telecom policy. And yet, the service provided by its telecom players is just one eighty degrees opposite. Vodafone, one of the largest players in the local market has inefficient customer service. To begin with, their call center staff is not full aware of the services that the provider offers and the charges of the same. If they do, the same is not communicated to customers. When customers are wrongly advised or overcharged, there is no redressing from the company at all. On the contrary, the pushy call center staff calls incessantly to sell unwanted services. Even if politely they are told that it is not a good time for you to talk, they do not take no for an answer. Worse, if you do not answer the call, they keep calling till someone picks up! Airtel, another large service provider is no better. Their call center staff asks you to go to the web site, decide which service you want and then call back later! Tata Indicom is only keen to collect payments, even on a service that is not activated! In the long run there will be more global players with larger pockets. If services do not improve, the local players will lose.

Local banks are already facing stiff competition from the foreign banks, who not only offer more personalized service but also more prompt and accurate information. Take HDFC bank for example. It took them four weeks to open a salary account which had been requested by a company that they deal with regularly. A credit card application, filed about three months ago, has still not resulted in a card being delivered. I am sure that new customer addition is not a priority for HDFC. Maybe they are too busy taking care of their existing customers! But hang on, I am told by existing customers that they are completely appalled by the lack of clarity and promptness in services of the bank. In a country of a billion people, are we really finding it so difficult to recruit and train appropriate staff!

Maybe it is a case of just not wanting to recruit more in an attempt to increase the bottom line. Jaslok hospital, a leading healthcare provider in Mumbai seems to follow this policy. The staff shortage is so acute that ward boys work round the clock for 36 – 54 hours at times. The nurses are so exhausted that they misplace patient files, forget to call doctor when required and then lose their cool with patients’ kin. Ward boys, matrons and nurses; they all express their exhaustion and frustration with the way the system is functioning. However, scared of losing their jobs they say nothing. Life goes on for them with those of the patients in danger!

The services mentioned here are those that impact daily life. I can illustrate examples of airlines, hotels, retail chains and even legal services where I have been stumped by the lack of basic understanding of customer servicing. But if I start it will probably not make the point I intend to but sound like a nitpicking grumbling session. Yes, the point I want to make – We are a capable enough country, equipped with enough intelligence and resources to have a long term vision. We need to inculcate customer satisfaction values in all our services, not just to have a pleasant society but also improve the longevity and profitability of businesses. The one key learning I bring back with me from the developed world is this and I do hope that at least I can deploy it in all my dealings with clients, fellow professionals and friends.