Category Archives: Customer Service

Airtel, if your front-end is good, the back-end will be much better

The people in our company who interact with the customers can make or break a lot of things concerning our brand and organizational image. Whatever could be our strategy, planning and projections, if the people at the front desk mismanage customer experience, it all crumbles.

So, the way your receptionist treats your visitors, the tone with which the telephone operator greets a caller on phone, the manner in which your watchman behaves when a visitor comes in, the treatment that your counter sales person gives to a customer, the manner in which the waiter handles a guest at a restaurant – these are all the critical points where a lot of problems, disappointments, grievances and heart-burns to the customers occur. Most of the customers’ problems arise when they are treated badly by the front desk or the customer service people or call centre. If this starting point of trouble is taken care of, a lot of back-end work can be avoided.

This is more crucial for a service organization. I had a recent experience where a timely, sensible action could have saved a lot of headache and hardwork from back-end team at Airtel.

As is the case with many irresponsible and tired front-end people sitting on the customer-facing desks of many powerful service brands,  the employees at Airtel Relationship Centre (ARC) at Malad-West once more mishandled one name-transfer request from us. Their carelessness cost us 10 days of a disconnected phone, which could have been done in 48-hours, as promised by them.

Finally, Mahesh Narkar, a senior at Andheri office of Airtel handling transfers and customer verifications, took charge of the case and moved the things swiftly. If Airtel is a good brand, (which, as a customer I firmly believe it is), it is because of the people with strong initiative and customer focus like Mahesh Narkar.

But, Airtel can be much better, if the callousness at ARCs is reined in. A lot of unnecessary work for people like Mahesh will be saved only if the front-desk people take care of handling customers well.  A stitch in time can save a lot many in future…!

What drives our B2B customers away from us?

Milind runs a DTP set-up in Mumbai. He takes typesetting jobs. Regional languages like Hindi, Marathi, Gujarati are his specialty. He uses an Indian language software on top of DTP software. He had bought that software about two years ago which came along with a dongle (security lock).

Recently, he had to format his computer hard disk and hence needed to re-install the Indian language software. He found that the installation CD of the software was not working. May be due to prolonged non-use it had been damaged. He immediately contacted the dealer of the software from who he had bought it and requested for another copy of the CD. The dealer’s response shocked Milind. This is what he was told :

Dealer : Damage of CD is your fault. You must have kept CD properly. Why you did not take care of it? Now you will have to pay money for that. People are careless and then they come to us. You should contact Company for the new CD.

Milind : My work has stalled and I am losing at least two thousand rupees a day due to that software not installed. Please give me company phone number.

Dealer : That is your problem. I am not here to give everybody phone numbers. It is printed on the CD. I know at least you can  find those numbers on the CD label.

Milind was shocked by such callous attitude. Helplessly, he contacted the Pune head office of the software company. There was another shock waiting for him. The person at the company told him “Why did you call up the head office? We have a dealer in Mumbai and so we don’t attend customers directly when a dealer is assigned a territory. You will have to speak to him.”

After explaining to him the story, the person relented, listened to him and told again “Ok. You call up the dealer and tell him to speak to me.” It was only after about ten days, that Milind could get the CDs after paying an unreasonable amount for something which should come to him at a very nominal cost.

He decided to switch to another Indian language software as soon as possible and he did it within a few weeks. Sometimes, no complicated reasons are responsible for business failures. They are all simple, silly things which lead to mammoth failures. The apathy of the dealer and other customer-facing individuals in a company’s channel can destroy a customer’s trust and drive them away from us. When a B2B customer’s work gets affected due to the supplier  /vendor’s delayed response, he will promptly find another vendor and product. 

Is your business ready, fit and in perfect shape?

Recently, while on a holiday tour, we hired a car for visiting some places. The distance was about 400 kms round trip and we started at 6 am. Hardly one hour on the road, the car developed a flat tire (puncture). The driver, a middle aged fat man, could not set the jack, as it was old and worn out. We had to help him to change the tire.

Going forward, the car could not move faster, because there was some engine problem. Finally, we reached our first halt spot at 1.30 pm, 4.5 hours behind schedule. There, he found out that the car had heated too much and developed some serious problem and couldn’t go forward. He told us go hire another vehicle. We were stranded in the middle of the trip and had to arrange for another vehicle by paying twice the money.

It left us with a bitter experience in the middle of a happy holiday tour. The car driver lost his customer and future business from a lot of referrals as well. Why? Only because he did not keep his car in proper condition, by maintaining it regularly.

It highlights the importance of infrastructure in any business. The basic tools, equipments, machines and all other things which are required to conduct the daily operations of the business must be kept in perfect condition. We see a lot of customers in shops getting frustrated for reasons like PC, Printer, Fax Machine, Credit Card Reader any many such things not working properly. Some places have issues with Air Conditioners, somewhere the furniture is in bad or damaged condition or the toilet taps are having problems or stopper hooks are missing…!

Many hotels have swimming pools, gyms and other games equipment, but are unusable because of very poor maintenance and hence they are there only for the sake of a mention on the brochure or the web site. They are not functional and don’t add any value. In fact, their non-functioning erodes a lot of value.

These are very small things, but they create a lot of irritation and inconvenience to the customer.  One of the very important aspect of any buying process is the customer’s experience while buying our product or service. Such malfunctions leave a bad experience on customer’s minds which are detrimental to the long term health of our business.

So, get all those things repaired and in perfect condition which are important to make our customer’s experience pleasant. It may cost some money, but if not done in time, the damage in terms of customer loss will be costlier….!

Here is why HDFC Bank is doing better

Because they serve their customers very well. In contrast to that, the service at Nationalized banks is nothing to be proud of.

Last Monday, I had first hand experience of the indifferent and non-cooperative attitude of Bank Of India, a nationalized bank, and caring and helpful approach of HDFC Bank employees.

We had reached at Vidyanagari Branch (Pune)  of Bank Of India at 2.29 to make fees payment. The shutter was being closed and the person doing that violently told us to go away. On request, he had to say “Time is till 2.30. All have already left for lunch. Go to Swargate branch if you want to make the payment.”

The Swargate branch, two kilometers away, had lunch time from 2.30 to 3.00 pm. When reopened, they refused to accept DD, as they did not know how to process the DD payment of fees. Finally, after a lot of convincing, they relented. But, immediately, the lady at the counter discovered that my DD (issued by HDFC Bank, Malad-East branch) had no signature…! This could be happening in one of the million cases, but then it did happen with us…! She sent me back, rudely saying “Pehle DD pe sign lekar aao… Our bank closes at 4 pm”.

Shocked, I called up Mr Ronak Parekh, my relationship manager at HDFC Bank. He was also shocked to know that the DD had no sign. He assured me that it will be sorted out soon, and told me to go to any nearby HDFC Bank branch saying they will authorize and sign it. I reached HDFC Bank’s Sahkar Nagar branch at 3.35 pm and informed them about the DD without sign. The person told me to wait for 10 minutes till he gets e-mail confirmation from my RM. I told him I did not have that much time. He promptly got up and went to his manager, Mr Sunil Bagade. The manager called up the RM, took his employee number, instructed him to send the email and signed the cheque. I was out in 3 minutes, flat…! I could reach Bank Of India well before the closing time of 4 pm.

It was only due to the prompt service of the branch manager Mr Sunil Bagade, that saved one full day for us. As long as people like him are there, HDFC will keep its customers happy in spite of some human error of unsigned DDs slipping out of the system. Such positive gestures can turn the errors into an opportunity to delight the customers. This is why private banks are scoring over public ones.

We all should try to ensure that all our employees are empowered and motivated enough  to give such caring and prompt service to our customers.

When customer feels hurt the most?

When customers feel hurt the most is when they feel cheated by us while they are in a vulnerable condition, when they are helpless.

A person approaching a nursing home or a hospital for a surgery is one such vulnerable customer. A nursing home is a place where people arrive out of helplessness. Nobody likes to go there by choice, as it is hardly an enjoyable experience one may look forward to. Here if one is cheated or is taken for a ride, then it leaves a very bad taste with him who spreads the bad word outside, too. One such friend who had recently gone through one such unsavory experience narrated this with bitterness :

I had to admit my mother in emergency for a surgery at a private nursing home operated by a surgeon. When we checked in, we were given options of various rooms. When we asked for a separate, independent room, we were told that they have a Special Room with AC, attached wash-room and a bed for the patient’s companion. The room also has a refrigerator, we were told.

We checked in the Special Room. The room was average and disappointing, with the facilities mentioned were present only for the name sake.

a) The AC was there, but the switch was outside, under the control of the head nurse. She would switch on or off only during a specific time. Also, obviously there was no temperature control possible…!

b) The bed for companion was so small where nobody, except a child could sleep.

c) The funny thing was : the refrigerator was very much there, but it was locked…! When asked where was its key, we were told that it was being used for storing some medicines and the keys can’t be given. If we need cold water, they would provide from cooler outside, we were told, coldly.

d) Here comes the funnier part : The medicines belonged to the chemist shop downstairs. And, the chemist shop belonged to the nephew of the surgeon…! He would come occasionally, whenever he needed to take out some medicines… The most strategic arrangement was, the doctor prescribed medicines which were available only at the nephew’s shop. You won’t find them from any other shop nearby. How convenient?”

The friend was angry and hurt for being shortchanged, because in the name of Special Room, what was given was a set of hollow promises. And the compulsion for buying the medicines from a specific shop was also an irritant. The doctor also charged many things exorbitantly, much beyond the estimate given earlier.”

My friend had no choice but to comply, even though reluctantly. But, he vowed not to recommend this doctor or the nursing home to anybody else. In fact, he alarmed all those who listened to him about the unfair practices going on there.

If we treat our customers badly, particularly when they cannot take any objection, or if we take advantage of their helplessness, they may tolerate it then out of no choice, but they may feel terribly hurt and disappointed. And when their bitter experience is spread to others, it spoils our reputation badly. Our business suffers irreparably due to the poor mouth publicity.

We must not take advantage of the customers when it hurts them the most. The bitter experience they will neither forget nor forgive. Instead, at that time if we genuinely help them, that too, they will never forget and thank us a million times. Such grateful customers will remain with us forever.