Sunday, December 23, 2007

Customer Service - Tonty Pour By Cheven

After my younger brother passed away last summer, I had to deal with the financials of his estate. If you think I haven't seen much of the world in 30 years, I had to see quite a specimen of it in those 30 days. Among the names I had to deal with, mostly in the BFSI segment: Citi Cards, ABN Amro Cards, Kotak Mutual Fund, LIC, New India Assurance, Medi Assist, ICICI Lombard, TTK Healthcare, United India Insurance, Central Bank of India, Bank of Baroda, ICICI Bank (including Cards, Loans and ICICI Direct), Royal Sundaram Insurance, TVS, Airtel etc. Add to this, a suite of government / PSU institutions, like RTO, BSNL, Government Medical College Hospital, BharatGas, BPCL Office, Income Tax Office, Office of the Superintendent of Police etc. The list is somewhat like that of a diversified equity fund and it was interesting to handle all kinds of customer service responses and to meet the procedural abracadabra face to face.

Years ago, I had done a project work on the role of front-line employees in customer service, but travelling to all the four directions of the city almost everyday is no match to a spiral-bound booklet you write after some literature survey and a stretch of imagination. I can't write about the frustrations here, because, my blogging guidelines prohibit ranting. (I did make a list of my own blogging guidelines before I started the blog which I want to post only if the blog survives 25 posts). Perhaps, I should convert some of those experiences into more generic issues and present them in a non-rant fashion some day.

I was mentioning to my friend about the variety of service personnel I had to interact with, in this array of companies and offices and he asked, "Hey, why don't you blog about the good part of the show ?". I thought, yeah, it's a good idea, I had always thought the media often under-reports the good news and doesn't give the beauty of the world its due. Needless to say, it's a very subjective opinion and wouldn't mean much in terms of organized research and the rating I give in the end are entirely the riverside walker's indigenous service ratings, so please read this post sitting next to a salt godown so you can pinch it whenever you want.

One thing I found common in every place is, unless you follow up, nothing, nothing ever happens. I used to have a bengali boss, an operations guy, who did nothing but make a list and follow up all the time at regular intervals. Many times, he won't even know the specific detail of what exactly he is following up, he just knows it's a follow up issue for him. For example, someone says to him "Sir, we need an Exchange Server to be set up so people can send emails to each other". He would sometimes get only half the words and would often say, "Did you set up the Exchange ? I want to have email." He would put it in his organizer as "Exchange" with a particular deadline and priority. Someone used to jovially mention, "for all you know, he must be thinking it's a piece of equipment like Telephone Exchange". But he would indeed follow it up and get it done because you can't escape his follow-up claws.

Among the private players, Kotak Mutual Fund stands out. There was an investment with Kotak MF that had to be transmitted to the legal heir and this one also had attached accident insurance cover. There were other companies with whom I had to interact under a similar scenario with heavy follow-up, but Kotak was different. They would follow it up with you, actually. Isn't that nice ? I had been to the Kotak MF office in Coimbatore. Their ambience was good, their notice board was full of internal team contests, performance targets, winner of the month and so on. Hey cool, looks good, I thought, let's see if they are worth their display. Ironicaly, the officer didn't know the exact procedure to be followed in the case, although he had a hazy idea that there is a procedure somewhere regarding this. In fact, I knew what is likely to be the procedure, so I said, we are ready to present an application from the legal heir, along with whatever documents you may require, so you let me know the list of what you want. And we also wanted to send it by courier since we were moving out of Coimbatore shortly. He offered me a seat and a glass of water since I was sweating in the May heat. He made a series of phone calls, probably to his head office, made notes, asked the officer, to send an email immediately detailing the requirements. As he was explaining it to me, the email arrived, he fired the print and gave it to me, took my email address and also forwarded a copy. And yes, you can send the bunch to the specified address by courier, he said. He gladly gave his contact information and asked me to inform him after I send the application so he can follow it up. I told him we are moving out of Coimbatore, he said he would make a note and facilitate any follow-up accordingly. We sent the application and someone from the head office called to acknowledge it. Later they called to say, while the insurance documents were in order, one more document was required for the transmission of the investment and he would e-mail the format. We sent that too, and within 10 days, we received the insurance claim as well as transfer of the investment. With a nice letter saying, we are sad to know about this, we can't help you in any other way, your documents are in order and we are admitting your claim. We replied acknowledging receipt and thanking their quick service.

Among the banks, Bank of Baroda stands out, No, Citi or ICICI bank don't even come a close second. We had to close the PPF account at BoB. As usual, we had all the docs ready on day one and we were worried that, since the amount was high, there will be much delay because of a series of signatures. We submitted the docs. Here too there was a little training issue. The officer said, he is not exactly clear about how to input this kind of transaction in the Core Banking software to which he was only introduced recently. He said he will find out the next day from the manager and try to get it processed. Nowadays, it doesn't take much time, he assured us all the docs were in order. We mentioned that since my dad had undergone surgery recently, he has authorized me to collect the payment on his behalf and we also had the attested authorizations and the IDs ready. He said, that shouldn't be a problem since they will be issuing an a/c payee cheque, asked us for our alternate bank account details and gave me a specific date and time by when it will be available. I went at the stipulated time and he was ready with the cheque. He apologized for the bit of delay on the first day and quipped, "now that I have learnt it, I will be able to serve someone else better next time.". Frankly, I never had experienced or expected such a nice response from a nationalised bank, which was probably cynical of me, but I guess the running around wears down your positive thinking capacity. They didn't have the leadership contests on the notice boards or neck ties for the officers but they had a kind of simple devotion and sincere interest in the work they do.

More than the frustrations, I learnt, from people who served me well, how to do so carefully and courteously and from those who made me suffer, how not to do it myself in a similar situation. It was humbling when people yelled at you and soothing in contrast soon after when someone else spoke better in the office you climbed next. In both cases, it's not that they had all the required skills. But they took pains to find out. It's not that they flouted accounting controls to give premium customer service, but they communicated the procedure firmly and gently, gave an exhaustive list of requirements in one go, not requiring the customer to come up and down a hundred times and releasing the documents one by one in stages as if it were some assembly line, understood specific situations that needed attention, gave a date and kept it. And were courteous all throughout. Both offices were so different in externalities, but had the same kind of impact on the customer. Both had technology to help in efficiency but retained the value addition of human interaction. One spoke in posh English and the other didn't, but you can study in tamil medium and be equally good at trignometry. One was 10 years old and another was 100 years but both knew what really matters at the end of the day. That it is as much important to make a goodwill impact on someone who stepped into your premises as it is to spend millions in advertising to get someone there.

A third experience was even more interesting. And that had to come from the "unorganized" sector. The day before we left, I spotted a household scrap dealer in the colony nearby. Hey, I said, we are vacating and we might have something to sell away as scrap, would you come to my house sometime ? The young lad was a real excited fundoo guy, he immediately gave his cell number and said, call up any time, and he added: Tonty Pour By Cheven, Anna. I was surprised and complimented him for his attempt in English and found that he had discontinued education after the fourth class, many years ago. We didn't have much time, I said, and I will reach home only by after work in the city. He took driving directions and later he was there at 7 sharp. He made a quick assessment, called up his assistant to bring an appropriate cart, weighed it then and there, gave a category-wise quotation and made an offer. He also gave insights into how the industry works and the various levels of scrap retailing, which understandably, was to talk us into the rates he was offering. After the deal was struck, he made his assistant load the stuff and reached, you know what!, to the nearest ICICI Bank ATM and withdrew money to pay us. Quite filmy, I thought, and now I knew where he picks up these cute English phrases on customer service. My prediction is the guy will go places, what say ? Glory to the great indian middle-class entrepreneur!

Till the blogging guidelines are relaxed, here is a quantitative rating of the various servicewallahs, to avoid verbose ranting. It's not fair to compare private and public institutions so I will give a percentage ranking keeping Kotak MF and BoB as benchmarks.

Kotak Mutual Fund 100%
ICICI Direct 95%
ABN Amro Cards 90%
Standard Chartered Bank 90%
Airtel 90%
ICICI Bank 85%
ICICI Cards 80%
TVS Dealer Lotus 75%
United India Insurance 65%
ICICI Loans 65%
Citi Cards 60%
Royal Sundaram Insurance 60%
TTK Healthcare 60%
New India Assurance 60%
ICICI Lombard 55%
Medi Assist 50%

Bank of Baroda 100%
Indian Overseas Bank 95%
Office of the Superintendent of Police 90%
LIC 90%
Central Bank of India 85%
Bharat Gas Agency 80%
BPCL Office 75%
Income Tax Office 60%
RTO 50%
BSNL 50%
Police station 35%
Government Medical College Hospital 5%

The 24 x 7 Scrap Dealer 100%

1 comment:

Thank you for your comments....

THANK YOU: These reflections draw sometimes from readers and friends who initiate ideas, build up discussions, post comments and mention interesting links, some online and some over a cup of coffee or during a riverside walk. Thank you.

Disclaimer: Views expressed in this blog are the blogger's personal opinions and made in his individual capacity, sometimes have a story-type approach, mixing facts with imagination and should not be construed as arising from a professional position or a counselling intention.