There is a Chinese restaurant just off Leicester Square in London that has pretty decent food (if you like the sort of Chinese food that has been tweaked to suit a British palate) but what it is arguably more famous for is its appalling service. Yes, you read that right. It is frequented by people just as much for its brusque service as for its food. Now, in a place like London, an establishment that chooses to dispense with its ‘pleases’ and ‘thank you’s’ might have stumbled upon a unique, if rather risky, selling point.
The same thing replicated here in Nepal won’t really be a novelty because here lousy customer service is the norm. It abounds everywhere and is uniformly prevalent in all types of organizations from banks, restaurants, hospitals, and government services. In supermarkets, you will often find the workers too busy with their own personal problems to even care, perfunctory service at restaurants (for which you end up paying anyway), banks having utter disregard for your time or schedule and the less said about government services the better.
All businesses in Nepal like to harp on about their customer service in print media, advertisements and hoardings. In many glossy adverts, they will readily bring out the ‘Namaste’ as some sort of customer service hallmark but there is quite a chasm between what is claimed by them and what we avail in terms of quality of service.
Last year, I had booked a ticket on a domestic airline well known for its customer service adverts and after waiting for more than four hours I was summarily told that my flight had been cancelled, that they couldn’t or wouldn’t be able to accommodate me on the next flight and I was expected to make my own arrangements to Kathmandu. After a lot of shouting, threatening, banging tables and chairs, all 24 of us were put on the first flight the next day. I’m not advocating it but you can understand why shouting, being rude, pushy and obnoxious almost always work in Nepal. It’s when service is not considered as a duty that customers have to resort to this sort of boorish behaviour.
While this was not an isolated case – the blasé attitude of the policemen on duty during the ruckus gave it away – a lot of our customer service perceptions come from personal experiences. For example, I use an Internet Service Provider (ISP) that seems to have a pretty bad reputation among customers but they have been great for me in responding and solving problems sent through email (not kidding) within 15 minutes making me wonder what all the fuss was about. On the other hand, though, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve had a go at bank managers for their sluggish service. Banks are among the worst culprits in terms of customer service with atrocious waiting times, perhaps rivalled only by government services, for even the most routine tasks.
While perceptions of service are undoubtedly shaped by personal experiences, the peculiar thing in Nepal is that these personal experiences themselves depend on ‘conditional’ variables that you normally think wouldn’t have a bearing on the quality of service. Take for example the way you are (were) dressed. A formal attire (trousers and a shirt) will ensure that you get a remarkably different reception – usually appended with a ‘Sir’ – than what a pair of shorts and a t-shirt might get you. In Nepal, the color of your skin also, rather unfortunately, determines your eligibility to receive special preference (or not). I’d heard of it before but was never given to believing it until having been out and about a few times with some European friends, I was astonished to see this brazen preferential treatment at a hospital and then again, a travel agency.
Also, peculiar to our country is the fact that the success of a business seems to be inversely proportional to the quality of service it dishes out. If you’re doing well it apparently entitles you to be indifferent to customer service and there are establishments that couldn’t care less about it because they know they have enough customers coming in anyway.
There are some that say that service should be judged on the type of customers that tend to frequent the place and ‘the customer is king mentality’ won’t really work in Nepal because our service and service seekers have been conditioned by the broader environment that we live in. But there are many others quick to challenge this notion saying it has no place in the era of competition brought about by globalization.
The fact is that many establishments have failed to change the mentality that customer service is not a favor done for the customer but what is expected from them in return for their custom. Until that change takes place, good customer service will always tends to stand out rather than be commonplace. For example, taxi drivers that run on their meters are such a welcome relief and when it happens you tend to be grateful for it, probably shelling out a bit more just for their honesty. That really shouldn’t be the case because good customer service should not have terms and conditions applied. Perhaps, then it will cease to be a novelty.
The writer loves traveling, writing, and good food when he is afforded an escape from the rat race. He can be contacted at email@example.com