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Customer service in India

As Indian companies are expanding their service and product offers, they need to look into their customer service concerns with higher priority as well. As the saying goes, 'its easy to get a customer, but a challenge to keep him' or 'it costs less to maintain your present customers than to look for a new one'. 

Try calling the help line numbers from any of the mobile providers, and the first thing you hear is, 'your call is on hold, we are trying our best to reach you at our earliest, please hold the line as one of our customer service reps get in touch with you'. Sometimes, this same message keeps on repeating in 3 languages, English, Hindi and Bengali if you are in West Bengal, I am not sure, how it is in other states. The worst is, along with the message, you hear music and the cycle may go on sometimes for as long as 20 minutes or more. When finally, you feel there is help, you hear please dial 'x' to get help in English, or dial 'y' in any other language. After you have been through that stage, probably the next questions are, if you want to speak to the technical department, please dial 'a' for billings please dial 'b' for any other matter please dial 'c'. Ok, so we still have not reached any customer service rep, so most of us will either hang up, or, chose to dial 'c' and do we actually reach a customer service rep ... I guess not! Upon dialing that option, probably there is list of more options or, you are pushed back to 'please hold the line, while one of our customer service reps gets in touch with you shortly'. 

Now, how would you grade that kind of a customer service?

Today internet being widely used in India and it is a growing market. Companies are getting to develop websites detailing about their products, but, never with details enough to answer your questions. Most of the time, if you want to know the prices of products etc. you will need to call their help line numbers and all this leads you to the same situation as above. 

Ideally, it would best if companies detail all about their offer mix online on their website together with their price packages. And have a detailed FAQ on questions, which consumers may have, with regards to their products and services. While discussing this matter with a senior regional manager with a leading mobile service provider, I was told, this way the competition will know about the price and price and will be able to strategize themselves to take on their prospects. I couldn't however, get that part of the answer! I mean, if your competition wants to research on your product and service, they will be able to do it anyways! So why even think about it. Moreover, if you are sure that, you are offering the finest product & service, and that, you can beat your competition on that already, why worry on that part at all!

Another very interesting experience I had was, when checking with The Park Hotel, for a business dinner for around 100 people. I met the then banquet manager Ms. Sanyal. The door of her room was open and she was talking to another woman sitting across her desk. I knocked on the door and very softly greeted them 'Good afternoon ladies, my name is Mohinder and, I'd like to speak to the banquet manager please'. Ms. Sanyal asked me to come in and these were her words 'Yes tell me'. I described to her my needs & preferences and, mentioned about the business dinner with an average of around 100 people. Firstly, I wanted to know what was the hotels' offer mix. Upon going through the list, I realized that, it wasn't at all close to my preferences. So I politely asked her, if we can re-arrange the offer mix as per my preferences and also, negotiate over the price package too! Especially, because my preferences were much lesser than her earlier offer mix. What shocked me was, that, she just told me 'listen, this is what we have to offer, take it, or leave it' That was not only rude, but, somewhat insulting to a prospect. 

Especially, having spent a long time in researching on how to improve customer service skills and, even having developed my very own workshop on customer service, which was well appreciated and awarded by the hotel and hospitality management school in The Caribbean. And, having scheduled several lectures in The Caribbean hotel and hospitality schools, I was stunned to hear and see the attitude of Ms. Sanyal from The Park. 

Since the year 2001 till 2008, I have lived, worked and traveled to some more than 11 countries, in the South American region, The Caribbeans and as well as USA. I hold a privilege membership with several hotel chains including the Hilton, but, never had I earlier come across such an attitude as Ms. Sanyal before. 

The finest customer service especially in the hotel industry one can find in, is in Jamaica. I stayed at the Hilton, in Kingston, Jamaica for around 2 weeks & I have no words to describe their 'customer service'. Each individual in the Hotel, follows through the ethics of 'Customer Service' in a very cordial manner. You will be greeted when you walk in and with a genuine friendly smile. I don't know how, but they seem to remember your name and they addressed me as Mr. Singh (with 'Mr' and your last name), never as 'Sir', ladies were address as Ms. or Mrs. and you can see and feel how happy they are, when you call them to ask for help or information. 

I would love to share my experience some more in details, because, I still feel that the Jamaicans can easily our score their customer service skills, with just about anyone else in the world. 

I had checked in late afternoon and my first meeting was scheduled the day after, so I had just one day i.e. the next day, to travel around and look at locations, which suited for our advertising productions. I had a nice long hot shower and went down for my dinner. Now, I gathered from the reception that, there were 3 different options for me to chose from, where I could go for dinner. At the pool side, in the open, their primary restaurant, which sounded too formal or, at the Lounge, with live music. I loved that idea so, politely asking the lady if she could give me the directions. She tried to explain but probably could see that, I could not get those, since it was a little walk from where we were. I was surprised to see that she smilingly said, I shall walk with you Mr. Singh to the Lounge. I was wondering, if she leaves the reception, who will be there to cater to someone else, if their is someone for need! I was surprised to see that, without even her mentioning anything to anyone, the moment she started walking with me, some other lady took over her place on the desk. That was smart indeed. 

She first introduced herself, with her first name and last name and, welcomed me to Hilton. I asked her how did she know my name, and her answer was that, in the afternoon, while I was checking in, she was that moment there, but probably, I had missed seeing her. However, after a short friendly walk with her, she guided me to the Lounge. The moment I stepped into the Lounge, the floor manager walked to me and with a friendly smile, greeted me, and introduced himself. I did the same. And then, he asked me if I was alone, my answer was yes, he seated me at a perfect place, from where I could see straight to the man playing the guitar and singing songs. There were around 5 more couples in the Lounge including myself. I had often heard about the Jamaican songs, or the Caribbean styled soca music, but this was my first chance to a live session. I just loved the music and the songs. After every time, the man would finish the song, I'd clap as my appreciation. And every time, he would thank the audience, so genuinely. I had a lovely dinner and went straight to my room. 

Next morning, I went for breakfast and as usual, got myself, corn flakes, milk, fruits and coffee. I picked up the New York times from the Newspaper section and walked towards a table which was empty at the corner. After my breakfast, I went straight to the reception, got myself a taxi and was out location scouting. That evening, I returned late, had a quick dinner by the pool and went straight to bed. 

The next morning when I went for my breakfast, I went to the table to get me my usual, corn flakes, milk and fruits. While I was pouring the corn flakes, I saw that the milk jug was empty. Even before I could say a word, a lady walked up to me and said 'Mr. Singh, I am sorry, the milk jug is empty, I shall get milk for you, while you get the rest of your breakfast'. I was like 'WOW', so people are observing, what guests are actually eating and doing. I thanked her and pointed towards the same table where I was yesterday and told her I will be on that table there in the corner. As I was about to walk towards the table, she came back to me saying 'I shall also get you the New York times'. I was again surprised, because, maybe, when she saw that, I was pouring me corn flakes, I would need milk, but, knowing that, I was earlier reading the New York times was indeed lovely. 

To summarize, customer service is not always about answering the questions of a customer, but, it is knowing what he needs, providing those needs, and fulfilling them, not just once, but, over and over again. Now thats what is 'Customer Service' all about.

Contributed by: Mohinder Pal Singh 
City: Kolkata
Country: India
Date: May 3, 2010