It’s been a while since I wrote something positive about India, but the events of the past few days have reiterated my belief in the fact that despite all our flaws and inefficiencies, we are still a nation of many exceptional attributes. Among these – great customer service, a tremendous capacity to adjust and an ability to handle unexpected situations with poise. The West can boast of its prim and proper robotic orderliness, but its inability to maneuver through events that fall out of the ‘tick mark zone’ is exposed time and again, especially under extraordinary circumstances. So when one thing goes wrong, everything else follows, like a house of cards.
During the past week as the whole volcanic ash saga played out, the so-called conveniences of the automated world that Western societies swear by came crashing down. For those like me, stranded due to cancelled flights and yearning for a human voice to listen to our ordeal, all we were met with were jammed telephone lines, websites which had suspended key functions and mounting mobile phone bills as we waited for hours to an end on premium number lines, trying to get the mess sorted with a call centre executive. I had a booking on a British Airways flight from Zurich to London with www.ebookers.com which was cancelled. I made repeated calls to their helpline and was told I would have to wait in line for 50 minutes on an international call after which I might be connected to an agent. Three attempts later (the phone got disconnected after 15 minutes) I gave up. Left with no option, I made a trip to the airport but was told with stoic lack of concern by the BA authorities that they couldn’t help me – my only option was to call their automated helpline. The same thing was repeated with my insurance company too. For 3 days, all I did was speak to automated machines!
The whole experience was infuriating not so much for the fact that I was stranded, but more so because of the complete absence of help from the same companies that hard sell dreams to customers during the good times. My experience with the Indian travel website (www.makemytrip.com), though, was diametrically opposite. A concerned representative called me on an international number and asked me whether I wanted my connecting flight from London to Mumbai rescheduled for another date, or if there was anything else she could do to assist me. She even went to the extent of phoning the airline (she didn’t have to do this) and reconfirming my flight on the day of my departure. In general too I’ve noticed, Asians do a far better job when it comes to customer service. In hotels or restaurants for instance, we far supersede our Western counterparts when it comes to hospitality. The basic courtesy, for instance, of offering water when seated is largely absent in restaurants in Europe or the US. Moreover, waiters are rude if you do not order alcohol and share dishes. The service in even the most basic Indian restaurant on the other hand is warm and friendly.
Even if you leave aside the travel or hospitality industry for a moment, this lack of skill/intent to deal with a crisis manifests itself through many different realms of day-to-day existence in the West where machines have taken over the jobs human beings are supposed to do. Unfortunately, while machines are programmed to make things easy for us, they can’t ‘adjust’ according to external changes in our circumstances. For that we need human beings! So, this culture where human contact is kept as minimal as possible doesn’t really bode well when you are dealing with customers used to seeking and receiving (with a smile) human help as often as possible.