Here's a true story which is proof that over the years customer service and customer satisfaction — in short, all that flows out of the American aphorism “Customer is King!” — have ceased to determine the behaviour of business enterprises.

The famous musician, Dave Carroll, flying recently with the United Airlines (UA), found on arrival at his destination that his expensive and treasured custom guitar, which he had checked in, had been damaged by rough and careless handling.

Despite a nine-month long battle waged by Carroll with the (misnamed) Customer Relations Department of the UA, the airline refused to entertain his complaint and asked him to do his damnedest.

What Carroll then did was something out of this world, an option which is unthinkable for ordinary passengers: He posted on the YouTube a retaliatory video describing in a bewitchingly melodious song accessed by six million netizens, the callousness of the UA.

Woven into the song are graphic and shocking visuals of the way passengers' baggage are thrown and trampled upon by UA's handlers. Poor UA, which had earlier shooed him off, has been chasing him ever since abjectly begging for a settlement in exchange for pulling out the video.

All suppliers of goods and providers of services in India should take to heart the moral of the story: That it simply doesn't pay to treat customers like worms.

Unfortunately, their universal real life encounter is with personnel indifferent to complaints and prone to excruciating delays in redressing them. Surprisingly, this infuriating tendency is coming to be pervasive among the private sector companies after liberalisation.

STEEP JUMP

The primary reason is that they are unable to cope with the sudden phenomenal increase in the number of customers, and the consequent torrent of complaints with whose volume they are not equipped to deal, in terms of either manpower or resources.

In their anxiety to keep up with the steep jump in the demand for goods and services, they are unable, in the prevailing work culture, to exercise tight supervision over quality and delivery.

There are two other factors which have come to the fore following the integration of the economy with the global trends and which are impacting on customer service. The first is the attrition rate.

A common experience that customers go through within a few months of developing personal relations with a customer executive is to be told that he is no longer with the company.

They are forced to start building up relations with a new person all over again. From a PTI news report of May 1, it would appear that the outlook on this count for India Inc. can only get worse. The average attrition rate, which was around 20 per cent in the January-March this year, is expected to cross 31 per cent in April-June.

The percentage would be highest in the retail (56), followed by services (40), IT /ITeS sector (31), biotech (35), telecom (26), construction (25), banking and financial services (23), capital goods(23), aviation and hospitality (22), Fast Moving Consumer Goods (21), automobile and manufacturing (19), and real estate (15).

DISTURBING TRENDS

The situation is not different in the US. There too the trends are disturbing, There polls are held every year by Gallop on the loyalty and commitment of employees for the organisations they serve.

As per the latest for 2011, only 21 per cent of the employees were “engaged” — that is, “emotionally attached to their workplaces and motivated to be productive” — and the rest were either “not engaged” or “actively disengaged”, looking out for better job offers and making plans to quit at the earliest opportunity.

Company loyalty is fast becoming extinct, taking along with it any concern or interest on the part of employees to cultivate customers and keep them happy.

India's federations of chambers of business and industry have for too long been shutting their eyes to the threat of folding up that this poses to many of the companies which are currently household brands.

They have to go into the root causes of the malady, without deluding themselves with mere advertisements or homilies from the Chairman's Desk in newsletters.

They have to take remedial measures without losing further time, for the boasts of the private sector being a superior performer are already been seen to be hollow.

(This article was published on May 29, 2012)
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