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Customer Is Not King Anymore

Customer Is Not King Anymore

December 15, 2012

Lost in our emerging superpower economy is the pinnacle of economic importance; customer service!

I can clearly recall accompanying my grandmother each morning, to the neighborhood temple during the vacations I spent with her at Kochi. At the time, I was only about ten, and Kochi was quite a large city. Almost each time I went with her, we would pass a greengrocer that was on the way. On the way back home, she’d mostly stop by at the shop to pick up some essential items. On seeing her, the shopkeeper and company would be extremely welcoming, and gave a diligent ear to the often-long list of items she wanted. Many times, it was usual for the staff to make a timed guess of what she wanted and kept them ready so that we could pick them up on the way home. She also enjoyed the privilege of having the shopping delivered to our doorstep, irrespective of the quantity bought, or the price, and with no extra charge. Oh yes, she could pay at her convenience too, and no, there was no interest charged. There was no Internet shopping, but still the grocer had learnt her shopping list pretty well. So had the pharmacist, and the sweetmeat monger. Interestingly, it so happens that my grandmother was not the wife of any hotshot politico-business tycoon. She was just a normal middle class widow. It turns out that, like her, throughout India, there are a million other people who enjoyed such benefits. Shops were customer centric to the core; personalized to the core. This trend replicated into almost every service, barring a very small few, which a household would require within the village, or even areas within the city. Roughly 10 years on, there is a more glitzy shopping experience that attracts me, and million others like me. We love the malls, the KFCs and the Lifestyle outlets big time. We love how they look and what they sell, which may seem obscene for our grandmothers today. We love to ride to the malls time and again but one trip to that dusty dilapidated grocer store longs to be avoided for as long as the sun rises in the East. While the modern stores obviously have superior products, better presented and maybe, at more attractive prices, most of them fail to preserve that magical essence of being customer centric. They lack the will of going that extra mile to serve you, purely out of humanity. It also applies to most other business, from banks, car companies, garment stores to telecom companies. Oh, and I must say, banks rank high among the list of customer non-centric brats. Banking salespeople rank among the most irritating of tele-callers, asking for your data afresh each time even if you have already given it to them, and yet make you run around the bank for something as simple as looking for the cheque deposit box. Telecom companies make you go through a lengthy and complicated automated call system that (even they know) is of no use to actually solve your issue. If you walk into a store to buy a new TV, chances are that you’d have paid the full amount (as they insist in most cases) and checked out within a few minutes, but will have to wait for at least a day before it is delivered. You might have paid fifty grand, but it’s still a favor that he’s doing you, so just shut up and wait! Oh, and the guy who delivers the TV will say fixing it is not his job, for which you’ll have to follow up with the OEM guy. And since you don’t pay him anything, he works at his will too. If you did buy a digital TV connection, then you need to wait for that guy to come after all this is over, so that you can finally watch something on your new TV. Seamless experience anyone? This is what happens typically. Lately, salesmen in India are of two types; those who flood you with marketing calls, promotional offers (almost always misleading) and false promises, until you buy the product and the others, who don’t acknowledge your presence, and are lethargic to serve you. For the latter, one wonders why he bothers to have the shop open but for the former, once the cheque is written, it becomes a different story! So did all these prestigious b-school pass outs miss the boat to Customer Service 101? Maybe yes, maybe not. But what they do fail to master and practice is true customer service that has to be hands on, down on the shop floor, irrespective of whether you’re clad in pinstripes or pyjamas. So easy it might be to dismiss shortfalls in customer service due to unprecedented business growth, but to the end customer, it wouldn’t matter. It shouldn’t. After all, one can survive on past credibility for only so long! Ironically, this is in the country where service was so much more personalized before even the IT revolution kicked in; in the country where Mahatma Gandhi penned his famous customer-service mantra.


  • Rajpriya
    23.12.12 09:56 AM

    Good post and well explained.

    However, Grandmothers of the yester years were very religious and calm people in nature. They were soft spoken and treated all and sundry with respect and they were duly rewarded. The greengrocer in front of the temple must have been a god fearing a man with his one-man business and a sound selling strategy. May be he added a few extra beans, onions, or potatoes. Was all the stuff that was bought weighed correctly? Probably your grandmother never verified and in all probability she never bargained.

    The numbers of people going to temples have declined drastically so the temples must be badly missing our grandmothers accompanied by grandchildren of an era bygone. The traditional greengrocer may have transformed into the new Supermarket boss catering to a huge population. The present generations of people find the glittering supermarkets and malls more interesting than temples. From vegetables to clothes everything shines and sparkles under the multitude of fluorescent lamps. Neatly dressed and poorly paid sales men and women working under stress a strategy to make the customer feel King has disappeared.

    In the corporate world I am still the humble citizen ready to serve my “King the Customer” and on the other hand I am “Customer the King” to my suppliers working as a consultant. My suppliers need my “OK NOD” to sell their gadgets to my customers.

    It goes without saying that I do need to have 200% knowledge of my customers business and their end products and in addition what machinery my customer would need to remain competitive with rapid changes in the market place and technologies of today.

    Of course it is understood that when I travel abroad to visit factories to decide on machinery I stay in not less than “Four and Five Star Hotels” paid for by the suppliers, get invited to sumptuous lunches and dinners chauffer driven on tours of the cities in brand new vehicles picked up and dropped back at Airports.

    The downside my neck is always on the block if I ever make the wrong “NOD” and would cease to be King any more. So far I have escaped the gallows and continue to be a humble citizen to my Customers and the King to my suppliers.
  • Vivek Iyer
    Vivek Iyer
    16.12.12 02:54 AM
    Harry: Thanks for taking your time through this article. I never really thought that shopping at a mall or any other glitzy shop, all while you pay, should entitle you to any lower quality service. It also does not mean that good service HAS to be personalised service e.g. door delivery. Walk into an Apple store (the best example) and you'll notice the difference, even if you don't buy anything :)

    And my article was never limiting to malls only. Infact, a lot more irritating is the pathetic service provided by banks, govt. utilities and telecom companies in particular.
    15.12.12 10:39 PM
    @ Vivek

    Don't you think that this is caused by your generation of people who now shops at malls with different mind sets and westsern attitude who are to blame for what's transpired when it comes to shopping.

    People like glitzy malls with glitzy goods. These are westernised concept when it comes to shopping, but what I don't understand is why do people want personalised service in non personalised enviroment.

    Vivek like you said, they knew your grandmother as a person but when it comes to mall, they only know you as a mr and ms cash and nothing else.

    I've got more chance of going to moon on hot air then you getting this personalised service in mall. Sooner you get this idea out of your head the better, unless you want to go to small shops for your goods.
  • Santanu
    15.12.12 02:51 PM
    Very nice explanation...Liked it.

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