Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Retail needs more TAPANs

I am glad that my grinder at home broke down recently.  Had it not, I wouldn't have come under the gracious service of Tapan.

I dutifully took the noisy grinder to an outlet of a major electronics retail chain that I had bought it from.  It was out of its warranty period, and I was obviously willing to pay for fixing it.  I had left it with the retailer for over a week - along with the warranty card for whatever it was worth!  I had to make several calls during that period to check the status of my mixer. My patience was running out as they kept promising that it was being sent from one service center to an other.  Surprisingly, the brand of grinder didn't demonstrate any eagerness to fix it, much less the retail chain that sold it to me.

Electronic retailers in India are notorious for hiding behind a licentious fact that servicing of an electronic appliance or gadget (sold by them) is none of their business! and that it is only of the brand's service center. What the salesperson will do with a lot of finesse though, is that he/she will quickly tear a corner of a newspaper and will hand it over to you, with the telephone number of the service centre - not necessarily toll-free - illegibly scribbled on it!  This they consider to be a benevolent act of generous service to the already suffering and legitimately frustrated customer. What they don't seem to realize is that they are indeed telling the customer that "you have bought the product at your own risk (peril)".  If you notice closely, the salesperson is at least twice as eager and intense in handing over that piece of paper than he was when he actually sold you the product!!

Now, this is the point where any trace of 'customer service' the retailer is capable of, goes clearly into the trash can!!

On the 10th day of my depositing the broken mixie, I kept getting repeated calls from a landline number that only my truecaller identified as that of the retailer.  I was only greeted by annoying busy tones the several times I tried returning the calls I had missed during the busy day.  I finally landed up at the retailer's outlet after work; partly frustrated and completely angry!

My first encounter at the service desk was made with this very unassuming, un-uniformed guy with a genuine smile.  All my frustration of having waited for over a week and having made several calls to check the status, vanished on seeing him.  When I inquired about my mixie, he told me how he had unsuccessfully tried to reach me several times during the day.  I apologized for not being able to take his calls and inquired about it.  He deftly pulled out the bag that contained the fixed appliance.  He volunteered to explain what had gone wrong and how it was fixed.  I requested him to demonstrate by running it, so that I could convince myself of its recovery.  While doing so, he continued to speak to me about how good it was now and that the mild noise emanating from the whirring motor was only temporary and would disappear after a couple of days of use.

Finally, when it was time for me to pay for it; I inquired how much I was due and was pleasantly surprised when I was told the damage was all of Rs.140!! I handed over two currency notes of Rs.100 each. It was while waiting for the balance change that the truth was let out by his colleague...That, when the service centres had returned the mixie under the excuse of "No spare parts"; Tapan had voluntarily taken it to a small-time mixie technician near his home and had it fixed; paying for it from his own pocket.

This revelation left me speechless and astonished for a few moments.  I did not see any reason for Tapan to have taken this upon himself to fix my broken appliance.  But he had...and how?  At that moment, I was convinced that I couldn't possibly pay for his genuine attitude of service..and that no amount would qualify as appropriate.

Still in amazement, I called him aside for a quick chat..and he reluctantly stepped out of his station, behind the service desk.  When asked what motivated him to take this proactive step; he shyly replied...that he had just put himself in my shoes and imagined how I would feel very disappointed to learn that my mixie was not repaired even after a long wait...and that he just went ahead and got it fixed, risking paying for it from his own pocket...whether or not I agreed to pay for it.....now, how can I define this service, if not but DIVINE?

I then discovered that Tapan, who hails from Odisha, was a diploma holder in automobile engineering.  Considering that he was barely a fortnight in employment with the retailer, and knowing how retailers in India operate; I was almost certain that he had not been subjected to any training whatsoever.  He also definitely wouldn't have seen his first salary yet!

What motivated Tapan to act in the spirit of unalloyed service, spending his own money to have the customer's problem solved, when he had no apparent incentive for doing so...and risking the fact that his spend may not be reimbursed...is supremely energizing and divinely uplifting.

I'm still wondering whether "Customer Service" is really a trainable trait!