India has a unique relationship with customers.
In the early 1900s, Western retailers began saying “The customer is always right”, to show a dedication to customer service. In Japan, they use the phrase “The customer is god”, meaning that every action you do should serve and honor the customer.
In India, your boss is always right and the guest is god. The customer is…always there.
The system doesn’t care
The customer is subject to a strong attitude of indifference. The nearby retail shoe shop is filled with twenty associates who can ring up your order, but none of them can distinguish between a loafer and a lace-up. The FRRO office makes you wait in line for three hours before informing you that you are missing one signature and must come back tomorrow to resubmit everything. The complaint hotline for the taxi service is unbelievably complex ￼to navigate, and they cut the call as soon as you start to explain your problem.
This suffering goes back to a reliance on systems. We expect the retail store to have a no-questions-asked return policy when the pair of leggings you bought has one leg 10 inches longer than the other. We expect the RTO to have a straightforward and definite process to get a driver’s license. We expect the associate for the internet service provider to call us back when we leave a complaint.
However, if you are lucky enough that a system actually exists to address a concern you have, that system cares nothing for you. It has no empathy for you and does it’s best to get rid of you as quickly as possible. You are a tiny blip on the radar and are bothering everyone else with your problems. This is not just a challenge for foreigners. Most Indians also feel the pain of indifference from the powers that be.
The entire justice system in India is set up to scare people away from starting lawsuits. A dispute will take decades to settle and laws favor companies over consumers. Only the most resilient (and well-backed) will get their disputes settled.
Mobile Number Portability
Upon first coming to India, I chose a mobile phone provider. The coverage was not great, the helpline was a black hole, and the service centers were the most depressing places in the city. However, I eventually settled into a status quo with them, which is exactly what the provider wanted.
I added an internet connection with the same provider, and tried to switch plans a few months later. Suddenly, I received a bill for over Rs. 20,000 due to their clerical error. I was extremely frustrated and wasted many hours of my life on the phone threatening to leave for a different provider (which never seemed to bother them).
After a lot of stressful calls, the charges were dropped, and the status quo returned. Then a beautiful day came – Mobile Number Portability. The government had made it possible to keep the same number and switch service ￼providers. I was excited to be able to stick it to my old provider and show them that they could not take me for granted. I switched my connection from the existing one to a new promised land of great customer service in India.
Except I found that my new provider had worse coverage, the same hopeless helplines, and has made it impossible to switch back now. It is a disaster I have come to accept as reality.
Individual Indians are some of the most helpful and welcoming people you can ever meet. Systems in India, however, are some of the most heartless.
There has been improvement in recent years, and some places offer incredible customer service, but these are still very much the exception. This attitude of complete indifference to you and your plight will be dangerous to your health and might be the one that does you in in the end.
More essays on #CustomerIsAlwaysThere
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Photo Credit: jackol on Flickr