The other side of customer service

Photo: Kapil Thapa
Photo: Kapil Thapa
Komal Giri*, 26, gets up as a customer walks by and lingers around as she watches the lady with a two year old on her arms hunt for a pair of leggings. She directs the lady to the right aisle and gets back to sorting the consignment that has just come in. On the second floor of Bhatbhateni Supermarket in Lalitpur, this is what she has been doing ever since she started working as a saleswoman a year and a half ago.

Her job isn’t that exciting and then there are days when she counts the hours till closing time. She recounts one particular incident that made her feel like that. “A couple of days ago, a customer lodged a complaint against a new salesgirl. Her reason was that the salesgirl was irritating her. It was totally unfair as she had just asked the customer if she could be of any help to her, which was met with such a drastic reaction,” she says indignantly.

While people may complain that the customer service here in Nepal is not that good, those responsible for it have a different story to tell. Dealing with different kinds of people in different moods can certainly be a challenge. But it is only people with first hand experience who can say what really goes on at the stores and behind the apparently ‘bad’ customer service.

Taijesh Kashapati, 26, owner of Nanglo Expressway in Kupondole, says that in their business there are too many factors responsible to make the service perfect. “One of the most crucial factors is timing. From the time the customers order the food until it reaches the table, our goal is to do it as fast as possible,” he says. But other factors like taste and the mood of the customers also determine how the service goes.

“Of course we strive to make sure that our customers are happy and leave with no complaints or bad impression, but what also plays a crucial role are the customer themselves. We don’t have any idea about the mood the customers are in. Though we try to maintain the quality and consistency of our service, the way it is received by different customers varies,” he says.

Undoubtedly, service givers are susceptible to whatever the other person feels as well. Until machines take over, which is almost the case in developed countries, people need to keep in mind that the service providers have their own set of problems.

One of the main places that customers complain about is the inquiry desks. One might think that the customer services there are not up to the mark, but Astha Limbu* begs to differ. A customer service representative at a telecom company, she has been employed there for five years. In these five years, if there’s a lesson that she’s learnt, then that is she should be equipped with the discipline to be patient and calm, even before knowing the technicalities of her job.

“You don’t know what kind of questions people come up with all the time. Sometimes we just can’t decipher what they are on to,” she says. While they do get some genuine calls and questions that need their assistance, at other times, it just tests their patience. But there have also been times when she has been proven wrong. That’s because even the caller doesn’t know how to frame the question.

These instances have made her realize that she can’t be judgmental at work. At times, she feels happy that she is at least helping people with their problems. “When things go well and I get to lend a hand, it certainly makes me feel that this job is worth all the time and effort I put in. Else why would anyone be at the receiving end of moody people?” she says with a laugh.

A lot of times, the quality of customer service is also determined by how well the service givers know what they are doing. A former telemarketing agent, Kalash Joshi* says that judging by his years in the job, there is no provision to train them on customer service. He also recalls that where he worked, the organization was understaffed. “Even though we tried to be as fair and quick as possible, there would always be customers waiting which really compromised our customer service in the eyes of the clients,” he says.

After all, there is no time limit or certainty while providing service. Sometimes things can be dealt with quickly, but at other times, it takes longer than one imagined. The customer service providers can only hope what they’re doing works for the moment.

But the truth is that people responsible for customer service are not only mere helps when a customer is in need of something. Whenever the customers need it, they switch to the role of being a consultant when it comes to selling a product. They not only show the customers what they need, but understanding their social, cultural, physical, and psychological need, pick up the right object they are looking for. Adwit Manandhar*, 54, is one such individual following this mantra.

“Operating a store is as difficult as any other job but what makes my work interesting are the people,” he says. Though it has only been three years since he opened his clothing store in Lalitpur, he has the experience of running a store of his own selling various items for a long time now. He remarks on the complexity of working with people of different thoughts coming from all walks of life, adding that they can’t ever afford to be in a bad mood, even during the most trying of times.

“I sometimes feel that customers say that we don’t have what they’re looking for easily, because it is so difficult for us to look at them and figure out their likes and dislikes. And it is important that we do that, because we need to sell the item, not just make sure that they find what they’re looking for,” he says.

Samjhana Maharjan, 43, looks after a momo eatery in Jamal. She caters to all kinds of customers, and it’s especially hectic from 2 pm onwards when the offices in the area breaks for lunch. “It is unbelievably crowded during that time, and that is when we feel customers being irritated,” she says. Instead of panicking, she has come up with a solution to curb the crowd these days.

“We’ve asked our customers to call and place the order before they come to the shop,” she says. The crowd hasn’t decreased, but because they order beforehand, they don’t have to wait. “I think that has made us much more productive,” she says. She is happy that the customers complied with this solution, as they have a lot of pressure to handle as well.

Sometimes, costumers translate good customer services in the form of discounts and other attractive offers. Anjali Maharjan, 35, owner of Patan Book Store at Patan Dhoka, however, complains that sometimes customers go over the top with the discounts. “We give 10 percent discount on the books but sometimes, some people keep on bargaining for more. We are wary when we see them coming in next time,” she confides.

The attitude of the customers involved also plays a big hand. As customers we are quick to complain, not giving a thought to their problems and issues. The staffs probably haven’t been instructed on how to handle customers, or are like any of us just having a bad day themselves.

Komal says that realizing the shortcomings in their services, they have asked for appropriate trainings from the management. Time and again, they do take part in trainings as well. Kakshapati also stresses on how they have to work as a team to get things done.

“We can’t always be at the scene so it comes down to our staff. What they do reflect on our company, hence we try our best to train them,” he says. Unfortunately, this kind of management is limited to only a few organizations. In small businesses and services, customer service is almost a non-existent element.

“I don’t think we know the value of customer service,” Kalash says admitting that a lot has to be done before things get better. But in the meanwhile, a little sensitivity on the customers’ part wouldn’t hurt.

*names changed

Not a Private Affair

Illustration: Sworup Nhasiju
Illustration: Sworup Nhasiju
The very next day of marriage, Astha Faiju* woke up early, took a shower, swept the floors, and then waited for her in-laws to wake up so she could make tea for everybody. “That’s what my mother had instructed me to do,” she says, recalling her husband cracking up at her weirdness. Astha did what would have been expected of a new bride in the traditional world.

“I remember my mother telling me to do this and that. I guess she was just preparing me, having gone through the experience of being a new bride herself,” she says. Astha had been groomed to “behave” a certain way with her in-laws. Even during the wedding reception, Astha remembers her mother looking troubled if she didn’t talk to the guests properly, didn’t eat in a certain way, and if she was a second too late while seeking blessings from the elders.

It wasn’t that her in-laws expected her to be a traditional bride. But even if they had, her husband came from a different school of thought and would have supported Astha no matter what. They were a team whenever she had to oblige her in laws in various household chores. But she couldn’t forget the etiquette, rules, and above all, her parents, who wanted her to be a “good” daughter-in-law. “My in-laws were cool and not very strict. Yet, I made sure I did everything my mother asked me to,” she says, adding that she had been raised in a culture that had all these expectations from a daughter in-law.

As clichéd as it may sound, in our culture, it is understood that a bride or a groom marries not only each other but their families as well. But most of the times, it’s the bride who has to compromise more than her husband to adjust to the new surroundings and family members. And when she is married off, there are more than enough people from both sides telling her how to behave in her new home, so that she is not chided by anyone. But no one can really say if she won’t be, because there’s always one or the other, who will find a fault in whatever she does. Just one of the many benefits of being a daughter-in-law.

Bhawana Subedi* can relate to what Astha had to go through. She, too, had to religiously follow the rituals, treating her parents-in-law with more reverence than she had bestowed her own parents. She says that the greatest thing she had to lose when she got married was her freedom.

“The freedom I got as a daughter can’t even be compared to how the situation is now,” she says. Even though her in-laws are really supportive and look after her child as she goes to work every day, she feels obligated and guilty. “I don’t know if that’s the culture, or because I want to be with my child, but I really feel bad sometimes that I have to leave my child in their care and that I’m troubling them,” she says.

So it happens that once a woman is married and has a child, there is no way to be guilt free. Even to take a weekend off from the work for a little me-time takes months and months of planning and practice. “That still doesn’t ensure that I will have that time off. Anything could come up last minute,” she says.

It isn’t that men aren’t loaded with added responsibilities. In fact, a lot of them complain that they are expected to take care of the family. At least the society doesn’t expect the women to shoulder the burden or run the house. However, Prabesh Rai, 29, has something different to share. He has been married for eight years and had known his wife for at least six years before that. Together, they have a two year old daughter. He has a store that sells all kinds of dress materials in Dharan, and the husband and wife both look after it.

“I suppose it is because we have had a really long time to get to know each other. We could share our dreams and ambitions. We are actually very happy. I’m proud to say that we overcame all the obstacles together, helping each other along the way. We have been extremely supportive and understanding,” he says.

Undoubtedly, communication plays an important role in any relationship. Richa Sharma, 27, says that she is in same thought level as her husband. It made things easier to share and understand what each wanted from the other, and from life. “Not only dreams and expectations from a marriage, my husband even used to tell me everything about his family, so that I wouldn’t have difficulty adjusting after marriage,” she says.

However, that doesn’t mean that it is always a smooth ride. Even after months of tying the knot, the newly-weds come undone by the little differences that being two different individuals brings. In our culture, this is a relatively smaller problem than the bride not knowing the family. “In any function or get-together, I demanded that my husband stay by my side, literally, so that I would know who to get blessing from, who to greet, and likewise. A heads up before marriage is never enough,” says Richa.

Though the new couples don’t shy away from sharing their thoughts and beliefs with each other, sometimes, miscommunication is unavoidable, especially when living in a joint family. Brides stumble upon a precarious position in the house, because she is still a new family member and will be treated like an outsider. Above all, it is harder for them to please the mother-in-law because given how they were treated by their mother-in-laws they will try to force fit their daughter-in-laws into roles they might not be willing to take up.

Prakriti Raimajhi* doesn’t live with her in-laws. But whenever they go back to their family during various festivals and family occasions, the relatives are just too nosy.

“It is nothing less than being interrogated. All the small things are scrutinized. And I can’t afford to let my guard down. They will surely exaggerate it or distort the fact and let my husband know. We have had arguments because of it more than a couple of times,” she says, adding, “What is up with relatives trying to pick at the innocent newlywed brides?”

And it is at moments like these that a spouse seeks asylum where s/he won’t be judged, privacy invaded, and left in peace. “Because whenever you fight, there’s nowhere to go. You go to your parents’ house, they have hundreds of questions for you,” she says, adding, “At least before marriage, you have that power to leave him if things come to that. But after marriage, it’s the finality in our culture, the fact that this is all I have that scares me.”

However, good moments make up for every other bad moment, and if the husband is supportive, and strikes a balance between the family and his wife, all could be well. This should perhaps be a responsibility that all husbands must loyally shoulder. The point of a marriage is, after all, for a couple to start a new life and be happy.

Dr Amrit Sapkota, 26, says that marriage has made him feel that his wife cares for him more than ever before. “Even though getting married means living with a person you thought you knew, but that’s not always the case, I think our bond has become stronger,” he says.

Being married is about learning about each other and growing together – as individuals and couples. “We knew that marriage would be about compromises and sacrifices. So no matter what the differences are, we work around it. After all, happiness is our ultimate goal,” he says.

*names changed

The Hidden Temple


The last time I wrote a letter to you,
I peeled every layer of emotion
Poured it into the papery vessel,
The words that, later trapped in its two lines,
Delivered my message to you.
Anger spoke volumes,
It’s sound, louder,
Louder than any bell that rang
In the biggest of temples
And even louder than the trumpets on the radio
The whistle blew over the sweetest smelling incense
That I had deeper feelings than the one I claimed I had for you.
I was unaware.
But you, without knowing, embraced the words,
Set my heart free and captured my soul like a glue to a paper.
Your heart had a hidden temple and I became your devotee.

Cult Talk: The Year of the Mahamela

It’s seven in the morning and unusually crowded at Lagankhel Bus Park. Pranisha Tamang, 19, calls out to a friend and asks her to hurry. They have all been waiting for a microbus that would take them to Godavari, and with much difficulty, found one where all four of them could fit in comfortably. She usually steers clear of such crowd, she says, but this time, there was no escaping.

“My mother told me to go Godavari and take a dip in the kunda (pond). I don’t know why she wanted me to go there, but I thought of obliging her just this once,” she says, adding that when she reached the venue the crowd present took her by surprise. “I didn’t expect so many people to be at the venue,” she says.


 Like her, thousands have been thronging to Godavari as the place is hosting a fair that takes place once every 12 years, throughout the month of Bhadra (August 18 – September 17). The time for Barha Barse Godavari Singhasta Mahamela is determined astrologically, when the Sun and planet Jupiter enter the zodiac sign of Leo, which happens once in every 12 years.

According to the Holy Scriptures, Gautam Rishi was living in Phulchowki by serving the cows. But unfortunately, one of them died due to an accident. Because killing a cow is considered a great sin in Hinduism, he sought repentance for it by worshipping Siddheshwor Mahadev for 12 years, whence, Goddess Ganga came to Godavari, and Gautam Rishi took a dip in it which is said to have washed away his sins.

Since then, every 12 years, scores of devotees come to take a dip and worship the shrine of Siddheshwor Mahadev. The occurrence of this tradition, however, is recorded from the fifth century during the reign of the Kirati Kings.

Though the religious importance can’t be doubted, for many people, it holds an economic importance as well. For Raju Lama, 28, the mela is alluring because it holds a great business opportunity for him. Beckoning all the tired and hungry looking devotees into his small eatery that he opened especially for the fair, he says that it has been a great opportunity for him to earn money. “We have been arriving here around one every morning since the fair started. We prepare various food items for the devotees and make quite a substantial amount of money,” he says.

Like Lama, there are many other small scale business owners who have come from all over the country to set up their stalls so that they can cash in on this wonderful opportunity and earn some extra money. Ramesh Shah Thakuri, 42, who earns his living by selling khuwa at Dakshinkali, has set up shop at Godavari and will continue working from here for a few days more. “I came here to sell my product because during this month many people will come here, and more people mean more business,” he says, with a big smile.

For Jeevan Prasad Nepal, 44, it has been an excuse to try and get over the loss of his house and his agriculture business in the earthquake of April 25. “My house in Sindhupalchowk was destroyed and after that, I couldn’t continue my traditional occupation of farming. I came here hoping I can do something and find a way to earn a living once again,” he says.

Coordinator of the Main Management Committee 2072, Madhusudan Paudel, says that there are around 300 business stalls present at the fair. “We have managed 200 stalls from the committee’s side, whereas around 100 stalls have been set up by the locals in the premises,” he says, adding that the fair this time around will see around 4.5 million Hindu and Buddhist devotees from all over the country, and even the neighboring country India. “This is one of the oldest fairs in Nepal and has a long history,” he says.

Hundreds of volunteers, police force, and health assistants have been deployed to curb the crowd. Eight CCTV cameras including four in the temple premises and four in the bus park area have been put up for security reasons.

For Jit Maya Lama, 79, however, these things don’t matter. With a walking stick to support herself, she is happy to be able to give continuity to the ritual carried out by her mother and grandmother, even though she has difficulty walking. After boarding an early morning bus from Panauti, she is happy that she can finally take a bath in the pond.

Godavari is filled with colors as people of different cultural background make it a point to come here, curious to see what it all is about. As it is a fair that takes place once in 12 long years, people note many changes. For Krishna Bahadur Malla, 55, it was important that he skip his business for a day and spend time observing this ancient tradition with his family members. “Celebrating such kind of events speaks volumes about our rich culture. It’s a way of life that our ancestors were sure would ensure peace among us all,” he says.

Paudel estimates that at least 70,000 to 75,000 people visit the fair every day and as the month of Bhadra nears its end, the daily visitors will only grow. Various festivals like Krishna Janmasthami, Kunseaaushi, and Teej, also fall during the month long fair and that ensures more devotees will throng to Godavari in the coming days.

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