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.


Anonymous said...

Ahhh....A post after a long time..!!

You have to remember that things were worse and they are better now. So people who have not been exposed to the developed world, make up the majority.

They have been used to this kindaa lifestyle and thats their way of life.

What you wish, will happen, but the timing of it is something not so easy to control.

Tanushree Bagrodia said...

Mr Optimistic Cynic, this comment has you written all over it :-). It is not about the change happening, it is about us wanting to be the agents of change.

What bothers and frustrates me is how in India we are just not eager and hungry to create a legacy. We are only inclined to serve our own selfish needs.

And then people claim that we are a socialist nation. On in name. In all other respects we are a capitalistic society, one where each one is looking after her/his own selfish gains...

Anonymous said...

I know you are your doing the best, and believe me, I am in no position to advise, but all I can echo is "be the change that you want to make".

Wish you all the best!