The Indian Optician, March-April, 2010 Issue
Infact Customer Service and government departments cannot probably be even used in the same sentence ….. an oxymoron ….. ox·y·mo·ron n. (ŏk’sē-môr’ŏn’, -mōr’-) A rhetorical figure in which incongruous or contradictory terms are combined, as in a deafening silence and a mournful optimist.
Leading this ‘image creation’ effort are departments with a public interface/dealing, like municipal corporations, post offices etc.. Through years of interaction, our minds have been programmed to think of them in the most negative way. Absolute apathy, disinterest and inefficiency are immediate associations.
This was the thought with which I went to the Lodhi Road Post Office in New Delhi a year back. I had to withdraw some amount from the PPF account of my wife ….. “50% of the balance at credit at the end of the 4th financial year immediately preceding the year in which the amount is withdrawn or at the end of the preceding year whichever is lower”. As you can make out, I went through a lot of preparation, studying all the clauses in the passbook, so that I was well prepared with the challenge of entering a post office. Armed with her identity proof, passbook and an authorisation letter, I reached there, ready to spend a good part of my morning waiting (I even carried a book to read while I waited) and also to come back another day to complete the transaction. I had memories of such interactions with public sector banks in the past, where it had taken multiple visits for resolution of similar issues.
On entering, I saw a help desk where I asked how I should go about getting my work done. Expecting a rude reply and a ‘you don’t even know that’ kind of look, I was surprised when the person nicely guided me to the correct counter. There were only two people ahead of me in the queue. In less than three minutes I was presenting all the papers I had carried, to the clerk behind the counter and told him what I wanted. No questions asked, he understood everything and asked me to come back after 10 minutes. I went out and waited. After about 15 minutes I went back to the counter, expecting ‘a reason why it can’t be done today’ and ‘you have to come back on so and so date again’ excuse. To my surprise, the clerk handed over the cheque to me alongwith the duly updated passbook !! I thought of pinching myself and checking ….. was I dreaming ? What could be wrong ?? I looked at the amount, signatories, date ….. but everything was perfect. I thanked the person, he nodded in acknowledgement and I walked out, all in about 20 minutes !!
This could be a fluke. Too good to be true …..
This is what I thought for a full year, till I got a form from the same post office a few weeks back, wanting to reconfirm my contact details. They were computerising. I filled up the form and went there. A similar sequence followed ….. I inquired at the help desk, was guided to the correct counter, only two people ahead of me, my turn came in less than three minutes, I handed over the form, the clerk acknowledged it and also updated the passbook ….. and then it struck me that since I was there, I could also deposit the minimum mandatory annual amount in the account. “Can I pay the minimum Rs.100/- also now ?”, I asked. “Yes. The amount is Rs.500/- and not Rs.100/-. Please fill up this pay in slip”. I filled it up there and then and handed over the cash and slip. The whole process took about five minutes and that too because I decided to deposit the money as an after thought.
I came out and thought how the clerk could have reacted in an unfriendly manner as well. My sudden decision to deposit cash, filling the pay in slip while standing in the queue and ignorance about the minimum amount could all have extracted rude comments from him. Infact I was really attracting such a behaviour and reaction !! Nothing of that sort happened though …..
The thought stayed in my mind and I kept reflecting on it. What could be happening there ? How is it that such an oasis exists in the desert of a dry emotionless organisation ? I had to understand this. Last week I decided to go back one morning. This time I went straight to the office of ‘The Post Master’. There was a person at the door who politely asked me what I wanted. I said that I wanted to meet The Post Master. “You can tell me what you want Sir”, the person said. I repeated my request, but he insisted that I tell him and that he would help me. “I have not come with any complaint, but I have had a Great Experience here and I want to understand what you people are doing”, I requested. He smiled and took me inside. The Post Master, a smiling lady, sat behind the table.
“What is happening here ?”, I asked after I narrated my experiences to her. The lady gave an understanding smile and replied “We have regular training for our staff. They go through a full one week programme and then we repeat it quarterly by rotation for all staff members. We discuss how they should never get angry with customers. You will never find our staff getting angry. We tell them that no matter what the customer says, they have to stay calm. We train them on handling customer queries. There are role plays and discussions”.
I kept listening, amazed at the initiative being taken at this post office, that too, when obviously, the compensation levels are so low. “But how come the cheques were made within minutes and that all interactions were so fast and quick ? Even I-Bank and H-Bank, who advertise (if only they could spend that money in genuine improvement) and talk a lot about customer service levels and preferred customer treatment, come nowhere close”, I asked. She went on to explain that they had delegated authority right up to the front end counter level. They also rotated people across multiple counters so that each person had exposure to multitasking, increasing efficiency and empathy. Staff was short and retiring staff was not replaced, but multitasking and continuous training ensured a high level of efficiency and customer service. They have a very cordial working atmosphere and all members were like one big family. It could be seen in the calm that prevailed in the atmosphere as well as physical cleanliness of the place !!
WOW !! I was amazed. We hear about all this, we talk about such things. Here was a place, an oasis in the midst of an uncooperative, unfriendly and inefficient ecosystem, in hostile desert like conditions, which was making such a big difference. Who says you cannot change things in an unsupportive environment amidst challenges. It all starts with a desire, genuine effort, a spirit of partnership and an ability to transcend oneself !! I was reminded of Gandhi ….. “Be the change that you want to see in the world” !!
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