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Customer-Centric Business May 14, 2006

Posted by Nilesh in Uncategorized.

Back from a long hiatus(a good way of justifying not writing a post due to laziness and a boring, mundane life which doesnt help in providing me with anything to write on!). Also, an attempt to bring back those 3 people who (used to) read my blog!

This incident happened with me some 3 yrs back in Pune.
I had to make a call to my dad so I went into a STD/ISD shop for that. Because I was going to call on his cell, I wasn't sure if those 1 rupee coin boxes could be used. I went into the STD booth and made the call. The charge was, unfortunately, as I realised soon, 1 rupee.

The smallest denomination I had with me was a 50 Rs note. I realised that asking for 49 Rs change back from the guy on the counter is not only going to be impossible but also probably unfair. I went into the next shop and bought some stuff I didnt need. Thankfully(oh no, not so soon), I now had a 10 Rs note.

I gave it to that person. He was as shocked as he would be if he saw his shop full of customers. Never had he, in his whole life, given back 9(did I just say 9?!!) Rs back on a 10 Rs note, it seemed. He grumbled,and with as much menace as he could get in his voice,'Sutte aana'(Get change)'. I tried explaining him how I actually had 50 Rs, how I had been fair and considerate(or so I thought) and bought some stuff myself and had somehow got the 10 Rs note. He listened to it impatiently and grumbled once more 'Sutte aana'.

I gave in. I said 'Ok.Give me that 10 Rs. I will buy some more stuff now and get you maybe a fiver!!phew!!'.
This is where the anecdote gets interesting.

He refused point-blank. He said you get the change with whatever money you might still have. I am not returning the note. Only when you get the change will I give the note back. He then proceeded to tear a chit of paper and write 'Rs.10' on it and handed it to me. He was starting to get on my nerves now. I calmly asked for the note once more. He declined.

This got me really angry. I thought I was being very fair and doing as much I could to complete the transaction. I raised my voice and told him again!! He just ignored me. I said 'You shouldn't treat your customers like this. They deserve atleast basic civil behaviour which does not include ignoring them and talking to them gruffly as if they've disturbed you in your work and are such a pest!!If this is the way you behave with your customers, it won't be long till your shop shuts down!!'

This was when he got angry and gave me the defining philosphy of his business. He said, in Marathi, 'Look. Dont act smart with us. We are not new to fights. We've had many altercations with customers before and none of them have ever come back. So, it doesn't matter to us if you dont, too. We don't care!!'

And then, standing there, rooted at the spot, looking at that middle age, cruel looking enraged shopkeeper's face, did I realise how ridiculously futile it was trying to tell him about customer relationship!! The pride that was flowing from his voice when he told me that none of the customers he fought with had come back and he didn't care, was so immense that I just gave up.

He actually didn't want me there. One day, having seen unimaginable wealth all his life, he must've thought he should get involved in some charity work. Hence, he went ahead and opened a shop where he would let people call other people as long as they didn't disturb him, gave him exact change and did not give him bullshit about how the customer is important!

I had heard about Pune's glorious maharashtrian shopkeepers and known the way P.L.Deshpande had summarised the situation succinctly when he said 'The least important and the most to-be-ignored person/thing in a Pune shop is the customer', and there wasn't anything I could've said that would add to this. So, I just went,bought some stuff, got him a fiver, 4 Rs of which he gave me back with great pride for his handling of the situation and an equal disdain for me. I took my 10 Rs back, which again, he gave as if he was being generous that day and was giving a pest some money to buzz off!!

Of course, I added myself to his honorable list of customers who never came back!!

Update: I dont think even those 3 people are coming back to read my blog.Sigh. I feel like that shopkeeper.;-)