Archives For Customer Service

There are two supermarkets serving the community where my parents live. Let’s call them Supermarket A and Supermarket B. Both supermarkets are national brands. In fact, Supermarket B has a legacy that is older than Supermarket A. Supermarket A is where I frequent, because my parents introduced me to them first.

Last weekend, I decided to visit Supermarket B, because I heard that their bakery section is supposed to be good. The first thing I noticed when I entered the place is the lack of people. There were two customers. And both of them were in the checkout lanes. I went about getting what I needed and I noticed – they either did not have what I wanted or the existing stock was running out of shelf life. They did not get enough customers to recycle their stock. The bakery section was literally empty.

I headed for the checkout lane with what I found, feeling bad for these guys. And then I noticed, the lady at the checkout counter did not smile, nor greet and was rude to whatever questions I asked.

When I reached home and told my mother that we visited Supermarket B, her reaction was, “Why did you go there? Nobody goes to that place!” That’s when I realized that Supermarket B had just missed the market. They did not relate to the community. They did not understand customer service. They did not understand the importance they could have played in the community – serving their needs. They lost out.

I have always been allergic to bad customer service. Add to that aisles of soon-to-be-stale grocery, how many customers would be interested in coming back? If they don’t plan to change, they might as well sell out.

What can you do to protect your business or organization?

  • Promise to give something and give it. Or don’t promise at all.
  • Good customer service is not about smiling or greeting your customer. It is more about respect and understanding their needs. Be fanatical about good customer service.
  • Keep a tab on competition. See what they are doing right and copy, then do better. See what they are doing wrong and improvise.

I had to visit Supermarket A that evening and it was crowded as usual.

Phone-SMS-Spam-IndiaJust when I thought I had SPAM in control, at least in my email and blog comments (thanks to Akismet!), people find a new way to spam me. SMS. Vendors have this strange notion that if they send me a SMS, there is a better chance of me buying their product.

Flash News: You are wrong! I start to hate your product when you Spam-SMS me. The more your Spam-SMS me, the less chance of me buying your product (even if I needed it).

As I am writing this (the time now is 11p.m. IST), I get a SMS about a job opening in some call center. I have never worked in call centers. I have never registered myself for a job at a call center. Then on what basis are they sending me these messages?

It has been worse – I have got one of these Spam-SMS at 1a.m. Another time, some computer repair guy/company sent me the same SMS about his repair services 24 times, over a period of 30 minutes. I was in church at that time.

Permission marketing for these guys seems to be defined like this – “Sir, you have a cellphone? That’s good enough. You just gave us permission!”

Image: A screenshot of some of the unread Spam-SMS I have received. It accumulated to 51 unread SMS in just 3 days!

That’s what I felt what Pantaloon was telling me. (For those who don’t know – “Pantaloon Retail (India) Limited, is India’s leading retailer that operates multiple retail formats in both the value and lifestyle segment of the Indian consumer market – from here.”

I went there today to get some shirts. And I saw that they had an offer – depending on the number of shirts, you get a package deal. So as I was checking out one rack, I asked the salesman if those shirts were included in the offer. It wasn’t. He mentioned only the Rs. 499 shirts were part of the offer and showed me the rack where the board was kept.

So I started checking out shirts on that rack, selected one and was ready to select my next shirt. That’s when I saw the price on the shirt – Rs. 799. Out of curiosity, I asked the guy if this shirt was included. Nope. I finally figured out that there were just some two rows on sale. All the other shirts were not included.

Did Pantaloon do this after some consumer research where they figured if you keep the shirts-on-sale and shirts-not-on-sale together, people will end up buying both and more of the second? I just didn’t get it. All they had to do was say “on shirts of Rs. 499 only” on the rack-advertisement.

I tried telling the sales guy my experience had just gone awry and he was quite apologetic about it. He mentioned that he had issues with other customers too and would change the board soon. I finaly exited the store with no purchase and a very bad experience with Pantaloon.


February 9, 2008 — 2 Comments

It is better not to do business, if you don’t plan to give good (excellent and pleasing) customer service.

Customer Service for India?

November 19, 2007 — 1 Comment

I think my bandwidth for accepting poor customer service is going down cause I am getting more and easily ticked nowadays for poor (atrocious) service. In the last one week,

  • one customer service executive of a web company banged the phone down on me because I asked her for a clarification. She was kind enough to say thank you before she did it.
  • a restaurant refused to take our dinner order even though we were above the minimum order limit even though they have delivered the same order twice before in the last one month. The man on the other end went on to deny that they have ever honored such orders. (Wow, now we are liars!)
  • Chennai autorickshaw drivers continue to demand that random figure that comes to their mind, when I want to hire them for a trip. It is amazing how they do it!

To think that this is the same country that manages some of the world’s best customer service centers and is also called a service-oriented economy. What happened? What are we missing? Do we really have to be taught to be courteous and respectful?

I don’t look at good customer service as a choice. It is an attitude. The same attitude when a unwelcome guest visits home. You don’t like him there but you still are courteous, kind and respectful to him.

If you look at the bigger (country-size) picture, there could be other possible reasons for this lack:

  • Education. Indian education really does not focus on services. Students (in primary, secondary and college education) are forced to excel in subjects they probably will never ever use in their whole lifetime. (But that may be why we get some of the best technical people around. A different point altogether.)
  • “Let the other guy do it” attitude.
  • “Everybody else seems to be doing it” attitude.
  • Slack in administration machinery.

And I am sure there are more reasons. What do you think are the (deeper) reasons for poor service from a country’s perspective?

The Missing Contact

September 18, 2007 — Leave a comment

Citibank customers don’t need support?

Don’t Citibank customers or prospects need a number or email to contact for some information?

Sure, there is a tab called Customer Service. It took me 30 minutes to figure out that it had the  information I needed. Sometimes, just using the right keywords is important, if not essential!

If you really want to make money from your business, please make sure you take care of the people who take care of your customers.

Most business owners have very little or no direct interaction with their customers. So this becomes even more important then. It is easy to forget that your employees are also people who have dreams, ambitions and families.

It does not matter what the size of your organization is, good HR policies make a difference. And it is easy to identify a place where the people are taken well care of. Walk into any mall or retail store and you will know just after spending a minute there.

The minimum you should do is pay your employees on time – on the last day of the month. Every month. If you can’t do that, I think you should just shut down your business and get a job.

Remember, before there are customers, there were employees!

All I asked for is a haircut. A simple haircut. No complexities. A simple medium cut.

But, no I don’t get that. I deserve better. Who decides that? Not me, but my barber! He justifies to me why I shouldn’t get my hair cut the way I think it should be cut.

Is it really necessary to teach the customer always? Haircuts are personal preferences. A cup of coffee or a glass of juice is a personal preference. A car or a house even. We can suggest. But we should never try push it down their throats.

A customer may be wrong about her choices. But it is still her choice. As a salesman, I have no right to breach that. I can be happy only if my customer is happy.

Finally, I figured that if I let my barber touch my hair again, he is gonna screw up more. So I got up and left. (After all, he is the one with the scissor and razor in hand!)

For most businesses, the first mindset is ‘how do I make money out of this?’. It is never – ‘What can I provide to the customer?’ ‘What is the value add that the customer gets?’ I am not saying that we should not look at the viability of our business models but in the process of doing this, we often lose focus of the important – the customer.

When we design the UI or create a website or train the customer support team, do we really do it keeping the customer in mind? ‘How is the user going to interact with my website?’ ‘How should my support team interact with my customers?’ If you believe in processes, are those actually helping your customers or are they just helping you track what your employees are doing?

Seth Godin has a post about how retail stores arrange first by brand, then type, then style and then size. It would be so much easier if they would arrange by type first and then by brand or even type and size first and then by brand. It is quite an obvious way of doing it but I have never seen any retail store do it, except for bookstores. It would be a disaster if they had put all the McGrawHill books together and then separated them by topic.

It is so sad to see stores display the sign “Customers are our greatest asset” but don’t have a system in place to take care of that asset.

You can have the best product or service in your category and suck on service and destroy the whole customer experience and tarnish the brand. I have a BSNL (largest Indian telecom provider – government owned) landline and broadband connection. What I love about their service is the 2Mbps connection. No other provider has been able to beat that in India. I was also able to get the connection very fast. (Earlier, there used to be a lot of paper work and waiting periods.) Their fault response time is very good. The two times I called them, they got back to me before 24 hours.


But my connection kept having trouble. It was a line fault and my broadband connection would keep dropping. The first time, they found that the cable guy pulled his cable over my telephone line and it snapped.

Today I went to the nearest exchange and submitted my request for shifting my connection to the new house. But I was told to submit the application to another telephone exchange (that is 7kms from here). The distance between the two houses would be around a kilometer.

All that BSNL needs to do is accept my application in the nearest exchange and send it to the corresponding exchange for processing. Is that too much to ask? As marketeers, we may be able to create the best offering combined with good marcom but if support fails or if the system is wired wrong, then all our efforts go flat.

We need to look at the system and make sure that customers have a similar or better experience than what they expected from our marketing message. It is afterall the secret of repeat purchases and up & cross selling.

I was looking for a guitar processor and decided to go for a used/refurbished model. My friend recommended Guitar Center ( I spent close to 12 hours researching what would be my best buy. I called the store finally to confirm availability. It was. But I ran into trouble because they said the shipping address and the billing address needs to be the same. So plans squashed.

Another google search landed me in Daddy’s Junky Music ( Found my processor. Made the call. Again the same issue. But this time, the store clerk asked me to call Daddy’s corporate office and find out if something was possible. Well l did just that and they said it is quite possible to buy with separate billing and shipping address as long as I am able to validate the genuineness of card and card owner. Voila! I ordered my guitar processor and look forward to it.

Two similar situations. Two different approaches. It is good to know that stores are taking precautions to avoid credit card fraud. But when every other online store has some approval mechanism in place, why should you miss out? Security is a good thing. But it shouldn’t come in the way of the buying process. It should enable it.

Could it be possible that the Guitar Center store clerk did not know that his corporate office may have had a workaround?

Indigo Air RampI liked their prices. Their airplanes were comfortable. The service was prompt and good. But when I approached the Indigo airline counter at the Chennai and Delhi airport, I did not see any smile on the lady behind the counter. When I entered the aircraft, the airhostess standing at the door did not smile. When they offered me the complementary bottle of water, there was no smile. It was like they had a ‘no smile’ poilicy. Eeks!

Then I got into a discussion with my friend and he thinks the reason they did not smile at me was because I look intimidating. I have a look that scares people. Hmmm. But really, do my looks really matter? I am a customer. I deserve a smile. Don’t I?

So what if the customer has a stern face? Or if he/she does not even smile back? But they still deserve a smile. Customer service must always be proactive. Every organization must lay down clear rules for customer service. It is definitely not dependent on one’s mood. The airline’s policy must be “Smile at every customer. Whenever you come across them.” It does not cost money. It is not time consuming. It is definitely not difficult.

Interestingly, there was only one person from Indigo Airlines who smiled at me. The man who took my luggage and kept it on the scale in Delhi airport. Now I wonder, where he got that from?