The flip side of convenience

(pic-courtesy: mid-day.com)
(pic-courtesy: mid-day.com)

I had earlier written about how hyperlocal grocery delivery folks were affecting the ‘other folks’ who were actually shopping in the super markets. Some of these ‘delivery’ experts were super aggressive in picking up items before us and were trying to beat the lines etc. So while folks who found it convenient to order through them, there were some inconvenience to the others who actually did shop physically.

While one might think that this is an isolated industry and incident, two similar incidents happened to me recently involving two separate companies/industries.

Food delivery: Last week, I stopped by Taco Bell (Sony world, Koramangala, if you must know), to pick up something on the go. I had ordered from the cashiers. There was hardly any crowd. But I waited for a good 15 minutes, because there were three swiggy orders queued up asynchronously in front of me. Yesterday we went to Anand Sweets (Purani Dilli, Koramangala 5th block, again, if you must know :)). We went to eat in. We had ordered just chaat. The food pick up here is by token. I was token number 52, and the running number was 49. Usually, this would have been about 5 mins, but again, it took me a good 20 minutes. Why? Two swiggy ordes again. And again, because it was delivery, it took time to pack. And to ‘beat’ the minimum order for free delivery threshold, folks typically order more. Boom. Double Whammy.

Radio cabs: Today evening, a radio cab almost ran into me. Why? He was busy trying to talk to a customer on the phone trying to understand where to pick him up, look up the same on his map on the phone app, and steer the dang car. Quite naturally, he was doing all three actions sub-optimally.

So now what? Now I am not being the luddite cribbing against technology advances. All I am saying is, are these companies thinking enough about this problem. Should the companies care only about their direct customer satisfaction? Or should they also look at their impact on society, as a bigger picture.

I am sure there are solutions. For the radio cabs problem, this is a solved problem in the US. The geo- problem is solved beautifully there. You call, and the uber is in front of you. No hailing. No telling landmarks. Nothing. I am sure our guys can improve this too.

As for the food delivery problem, one thing that I noticed was that, the guys started preparing the food only after the guy came to the restaurant, while they actually had gotten the order much earlier. Could they do some form of predictive start? I, as a consumer, know where the delivery guy is and how close he is to reaching the restaurant. Can’t swiggy share this out to the restaurant also?

What does everyone think?

Feel the pain – Customer Service Insight

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Some of you guys might know that I have been working in the ecommerce space for the last few months. I work as a product manager in one of the top travel sites in India. One thing that has struck home hard is the importance of effective customer service. Every day, there are a handful of customer experiences that would escalate up to me.

  • Some of these would be customers who have made errors by themselves.
  • Some of them would be UX ambiguities because of which the customers made mistakes.
  • Some of them would be truly bugs in the system.

But at the end of the day, there is one key tenet, that my team and I try to follow. If it has been analyzed as either of the last two buckets – which means, we were responsible, in some way or the other – be it directly or indirectly, we process the customer first, with the least pain as feasible.

We then, go and root cause, and analyze the bug or improve the UX to make it less ambiguous. The customer should never be left hanging. The customer would never have to write back to us (or call us) unnecessarily again and again. Well, some of these happen, but we try really hard to avoid these situations.

Why am I writing this post, out of the blue, now? I had a really painful customer service experience a couple of weeks ago. This was with one of the self drive cab rent companies (yeah, the one with the burgundy cars). Let me tell you the story, and you figure out yourself.

Saturday afternoon: We have this idea to rent an XUV for a ride. I have never driven one, and my six year old also was super excited about this. So we decide to rent one the following day (Sunday) evening. However, instead of booking for Sunday evening, I mistakenly booked for Saturday evening (same day) – entirely my mistake. The pick up was from SonyWorld Signal, Koramangala.

Few minutes later, after I get all the SMS and email confirmations, I realize my mistake. From experience, I know that, calling customer service up is the best way to make amendments.

I call up customer service. The gentleman on the line was very helpful. He said he would definitely be able to move it to the next day. However, he ‘regretfully’ told me that, an XUV was not available in the Koramangala lot, but is available in the Garuda Mall lot. I was ok with it, since it is barely 2-3km from my home. And I thought, that was the end of it.

Sunday afternoon – a few hours before the rental time. I get an SMS stating that my XUV was ready at the garuda mall lot, and is waiting for me. I was, ofcourse, super excited.

We drove down to the Garuda mall basement. The attendant over there saw my SMS, which even had the vehicle number, and ‘regretfully’ said that, the booking does not show in his ‘app’. He added for good measure, that the vehicle number mentioned did not even belong to his lot.

This was when it struck me to open up the app and check the booking history. And lo, behold, the booking history said – Koramangala lot.

I called up customer support again and explained to the gentleman on the line that I got an SMS for a different lot, and the app says a different one, and the attendant says he cannot give me a car. He says that he needs to escalate it to a different team and he will call back.

By this time, 20 minutes had rolled past. The wife and kid were uncomfortably seated on 2 moulded plastic chairs in the humid basement of the Garuda mall, with me pacing like a lion which had been fed nothing!

5 minutes past, another gentleman calls me from customer service, and ofcourse, I had to relate the entire story to him. And now comes the exact moment, when ‘he gets my goat’! He tells me, to screenshot the sms and email to him.

I got furious by this time (and ofcourse, I am reminded of all the emails I get from our customer service team about how irate a customer is!), and ask him very politely however, how anyone standing in the middle of a road (or in the middle of a basement ramp, in my case) would be able to screenshot and send something. And what if the customer does not know how to screenshot in an android phone (which I had only learned just recently!).

The person on the other line listened patiently, but had no response. And then he says, a car has been despatched from electronic city lot to here, and should reach me in 5 minutes, and that there were no others cars in the lot.

  1. Unless you are air-lifting the vehicle, there is no way in this city, where you can get a car from Electronic City to Garuda Mall, in 5 minutes. Be practical.
  2. I saw 2 XUVs standing right ahead of me.

I resolutely held on, and asked him to give the phone to his manager. I asked him why he could not transfer one of the XUVs in front of me to my reservation, and change the electronic city XUV to someone else. Here, I was trying to solve a problem for them. Pch.

45 minutes later, I get an XUV, and we ride out, thinking, we will never use this service again. That is the power of ‘bad customer service’.

With that story out of the way, I have reinforced to my team, and to our CRM team, that in no way, should we, as a company, ever put the customer on hold, if there is even a slightest problem from our end. We should resolve the issue at the customer end, move him on, and then later debug, fix, or whatever.