Tuesday, August 11, 2015

At least one soul to understand Bank Employees service condition in India!

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All in a day’s work
Updated: August 11, 2015 02:59 IST | Hema A. Krishna
Cultural lessons on India are often best learnt by observing how the service industry addresses the needs of customers.
I left for the United States in 1989 to pursue my doctoral studies. Since 2010, I have been visiting India every summer to spend time with my parents, and have been amazed by the rapid transformation of this nation over time.
During a recent visit, I accompanied my father to his bank branch on numerous occasions. The booming Indian economy coupled with the increase in the proportion of middle-income senior citizens who conduct their transactions in person, in the morning and afternoon hours of the day, have seriously strained the customer service function of the industry. What is remarkable is that even amid the chaos and confusion, all the customers’ needs are met. The U.S. may be seen as a role model in customer service in general, but the number of transactions in that country’s service industry as a whole pales in comparison to what we witness in India.
During a typical 30-minute visit to the branch in Coimbatore, I observed that 20 to 25 customers deposited or withdrew cash. This function was handled by three staff members with speed and accuracy.
Four customers (most of them senior citizens), opened, closed, or renewed their fixed deposits: evidently, they supplemented their monthly pension with the interest earned from fixed deposits. Many of them brought their spouses along, perhaps to ensure that another pair of eyes would check for the accuracy of the transactions. I also noticed two customers who visited their lockers to take out or deposit jewellery, or check whether their hoard was intact! India has the highest per capita consumption of gold, which is lavishly displayed during weddings and other social occasions. Two customers came in for foreign exchange transactions (to convert dollars to rupees). Both were arguing furiously with an employee seeking better exchange rates, even as the latter tried to explain that they had no control over the rates! Finally, there was one customer who came in for a housing loan. An employee told me it was just a normal day. These functions were all handled by a total of four staff members.
In contrast, in my U.S. bank, during a 30-minute span approximately 10 customers are likely to withdraw or deposit cash from the automated drive-through counter, and four to five are likely to enter the premises and have the service performed by one of the four cashiers. In my 22 years in Cincinnati, I am yet to see a customer open his or her locker. Nor have I seen any customer coming in for a foreign currency purchase. On rare occasions I have seen one or two customers meeting the staff (three employees excluding the cashiers) for advice on fixed deposits (CDs) or for a housing loan. The atmosphere is eerily quiet, and whenever I walk in the staff members are happy to see me — because there is someone to lift them from their boredom.
I have concluded that the employees in India who I watched have advanced degrees in multitasking and patience, since they were able to provide the service despite a number of constraints. I noticed that no customer was willing to wait. When one employee was busy attending to the needs of a customer, the latter did not think twice about interrupting other employees who were busy with their own customers.
Coffee was served to high-value customers. Thankfully, an errand boy took the order, saving the employee the trouble of running to the store next door to get the coffee! One employee was on vacation, and his/her official and personal calls were being addressed by the ones on duty. During the 30 minutes, I noticed that the employee who was handling my father’s transactions had to respond to four phone calls which were meant for the absent staff member. Each call lasted about two minutes and the conversation included sharing details of the absence, as we watched. Also, the branch manager popped in a number of times even as the employee was in the middle of a conversation with my father, for photocopying work. Since workplaces in India are quite hierarchical, she immediately rose from her seat to carry out his request.
The pattern I saw here is typical of a democratic transitional economy. Tier 2 cities such as Coimbatore are more likely to witness this style of functioning in Indian banks.
U.S. bank employees do not face any of these constraints, since customers are willing to wait for their turn (assuming there is a queue) and will never cross over to another staff member for advice. Also, there is a self-service coffee counter for customers.
My biggest takeaway from this experience was that despite the many interruptions and the huge volume of work handled in the branch, customers received very good service. My second takeaway was that a visit to a bank in India can be truly entertaining!
The author is Professor of Strategy and Global Business, Williams College of Business, Xavier University, Cincinnati. krishnan@xavier.edu
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