We spent three days during our first two weeks in India searching market after market for a wireless router. Our landlord’s son picked up the phone and had one delivered in less than thirty minutes.
We come from a land of two-month waits for a dentist’s appointment (and cancellation charges if you don’t show up). Of surly cashiers who pretend not to notice you standing in front of them. Of supermarket checkout girls who will call their manager to complain about YOU. Of postal employees who separate themselves from the world by three-inch-thick bulletproof glass. Of emergency rooms empty of attendants, with nothing but a clipboard for you to put your name down. Of drugstore employees so notoriously bitter that our friend could dress up as one for the Halloween parade and yell at people and everyone who saw him — people of all races, from all neighborhoods, representing all income classes — immediately got the joke. (Here’s looking at you – Duane Reade)
But here…! When you need your teeth cleaned, you can make an appointment for that afternoon. If you need a new computer battery, they’ll deliver one to you. The video rental store will collect money from your house. The chemist will pull out every brand of toothpaste for you to examine. The beer store will arrange for a guy to carry your beer home. The bank representative promises to call you back with information on your account the next day – and actually does. Your accountant will come to your home. Checks clear in hours. You’re on a gurney and getting an IV ten minutes after you walk into the emergency room. And if you have a health question, SMS the doctor and he’ll call you back – he’ll even make house calls.
House calls, for Christ’s sake!
In the US, customer service is uniformly terrible because the employee has no stake in the outcome beyond their $4.25 an hour. The McDonalds guy will roll his eyes at your request for extra mustard because he knows his performance will have no impact on the billions of dollars the company will make, and because he knows the company sees him as a trained monkey pressing cash register buttons whose job is secure only until the company trains actual monkeys to do the same thing.
But here, there must be a clear connection between performance and outcome. From McDonalds to multinationals, people must have that personal stake in the outcome so sorely missing in the US. They must see every opportunity leading to more and better opportunities. Because why else would customer service be so good?
We come from a place where process is more important than result — and where, from McDonalds to multinationals, everyone strives to hide inside the process, to use it to protect them from extra work. It constantly amazes us to see people do their jobs well — and, even more shockingly, to do them fast.