A Customer to the Sound of Silence- the indelible customer service in India!

It is well known, that words such as – Incredible, Diverse, Festival, and Loud – amongst others, are used all over the world, including the Tourism Department of India, to describe the experience of the country. It is ironic then, that words such as – Expensive, Restricted, Faulty and Silent – amongst others, can be used to describe, the Customer shopping experience, in the same country. The following true stories, tell of the incredible, Customer shopping experiences that you can receive… Recently, I bought a “premium brand” 1-litre electric kettle. There wasn’t much in the way of choice and the larger 2-litre kettles were simply, in “no supply”. The shiny, new, kettle was taken home and plugged in, ready for use. It is an unusual kettle. As you tip it, to pour the boiling water out … the water pours …(with a Monsoonal magnificence) …but not into your cup! … It flows, to where the kettle meets the cable-wire. And for good measure, it spills over the sides …(like a Monsoon waterfall)… This is a faulty product! It shouldn’t be selling. It poses a Health & Safety hazard to you. Further, if more customers report faulty goods to their shops, it wouldn’t be selling. Certainly, other consumers have bought the same kettle and experienced the same dysfunctions, yet they appear to maintain … a “Sound of Silence”.

The Customer’s privilege is this … face a payment of two thousand Rupees, to own a “premium brand” kettle that can cause you serious injury. There is, the odd Customer, who walks back into the shop (with the receipt and within 28 days) to change the goods item, who is greeted by a person, at the counter, that shrugs their shoulders and says, “No Return possible.” So… what we have as a Customer is this – Once bought, it’s yours. That’s it… We don’t appear to have a Goods-Return, national policy. On another instance, I booked myself into a “fashionable” spa, for a luxury, ninety-minute massage, paying thousands of Rupees. I left feeling…not massaged … at all! Then there is the story of my last visit to a hair salon! At that last visit, it was a simple – hair “cut and dry”. A request was made, to the “expert” to use a heat-resistant spray before blow-drying the hair… Of course, the “expert” knew better and simply… ignored the request!

The salon quite literally … burnt every shaft of hair! My hair felt like straw… For this, the Customer’s privilege … of salon “experts” burning your hair… you face a payment of over Rs 1500. As I paid for my “experience” at the counter, the “expert” at burning my hair, whilst most unapologetic about the service given, was most energetic, to sell a foreign hair mousse for a rather tidy sum. I tried the mousse a few days later … pressed the nozzle into the palm of my hand … and the gloopy, ice-cream looking, scoop of mousse you expect, did not turn up… instead, a large spray of white specks scattered everywhere and onto my clothes! That’s when I grimly spotted … the mousse was past its expiry date! When I did eventually walk my reluctant feet, back into the same salon, a few days later, to mention the expired product to the person at the counter … they gave me, what can only be described through experience, as … “that look”. That “Sound of Silence” look, complimented with a blank, confused and suddenly cannot answer or speak in English or Hindi, look … I resolved never to enter that “fashionable” salon again. In the past few days, with the Puja Holidays and the urging on by well meaning friends … I picked up the nerves, packed them in my handbag … and walked into another salon (that came highly recommended). And with terrific trepidation, opted for the gentlest looking thing, on the menu – a hair spa treatment. It is a very time-consuming experience for a woman to visit a salon… and most women go every month! Everything takes half an hour – wait half an hour, wrap your head under a heater for half an hour, let the hair dye, dry on your hair, for half an hour, etc. It’s tedious! But that’s the price of, so-called… “Beauty”… isn’t it?

The word “spa” conjures up scenes of comfort and luxury – and in its truest sense means … a mineral spring giving health-giving properties. Or, in a commercial spa/salon, a “spa” exudes luxury… along with offers of steam treatments. Most certainly, this salon did not use any mineral-rich water to wash my hair! And absolutely not a bit of luxury was in plain sight in the salon! … Apart from the steaming prices on the menu! So I asked the “expert” which hair “spa” treatment to go for, and they gave me … “that look”. That “Sound of Silence” look, complimented with the blank, confused and suddenly can’t answer or speak in English or Hindi, look… 3 Fortunately for us, another “expert” joined us, to help out … and pulled out her phone, to show off a menu full of “cut, colour & dry” Diwali special packages … but of course, no “spa”. This was indeed, utterly unhelpful! There is a gross mismatch of the word “spa”, to the “spa treatment” I was given. A senior “expert” started the first, of a Four Phase hair spa treatment – A second “expert” joined to assist. Not once in this first phase of thirty or so minutes, did she stop chattering with the other “experts” … Loudly… and just above my head. Then to really make it an incredible experience, she was very rough with her hands, pulling the hair from the scalp, whilst applying the treatment! This is supposed to be the high-end carotene hair spa! The price says so! I had to say something … So, the second “expert” pulled a long face and walked off…. very professional, I might add! The senior “expert” carried on working on my hair, somewhat sympathetically.

Phase two is when the heavy-conditioner is allowed to soak deeply in to each shaft of hair and usually involves a hair steam. Never mind, this salon’s phase two avoids that! Instead, you experience a breath taking “cling film moment” – where they wrap your head in cling film – and yes, you guessed it … you wait for half an hour. Tedious work … trying not to stare at the imbecilic reflection… with plastic on it’s head… looking back at you in the big mirror under the glare of cold-white, bright, lights. Also, in absolute open view of the other customers… who by the way, are just a metre away from you, either staring at you, or talking away… Loudly … at each other or into their phones! Skipping past phase three, we fall into phase four – the last phase… where they blow-dry your hair! Here we go again! Now, I requested the senior “expert” to use a heat-resistant spray before blow-drying. And would you believe it? He answered in the negative…! He “assured” me the carotene treatment was good enough … and simply started blow-drying. Would you believe? Another “expert” walked up to assist us and switched on another blow dryer to further dry… my already dry hair! I had to say something … “Please don’t burn my hair! Please use a heat-resistant spray”! This Time, the “experts” actually obliged; yet the damage is already done…! My hair feels like straw… And you, the Customer has to pay for the “privilege” of your hair being “professionally” burnt, for the slim sum of Rs 2500. 4 It gets better…! Having done with the hair “spa mistreatment” … and ready to get out of the salon … the “expert” stopped me with a menu. Would you believe? She sold me a facial spa! I haven’t dared have a salon facial in a … long time. Having been assured of the use of a “private cubicle” and all organic products… yours truly … surrendered in exhaustion and with massive reluctance, walked into the cubicle… All I want to say about it is this… In the forty-five minutes it took to have the facial; the door to the “private cubicle” opened and closed (Loudly) over twenty times! … With the “experts” strolling in and chattering to each other in the cubicle … using it is as the washroom for the busy salon’s utensils. … And I lay there blissfully unaware… of course… to their noise.

I felt utterly “relaxed”… smothered under that facemask, trying to hear the sound of silence. For my incredible and loud “experience” of a luxury facial spa … I paid another slim sum of Rs 2400. I resolved never to enter this “fashionable” salon again. There is a terrific mismatch with what a Customer wants and what a Customer gets …in this country. And it is not the case that Quality Control of Goods & Services or Consumer Protection Laws, exist in Western Countries only. Not at all… We need just look to our neighbours in the East – for example, Thailand, Malaysia etc., where we see these Quality Controls and Protection Laws working in the Consumer’s interest. It is very difficult to define … the depth of grief, of a discerning Customer. Nevertheless, I shall try – There is a pitiful lack of professionalism, There is a pathetic lack of expertise, A complete lack of silence … when needed … A complete Sound of Silence … when not needed… A terrifying inadequacy of knowledge, of the products used and sold, A total disregard for the Customer, There is no genuine … Customer Service in India, There is no lawful … Consumer Protection Law in India. And, perhaps, the rare, true story can be written, to highlight the plight of a Customer. And an important extract from a speech, by Mahatma Gandhi, in 1890, does highlight the Do’s and Don’ts for any business: “A Customer is the most important visitor, on our premises. 5 He is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption on work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider to our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favor by serving him… He is doing us a favour by giving us the opportunity to do it.”

Finally, Diwali is round the corner, so it is timely to say – Wishing you a very Happy Diwali! But, speaking of the “Sound of Silence” … here’s something to think about – There appears to be an important, symbolic mismatch, between the words ‘Light” and “firecracker” Is Diwali, actually the Festival of Lights, or is it, that it has now become … a terrifying festivity of Noise and Air Pollution? Which odd, Consumer/ member of the public, shall restrain from fire crackers usage this year, because of Noise Pollution? Which odd, police official in accordance with a Supreme Court ruling of 2005, shall book those creating sound-emitting firecrackers and nuisance post 10 pm and through to 6 am? Firecrackers that serve only a temporary “pleasure” to some … but supply us the general public with day and night, ear shattering, noise pollution… And which odd, Consumer/ member of the public, shall choose not to light up fireworks this year, because of Air Pollution? Fireworks that are cheap, full of toxic chemicals, harmful gases and that hugely support air pollution… And so, the Customer is served, everyday… a deadly service. —*—

Article contributed by Jeannette Street


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