Reflections of the MP: Pound of Flesh


Reflections of the MP: Pound of Flesh

As our family size got bigger, and the boys becoming adults, we needed to move. My wife and sons went around looking and eventually settled down to buying a flat from an accomplished and reputed real estate organization.

Glossy brochures and a soft spoken sales person finally led us to ink on the dotted lines. Money receipts in silvered coloured jackets impressed us as was their constant communication on the progress of the project’s construction.

Until of course, towards the end, the project got delayed, jeopardizing our personal cash flow. We wrote to them to bear with us and allow us respite for a month for the last installment payment. My wife called me up visibly distressed. The polite customer service lady suddenly wasn’t polite anymore. “Don’t you know what the contract is? Haven’t you read the clause on delayed payments?”

What about the delay in handing over the flat? You should read the contract, that is allowed, was the prompt reply. Who would remember the piles of points in the finely written contract signed a year and a half ago? We tried to explain, but no, like Shylock in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, “The pound of flesh which I demand of him Is dearly bought, ’tis mine, and I will have it …” the organization insisted for its pound of flesh … just you wait, we will write back to you. Along came the letter, insisting we pay now.

Talk about a customer being treated as an adversary, like a pain in the you-know-where. The customer service lady must have been thinking, these damn customers, always creating problems! Isn’t that the typical way we look at our customers? Always whining, always asking for that one extra favour, – oh customers! This is the kind of treatment this hyped up organization meted out to my wife, and no wonder she was upset.

As organizations grow, they tend to get trapped in following their own procedures and processes and lose interest in their customers, taking them for granted. The shift of focus is from outside to inside, worrying about pleasing bosses, and lately, systems, not customers, thus losing flexibility in handling customer problems.

And add to it, if you have an IT system in place, you always blame stuff on the system, and do not care at all about the customer. I remember we urgently needed to buy a chemical from an international organization, our production was held up due to want of this chemical. Do they have it in stock? Yes. What a relief! We are sending you the cheque, can we have it? Yes but … but what? Our computer system is down, we cannot release the stock until we get the system up and running, which took three days!

And of course, the nightmare I had was landing at ZIA late night and finding the immigration hall brimming with passengers who had landed much earlier. What was the problem? The system is down, unless we get it up and running you have to stay here!!! We tried explaining that you can keep the arrival card and do the entries later fell on deaf ears and even led to a veiled threat to ‘behave’ or else! There we were stranded for hours waiting for the system to run and getting the queues through.

I do remember the amiable and exemplary customer orientation of late Imran Rahman, Brac Bank’s last CEO. He was the Dhanmondi Branch Manager of Grindlays Bank in the mid 80s. As our salary account was in his branch, I got to meet and know him personally. Always smiling, he exuded a friendly warmth that was heart warming. And because of him, the whole branch staff reflected the same friendliness and customer care.

During those days, I needed a loan and Imran sent the forms over. Wondering what kind of additional paper work I would need, I met up with him. He scanned through the papers, signed and sealed them and told me to pick up the loan money on the way out!

Each customer experience will move the loyalty meter either way, depending on how we treat them. I always fear that with the growth of our business, we may not be able to maintain our focus on customers. As such, we are constantly on the look out that we do not slip in customer service delivery. Our future depends on our customers coming back to us, again and again.

For that to happen, learn to look outside and make sure your organization’s people and processes are aligned to ensure customer satisfaction. As they say, no one makes money inside the organization. Everything done inside the company is cost. Only when we look outside and find a customer, we make money!