Dignity of Labour: practising without preaching!

My company had supplied a CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machine to a medium-scale manufacturer of automotive parts. The machine costing around Rs. 4 million was the first CNC machine being purchased by this company. While finalizing the order, we had emphasized the importance of routine maintenance for ensuring the machine’s excellent performance and long life. We had committed that our service team would impart maintenance training to their factory personnel.

During the week after the machine was installed in the customer’s factory, our service team conducted maintenance training for the customer’s personnel as committed. Later, our Service Manager visited this customer’s factory every Saturday morning to check that all maintenance procedures were being followed correctly.

One Saturday afternoon, the MD of that company telephoned me and apologized profusely for ‘subjecting the Service Manager to humiliation’. My repeated attempts to get him to shed some more light on the matter were unsuccessful. Fortunately, the Service Manager was in the office, so I could get a firsthand clarification!

On the previous Saturday’s visit, the Service Manager had noticed that the ceiling fan above the machine was rotating very slowly, because of which air circulation around the machine was less than desired. On checking, he found that the fan was not rotating fast because a lot of dust had accumulated on the fan’s blades. He pointed this out to the Factory Manager and requested that the fan be cleaned immediately since insufficient air circulation would result in the machine getting overheated. The Factory Manager assured him that the fan would be cleaned as soon as possible.

On the next visit, he saw that the fan had not been cleaned. Upon enquiring with the Factory Manager, he was told that the responsibility for cleaning the fan had not been assigned to anybody; hence nobody had cleaned the fan. He felt that that this ‘issue’ wasn’t likely to be resolved soon. Hence, without a word to anybody, he brought a step ladder which was lying nearby, shut down the machine, switched off the fan, took some cotton waste, climbed on the step ladder and cleaned the fan. Obviously, somebody had reported this entire incident to the MD of that company.

I asked the Service Manager why he had chosen to clean the fan himself; it wasn’t his job. His answer was, “If the fan wasn’t cleaned immediately, our machine might have suffered long-term damage due to overheating. Hence, it was important to clean the fan immediately. The customer’s people did not understand this. So, I did it myself. I hope they have now understood that we were serious about the importance of keeping the fan clean, and will do it themselves in future. If not, we will clean the fan regularly as part of our maintenance routine.”

He had taught many persons, including me, ‘Dignity of Labour’ by practising without preaching!

This post was originally published on July 20, 2013 as I Saw, I Learnt

Unbelievably heartwarming customer care at a petrol pump!

Guest Post by Tushar Sakhalkar, my batchmate in college

On 23rd October 2014, I was driving from Pune to Mumbai, and as I do on most Pune-Mumbai drives, I decided to fill up Petrol at Shri Siddhivinayak E Way, a Bharat Petroleum (BP) petrol pump at Punawale (near Pune, just before the Pune-Mumbai Expressway starts).

After the attendant filled up the tank with Rs. 1,900 worth of petrol, I gave him my credit card. The card was swiped and I entered the PIN. I signed the charge slip without paying any attention and drove off. I got an SMS while I was on the Expressway. I did not read it since I was driving.

When I checked the SMS on reaching Mumbai, I was shocked to see the amount stated as Rs. 1,90,000. I checked the slip and it was matching.

I called up Standard Chartered Bank and tried stopping the payment. However, I was advised to contact the Petrol Pump as soon as possible.

I tried all resources – JustDial, Google, BP Customer Service etc. to find the telephone number of the petrol pump or its owner. However, I just could not get any information. Finally, I decided go the petrol pump while driving to Pune on Monday, 27th

On 27th October, when I talked to attendant at the petrol pump, he immediately directed me to the Manager.

The Manager, Mr. Subhash Choudhari immediately gave me a cheque of Rs. 1,88,100 in my favour, and told me that the cheque had been prepared on 23rd October itself! They had wanted to contact me, but did not have my phone number. They had no option but to wait since all banks were closed for Diwali. They had planned that, on Monday afternoon, they would:

* Meet HDFC Bank (their banker) to try and get my contact details in case I have a bank account. They would have requested the bank to give their phone number to me if bank was not prepared to share my number.

* In case I do not have a relationship with HDFC Bank, they were planning to find the name of my Credit Card issuing bank (from the Credit Card number) and then contact that bank to get my contact details or to have their phone number given to me.

He assured me that I could deposit the cheque that day itself since sufficient balance had been maintained.

He requested me to call the Proprietor, Mr. Navnath Dhavale and inform him that I
have collected the cheque. This was because Proprietor was worried about “my” amount and he may initiate the steps given above with HDFC Bank or the Credit Card issuing bank.

I telephoned Mr. Navnath Dhavale and thanked him, and deposited the cheque later that day. On his part, he expressed regret for the inconvenience and anguish caused to me by the wrong entry of the amount on the charge slip.

Imagine the possible scenarios (based on the experience of others who have been in similar situations):

* Mr. Dhavale could have squabbled with me about extra processing fees charged to him because of excess amount.

* He could have asked me to come and meet him at his petrol pump according to his convenience. (For me, this would have meant at least 90 minutes for the drive of about 30 km.)

* He could have made me make few rounds till he gives the cheque.

* He could have forced me to come though Credit Card issuing bank, making me run around while he could use the funds for some time.

Instead, he tried his best to ensure I got back my money as soon as possible.

I am really happy with this experience at Shi Siddhivinayak E Way. Its attendants, Manager Mr. Subhash Choudhari and Proprietor Navnath Dhavale, are all role models to us!

If more customers demand good service …

(This post was originally published on June 18, 2013.)

At about 10.00 am one day, I submitted a requisition for a Demand Draft at a branch of a leading private sector bank. The person at the counter told me that the DD couldn’t be issued because the printer was not working. She assured me that the DD would be delivered to me at my residence by 3.00 pm that day. I replied, “OK. But, please also pay me Rs. 300.00 Late Payment Fee and interest for one day @ 40% per annum. That’s what your bank charges me if I pay my credit card dues after the due date.” She looked totally puzzled, then spoke on the intercom to somebody and requested me to meet the Manager in his room. I politely stated that I wanted my DD immediately and I had no desire to meet the Manager.

Within a few seconds, the Manager came to meet me. I told him:
a. According to his bank’s norms, Demand Drafts should be issued within 10 minutes. There is no disclaimer about printer breakdown, etc..
b. His bank charges all customers Rs. 300.00 Late Payment Fee and interest @ 40% per annum if credit card dues are paid after the due date, irrespective of the reason for delay. In all fairness, the same system should apply when his bank issues a DD after 10 minutes.

When the Manager replied that there is no provision for Late Payment Fee and interest for delays in issuing DDs, I told him I would make my demand by a letter to him with a copy to the Banking Ombudsman. He requested me to wait for a few minutes and went to his room.

About 10 minutes later, he came out, gave me a handwritten DD and explained that he could do this only after taking permission from his senior. I thanked him and told him that, if he had done this in the very first instance, he would have saved himself the embarrassment of being spoken to by me in the presence of his other customers!

I had observed that other customers, including a few elderly persons, were being asked to come back to the bank at 4.00 pm to collect their DDs. All of them agreed without a murmur of protest. I wondered:
1. Were these persons not aware of their rights as customers?
2. While all others were being asked to come back to the bank to collect their DDs, I was told that the DD would be delivered to me at my residence. Why this discrimination? Had the person at the counter been instructed to handle potential ‘tough customers’ with care?

There are time norms for various services available at bank branches in India. For example, one bank’s norms are:
Cash payment: Within 8 minutes
Issuance of Demand Draft: Within 10 minutes
Collection of local cheques: Within 2 working days
Collection of outstation cheques: Within 14 working days
I’m not sure if all banks have the same norms, and if these norms are expected to be adhered to very strictly.
As far as I’m concerned, these norms are indicative, and slight deviations are acceptable because of unforeseen situations like power cut, slow system, etc.

If the service in any organisation is below the stated norms or below my reasonable expectations, I demand better service and, in most cases, I get better service.

Unfortunately, most persons in India are extremely undemanding customers. They patiently put up with poor service. Some are not even aware of their rights as customers.

If more customers demand good service, poor service will become the exception rather than the rule.

Service with a smile!

A few weeks back, we visited a textile showroom in one of the busiest areas in our city. Like many commercial establishments in this area, this showroom also has valet parking facility. When the driver alighted from our car after bringing it to the gate, I thanked him and handed him a Rs. 10 note. He did not take the note, but smiled and said, “Thank you, sir. But it’s not necessary,” and walked away. Before I could close the door, the watchman bent towards me and said softly, “Sir, that’s our supervisor. Since there’s a heavy crowd today, he’s helping with the parking.” Only then did I observe that the supervisor was not wearing a driver’s uniform.

I was impressed by the supervisor’s attitude. Dignity of labour is seen among many entrepreneurs, but is not too common among employees. I also hoped that he had not felt offended by my offering him a tip.

Two weeks later, we visited the same showroom again. This time, after we completed our shopping, our car was brought to the gate by a person wearing a driver’s uniform. As soon as he alighted from our car, I thanked him and handed him a Rs. 10 note. The driver did not take the note. He smiled and said, “Thank you, sir. But we are not supposed to accept tips.”

This came as a very pleasant shock to me! Tips are neither mandatory nor forbidden for valet parking. I tip the drivers voluntarily. While the tip is a small amount to the customer, the tips from all customers could amount to a substantial amount per driver per day.

The fact that the drivers willingly refuse tips, especially in these days of high prices and high inflation, speaks volumes for them and for the showroom’s management. I believe that such behaviour and attitude in an organization comes from the top. Obviously, the showroom’s management has instructed their drivers not to accept tips from customers, and has also ensured that they pay the drivers higher salaries to compensate for the absence of tips.

I believe that the additional money is well spent by the management because the gesture of refusing tips has the effect of making customers feel like welcome guests!

What do you think?

Insurance company’s misleading messages

The annual premium on one of my life insurance policies is due on June 11, 2014. Since premium is paid annually, there is a grace period of 30 days, which means I can pay the premium on or before July 10, 2014 without any penalty of any sort.

On May 21, 2014, the company sent me a Premium Payment Reminder by email, stating:
Your next premium of Rs. 12000.00 for Insurance Policy no. 1234567 is due on 11/06/2014. Experience the benefits of paying online on our website.

It’s easy, effortless and you get an instant acknowledgement for your payment!

What’s more, while paying online you can set up standing instructions on your credit card to debit your future premiums on the due date.

How will this help you?
• You save time – no need for travelling to our branch or keeping track of due dates
Avoid late charges
Enjoy uninterrupted policy benefits
Setting up standing instructions is absolutely free of cost and does not require any documentation

Today, June 04, 2014, the company sent me an SMS stating:
Premium of Rs. 12000.00 for our Company policy no. 1234567 is due on 11/06/2014. Do not wait until last moment! You can pay now to continue to enjoy policy benefits. For cheque pick up, SMS PICKUP 1234567 to this number. Ignore if paid.

Both the Premium Payment Reminder and the SMS should have explicitly mentioned the Grace Period of 30 days. They did not do this. Instead, they give the impression that 11.06.2014 is the last date for paying the premium to avoid late charges and to enjoy uninterrupted policy benefits.

In my opinion, these communications have been cleverly worded to mislead me into believing that the last date for paying the premium is 30 days earlier than the actual last date. Assuming my Savings Account pays interest @ 4% per annum, interest for 30 days on Rs. 12,000.00 is Rs. 40.00. If the company collects total premium of about Rs. 24,000 crores per year, and if 50% of their policy holders pay premium 30 days earlier because of these misleading communications, the company stands to gain Rs. 40 crores. (The actual cost of finance for the insurance company is much more than 4% per annum.)

More importantly, the words “enjoy uninterrupted policy benefits” and “pay now to continue to enjoy policy benefits” give the impression that the policy will lapse if premium is not paid by June 11, 2014. This could cause tremendous stress to the policy-holder receiving the SMS on June 4, 2014.

Last year, for another policy with the same company, I had received over a dozen similar reminders by email, SMS and phone call till the day I paid the premium. I had complained about this in an email to the company’s Customer Care Department, but all I got in reply was an email stating, “This is with reference to your concern pertaining to the policy number 01234567.
We apologies for the inconvenience caused due to SMS recive to you, we hereby inform you that your premium payment for an amoun of Rs.10000/- has been received by us on D/M/2013 and the same has been applied towards your policy.” (I have reproduced the email as I received it, without any editing.) I realized that the Customer Care Department had chosen to ignore the fact that I was complaining about the distress caused to me.

This time, I intend keeping a record of every email, SMS and phone call received till the day I pay the premium. Then, I will take up this matter with the insurance company, not with the Customer Care Department, but at the senior management level. I want to insist that any Premium Payment Reminder, whether by email, SMS, phone call, letter or any other method should necessarily mention the Grace Period explicitly.

Before doing so, I want to know:
1. Do you think this matter should be taken up with the insurance company? Or is it too trivial a matter?
2. Is there any point that I have missed out?
3. Is there any better way of getting this matter resolved?

I would like to get as many opinions as possible. Hence, please reply to these questions. Further, if you think this matter is really important, please circulate this post by reblogging or by sharing on Facebook and/or Twitter and/or other social media with a request to reply to my questions.