In this ever changing and highly competitive business world, marketing aims at making the consumer want and then buy things that they don’t ideally need and customer service goes a long way in establishing the market for your brand/product, long after the marketing stint is over.
Historically, in the India post independence there really has been no concept of customer service. It probably is because of the License Raj and all impositions in place then. Even getting extra milk packets was an issue. Though the times have seemed to change drastically, post-liberalization, but our Government offices have and are doing their best to preserve sloth and zero service mantra. After all a Government employee, who is termed public-servant, has it ingrained in him/her to be known as the King/Queen and are preserving their culture. So when malls and huge department stores came up, how can the ordinary employees with zero exposure to the outside world realize what they should do, what customer service is and why is customer service even important for their work in the store?
I am not denying that there aren’t any sales people who are genuinely nice and helpful, but the numbers are still pretty small. If the Marwadi community flourishes in business it is because of the kind of customer service they offer. We had a trusted super market guy and the only reason we loved to go back there was the way he treated his customer- as kings/queens. If there was an item with a defect he would take it and replace it, without saying a single word. He is not looking at the cost of that object you are returning but instead what goes in a long way of the trust and the clientele he is building that will more than cover for his present loss.
Another genre of sales people are those, who promise you the moon without checking out the actual facts that the company/store can offer. Let’s say you fall for the item and buy it, trust me, the moment you walk out that sales guy would have forgotten you. And, by a stroke of misfortune, if you had to go back to the store for a replacement or any such thing (which happens more than 90% of the time), you will find an absolutely new avatar of this sales guy – extremely hostile. An example of this is what happened to my mom, when she was being offered an insurance policy by ICICI phone banking sales girl. She got an unsolicited call with this ‘brilliant’ offer that seemed too good to be true and when at the end of a considerable time and thinking, she decided not to go with the whole offer, the lady at the end seemed extremely miffed. Prior to that, she had promised that my mother could call off the deal at any time, after the payment was made and when she finally sees the actual papers and when it actually happened, the sales girl had the audacity to talk rude. I agree they have their own targets to meet, but no one can show their anger on others and least of all on your prospective customer. These phone calls with brilliant insurance policies are another farce –beware! Once the money is paid, one can never know what fine-print will be brought out to trap you. The real estate market is another murky market and deserves another blog.
A recent example of pathetic customer service would be the car sales man at Honda (Pride Honda) showroom in Hyderabad. We were checking out the new Honda City and this man was so highly disinterested, wavering eye-contact, depressing body language and minimal details that I didn’t even feel like taking the car out for a test drive. He totally sapped my energy and interest in checking out the car. I suppose the attitude of this gentleman remains that if a customer has the money and has decided to buy a car, then he/she will eventually and he need not as much as fret.
It was only when I stepped out of India that I realized what customer care really was. With the fierce competition in place, it is equal to the biggest sin to commit, if a customer ever complains. Sadly here, we have to yell for things to get done and the only way for the things to move is by complaints. In the US, we had a similar experience at Walmart stores. We bought a water filter and after taking it out of the cover realized that it won’t fit our tap. Due to various reasons, we delayed and eventually after six months went back to the store to return it and to top it, without any bill. The sales person scanned the item and returned our money, without asking for any explanation. I had heard that they do it, but was so pleasantly surprised that words seem few to describe the elation. I have known cases, when people have misused this trust and returned used and perfectly fine things. Now that is unethical and if in India there are sales people and shopkeepers who don’t trust their customer, then the fault partly lies on us too.
At my course at Harvard, I came across this case upon motivation among the employees of Nordstrom Stores in USA and we had to evaluate what was right or wrong with the current policy. More than the whole case, what struck was the fact that this store is famous for its customer service. When a store opened near our house, we went to check it out. I was amazed. Each section had its sales men/women dressed accordingly, a formal section had formally attired sales guy and a casual dress section had a sales guy dressed in casuals. They are with you the moment you step in, always with a smile, extremely pleasing and very helpful. Apparently, there are services like thank you cards and drop off and many more free services performed. That store was the ultimate of all customer service I have ever seen and their loyal customers never shop anywhere else. All this also comes with merchandise that comes at a hefty price, but the point is more about the kind of treatment that you as a customer will get, when you walk over that threshold.
To run a good business, an organization needs to maintain high-quality, good employee satisfaction, a standard of ethics, fair corporate governance, marketing, branding and the list goes, but catering to your client needs is the highest priority, right next to employee satisfaction. As they are the people who put in the money into your business and can make things happen for you. This was the first rule I learnt at my work, to understand and follow the client requirements and irrespective of the industry and field, this rule prevails and repeated over and again as a mantra to remember.