Govind, who seemed to be in his sixties, was an uneducated man whose writing ability was limited to signing his name in the local language. He was employed by one of our customers, a medium-scale automotive ancillary. He had no designation and no fixed duties. He did whatever job was assigned to him by his employer. Whenever he had visited our office to take delivery of spare parts, he had worn a white half-sleeved shirt, knee-length khaki shorts and a smile!
Usually, Govind’s work in our office would be over in less than a minute. He would hand over the payment to our receptionist, who would then give him the package and the bill that had been kept ready in anticipation of his arrival.
One morning, Govind’s employer telephoned me. He needed a spare part urgently. Since the part number could not be found in the parts manual, he was sending Govind to our office with the damaged part. He wanted me to identify the part and to arrange to supply a new part as soon as possible, today if possible.
About an hour later, when I was told that Govind had reached our office, I asked our receptionist to send him in to meet me. He entered my room, greeted me and gave me the damaged part. I returned his greeting and requested him to sit, but he remained standing. After I insisted that he sit, he sat on the edge of the chair’s seat. He was clearly uncomfortable.
“Mr. Govind, would you like to have tea or coffee?” I asked. Looking shocked, he answered, “No, sir.”
“Mr. Govind, it is now tea time in our office. Do you normally drink tea, coffee, milk, or anything else?” I asked.
“Tea, sir,” he replied.
“With sugar?” I asked.
“Yes, sir,” he replied.
Over the intercom, I ordered 2 cups of tea.
I inspected the damaged part and identified it immediately. Fortunately, we had one part in stock. I telephoned Govind’s employer, who requested me to send one part and the bill along with Govind, who would pay in cash.
As I called our Accountant over the intercom and instructed him to prepare the bill, our Office Boy entered my room and served tea. I could see Govind was extremely uncomfortable, and I knew why! Saying, “Please have your tea,” I picked up my cup and started sipping.
After he had had his tea, I requested Govind to collect the spare part and bill from the receptionist. He stood up and said, “Sir, can I ask you something?”
“Of course,” I said.
“Sir, I was served tea in a cup identical to yours. When my Sahib comes here, is he served tea in the same cup?”
“Yes. Why do you ask that?” I asked.
“Sir, my Sahib and you are high-level people. I am a very low-level man. In our company, only Sahib and his guests have tea in nice cups like these. Everyone else has tea in ordinary glasses. I am confused, sir!”
I smiled and replied, “Mr. Govind, your Sahib is my customer. Since you work in your Sahib’s company, you are also my customer. That’s it!”
With tears in his eyes and his palms pressed together in a Namaste, Govind said, “Sir, today, for the first time in my life, a high-level man has given me so much respect. Thank you, sir!”
I remembered this incident after my friend Jaya (one of the main characters in Kindness Begets Joy, my guest post on Everyday Gyaan) sent me the following SMS after reading the replies to Kindness Begets Joy:
“Happy about response. Rather surprised at comments. Didn’t think people would find this so out of the ordinary as to merit so much kudos!”
Another instance involves Kumar, a car driver in the company I worked with some years back. One day, the Admin. Manager asked me if I used to tip Kumar regularly or whether I had loaned him any money. I replied in the negative and asked him why he had asked me that question. He replied that Kumar generally tried to avoid working overtime, except when I was the executive involved. Since my curiosity had been aroused, I asked Kumar about this without mentioning the Admin. Manager’s conversation with me. His reply: “Sir, to be honest, compared to other Sahibs, you make me work harder. But you treat me like a human being. Others treat me like a machine. Unless you have a visitor with you, you sit in the front passenger seat. On long drives, you talk to me in a friendly manner. You tell me to stop whenever I feel like having a cup of tea even if you don’t want tea. That’s why I don’t mind working overtime for you!”
What was the truth? I liked to sit in the front passenger seat because I found it more comfortable! I chatted with Kumar on long drives to ensure he is wide awake! I encouraged him to take tea breaks for the same reason. According to me, I was being practical. But, according to Kumar, I was being humane!
Treating our support staff in a humane manner costs us almost nothing. But it means a lot to them.
Please do share your experiences and thoughts.