The one who was ‘king’

August 10, 2014

P.G. Bhaskar


It’s been happening stealthily. Little by little, it has crept upon us and numbed us. Now, I think we are stuck with it. Quality is pretty much dead. Goodbye, great service.

It has touched every profession, every aspect of life.

Look at airlines. I took my first flight when I was in my twenties. Till then I had only heard of those wonderful flying machines. In my youth, I longed to fly, not just so I could look at clouds from my window, but because I had been told that airlines hired beautiful women who always smiled at you. Of course, that was probably always a myth. But look at how terrible things have become! Smiles have turned into scowls.

Even the occasional plastic smile bestowed on us is accompanied by a steely look in the eye that says ‘Look, buster! I’m twitching my lip now, but no nonsense about wanting water and blankets and hot coffee and that kind of stuff, else you had it.”

Of course, it’s not just airlines. I only started with them because they begin with the letter A. I mean, take banks! When I joined a bank as a management trainee many years ago, we went through a six month training programme before we could face any customer. Even that was considered a compromise.

Earlier, the training programme was spread over a whole year. There was concern about the effect this shortened training could have on the skill-set of us new recruits. I offer no prizes for guessing the length of training programmes in banks these days. Nor any freebies to correctly say whether banks even have a full-fledged ‘training department’ any longer.

Ten years back, if you were asked to name a few adjectives that go with the word ‘bank’ you might have said ‘safe’, ‘solid’ and ‘reliable’. Now? From time to time, we receive a letter from our banks that usually begins with ‘As part of our continuing endeavour to improve our service quality …’.What it actually means is that they are going to charge us more so that they can use that money to replace some staff and buy some technology which will offer us eight telephone options none of which we are interested in.

The list is endless. Carpenters, Doctors, Electricians … one could go on. But that is simply the way it is.

Nothing lasts half as long as it used to. Nothing works half as well as it did. Nothing even quite tastes the same. It doesn’t stop there. When we visit stores, we find nobody to turn to for help. Have you noticed how few sales people there are these days? And if at all there is someone, it is one of those pesky, overbearing shadow types, so you would rather plough a lonely furrow anyway. Service folks are even fewer.

Deterioration in customer service has picked up pace in the last five years. Is it the impact of the recession? Are corporations desperate to cut costs? Or under severe pressure to show profits? Do consumers, worried to death about job losses and depleting savings see an urgent need to tighten their purse strings? Is it the China effect?

Whatever the reason, the trend is here and it does seem, here to stay. I do not see much noise being made about it. We appear resigned to our fate; of being kept waiting, put on hold, ignored and being shunted from person to person. Of being asked silly questions by a chap in some remote low cost foreign country, of being made a scapegoat between two warring sections in a company and of being billed for services not delivered. Why is this happening? And why are we helpless to do anything about it? Well, for a start, I would assume it’s because there are so many more of us to be served. Further, our horizon has become shorter, our outlook narrower. Our willingness to pay for quality is restricted and we have become addicted to instant gratification. And simultaneously, our patience has grown boundless.

We have become meek and submissive. We whine and whinny, but we accept. It is almost as if corporates have formed a cartel to quell customers into settling for poor service quality. They now have us exactly where they want us. In our lifetime, we may see world population touch 10 billion. Unless we consumers pull up our socks and holler, I very much fear quality will plunge further and customer service will get far worse.

Courtesy Khaleej Times

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