Customer Service in India….not quite dead yet…


When we talk of ‘customer-service’ in India, I am reminded of what my Services Marketing Professor back at IIM Indore used to tell…in India, a customer is one who will “kasht-mar”, loosely translated in Hindi, it means “someone who will die (mar) due to the kasht (troubles)” caused by the seller. Using that analogy, you can imagine my impressions of customer-service in India. And truth be told, in the 20+ yrs that I have actively, individually been using services in India such as banks, mobile phones, mobile service providers, cable TV providers, and other such assorted services, the customer-service has been nothing too great. In fact, if I managed to get decent service, that was a bonus, and if I managed to get a smile from the service provider, that was like a double bonus 🙂 .

The entire above paragraph was just to give the readers an idea about my general perception of customer service in India. Please note that these views are based purely on my personal experiences and are probably not a general statement about all service providers across India.

This being said, when I walked into GK Vale, Photographers, at the New BEL Road branch at Bangalore for two simple requests, I wasn’t expecting too much from them. All I wanted them to do was to scan one photo and give me 3 prints of a larger size. And the second request was to cut out one person from one photo and another person from another photo and merge them both into one new photo and give me 3 prints of the new photo. Simple enough, right?

Wrong…first up, the person behind the counter, the so called ‘expert’ informed me that the merging cannot be done without even enquiring with the person who was actually in charge of the merging process. He didn’t even bother asking the Adobe Photoshop expert whether it could be done and flatly refused even to take the order. It took my intervention and speaking to the person behind the computer and showing her the two photos after which he took the order for the merging.

I was then informed that the merging would take place on the system after approximately 12 hrs and that I would be required to come back to the showroom on Sunday morning at around 11 AM to confirm whether the merge was correct, and then the photo would be printed and delivered to me by around 6 PM on Sunday evening. While I didn’t understand why it would take them that much time, I consented for the same.

On Saturday evening at around 4 PM I was then called on my phone and informed that the merging was done on the system and that I had to approve of the same before the photo could be printed. When I went back to the showroom, one person was watching some B-Grade horror movie on one computer, and another person was checking his Gmail. While I understand that these things can be done when there are no customers around, the fact that even after I entered the store and stood there for a good two minutes without anybody caring for me, while the movie viewing and mail checking was going on was quite disturbing to say the least. After a while, the person watching the movie turned around and asked me what I wanted. When I told her that somebody had called me to approve of the merged photo, she just turned around and continued watching her movie. After standing there quietly for around 2 more minutes, when I asked her what to do next, she told me that the person performing the merge had gone out and would be back in 15 mins. I then sat down waiting for the Photoshop expert to arrive.

And then when the expert did arrive, she promptly parked herself next to this lady and started watching the movie. It was only when I spoke to her and told her that I had come over to approve a photo did she get up and show me the merged photo.  I was then informed that I could collect all my photos, 3 prints of the enlarged photo and 3 prints of the merged photo at 8.15 PM the same evening.

Then I made my third trip to the showroom at 8.15 PM on Saturday, when I was informed that while 3 prints of the merged photo were available, only 2 prints of the enlarged photo were available. Apparently there was some error when they placed the order with the lab where these photos were printed. While errors are acceptable, the fact that the information was provided to me without so much as a simple “sorry” or any kind of regret in behavior/tone of voice/attitude was what irritated me to the core.

I was asked to come on Sunday evening at 3 PM to collect the one remaining print.

All of these experiences ticked me off so much that I went ahead and did something for the first time in my life. I actually sat down and narrated these experiences in a mail and sent it to 3 mail ids which were mentioned in the store as Customer Care mail ids. The typing out and sending out of the complaint itself were my wife’s and my way of letting out our frustrations without actually hoping for any kind of responses or results.

What happened later completely took my wife and me by surprise. We actually got a call from the CEO of GK Vale enquiring about the exact nature of my complaint. We were then informed that this particular branch, the New BEL Road one was 1 of 5 franchisees of GK Vale and that there were 26 other stores in Bangalore, Mangalore and Hubli which were run by the company itself. Apparently, a few other customers had complained about the poor customer service at this particular branch and the franchisee had already been warned about the same. Based on what the CEO told me, I get the feeling that this was the last straw and that the company would withdraw the franchise from this particular guy.

What happens to the New BEL Road franchise is not the point of this long post at all. Rather, the fact that somebody as big as the CEO of the company took time out to read my mail and give me a call, apologize for what happened and explain the corrective action being taken in this regard, that completely surprised me and left behind a really good opinion about the individual and the brand in question. For an Indian brand to be so sensitive to its customer opinions, take action based on complaints, and that too so promptly, was really surprising to me. I guess Indian consumers still have some hope for better customer service after all.

On a related note, read this Firstpost article about the author’s experience with customer- service.

Image courtesy: GK Vale official website

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