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Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Smile for what?

I walked in to the Gulshan branch of Prime Bank the other day around noon to sell some prize-bonds in my possession. Small, cosy little branch was busy and vibrant with seated and queued up customers. The staff behind the counter seemed weary and serious while trying to concentrate hard and deliver the service to the people standing in front who from time to time were giving ‘cold stares’ with an air of dissatisfaction and urgency. Perhaps the circumstances are usually so hostile and dry that the personnel who are supposed to provide service to the customers with a smile…don’t smile.

I did try, when in good mood, to smile at the person serving me food, or at the POS or at the bank counter…just to see how they react. They don’t. They either lose eye contact or give you a look of suspicion and disbelief. This is even serious when you are trying to throw a decent ‘customer-like’ smile at any female staff, in the context of Bangladesh. So I decided not to smile anymore at the customer service staff. Whatever my monthly income is, I carry an attitude as if the ACC is after me while I don’t care and I can be extremely harsh and rude if needed. I also stopped saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. Ever since, I think I am a happier customer roaming around Bangladesh. I also realized that the staff also don’t expect a strange, unknown customer to ‘smile for nothing’, it is not in our culture, we are not used to such soft expressions of customer handling, we prefer to do it the rough way. So be it.

However, this shield of insensitivity which I have adopted to tackle insensitive customer service agents is sometimes challenged….by a smile again! The same day after the Prime Bank fact finding mission, when I went to the Banani branch of StanChart to get the job done, I approached the help desk and was greeted with a friendly smile by the lady behind the counter. I realized that I forgot to smile back and I became suspicious for a while thinking if I know that lady or not, or what could be her ‘hidden’ motives. Too bad, my values have become so rusty that ‘dhakka khaite khaite ekhon ar bhalo jinisho ar bhalo lage na’. Nevertheless I tried to relate the nice behaviour of the staff of StanChart with its being a multinational entity, with greater exposure and outlook to global best practices of customer service. Whereas, Prime Bank perhaps does not look at the world in the same way. I also remember one of the staff at StanChart calling me as ‘Sir’ while giving me advice and instruction….whereas those at Prime Bank hardly made any eye contact and appeared really pissed off with my presence. Life goes on.

Some argue that given the socio-economic condition of an ordinary Bangladeshi in the city of Dhaka, when there is bargaining involved at every stage, while fixing a rickshaw, renting a house, buying rice and potato, added with traffic woes, power cuts, mugging, unemployment, pollution etc, you are never actually in any mood to wear even an artificial smile and greet erratic customers, just because your job profile says so. Perhaps the reality bites too hard than the customer service trainings arranged at lavish halls of Lake Shore and other hotels. What a mess.

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