Customer Service – handling death

In the morning today, I got a call from Club Mahindra. The gentleman said he was calling from the Head Office. When I enquired what it was that he wanted to speak to Krishnan about, he said they have launched a great referral program and he wanted to explain its benefits. I told him that Krishnan has just lost his mother so he wouldn’t be interested in any referral program and I told him that I had mentioned the same thing to somebody else who had called a couple of days back. I expected him to offer his condolences and then discontinue the call, but the wonderful man’s next question was “when can I call back?” …. I told him “never” !! Someone who doesn’t even have the sense to offer condolences cannot sell anything to anybody. Infact the lady who had called two days back regarding the same scheme, first called on my number and I told her we aren’t interested. Within a minute she called back on my number again and asked for Krishnan to sell the same scheme… just unbelievable, dont you read the number before dialling?. Something is seriously wrong with customer service training in Club Mahindra and several other places.

We just met Ganesh at his house and he was telling us that he spent nearly 90 minutes at a local post office just waiting for that one employee who had to take a printout which took 2 minutes…. and his ailing mother is at home. He should have ideally spent an extra hour with his mom and not waste that time “waiting”. There is utter callousness when dealing with customers in most organisations and then we wonder why business doesn’t flourish.

Here’s a contrary experience which goes to show why certain companies thrive. We had used Agarwal Packers and Movers to transport our Toyota Corolla from Hyderabad to Gurgaon. They were to collect the car on Monday (June 5th). We got a call on Sunday, June 4, confirming that the driver will come over to collect the car the next day and we were to ask for his ID before letting him take the car. The driver came the next day, showed his ID, filled out all the forms, checked the car and drove off. We were told that it will reach Gurgaon in 7 or 8 days. My mom-in-law passed away on the 8th of June … so we rushed to Chennai. We requested Rohit and Monica, our neighbours in Gurgaon to help receive the car and handed over all the papers related to the Corolla to them. As expected we got a call on Saturday, June 10th, that the car had reached Gurgaon and whether they can deliver it the next day. We said yes and then we realised that Rohit was out of town just for a day on Sunday. It was already 5.30 pm in the evening … and we were wondering as to how we re-schedule ? We called the driver who had called us and he didn’t pick up the phone, so we called on their centralised number. I got connected to a guy called Rajesh Kumar who listened to my problem and immediately told me that he will take care of everything, that I should not be worried at a time like this. He wanted the driver’s phone number and he promised to take care of things. He didn’t even disconnect the call and just asked me to hold the line while he figured things out and he gave me the number of the Gurgaon delivery manager, telling me that I should call him if anything goes wrong. He then spent a minute offering his condolences and again reassured me that the car will be delivered on Monday instead of Sunday and to Rohit instead of us. The car got delivered as promised on Monday … we didn’t even get a call on Sunday. The driver infact called me back after my call with Rajesh and he also assured me that it was no problem to reschedule and he will take care of it. He didn’t go to deliver and a different driver went, but he was fully briefed. What an amazing experience ! No wonder Agarwal packers are the most sought after and they are the most imitated brand.

When I managed the voice tech support centre for a PC manufacturer way back in 2001, we struggled with the same issue – getting the Customer Service representative to deal with death and emergency with empathy. Most of them would just keep moving through the questions and not offer any condolences or words of solace! Most of the customer service representatives are very young but they are adults so they do need to learn how to be empathetic.

I am a huge fan of Anand Mahindra, but Club Mahindra has let us down several times … their resorts are beautiful but their “activity” centres have no understanding of the differing customer needs. They would call exactly when you are snoozing to insist that you should participate in some bonfire in the evening, while I might have taken the vacation just to vegetate.

The in-store customer experience is also sometimes very off-putting. South Indian stores have this irritating practise of having a store assistant shadow the customer as they browse the aisles. You try and pick a product off the shelf and they will immediately take it from you and open it to showcase and then try and upsell …. I have walked out many times in a huff because I don’t like someone trailing me when I am browsing the aisles. All they have to do is ask if I need any help and if the answer is no just go and be available if you are called. I have even asked some of the store assistants, if they suspect I will steal something and then they get all embarrassed… but my experience is spoilt anyway.

Customer service is the first step in customer experience … and many Indian organisations are struggling at the first step !!

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