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Article by Mohan Babu


World-class service: The West is the best

For many Indians who are used to sub-standard service in every walk of life, the service focus in the West comes as a breath of fresh air, writes Mohan Babu

Perhaps one of the best “perks” of living in the West is the opportunity to enjoy a world-class service in almost every aspect of life. By world-class service, I mean the day-to-day interactions we have with our service providers, be it bankers, sales persons at stores, customer representatives over the phone, check-out girls at the supermarkets or even online interactions over the Web.

Let me illustrate with a personal anecdote. Just the other day, I had an opportunity to test the limits of customer-service at my bank in Colorado. Incidentally I must also point out that I try to complete most of my transactions — including paying my bills, transferring money and checking balances etc — over the Web using my PC-bank account. I had issued a cheque, payable to someone; but later I decided that I shouldn’t have issued the cheque since I didn’t need the service. Realising that it would be more cumbersome to get a refund after the cheque was cashed, I resolved to place a ‘stop order’ on it. I logged on to my online bank and filled out the stop order from. A small fee was charged from my account the next day and I assumed that everything was hunky-dory.

However, a couple of days later, I was astounded to find that the amount on the cheque was charged from my account. I drove down to the nearby branch and explained my predicament to the manager. She looked at my account and got the details of the transaction and made a call to the online team and presto, my case was solved. She assured me that the amount would be credited back to my account and that I could consider my problem solved.

This story and incidents like these are repeated hundreds of thousands of times across the US. Customers and consumers here have come to expect a certain level of service. As the level of service increases, the bar is raised and every business and enterprise tries to become more service oriented. The US economy is predominantly a service economy, meaning the bulk of the revenue generated by corporations come from the services they provide. The higher level of customer service includes the ambience of shops, eating joints, malls and supermarkets. It also includes the ‘standardised’ service that customers come to expect when they go to a familiar chain like McDonalds. McDonalds strives to ensure that every outlet across the globe has a similar look, feel and level of service.

Companies in the west employ a variety of media in order to enhance customer satisfaction and feedback. This includes use of ‘1-800’ free-phone numbers, web sites and mail-in customer cards. Most products and services come with the service description and include free contact numbers that customers from anywhere in the country can call. Of course, many large corporations have service forms designed in their websites. People filling in these forms can expect responses within hours if not days.

The premise behind service culture is simple. Things and systems, however well designed, can and will go wrong. What makes a difference in the customers mind is the ‘recovery process’, i.e. the company or service provider’s reaction to an anomaly in service and how they recover. Service employees in the US are empowered to take a decision that will satisfy the customer. They are also educated and trained to act as ambassadors of the company’s culture.

Service management is expensive and involves highly trained people to resolve customers’ problems and answer queries. It is interesting to note that in order to reduce service costs, a lot of the ‘backend’ CRM (customer relationship management) is moving to India where we have relatively qualified, educated and ‘cheap’ workforce. A person calling the customer service in the US is expected to be oblivious of the fact that he is talking to a customer rep based halfway around the globe. E-mail responses generated by service-reps sitting in India may satisfy customer queries coming from Chicago or Cincinnati. I only hope that we benefit from the ripple effect. Servicing global customers around the world should teach our companies to ape their global counterparts. The already-trained service personnel could easily transition into similar roles within Indian companies.

Companies and service providers in the West have realised that the cost of acquiring a new customer is many times higher than servicing and retaining existing ones. They also realise that the word-of-mouth that a good service experience generates, is more valuable than any advertisement.

For many Indians, who are used to sub-standard service in every walk of life, the service focus in the West comes as a breath of fresh air. Of course, a number of Indians are increasingly travelling to the West and returning to India with world-class service experiences fresh in their minds. They are starting to communicate these experiences to the service providers in India, which has led to an increasing number of Indians expecting (and receiving) world-class service in their back-alley too.

Implementing good and pleasing service management does not need an MBA or a team of consultants. Even small-time street vendors seem to understand the essence of good service. Ever wonder why in a busy market, with dozens of vendors hawking fresh pakodas, one of them stands out, attracting the most crowds? Maybe it is the ‘special ingredients’ that he uses. Maybe, just maybe it is the smile and light hearted manner with which he greets and serves all his ‘regulars’.

Improving customer service is a subject that is a lot easier to talk about than to implement. The key to success is changing the corporate culture, a deliberate process involving two steps: Establishing a plan to exceed customer expectations and getting employees to work the plan. As the world becomes a “smaller place” seamless global service management will become the key.





About the Author

  • A Bio and profile of the author, Mohan Babu, can be found at his homepage
  • Mohan has authored a book on Offshoring and Outsourcing (Publisher McGraw Hill, India), a link to which can be found here
  • Mohan has also authored an Online book on "Life in the US," available for free download.
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    ©Mohan Babu: All Rights Reserved 2005

    Mohan Babu is an international consultant trying to find the ‘sweet spot’ where IT meets business. E-mail: mohan He is also the author of a recent book on "Offshoring IT Services"

    All rights are reserved. Mohan Babu ("Author") hereby grants permission to use, copy and distribute this document for any NON-PROFIT purpose, provided that the article is used in its complete, UNMODIFIED form including both the above Copyright notice and this permission notice. Reproducing this article by any means, including (but not limited to) printing, copying existing prints, or publishing by electronic or other means, implies full agreement to the above non-profit-use clause. Exceptions to the above, such as including the article in a compendium to be sold for profit, are permitted only by EXPLICIT PRIOR WRITTEN CONSENT of Mohan Babu. 

    Disclaimer: This document represents the personal opinions of the Author, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of the Author's employer, nor anyone other than the Author. This Article was originally published in Express Computers


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