Customer Service Observations

Some places in India have world class customer service. Really, too-good-to-be-true service. They aren’t the subject of this post. But it is worth recognizing that this CAN be done!

Over the past week or so, there have been more than the average number (and intensity) of customer service SNAFUs. So yes, this is a compliant post. Hopefully, this will be seen more as a call to arms to encourage service providers to raise the level of service. And a reminder to visitors that a deep well of patience, forgiveness and firmness are needed to help you enjoy your visit.

Here are some examples, from this narrow time frame:

• A 2 different restaurants in 2 different cities near the coast, a patron orders fish. In both cases, the waiter declares, “That fish has bones. You won’t like it. Order [X] instead.” Patron thanks waiter for the warning about bones, but wants to order fish from the sea nonetheless. In one case the waiter relents and brings the patron the sea fish (at it was yummy and indeed boney). In the other case the waiter won’t give an inch –suspecting that there is a bigger issue (No fish that day? Fish looks unhealthy to the waiter?? Who knows!) at play, the patron relents and orders something else. In any event, it’s better to say something is unavailable (which waiters often do say), rather than presume to know what a customer will “enjoy.”

• Saleswoman refusing to get a clothing item in the customer’s requested size. Even though the customer frequents the store & knows the sizes well. Even though the shop has plenty of stock in the requested size. The saleswoman would rather argue with the customer in the middle of the store about how she “must” purchase the larger size. Embarrassing and insulting customers is an odd approach to making a sale… (Eventually the requested size was obtained, although a — more polished –manager had to be engaged to make the sale.)

• Waiter tells female patron that the next time, she really must bring her husband to dine at the restaurant. Granted, this may have been an attempt at word of mouth marketing (along the lines of “bring all your friends!”). But I think that is an overly generous rationalisation. It fell flat when combined with otherwise unimpressive service on the current restaurant visit. The focus should have been on making the current visit a wonderful experience to which we’d love to bring friends/relatives, rather than demanding we produce men (which, by implication, may have gotten us better service). Moreover, this approach failed to take into account possibility that the woman was single (she was) and could be offended. And, well, keep reading…

• Same restaurant, another waiter (they are all men) attempts to hand feed food to an adult woman dining with other women (no men in the group). This continued for several minutes despite the woman’s unmistakable objections– sliding back in her seat to get away from the invasion of personal space; holding both hands in front of her face to block the attempt; and clear verbal objections in a Indian language the waiter understood. It was not cute, funny or charming. It would have NEVER had happened if we had a man dining with us. It was just plain creepy in my observation. However, I was told by others that the waiters had a strong rural accent — perhaps they have had limited/no exposure to women outside their immediate families; perhaps they’ve not meet professional women on a business lunch. But when a {relatively expensive} restaurant opens adjacent to a massive office park, they REALLY ought to coach the waiters –wherever they are from — on how to deal with business professionals, including women. No one wants to leave a restaurant feeling accosted by the waiters or under the impression that the only way they’d be welcomed back is with a man.

• Hotel front desk clerk/concierge in a beach town known for its beaches & known to be a tourist beach destination for both foreign and local tourists adamantly advising hotel guests against the beaches. Telling the guests that the beaches are “truly awful” and “no place you want to go.” This despite the fact that the guests were adamant that the whole purpose of their trip was to visit a beach. There were no oil spills, Tsunami warning or sharks spotted that would explain this behavior in the hospitality sector. I am guessing the hotel employee had no idea how to direct tourist to get to the beach so, rather than refer the question to someone else, he figured he would just make the question go away. (When we raised the issue with more senior staff, they explained he was very new and would get additional coaching. And directed us to a lovely beach!)

Maybe Mercury is in retrograde or something…

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