The answer is a most emphatic NO! Right now it is my internet service provider that is guilty of poor customer service. Before that it was a pizza outlet. To be fair, there was some kind of service resolution – the wrong order was replaced (though it meant more calls and waiting until the next afternoon for the correct order to be delivered).

My complaint is that these companies spend huge sums on advertising but the bare minimum on training their staff in essential customer service skills.

  1. What annoys me the most is that none of the staff know how to listen. It’s only at the level of area manager and above do I find staff who actually listen. At the lower levels, the staff seem to be trained to follow a fixed script and to not deviate from it at any cost. Hence, when I called to complain that I had been sent the wrong pizza order, the young woman’s response was, “What is your telephone number?”!! It’s only when I furiously (I was hungry and angry) asked what my telephone number had to do with a wrong order, did she change her response to something more intelligent and unscripted.
  2. Why do call centre staff mumble when talking on the phone? I’ve noticed that when overseas customers make the same complaint, companies here are quick to dismiss it as racial prejudice. However, I am an Indian and if I cannot understand what call centre staff say over the telephone, the problem has to be with the service agent and not the customer.
  3. Be it inbound or outbound calls, the staff do not clearly introduce themselves – name or company. In one government owned, telephone company, the call centre staff were all named after the late Michael Jackson’s children! And no, I don’t have a sense of humour.
  4. Going back to my internet service provider, the area manager had recorded my complaint. After that I got call after call asking me to repeat my complaint. When asked why, I was told the complaint had not been clearly recorded.
  5. The staff have no problem-solving skills. Because they do not listen/know how to listen, customer service staff (front office or call centre) are unable to take decisions and provide solutions. Therefore, the complaint has to be ‘escalated’ up the organizational pyramid until the customer reaches a senior enough manager who can do both.

What annoys me is that these are companies that spend lavishly on marketing. Which is fine. Only, the marketing has to be backed up by good customer service. I wonder if India, Inc is aware that their businesses lose nearly $2.5 billion annually because of poor customer service. For more statistics read the article, India loses Rs 11,640-cr a year on poor customer service: study published by the Business-Standard in August 2009.

Good customer service requires well trained staff. Here training providers are as much responsible as companies for the inadequate training being offered. All too often I come across training material that promises much in its objectives, but the content fails to cover the basics of customer service. There is much theory and little practical training. (I suppose, this approach to learning spills over from our education system which values theoretical knowledge over practical application.) As I advised the staff at the internet service outlet, “What you expect as a customer, do that for your customers.”

Companies meanwhile, are unwilling to invest in the time, effort, and expense required to develop quality training material. But then if the cost of poor customer service is Rs. 11,640 crore per annum, it is time for companies rethink their training budgets and their approach to training.


We are all familiar with the expression, ‘walk in another’s shoes’. It is frequently used in training programmes to explain and develop empathy. In the past year, I had been hearing of retreats where participants wash another person’s feet.

The practice itself has its roots in the hospitality customs of ancient civilizations, particularly in the East. Perhaps the most well known account is found in the Gospel of John (13: 1-15), where Jesus washes the feet of the apostles at the Last Supper. This narrative is frequently referred to when describing servant leadership, a term coined by the late Robert Greenleaf in an essay “The Servant as Leader” written in 1970. Several others have since written and commented on this leadership style.

So, while I was familiar with the biblical event I had never actually experienced it for myself until recently – at the close of a one-day retreat for women. We, the participants, were told that the retreat leaders would wash our feet. I experienced a confusion of thoughts and feelings which I will try to describe here.

I was not at all comfortable with the idea of someone else touching my feet. I was then distracted by the mundane – “Will the water be changed?” (For the hygiene minded – the water was changed, soap used to rinse out the basins, and fresh towels used to dry feet.). The lady who washed my feet was senior in years and position. So, I felt even more uncomfortable. I felt unworthy. I then realised this was conceit. Everyday I depend on others for my basic needs to be met. Hence, to resist being served was pride – a less than honest need for self-sufficiency.

Later I asked one of the ‘foot washers’ if I could wash her feet, and she agreed. As I knelt down to wash her feet, I felt exposed, vulnerable, and uncertain. We then discovered that the basin was too small! This was funny and embarrassing for both of us. I also realised that washing another’s feet can tell us a lot about that person. The calluses on her feet told me this was a person who walked a lot – to serve others.

P.S. Take time to reflect both before and after the activity.