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Kirana store has better customer service than MNCs

Last updated on: April 23, 2013 08:33 IST

Kirana store has better customer service than MNCs

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Dilip James

Multinationals often wax eloquent about their focus on the "customer", and this finds expression in lofty prose in their vision and mission statements. My experience as a customer of global brands in India has been at variance with what is preached – and maybe practiced - in global markets. What lies behind this dichotomy is indeed puzzling.

For instance, I have been a long-time customer of a leading global information technology company. When the customer buys hardware, this company actively sells an extended warranty cover with next business day on-site support, and so on.

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Image: Employees at a call centre provide service support to customers, in Siliguri.
Photographs: Rupak De Chowdhuri/Reuters
Tags: Kirana , India

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Once equipment under such cover developed trouble, and I logged a complaint using its hot line (it took over 15 minutes to get through after being put on hold to mindless music and messages on the importance of the customer). A technician called to remotely diagnose the problem, and at the end of the exercise, concluded some hardware needed to be replaced.

He suggested I bring the equipment to the service centre. I said I saw no reason to do so since the service contract required the company to provide on-site support the next business day.

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Image: An outsourcing centre in Bangalore.
Photographs: Vivek Prakash/Reuters
Tags: Kirana

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Kirana store has better customer service than MNCs

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His ingenious refrain was that it would save me time; I retorted that next business day was completely acceptable to me. Since he persisted, I had to ask him to forward the call to his supervisor.

After an exasperating rewind of the story and a meek attempt by the supervisor to avoid sending the technician, he finally agreed to do so, as if he was doing me a favour. My next experience was with an iconic global brand that creates luxury accessories, including writing instruments. On a special occasion, a friend gave me an expensive pen as a gift.

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Image: An outsourcing company in Mumbai.
Photographs: Vivek Prakash/Reuters
Tags: Kirana

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She told me that the exclusive store at which she'd bought it had been told it was a gift and should be exchanged if the recipient wanted to do so. A more-than-eager salesperson then had wholeheartedly said, "that would not be an issue". I decided to go and exchange it at the store.

On explaining the background (the salesperson remembered details of the buyer instantly, probably an indication of the limited numbers they sell), he rather reluctantly said, "Okay sir, do look around."

While I sauntered around looking at articles with mostly six-figure price tags, he came back with a magnifying glass, vigorously polishing the pen with a muslin cloth.

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Image: A call centre on the outskirts of Srinagar.
Photographs: Fayaz Kabli/Reuters
Tags: Kirana

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Kirana store has better customer service than MNCs

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With an operatic flourish and pointing to a mark invisible to the naked eye, he said, "I am sorry but this pen has been used, and we cannot exchange it."

All my protests that this was untrue, that I received it sealed and took it out just once, were dismissed perfunctorily. I left the store enraged and decided not to accept this, and to even take the company to the consumer court if necessary.

After a few strong messages and an escalation of the matter through the company's global website, a senior executive got in touch to have the pen exchanged without a murmur.

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Image: A call centre in Bangalore.
Photographs: Jagadeesh/Reuters
Tags: Kirana

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Kirana store has better customer service than MNCs

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My last example is of a global bank that claims single-minded local knowledge and customer focus. I operate an account with it, and after the Reserve Bank of India mandated using new-generation chequebooks, I contacted its call centre. After numerous automated steps over seven or eight minutes to verify my account number and the type of service required, I finally heard a human voice.

I told her that all I required was to place a request for a new chequebook. She then went about verifying that I was who I claimed to be with some additional checks. I was then told that the bank could not fulfill my request because I had not registered for phone banking, and I would need to go to the branch and submit a written request.

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Image: Sometimes it's even difficult to get a human being on the line. A call centre in Bangalore.
Photographs: Sherwin Crasto/Reuters

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Kirana store has better customer service than MNCs

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My response that this was an unnecessary inconvenience just for a chequebook to be sent to the registered address was tossed away with the statement "this is as per our procedure".

What is it about organisations claiming global best practices that reduce the customer to inanimate unknowns, throwing common-sense service norms out of the window, particularly when the issue does not follow their internal process?

Is it that frontline employees of large companies do not see their existence contingent on providing stellar customer service? Or is it that when they operate in India, they evolve different norms?

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Image: Some companies throw common-sense service norms out of the window. A call centre in Bangalore.
Photographs: Sherwin Crasto/Reuters
Tags: Kirana , India

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As against this, consider two diverse domestic examples without any such pedigree. One is a leading maker of electrical equipment famous initially for its stabilisers; during the warranty period, it will replace a malfunctioning product with a new one - no questions asked.

On a more humble stage is my neighbourhood kirana store-owner. He strives to service any request, even obtaining and delivering goods that he does not stock.

The DNA for customer delight, as we experience it in India, does not seem to come from global practices, lofty vision statements, and so on, but from simple practices and the ability to ingrain the sentiment among employees that satisfied customers are key to their existence.

The writer is a Bangalore-based independent corporate advisor


Image: There are businesses that still believe that customers are key to their existence. A call centre in Bangalore.
Photographs: Sherwin Crasto/Reuters
Tags: DNA , Kirana , India

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