Years ago, an uncle of mine blessed me with a check. I don’t exactly remember the amount, but immediately I hurried to the bank so that I could purchase some essentials for the school year. It was my first bank visit, but with the security guards’ advice, I joined one of the queues. After what seemed hours, the tortoise-like line took me to the foot of a cash counter. With so much trepidation, I respectfully handed over my prized possession to the cashier. I didn’t expect a busy man to look at my face.
He typed something on his computer and without even looking at me said something, which I didn’t hear at all. The next moment, he hurled my check literally at my face. With timidity writ all over my face, I asked what happened. If there was a fissure beneath the floor, I could literally duck in then and there under the weight of embarrassment. As I walked away, I could feel fellow customers looking and jeering at me. I know something must have happened. Maybe my uncle had insufficient balance. Maybe his signature didn’t match, but even to this day that humiliating experience haunts me.
Maybe it was the cashier’s duty to explain to me what was wrong. Will anyone lose anything by explaining the situation? And perhaps if that incident repeats today, a customer will go wild since there are many such financial outlets. He would have written spiteful comments on online forums or if he has the guts enough, he would take it to other media.
Today customer service is on everyone’s lips. As the number of service providers increases our customers are offered multiple choices. They complain or demand better services that are offered elsewhere. People’s expectations have gone up. In Bhutan customer service is a recent phenomenon and it has really been a few years since we have started talking about it. But have we changed on our mentality front? Today our customers are getting used to fancy catchphrases like “customers are the king” and “customers are always right”.
If you visit a shop in Thimphu, for example, some shopkeepers won’t even notice you or acknowledge your presence. After so much hesitation, you ask the salesgirl the cost of the commodity. Bargain is a rare episode even when the cost is almost double of what you get elsewhere. If you like it, take it or else leave it, is the kind of attitude that we get. Their time is precious to waste on us thus.
And now compare this with the scene in the border towns. Even before one enters the shop, there are people waiting to usher you inside, making you feel like some celebrity. That’s why our shopkeepers are losing customers to their Indian counterparts. Shops in Phuentsholing are at the mercy of border strikes.
But again how kingly are we in our attitudes and demands? A customer walks into an office and starts charging officials. Some information is recorded incorrectly. He is furious and questions if officials had the right to change his information. Officials explain him that it was entered thus in the system and that if he needs to alter it the officials need permission from the manager.
“You can’t change? Is that what you are trying to tell me?” his anger roars now. “I’ll handle this; you sign here and say that you can’t change it.”
“Please write an application to the manager,” officials keep composure, but now the man starts abusing everyone and brands them inefficient. A small commotion erupts after an official starts arguing with the customer point for point. “Do you know who you are talking to?” The wise official keeps quiet. This is one ‘king’ of a customer. A king is an epitome of great understanding, grace and kindness.
Customers are not always right and there are times when they don’t deserve a king’s treatment. Everyone has limitations within which he/she has to perform a given role. Someone fails to do something because it is not within his means and often there are management and protocol issues involved. A colleague has this to say, “A sensible customer with sensible needs and behaves in a sensible manner should be treated like a king and not those insane customers with disgusting attitudes.”
But again customer service is quite fragile. It is inadequate for the officials in power talking of it and demanding it from their subordinates. Those employees who have direct contact with the customers need to be trained and retrained or some form of incentives should be made. They must have a thorough understanding of the products and services. But again is there a corresponding return for pleasing his customers? When a colleague sitting next to you is out-rightly rude to his customers, yet gets the same figures reflected on his paycheck as you at end of the month, will you make efforts to smile at your customers? How dignified is the profession? Trapped in the management and customers seesawing pressure, are these group of people beaten on both the sides.
Organizations, big or small, must strive at keeping employees happy; employees who know what they are doing; employees who take pride in their job. That way we could even have some smiling faces in the shops, banks, fuel depot, police stations, hospitals, and government departments - who are adequately equipped to please their customers.
(This post was published in Bhutan Times paper, forget the exact date)