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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Customer Service or Not, Some Don't Care


Very recently on a flight back from Lahore, I had the opportunity to interact with a seasoned entrepreneur. During that conversation, we did have a chat on business and the rules of the game, especially as far as service is concerned. The conversation ended with his golden advise that business is not just about making money but it also about building good relationships with all your stakeholders. The advise of the entrepreneur may not be something unique, it is something that every one who has ever attended business school can relate to, however what is really disappointing is a significant absence of efforts for relationship building in the service and hospitality sector in Pakistan, what makes it worse is that we as stakeholders (customers or recipients) have little or no expectations with regards to receiving efforts from the other for building and developing relationships. A lot of us have the everything goes, we are fine with what get attitude. I am at times suspicious if it stems deeply from our culture or national surroundings where so many of us face disappointments on a day to day basis in everyday life to the point, we have no expectations of any kind. Be it expectations with respect to a promising future in this country, or excellent customer service at a restaurant.

 My reference here is particularly targeted to the hospitality industry in Pakistan, more specifically cafes and restaurants but also includes establishments such as theater and cinema. As a paying customer especially at high end or upper tier establishments, we are entitled to getting not just the product or service that we are paying, but we are also entitled to customer service that extends beyond a transactional exchange between two or more parties. Transactional exchange implies that only simplistic exchange of sorts is taking place between two or more individuals, in reality any exchange that happens between any one involves more than just a transaction. It is becoming a far too common a sight here in Pakistan, especially in the nation's largest city where those in the hospitality industry are unable to take any customer criticism or feedback that might be even borderline negative, even though it is the right of the customer to be able to communicate . I am not even going to try and be diplomatic here, I am going to go all out and even name some of the establishments that have demnstrated such shameful and disgusting behavior towards myself as well as other customers, on occasions out of pure arrogance or complete inability to handle criticism. A lot of fault lies with us the 'customers' as well, we hold little or no expectations with good customer service, we blindly accept whatever is given to us, this sort of feeds arrogance to owners of such establishment, who develop a complex where they think that by even purely existing they are doing their customers and maybe humanity a huge favor.

I start with Espresso, which is a Karachi based Coffee house chain which opened its flagship store in Karachi's stylish Zamzama district close to a decade ago. They adopted a policy which was not unique to the hospitality or service as a whole, rather very unique to the restaurant industry as a whole, such a policy and how ludicrous it is one will not find anywhere outside of Pakistan.This policy has the cover disguise name of 'families only'. Most of us know what the definition of a family is, and an establishment of its nature is not a family restaurant, their policy to be specific is that men without being accompanied by women can not enter their premises after 7 pm in the evening. I initially showed some passive respect to their policy and decided to visit the cafe at an earlier time slot. So my personal feud with them began that day I visited their Shabaz establishment at around 530 pm, I do not need to give an explanation as to why I did not go elsewhere after I was made to wait. Having been there with friends since 530, we did not get a table till almost close to 7 pm. Just as we were about to sit down, the waiter comes to us and tells us to only get Coffee or get a Take Away since its 'Ladies logg kay anay ka time' (Time for ladies to come in). My first reaction after WTF was, all I see are ladies logg all around me, how is it that is now Ladies logg ka time? After being forced to leave instead of being accommodated after waiting so long, I decided on a future visit to one of their other branches I would leave behind my comments in a comment card. People get this in your head, the comment card is there for a purpose, if cafes and restaurants cant handle criticism they should get rid of it.

After purchasing my coffee at their other outlet, I described my experience in their comment and highlighted how they should be accommodating instead of making efforts to be rude to their customers. The waiter immediately gave my comment card to the manager, who immediately came up to me and told me to go have coffee somewhere else if I have a problem with their service. Now everyone reading this, I just want you all to take a few minutes or even a few seconds out of your time and think is it okay to say such a thing to a paying customer. Would you like that if some one attacked you verbally for writing something on their comment card? I will not deny I gave them a bit of a hard time on social media in the months that followed, I made an open public mockery out of their policy and even managed to get public support in opposition to their discriminatory admissions policy. I think what really sent their nerves wrecking was not just me as a unsatisfied customer, my arguments against their policy were influencing public opinion. In the end they did ban me from their Facebook page, I wouldn't say it reflects badly on me, rather it reflects badly on them, and  if Karma is to believed in, what goes around, comes around.

The next establishment that I would like to bring attention to is also in the hospitality is the Chinese Restaurant by the name of Ginsoy also located in Khayaban e Shabaz in DHA Karachi. I do not know who gave the owner Hasan Baweja this ridiculous idea of trying to exploit the customer and pull out extra cash from the customer's pockets under the disguise of customer service charges. The policy that they were practicing was a mandatory 10% service added on top of the final bill of the customer. Last I checked providing a service was part of a restaurant, they might as well tell the customer to go to the kitchen and fetch their own food. I will share a little insight, when I protested on Facebook against their policy, I immediately started getting personalised messages sent to my inbox by Hasan Baweja of trying to slander his establishment, demonize him and ruin his business. He also accused me of calling him a thief. He has admitted in his correspondence to me, that the mandatory service charges introduced are for the purpose of staff motivation and all the proceeds from that goes to the hard working staff. Last time I checked staff motivation and retention was the management's head ache, not that off the customer. For protesting this unfair customer exploitation, not only did I find myself banned from their Facebook page, but was also on the receiving end of harassment and false accusations directed towards me by their own Hasan Baweja. My personal message to Hasan Baweja, boss you have a lot to learn when it comes to customer service and snobbery is inexcusable, just because heavy spenders at your restaurant turn a blind eye to how their treated does not mean you keep doing it. Poor customer service at Ginsoy isn't just my own personal experience, I have often on visits seen that people have been made to wait ridiculous long periods for their food, even after the long wait, the food is not properly cooked.. For that the staff instead of apologizing makes excuses that we do not have Gas, we Can't do anything. Think for a few seconds, is such behavior excusable? It's not like their service is anything  to write home about, firstly the amount of effort required to eat there is a major turn off which includes booking a table at times a week in advance, secondly they take forever to bring the mains, and even then there is no guarantee it is fully cooked, and all they have to say for themselves is 'Gas Nahin Arahee hai' instead of apologizing to the customer.

I have many more experiences to share, but for the time being I am going to conclude this blog, since I have already gone into too much detail. In the near future I hope to shed some light on poor customer treatment in other sectors of hospitality. I am however going to conclude by saying  that we as paying customers should get rid of this whatever goes mentality and should have nothing but high expectations out of customer service that we receive, even if it is a one off bad day unless we complain how will the establishment learn from their mistake. It is our right, they as establishments are not doing us a favor by existing, rather we by giving them our custom, these establishments should treat all their customers, big, small, loyal or critical as important stakeholders. And finally I am not trying to generalize here, one will find establishments in Karachi that take paying customers very seriously and make efforts to make their customers feel significant, that is exactly the kind of treatment that restaurants and cafes in Karachi should extend to their customers. Paying customers should be made to feel like their the most important people in the world for them. This just proves that it can be done, excellent customer service in Pakistan is possible, and the ones that value their customers will go a long way towards success.

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