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.