10 July, 2009

Blame it on the Bell Boy!

It’s quite interesting for me to discuss two cases in the Service Business who are almost on the verge of going off the radar – one in a real sense and the other, almost gone. I am referring to Air India and Subhiksha – the former, India’s oldest airline and the other, India’s first Retailer to say so. Both were built by individuals and then handed over to the best brains in the country. Both were known for the inherent value that was promised, and to some extent offered to their customers. And something interesting and common to note in both the cases – Customer Service! Or probably the lack of it! If only the front-end staff took good care of their customers, would this situation have arisen? Especially the housekeeping boys – popularly known as the Bell boys – as in hotels. I guess they are the main reason for the collapse of these companies, which were also Institutions in some sense. The staff didn’t perform their jobs well and thereby the business collapsed. A common saying to be remembered: If you don’t take care of your customers, someone else will.

So, now that customers have shunned these companies and have gone to other alternatives, the bell boys and the front end staff must take the hit. Some must be sacked, some must forego salaries; and many others must agree to delayed payments. Good. Atleast now, they must realize how important customer service is in our business.

Well, having said that, should it really stop there? If a student fails in the exam, the school delays his promotion to the next class, and does not punish the teacher. Coz, the Teachers did their job so well, that they are not to be held responsible for the result of students. Sounds logical and is usual too, atleast in our country. I wonder how many in this society would accept the same with the student’s parents – they would be held responsible for the student’s failure. And if the student succeeds too, then they are praised. That too sounds logical. Naah. Both can’t be.

In the above business cases, all of us agree that Customer Service went for a toss. Projecting an imaginary “Maharaja” and promising a royal service and advertising worldwide was just not enough. And projecting a “Homemaker” and promising savings was also not enough. The promises must be kept up. And the promises must be kept up by those who made such promises - The Management and Investors who kept promising despite knowing that they wouldn’t come close to achieving it.

The need of the hour seems to be pulling up the business to reality, into action. And this can be won only by superior Customer Service. You would see that customers are not really missing these businesses – probably because they don’t remember them anymore. I have been a big fan of many authors and writers who propagate Customer Service. But I have my take on it. It’s not just enough to convert your customers as raving fans and the brand’s ambassadors. It is important to create a “love affair” between your Customer and your Business. Just the way customers love their spouse, their family, friends and pets. Customers must yearn to be associated with the Brand – to experience the service and to visit the store so often – probably because the staff is friendly and warm-hearted (no matter how old they are – pun intended).

Coming back to punishing – is it fair to punish those who just did what they were asked to do? Many in these two companies know inside stories and my blog is not a “chat-pata” filled Page 1 story ala the country’s largest gaspaper, err… newspaper. Is it correct to delay salaries of hundreds of innocent staff who acted upon the orders of the superiors? Some who were lackadaisical at work and handling passengers and some who did not order the right merchandise due to poor cash flow management. What about the decision makers? Foregoing a month’s salary or still being on LinkedIn with the previous company’s name in their headline is just not enough. Those who erred in these cases must be brought out in public. Hasty decisions that were taken in intoxicated mood must be revealed and tabled. And these persons must apologize publicly – to its shareholders, staff and most importantly, to its Customers.

Blame it on the Bell Boy was a classic comedy of Jerry Lewis – one of the best comedy artists the world has seen. Sounds nice for a movie, but not in real life. If the business succeeds, it’s because of the Team, its employees and mainly due to its Customers and if it fails, it’s because of a few individuals – those decision makers.

Long Live the Decision Makers. Let’s wish they take the right decisions. And for sure, not to blame anyone, but to apologize.

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