Thursday, June 9, 2011

My small friendly neighborhood store

Wow, we have made much progress. As a nation, we are transforming. Private enterprise is at the forefront of this transformation. Technology has been the enabler. It is a story full of glory, its a shining story. Well, is it? Scratch and beneath the surface, the regular suspects emerge. The enterprise is here to make money, not necessarily serve the customer. The customer is treated as secondary, so much so, sometimes the customer begins to feel that he is the problem. The reasons for apathy might be different, but the problem remains. While private enterprise and technology have changed the way we transact, it has not necessarily done enough to build a culture of empathy for the customer. The large 24/7 call centers and big corporate promises are no substitute for real heartfelt and empathetic service, especially when the customer has a problem. Some recent experiences made me reflect on this.

I have a one month old air-conditioner that has a mind of its own. It is so paranormal that it suddenly decides to switch itself on, during the middle of the night. Worse still, in the sweltering afternoon heat, it refuses to work. Almost, looks mockingly at us, saying "It's too hot out there, man.....Can't work today". So, I do what all sensible folks who own sensible cooling air-conditioners do. I call the service center, which turns out to be a large call center full of folks who are bothered about their incentives which are based on Average handle time (AHT), call wait times, abandon rates , etc. So, they attend to my call and do what they are trained to do. Complete the call quickly, get your AHT down, pick up your incentive. And that is exactly what they do in a scripted "Thank you for calling" kind of tone. All that is fine, the issue will be resolved in 24 hours. I am happy and I wait. 24 hours go by, I call back, I restate the problem, I provide my earlier complaint number, state that the no one has looked into the issue and that I was promised resolution in 24 hours. The smart agent on the phone does what he is trained to do. Avoid an escalation, and so he spins a response. He says " Sir, it is 24 working hours, not 24 hours...that means 3 days". Damn it, you could have said that yesterday in the first place!! Now, that is hilarious, but not if you are the customer at the butt's end of this problem.

Call it karma, call it whatever, but my week has been full of such incidents. The reason I have been off broadband internet lately is that I have had a problem with that service provider too. I know many of you are happy that this has kept me off this crazy  blog for a while, but I am not. I have been with the call center boys every other day registering a complaint. One response blew me off. " Sir, we fixed the problem and got a confirmation that your broadband is working from Mahesh". I ask "Who is Mahesh?". The agent responds, "He is your cousin, sir". Well, I don't remember having any cousin called Mahesh, unless, my family forgot to tell me something that important in the last forty years!! The agent says "I called him on number 6597 blah blah blah. Isn't that your number?". "Yes, it is" and the agent begins to gloat on his victory. I puncture his eagerly claimed victory, "Yes it is my number, but that number does not work.  The instrument is faulty, and by the way, the instrument was provided by a sister company of yours. And for the record, their service is as good as yours". You don't want to hear about that telephone company. This telephone company refuses to replace the faulty phone instrument at my premises. I need to drive miles away to their regional office to get that done. We can repair a phone at your residence, we can provide you a new phone connection at your residence, everything can be done at your residence, everything but get a new phone instrument for an existing connection. There must be something technical about it. My electronics engineering fails me on this one, or maybe things have changed in the last 20 years. Most things have changed other than the plight of the customer at the butt's end of a problem.

Before this turns into a more graphic irate customer rant, I must tell you that I see a silver lining. This happened yesterday when I went to the mega mall to buy a tube-light. I was hyper ventilating from all my extreme service experiences that this didn't so much as scar me. At the big store, I went looking for a tube-light and all I saw was combo offers of the tube-light with a frame. I didn't want the frame and asked the store salesman if they had a "only tube-light" selection . He got me one and as I waited at the checkout counter, the bill desk says " There is no bar-code on this one, sir". I said, "But your salesman gave this to me, what do I know about your bar-codes?". They ask me for two minutes to get the bar-code fixed, and those two minutes turn to twenty, by the end of which, he says " Sorry sir, we only have combo offers on sale, no tube-light". I have had enough, I smile, I breathe, I walk away. As I drive back home, I drive past my small neighborhood market. I see this small 4 feet by 4 feet store that I have never noticed before. This small neighborhood electrical store. I stop, I get the tube-light I wanted. I get friendly electrical advice from the shopkeeper, things I have never heard since I passed out of engineering college, I am also offered the services of an electrician to check things out. All the things which your big store never gives you. All the things you wanted but never knew where to get. It is right there in your small friendly neighborhood store. Small is beautiful. Small is friendly. Because they care for the customer. In return, do care for your local community businesses. They keep your community alive and empathetic. It works for me, and I am sure it will for you.

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