Sunday, August 16, 2009

Road to Perdition?

Driving on our roads is no mean feat nowadays. It requires all of one's skills, dexterity and ingenuity to traverse from one point to the other. An utter disregard for fellow commuters seems to be the latest trend. The number of road hogs, meanwhile, has increased by leaps and bounds. While earlier, it was usually the so-called 'express' bus drivers who evoked fear with their reckless driving, now, it seems to have become the prerogative of most drivers be it a car or a motorcycle or even a bicycle. Looks like it's time someone instituted 'etiquette' classes for all road users - pedestrians as well as those on vehicles.

Everyone knows that our nation is a democracy. For many pedestrians, this seems to mean the right to walk wherever they wish as also cross a busy road as per their whims, rather than at the zebra crossing or a regulated traffic light. Cyclists, meanwhile, are in a class of their own bothering about none and pedaling furiously down the middle of the highway. Most of them don't seem to have heard of reflectors or rearview mirrors.

As for driving at night, the less said the better. Driving with the headlights on at full beam is the norm. Rather than illuminate the path, these bright lights blind those in vehicles traveling in the opposite direction. The significance of the 'dim and dip' is totally lost on these people who instead take it as a show of strength and retaliate by switching on whatever lights their vehicles possess. A few years ago, vehicles were required to have a 'black spot' on the headlights and this helped minimize the glare. Why that is not a requirement anymore is something that is known only to the concerned authorities.

Statistics reveal that such negligence and ignorance are major factors contributing to the rise in the number of road accidents each year. Still, surprisingly, nobody seems to be losing any sleep over the issue. Isn't it time we woke up and refreshed our knowledge a bit before taking to the roads with a vengeance ?

Sound Bites

A loud bang followed by a tremor. No, that was not an earthquake, for Mangalore is somewhere at the bottom of the seismic activity scale. It was only a few neighbours celebrating Diwali with zest, enthusiasm and plenty of loud firecrackers.

Mind you, I don’t have anything against Diwali or Tulsi Puja or anyone celebrating these festivals in a lively, boisterous manner. Nor am I an anti-fireworks activist. I just wish they could make it a bit easier on my ‘oh-so-sensitive’ ears! Perhaps I am in the minority when I ask, why can’t people use more of those firecrackers which burst into flames high in the sky and provide a visual treat rather than strain the auditory nerves of all and sundry ?

Infants and those with a weak heart may be the only ones who will side with me on this issue. Many a time have I had my little one bawl at the disturbance in his tranquil little world of lullabies and gentle, kindly voices. As for the latter, one can very well imagine the repercussions of such sound pollution.

One plausible reason for the popularity of these ‘bombs’ maybe the fact that they are often priced lower than the rest. Here, a loyal supporter of the ‘bomb’ might be inclined to point out that the expensive firecrackers are responsible for another kind of pollution – air pollution.

So, now, what does one do in such a situation? It is impossible to imagine any of these festivals without some kind of fireworks. Guess this is what is termed “caught between a rock and a hard place”. Well, there is a whole year to ponder over this and hopefully come up with a solution. And in case you can’t resolve the matter, don’t worry, go ahead and burst some firecrackers – but with a wee bit of concern for others.

Do You Care ?

Customer service is variously defined as “an organization's ability to supply their customers' wants and needs” and “the ability of an organization to constantly and consistently exceed the customer's expectations.” Companies dedicate entire divisions to 'customer care'. Most major players in the service industry impart special training to their staff to ensure best possible service to existing customers and prospective clients.

Why is it then that when it comes to interacting with clients, most of these 'customer care' executives fail miserably ? Take, for instance, the case of the representative from a well-known telecommunications major in the city who keeps pestering you day in and out extolling the benefits of upgrading one's internet facilities. After days of listening, you finally decide it would be easier for all concerned to subscribe to the facility and inform the chap of this. He gives you his confident assurance that everything will be in place the very next day.
With that he does the vanishing act, literally!! You wait in vain, but no one appears at your doorstep with the promised equipment. The person who at one time seemed eager to hear from you no longer answers nor returns calls! When you look for a 'customer care' number on the last received bill, there is no such number listed though it does state that one must contact 'customer care' for any queries and complaints. All this from a private sector organization which has a turnover of crores of rupees. And here, we complain about the inefficiency and impoliteness of bureaucrats. At least they never promise you the stars and the moon !

Where big names seem to be falling behind in providing quality service to customers, there are some resourceful entrepreneurs who know that the key to success is a satisfied client. A furniture maker who keeps his word and makes the delivery on the eve of Diwali, despite a shortage of staff during the holiday season, is definitely on the right track. So is the proprietor of the interiors shop, who is briskly efficient and prompt.

These two, who don't have a 'customer service' division, demonstrate 'service orientation' whereas those who claim to provide the best in 'customer care' fall way short of expectations. Perhaps it's time, the big fish came down a notch and took some valuable lessons from the small fry.

Friday, August 14, 2009

‘They Also Serve Who Only Stand and Wait’

Malls, supermarkets, grocery chains, have all sprung up across the city changing the landscape and the lifestyle of people here. Sadly, people’s manners haven’t changed for the better. Despite wearing branded clothes, shoes, and using plastic to pay for their purchases at the ‘oh-so expensive’ stores, basic civility still dates back to pre-historic times.

To the time when ‘might was right’ and ‘survival of the fittest’, was the watchword. Perhaps life has come full circle and it’s back to the ways of our primitive ancestors! Before you start wondering where all this is going let me tell you about the incident that triggered off this train of thought.

Just a few days ago, I was at the local grocery supermarket, patiently waiting in the checkout line when along waltzes a ‘healthy’, middle-aged woman, and cuts ahead of the lady in front of me and has her billing done!

I expect the person before me to object but she, though clearly disapproving, does not utter a word. When it’s my turn at the counter I query the shop assistant as to why he let the woman barge in. His reply—she said she was in a hurry!!! Yea right, as if I have all the time in the world to stand in queue all day long with a squirming toddler on one arm and a full shopping basket on the other!!!

Seething, and fuming, I leave the store thinking this to be the heights of complete disregard for the most basic norms of civil society. Boy, was I wrong! Hardly a couple of days pass, when, with a sense of déjà vu, I find myself in yet another checkout line, faced with a similar situation. There’s a slight difference this time around—instead of someone cutting ahead of me, these ingenious youngsters get in line from the direction opposite to which the queue is moving!

Unfortunately for them, I am the one they encounter first. Their excuse—they have just a couple of items to be billed. Duh! 'Haven’t you heard of the express checkout counter?’ I ask them sarcastically. And for good measure, I also ask the man at the counter if the queue progresses both ways. The shop assistant blushes with shame, but the culprits stay there giggling shamelessly!

What infuriated me was the fact that there were not many shoppers at that time and all the checkout counters were relatively empty, and still they chose to break the unwritten laws of society. And these are the ‘future’ of our country that we talk of so proudly. I shudder to think of what the ‘future’ has in store for us!

Perhaps, before rushing to get our wards admitted to the best management, engineering, and medical schools, we should consider getting them to attend a short stint at an ‘etiquette school’, provided there are any such schools around. If not, here’s an idea for those in the educational sector. It’s an evergreen business proposition, for though there may be a decrease in the demand for management or IT professionals, manners and etiquette are never going out of business!

Selective Adaptations

Aping the West or rather the Americans, seems to be second nature for us. Be it language, food, fashion, or lifestyle—what is good for them, is good for us. But there is more to America worth embracing than jeans, burgers, and rap.

Topping the list is the glaring contrast between the efficient and orderly public transportation network in that country and the inefficient and reckless one in ours. For Mangaloreans, a typical trip by bus, in particular express service, is a gut-rattling experience which involves boarding and alighting the vehicle while in motion, rattling through every available pothole, and clinging on to the hand-rails for dear life.

And this is applicable without discrimination to young and old, the able and the physically-challenged. Add to this the inevitable scramble for seats, cramped space, and bodies slamming into you with every jerk of the vehicle, and it is not surprising that you are ecstatic when you alight at your destination.

Compare this with a bus journey in Milwaukee, an American city of similar standing as Mangalore. You notice the difference the moment the bus arrives at the stop and passengers start filing in in an orderly fashion. After paying their fares and collecting their tickets from the driver, the commuters leisurely make their way to vacant seats.
There are no conductors to yell out the stops and when you have to get off, you indicate it by pulling a cord that lights up a warning to the driver. Flexible ramps are provided to facilitate a wheelchair bound person to board the vehicle. What is more astounding is the fact that when such a passenger gets on or off, the driver himself gets up to secure the wheelchair to special clamps made for the purpose or to unfasten them, as the case may be—an occurrence inconceivable of in our country. Leave alone the driver, fellow passengers can be so inconsiderate as to occupy seats meant for the physically-challenged and even refuse to vacate them.

Blatantly, we blame the western culture for corrupting young and impressionable minds. But whose fault is it that we choose to adapt what is convenient to us and prefer to ignore the finer points of that society? This attitude is not confined to a single situation or one incident. It is a malaise which exists throughout our society.

If we are to become truly ‘developed’ and ‘broad-minded’, it is of utmost importance that we learn to admit and rectify our faults and appreciate the positive aspects of other cultures.

Stop, Think, Go!

These days patience seems to have become a rarity. Most people seem to be always in a hurry to get somewhere. Traffic lights have come up all over the city and I suppose they were put up with the good intention of regulating the huge number of vehicles. But whether they serve their purpose is a difficult question!
No sooner does the light turn orange than all the vehicles begin to move forward as one. Drivers all around relentlessly honk at any law abiding citizen who happens to be dutifully waiting for the light to turn green before edging forward. At times, mercifully, the presence of a traffic constable deters the eager ones.
Things are no different if you travel by bus. The driver seems to be in a rush to get wherever it is he has to go and it’s of no consequence to him whether you have boarded or alighted. He revs up the engine before you can even get one foot aboard or off!
In case you thought the lack of patience was evident only in the case of vehicles and their drivers, think again.

Take the example of any of the local ATMs. The poster right beside the door clearly states in different languages that people should not go inside the booth in groups. Basic etiquette and security reasons demand that the person inside be allowed his privacy. But who has the time to read or even wait for someone to finish their transaction. Before you can get your card back, the person who was right behind you barges in and the guard outside simply keeps looking!!

You come outside only to find that that same person has parked his car haphazardly, right behind yours, without a thought that you may need to leave before he does And these are supposed to be the ‘well-educated’, ‘cultured’, members of society.

Whether you are walking down the street, at a cinema hall or waiting for an auto, there always seems to be a person nearby who is in such a hurry that he doesn’t even bother to apologize for brushing against you or for stepping on your toes. Wish I knew where everyone was going in such a big rush!