Carry This

Carry This

Last afternoon, I was lucky to chance upon some great customer service.

I was at a station in Karnataka, heading back to Bombay with my mom. The indifferent railway staff hadn’t been clear about which platform the train would arrive on. After a long wait, the platform was announced. The person at the info desk said that coach and seat numbers (which we didn’t have at the time) would be put outside the coaches 15 minutes before the train left.

We had one heavy suitcase to lug, so we asked a porter to carry it across to the third platform (it meant crossing an overhead bridge). The few porters around, were all carrying luggage across the tracks (an extremely unsafe practice) instead of using the overhead bridge.

This porter took the bag across while mom took the long route via the bridge to get there. Once she’d reached the bag, I took the overhead bridge too.

The train had just entered the station. About 15 mins before the train was to leave, the porter waved out from nearby. He informed me that the charts had been put up on platform 1 (where we had just walked from) instead of on this platform. Not surprising, if you are familiar with the limitless extents of human stupidity.

While time on hand was about sufficient, it was still a walk you’d reconsider in that sweltering heat, and the fact that you had just done that stretch a few minutes ago.

I put our bag in the train and prepared to head to the other side to check the coach and seat details, unsure of when I might need to run back to make it to the train. As I started walking, the porter was there, just having crossed the tracks with someone else’s bags. He asked me to give him my ticket printout, which I did. He darted back, checked the charts, and came back, telling me both passenger names, coach and seat numbers. Impressive.

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Sujit, the porter, unknowingly taught me a few things about what I call customer delight at the A-Team.

There was no haggling when trying to fix a price for carrying the bag. He said we could pay him whatever we felt like (Lesson: Enjoy what you do, and focus on the work at hand, and not too much on what you’ll earn from it). When I insisted on a specific fee, he said people usually give INR 30. (Lesson: Charge reasonably). Checking tickets wasn’t part of the deal. He could have as well gone looking for the next few customers (Lesson: offer increasing value to existing customers instead of constantly looking for new customers).

When I acknowledged his assistance, the chap just smiled and said it was his job. He even wished me and mom a happy journey. Now that isn’t something you hear often. (Lesson: You can never be too polite) And once I’d paid him, he took it with a smile, not bothering to check or count, and he vanished into the crowd to find more work.

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We Deliver.!

We Deliver.!

Several years back, I used to work in the ever so famous BPO (Business Process Outsourcing) Industry in one of India’s IT hotbeds, Bangalore. My job involved providing technical assistance to North American customers of our pretty impressive all-in-one printer range.

There was a time I wondered if the monotony could leave me permanently depressed. Or worse, brain-damaged. But right then, I received an email from my boss. He was forwarding an email from a customer I had assisted a few days before. The customer had needed print cartridges urgently. For some reason unknown to most of us, it took about 3-4 days after placing an order, for the cartridges to actually reach the customer. (And in case you wondered, ‘no, the cartridges weren’t shipped from India).

While this was a free delivery, there was a 1-day shipping for some charge. I was aware that in some special cases, I could request a senior colleague to waive off the charges on the 1-day fee, but it was not a luxury I’d like to take for granted. So I promised the customer a 3-4 day delivery period and that I would try to have the cartridges delivered earlier if possible.

Coming back to the email the customer had sent, it read something on the lines of  – I would like to thank XYZ for the quick shipping of my print cartridges. He said it would take 3-4 days, but when it arrived the next day, I was thrilled. He has done what we in the customer service industry call ‘under-promising and over-delivering’, the surest way to win a customer and a little more to that effect.

That was my first lesson in customer service; ok maybe not the first, but certainly the one with the most impact. It has been a while since that corporate ‘high’, and since those technical support days, but that feedback has stayed on with me. While I’m no ‘pro’ at customer service, I do understand its ever-increasing importance in any business, and I constantly try to figure ways of improving the customer’s experience.

And I have found many an Indian BPO employee, or for that matter, even your average sales or service staff at any retail outlet or business centre, bubbling with enthusiasm to cater to the customer’s every demand. And while this is a great thing for customers, there are 2 key ingredients missing in many cases. Those being  Planning and Communicating. A simple equation of their effect on customer experience would look something like:

Customer Experience = Communicating (Planning+Commitment+Delivering on Commitment)

Most of us are great at committing, but tend to fall a little short when it is time to deliver on the commitment. And this causes unnecessary customer dissatisfaction.

In our endeavor to give the customer that little bit ‘extra’, we often miscalculate delivery or commitment deadlines. And this ends up causing the exact opposite of the effect we had planned for.

If we were to take into account all possible influencing factors (Planning) and build it into a commitment or delivery deadline, and perhaps even throw in a little buffer if we have a gut feel about possible delay, we would be giving the customer a more realistic picture. And of course, nothing beats plain old ‘Communication’. It is extremely important that we communicate with the customer. Even a call or message updating them the moment you see a deadline getting stretched, does wonders. You cannot imagine how much customers appreciate that phone call informing them of a delay. It beats them arriving at your doorstep on D-day only to be asked to come the following week.

To my customer.
I may not have the answer, but I’ll find it.
I may not have the time, but I’ll make it.
-Unknown

Then of course, nothing beats delivering on a commitment or deadline.!

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