Home > Ideas > Falling on deaf ears?

Falling on deaf ears?

Indian CMDs and CEOs have been shouting hoarse about the weak and unsettled market conditions. They say that business is no longer predictable – cash flow is impacted, operations are stretched, costs are escalating.

Now look at some ground realities –

–          My brother calls Asianet Broadband to upgrade from the current package to a better one and they give him another number to call.

–          Another time it’s Vodafone – calls made and emails sent for information regarding usage and spends don’t yield results yet. A call to a former colleague gets me one return call from a young Executive who promises to get back with the requisite information – it’s a month now since that conversation. My usage should put me in the postpaid category but I still have a prepaid connection.

–          ICICI Bank when approached for a top-up on a home loan sent a friend on a wild goose chase – a list of 10 documents needed to start the process and he is an existing regular-paying client of the bank. The Executive did not do anything to simplify the process for the customer. He simply threw the book at the man. My friend has made 3 visits to the bank already and is nowhere near finding a solution. The original loan taken 6 years back was Rs. 21 lakhs – no EMI has been defaulted till date and the top-up requirement is just Rs.3 lakhs.

Look around and we find little kids, grandmoms, fish-mongers, coconut-pluckers and even beggars using the phone  – they make calls and are talking nonstop. But Companies have not realized yet that a phone can be used for outbound calls to their customers.

Phones are used to make unsolicited calls at the most inconvenient time – companies are in acquisition mode – “GET NEW CUSTOMERS!” is the clarion cry echoing across most organisations. The call comes when you are in a meeting, while you are driving or when you decide to take a nap. And these are organisations with whom you have no existing relationship – who is giving them your number?

But when I voluntarily call an organisation to provide them business I am either put on hold (while the Agent checks up what needs to be done) and then told to call someone else – on the rare occasion that I am lucky the response comes immediately. But not even once have I heard someone offering to get a colleague to call me. They are just too busy for that. They are the INBOUND CALL CENTRE after all.

What am I hearing the organisations say? It sounds like – You don’t matter! You are just a customer!

It seems organisations are just too blind to see the pot of Gold they are sitting on.

How difficult is it to have a Prospect Management / Query Tracking mechanism in place – a system that anyone answering the phone can use to gather vital information during every call – so what if you are capturing some half-chance or no-shows, the idea is to stop even one from slipping away.

The Head Honchos can continue their plaintive cry – nothing will change till they get their act together. Not listening to a customer when they call is equivalent to turning your back on them; you won’t even know if they walked away for good.


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  1. vijay
    April 25, 2012 at 3:06 pm

    isn’t it ironic that organizations spend lakhs to attract customers and when the customer arrives they turn their back or do not listen to them !!!what do you think could be the reason for this, i feel in many organizations the management do not follow what they preach ( i.e., listen) and their employees just follow suit !!!!

    • JayadevM
      April 25, 2012 at 5:45 pm

      Hi Vijay

      That’s right – it’s got a lot to do with culture. Juniors following the action of seniors -“If’ they aren’t doing it, why should I?” Top Management and Managers need to show the way.

      As for the reason for not listening to customer a lot can be wrong:

      – People not equipped to deal with customer’s needs
      – Processes that are not Customer Centric
      – Organisation’s that become too complacent
      – People not trained to sell or do provide service
      – Attitudes

      The earlier organisations see the problem and deal with it the better for them because today the customer is not willing to wait; there are other options available in the market.

  2. April 25, 2012 at 3:36 pm

    Mr Menon, I believe we are reaping the ugly fruits of a fancy science called ‘management’. Since I am just an arts major -and I’d like to plead I am not biased — you tell me the fancy words; optimisation, specialization or whatever: I truly don’t know.

    Since I can think in ‘layman’s’ terms, here is what I believe. Instead of taking a holistic view, we have modularised human beings and haven’t stop just there. We have outsourced him too. Thus we have a division for stonewalling cribbing humans, another for howling humans, yet another for humans gone mad. And all this while, another arm is busy making unsolicited calls and billing by the number of units at the end of the day. In a fancy new-age bank, we have executives who deal in pay-ins but who have never heard of pay-outs, executives who deal in two-bedroom home loans but who refuse to acknowledge there are three bedroom units out there in the world, or single-bedroom units, for that matter. Don’t be shocked if we have executives dedicated to different denominations of currency soon. However, don’t expect those dealing in Rs.500 notes to acknowledge the existence of anything above or below that. At the end of the day, they will summarise the number of units they dealt with, not humans.

    If I start describing the harassments suffered at the hands of telephone/power/gas/etc companies, I am sure i will need a minimum of 10,000 words. And let me assure you, some of these accounts will be exemplary, to say the least, and yes, none will be repeated. So, tell me please, is it the effect of the general decay and rot among us or we are simply stretching the tenets of an esoteric discipline a bit too far?

    • JayadevM
      April 25, 2012 at 5:19 pm

      Hi Umashankar

      Thank you for reading the article and for adding such a detailed note in response.

      True that specialisation and process optimisation can be made to look ludicrous when taken beyond certain levels but there is no denying that they can certainly help when used correctly.

      The intent of my article is to ask the same question – can’t processes and people be more flexible – and shouldn’t they help rather than hinder business?

      If after so much detailing the Customer is wondering “What do I go from here?” it’s time for a rethink.

      There is nothing wrong with Management Science or Management Graduates per se… the problem is the disconnect with reality – and when people get short changed in the relentless push for profits.

      Growth has to be inclusive and for the larger good!

  3. April 25, 2012 at 3:39 pm

    I’m sorry for the typo in line no 6: “haven’t stopped”

    • JayadevM
      April 25, 2012 at 4:42 pm

      No prob!

  4. Raaj
    April 26, 2012 at 12:17 pm

    Hey Jayan

    Here is one reason that I think this scenario keeps repeating itself as you rightly put….
    These companies (Cable/Telecom/FI et al)…. know that customers really have no choice. We might leave one particular company or FI and go to another… and get the same treatment at the new place. So really, what have they got to be worried about?

    Let me refresh your memory about India from a not too distant past…. say telecom; you do remember the days when you had to pay for your phone and wait for some time just short of forever, to actually get a phone line… and when we eventually did get it – probably after like 3 – 7 years, we were actually grateful that it worked and we could actually make the occasional call… and fault repair usually meant that your phone could be out of order for weeks….. and I am not even going to go to those days when you would have to make a ‘lightning call’ (operator assisted long distance calls) and wait around all day for that call to come through!

    Or surely you remember the days when banks used to be open to customers from like 10:30 AM to like 1 PM (and the more ‘customer focused’ branches actually stayed open till 2:00 PM? These banks would actually lend you like 10 lakhs for your new house only if you were a Govt. employee and you had like 30 lakhs in fixed deposits and another 24 lakhs in gold and other collateral… and then you needed get your uncle (who is also another Government employee) to co-sign with you?

    I can give you many such examples… but my point is that most people who are at the helm of large companies today are people who grew up in that kind of environment… so they have never experienced great service themselves – how can they be expected to deliver great customer experience. Sure some of them have read some strange Western (text) book and harp about it… but really, unless you have actually experienced consistence great experience you will not be able to deliver it.

    Its a bit like one Malayalee trying to explain the bouquet of fine wine to another… would not work 98 times out of a 100… but let him explain the fine points of the local Toddy or ‘patta’… and the success rate would be significantly different. But the fact remains that most of us would go out and have that toddy even though we are pretty certain that the origin and quality of the same are suspect.

    By the same token you see – listening, treating the customer right, being fair etc are really not needed in today’s market… yeah, some day one or two companies may step up and actually do things differently but today these are fundamentals that most companies can ignore comfortably.

    They just specialize in shuffling/exchanging/trading customers… they are like one worse than the other and likely to remain so for some time to come.

    Most of these large businesses – the larger they are, the worse they get – conduct their business as if they are doing their customers a favor. The operate in an attitude of entitlement and as if the customer owes them some vague, misplaced loyalty. Most customers stick around only because they know or believe that the treatment they would get if they move their business to a competitor would be exactly the same or worse. It is precisely this psyche that these businesses operate under.

    In another 20 – 50 years, I want to believe that the scenario would change…. but for now, these companies are are laughing all the way to the ‘banks’ and other corporate fiefdoms.

    Why are we surprised ?

    • JayadevM
      April 26, 2012 at 1:05 pm


      Thank you for those illustrations – Yes, you have described the scenario and its possible reasons quite well.

      But as CMDs and CEOs are we not the harbingers of change – Why dwell in the past? Its the present that has to be reshaped constantly to create a different future. They talk about it in the Board Rooms, Press Meets and AGMs – time they acted on it too, right?

      Yes, it calls for a cultural / mindset change – 50 years is a long time to wait.

  5. Jamy
    April 27, 2012 at 3:43 pm

    Jay, I have just been the victim of this sort of mentality- Called my telephone service provider last week Thursday and reported that I can’t make international calls anymore… someone was supposed to call back or send a text message.. never happened. called again on friday..nothing happened.. weekend passed.. coupla calls nothing happened.. come Monday they’re telling me that they have no record of my previous queries… lost it completely.. spoke to someone on Tuesday… got a call back saying there’s a technical problem… finally started working on Wednesday… Digicel, the bigger better network who sponsors Usain Bolt, Windies cricket etc etc… I started getting better responses from them after I posted something about my issue on FB… lol!! Yup, I agree!

    • JayadevM
      April 27, 2012 at 4:09 pm

      Yes, at times being tough and firm is the only way we can get people to act .. being nice all the time doesn’t help!

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