Monday, July 22, 2013

Curious case of a shopping mall customer

"There is only one boss, the customer, and he can fire everybody in the company right from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else." - Sam Walton (founder of Walmart).

I disagree with you Sam, for the newly found Indian breed of small-time businessmen, franchisee owners, hoteliers, retailers, or even the owners of smallest of the shutters in the shopping malls, super markets and business complexes alike, haven't offered me enough data points to believe in what you say. Modern day shopping or buying experiences of some commodity / commodities or in general the experience related to receiving a service of some sort at the cost of a sum in the shopping malls, has turned me into one curious case of a perplexed customer who has had to let sink in such brutal kind of customer treatment experiences that any sane person wouldn't wish for his rivals. The situation isn't much different when it comes to the local or general markets other than the malls, these days, but for the context of this post, I will just share my 'being customer' experiences in the shopping malls.

Grocery shopping - now this is something one cannot avoid. A married person can survive without the basic necessities of living i.e. food, clothing and shelter but not without a customary weekly grocery shopping (and subsequent shopping that comes along with it!) Now, the problem with people like me who are not local to the region in terms of language and culture, is lack of a truly meaningful (and fruitful, pun intended) conversation with the local grocer about our daily needs for e.g., I haven't yet figured out the local names of some of the grams, flours, and cereals and the local unit of measurement as well, which makes the entire conversation an embarrassing form of some animated silent movie where I desperately try to show how the thing is eaten, or prepared (or even thrown to hit someone in angst) with hands and facial expressions involved, and get only a 'hain, hain, nayy, nayy' kind of weird response in return from the grocery store keeper as if an alien from another planet has come to ask for a soap and shampoo to bathe. We mitigate this by always heading to the shopping mall where we at least get to see some names in English, or Hindi and other details such as max retail price, manufacturing and expiry (or best before) dates and content (a diet conscious me) etc. but there lies another set of trouble. If you need fresh stuff, be prepared to put whole length of your hands right through the end into the storage racks and get one from the deepest possible location in the rack. These guys load all the newly arrived stuff at the back and in the process, do not even check whether the old one has surpassed its best-before or expiry date. If you successfully overcome this by maintaining vigil, next one comes in the form of that cryptic code on the goods. Bar code. If you are purchasing a lot of stuff, invariably there will be at least a couple of items with the bar code tag either removed or scratched, which means after a hectic and grueling 2 hours of wandering and carefully picking your stuff, at the cash counter, the person sends you back to get either the other pack or leave the buying option there itself! Thirdly, the person who packs your stuff in the polythene bags, shows utter disrespect for the physical and chemical state of the material and biological state of the customer. He will manhandle the pack of eggs, carelessly throw and absolutely smash the packets of biscuits, or chips or such crispy goods while packing to make sure we get a ready made recipe back home for an omelette or crunchy choco-chips with coffee. The next one is the father of all sorrows. Free card. It doesn't matter if there are scores of people lined up behind me in the queue waiting for my billing to be processed, the counter guy gives it his best shot almost always to sell off a 'free card' to me no matter how much I first politely, then straight-faced and finally annoyingly attempt to keep him at bay. Sir, do you have a so and so membership card? Sir, would you like to get one? Sir, it is totally free of cost Sir. Sir, you will get a lot of benefits and discounts Sir. Sir, please take it na Sir. All these words ring in my ear before and after visiting a shopping mall.

Eating out - in a shopping mall, eating is a nightmare, anywhere. First, in a relatively good mall with a multiplex in it, you do not get a place to sit. I have seen people starting to run with full plates in their hands on seeing you approaching some recently vacated table, just to reach there before you. Second, don't get excited over the 'variety' that you 'see' on the menu boards, or ad cards of the stalls. More than half the stuff will be non-existent, and there are lot many things that will cripple your eating excitement, for e.g., absence of Rajma or Chhola in a Punjabi food stall, absence of ice in a juice or cold coffee stall, absence of paav-bhaji in a Bombay chat center, and no vada sambhar in madras cafe ! Be prepared to face this and have your alternatives ready. If they have all of these, then in all certainly they will miss either the tissue papers, or the spoons, or straws, or other such 'accessories' and give you a sheepish smile with a trademark 'Sorry sir' disclaimer. Now, talk about being customer oriented and flexible. Check if in a combo they can replace the Lassi with cold-drink and in return you get a blunt 'No' on-your-face kind of reply. Do not attempt to convince them reasoning Lassi is supposed to be expensive than cold-drink for they will not budge. They have nothing to do with what you want, all they know is to charge you exorbitantly for what they have with them ready to be served(?). If something is amiss, feel free to go to the next counter they don't care at all.

Restrooms - in almost all the malls that I have been to, rest rooms are in reality unrest rooms. Any one of them can be seamlessly turned into a chemical lab for students studying adverse effects of Ammonia on human population. It can also be a case study for MBA aspirants on how to maximize the utilization of the resource (hand-dryers, wash-basins, napkins etc.) by keeping them permanently switched off or render them unusable for the most part, perhaps thinking that's the only way of prolonging their life.

Furniture, electronics etc. - ah, to be honest, don't expect to go there and get home anything having more than 2 legs in the furniture section the same day along with you, no matter how small the stuff is, for not only will that be the demo piece but also the only piece. Same holds true for electronics. If you think you got the weekend to finish all such shopping, you're wrong. You just order it during the weekend. Two days later (if you're lucky), the 'material' will be delivered to your home, packed and sealed. Story doesn't end there, another day or two later (again if you are lucky) the service person will come to assemble / install / demo the machine / furniture whatever, and in both instances, comes the inevitable big mouthed demand of 'tip'. Something is delivered, they ask for the tip. Something is demoed they ask for the tip. Something is installed, they ask for the tip. Something is uninstalled, they ask for the tip. I am majorly pissed off with whosoever (I have my suspicions on the foreign returned folks here !) has brought this tip culture here in India. The problem is not with the money part. The problem is that we Indians are never known for sincerity and dedication in performing our duties towards customers (or anyone other than oneself to be precise), at least when easy-money is at stake. This tip culture may be working well in countries abroad, it has surely spoiled our already deteriorating customer service habits.

Apparels, accessories etc. - Okay here's the deal. If you just observe, these guys will be so neatly groomed and 'commonly' uniformed that you will find it hard to identify them as customer service executives, for they will never come to you asking what you are looking for, instead you have to find them and call. No, but don't even think of calling them based on just the fact that they have a tagged id card, these days many professionals like us directly go to these malls with our tags on, and I personally have called such IT employees in two three instances to show me a 32" Lee-cooper jeans and a Nike sportswear of my choice much to my embarrassment and their anguish! Yeah so even if somehow you manage to identify those folks, you will soon realize they are busy talking to each other than serving the customers. You call one of them and he will give you a look which will be worse than the actual words intended 'What the hell, everything is there on the display, you know your size, just check them out, go to the trial room ,decide and buy, pay at the counter, why do you need me?Can't you see I am busy?'. So you ask if you can get a different pattern in the so and so brand and he will say 'No, this is the only pattern' without even bothering to see what's there in your hands. You ask if he can get a size you need as you aren't able to find here, he says 'It is out of stock' without an attempt to find, needless to say, and once you resign, go back merrily to the talking zone again.

You know what a customer like me, who has spent most of his childhood in small towns, and tier 2 cities, wishes for? He wishes for that Sindhi cloth store owner who, with a warm smile, greets you personally and welcomes you in, offers the mattress to sit and relax first. Then he doesn't ask but just orders tea/coffee for you while you are busy checking out the store stuff. He also has 'customer service execs' who will patiently listen to your requirements and show you almost everything that they can, and almost everything that is available. He wishes for a medical store owner who, if your listed medicine is not available in his store, sends his boy to another nearest store to get it for you while having a casual talk with you. He wishes for that Punjabi hotelier who personally comes out to hand over your egg curry parcel and tells you this has been specially prepared under his observation today as last time you said it was a bit spicy for the taste buds. He wishes for that Muslim chacha owning a shoe store where you can go empty handed (without money) but never return without getting what you want. If your requirement isn't available, he will take your measures and order the same which will be delivered to you at your doorstep. Money can be paid anytime as per your convenience, just based on the trust factor. Can his wish be fulfilled these days? What do you think !

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