Are all customers equal? Or are some customers more equal than others?

A couple of days back, I visited the local branch of a bank to get a Demand Draft. When I reached the counter, the officer greeted me with a smile and put out his hand to collect my DD Application, coolly ignoring three customers who were already waiting there. I returned the smile and the greeting, but did not hand over my DD Application. Instead, I gestured to him to first attend to the other customers. After he had collected their DD Applications, I handed over mine to him and sat on a chair in the waiting area. Instead of processing the DD Applications in the sequence in which he had received them, he processed my DD Application first and handed it to the clerk sitting next to him with an audible instruction to print my DD immediately. I received my DD within 3 minutes of handing over the application! (The norm is 10 minutes.)

This was my first encounter with this particular officer since he had only recently been transferred to this branch. Then, why had he given me preferential treatment even though I had clearly shown that I didn’t want it? The answer is simple. On the basis of appearance and attire, he had decided that I am a ‘privileged’ customer, while the other three were ‘non-privileged’ customers!

In most banks and offices, I have seen that all customers are NOT treated equally. ‘Privileged’ customers are generally treated well, while ‘non-privileged’ customers generally have to put up with curt behaviour.

Customers are classified as ‘privileged’ or ‘non-privileged’ on the basis of economic status, political ‘connections’, skin colour, religion, caste, educational background, profession, etc..

Even when there are machine-operated systems, the bank/office personnel manage to give ‘privileged’ customers preferential treatment. For example, many banks have a token system for cash transactions or for updating Pass Books. Tokens are issued by a machine, and customers are attended to strictly as per their token numbers. However, the treatment given to each customer generally (not always) varies. Most of the time, care is taken to ensure that ‘privileged’ customers are issued only new notes or notes that are in good condition, while ‘non-privileged’ customers generally get the older notes. Pass Books of ‘privileged’ customers are updated immediately, while ‘non-privileged’ customers are often asked to wait or to collect their updated Pass Books the next day.

What is the solution? In his book ‘A Better India: A Better World’, N. R. Narayana Murthy states:
“Technology is a great leveller. It does not distinguish between the rich and the poor. For, example, one of my younger colleagues who is a janitor at Infosys is happy to use an ATM because it does not discriminate against him – unlike the clerk at the manned bank counter.”

I have myself seen how ATMs do not discriminate against customers on any basis. The last time I visited the ATM near my house, one person came out after using the ATM and another who had been waiting went in to use the ATM. I waited for my turn. The first person was the young man who delivers milk to all the residents of our apartment complex. The second was a woman who works as a billing clerk at the local supermarket. The three of us received service in the sequence that we had reached the ATM. The ATM treated all three of us equally.

Introduction of technology will definitely help in reducing the inequalities in our society. Till some years back, a telephone at home was a luxury that could be enjoyed by very few people. Today, almost everybody has a mobile phone. There are many such examples.

However, will all this really change our ‘mindset’? Will it lead to a truly egalitarian society?

What do you think?

(This post was originally published on Nov 09, 2013.)

Law-enforcers and law-makers, or law-breakers?

The following figures were reported for traffic violations in Pune from January 01, 2014:
Cases registered:
Helmet violations: 22,140
Seat belt violations: 70,989
Signal jumping: 1,24,995
Riding triple seat: 11,364
Total number of traffic violation cases: 6,84,692
Total fine collected: Rs. 7.67crore

From these figures, it appears the Pune traffic police are sincerely trying to ensure that the citizens of Pune follow traffic rules.

However, Mid-Day, which reported the above figures, also reported that, on November 11, 2014, around 300 police officials were seen visiting the Commissionerate on Pune Station Road without wearing helmets (on two-wheelers) or seat belts (on four-wheelers) that the traffic police has deemed mandatory for all. However, the traffic cops did not fine them, but simply denied their vehicles entry inside the premises.

The Mid-Day report adds that, once the news of this ‘action’ became known to other police officials, several had found a way to bend the rules. Those who had helmets were made to wear them as they turned up at the Commissionerate gate. Officials who did not have their own helmets simply borrowed helmets from others just to pass the traffic cops. In fact, some of the policemen kept a few common helmets at the gate itself, which were then recycled amongst all those who needed to enter the Commissionerate. The helmets were immediately removed once they were inside, and promptly sent back to be used by other cops.

What about our law-makers? The Times of India reports that Nitin Gadkari, Minister of Road Transport and Highways rode his two-wheeler in Nagpur without wearing a helmet on October 25, 2014. The report adds, “This is not the first time Gadkari was seen driving helmetless. After winning the Lok Sabha elections, he was driving ‘triple seat’ and recently a TOI reader shared a photo of him, his wife Kanchan and granddaughter on a scooter coming out of an ice-cream parlour.”

How can laws be implemented when our law-makers and law-enforcers are law-breakers themselves?

Don’t we see this in our homes and workplaces as well? Parents expect their children to follow certain dos and don’ts that they themselves do not follow. Teachers have one set of rules for their students and another set of rules for themselves. Bosses expect their juniors to follow rules that they themselves break with impunity.

Isn’t each one of us guilty to some extent?

Where and with whom should the change begin?

Speech Disorder or Spinal Problem?

One morning at a domestic airport, I was standing in a long queue for Security Check. A well-known politician, then a state minister, walked past between 2 queues with his entourage. One of his sidekicks was pushing people aside to ensure his boss had a wide path. When I protested, he gave me a condescending look and said, “He’s a Minister,” to which I replied loudly, “Is he a public servant or is the public his servants? You guys beg for our votes during elections, but act like kings after we elect you!” The sidekick did not respond, but he stopped pushing people aside. After the politician and his entourage left, some of the other passengers said things like, “These politicians will never change” and “No point wasting our energy.” One person advised me that speaking up against politicians would only mean inviting trouble.
I was not surprised that none of the other passengers had bothered to protest even though they knew what was happening was wrong. I was not surprised that none of them had supported me when I spoke up. But I was certainly surprised and disappointed that none of them said even a word of support after the politician had left.

On another occasion, a late evening domestic flight (ETD 8.15 pm) did not take off for about 45 minutes after having taxied to edge of the runway. It was announced that we were awaiting clearance for take-off, but no time frame was given. When a couple of other flights took off while we were waiting, some passengers asked the cabin crew why our aircraft was held up. The cabin crew had no explanation. At that point, the Captain announced that we would take off after about 30 minutes. Hearing this, the passenger seated next to me called the flight attendant and started rebuking her loudly. She listened patiently for a few minutes, then left to attend to other passengers. My co-passenger continued grumbling. He calmed down after we took off. He then told me that this was the third time in the last couple of months that this inexplicable delay had occurred on the very same flight.
I told him that, when I had faced a problem with the same airline in the past, I had sent an email to the CEO, who had ensured that my grievance had been redressed in the best manner possible. I suggested that he should send an email about this matter to the CEO, but he replied that he was not very conversant with email. I offered to send the email to the CEO if he provided accurate information about the previous flight delays. He promised to have this emailed to me the next day. After 2 days, I sent him an email to remind him, but got no response. After 2 more days, I telephoned him, but he mumbled something about being very busy with work. There is a very small chance that I am wrong, but I got the feeling that he was not keen to put the matter on record.

All of us grumble in private. Many of us speak strongly to persons who are not in a position to hit back. Very few of us speak up to persons in positions of authority. Why? Do we need speech therapy or spine strengthening exercises?

(This post was originally published on July 23, 2013.)

Hangover of the British Raj?

In a talk show conducted last year in English on an Indian TV channel, the anchor asked a martyred policeman’s widow, “Kya aapko Afzal Guru ke hanging, matlab phaansi se ek sense of closure milaa hai?” (The words may have been slightly different.)

Couldn’t the question have been asked in proper Hindi? Knowing before the show that questions would have to be asked to persons not knowing English, the anchor could have prepared translations in simple Hindi, or an interpreter could have been kept available. Did the anchor actually expect the non-English-speaking lady to know the meaning of ‘sense of closure’?

Would the anchor have done the same thing with a non-English-speaking foreign guest?

Why do we, consciously or unconsciously, take our non-English-speaking compatriots for granted? English-speaking Indians may think this is no big deal, but non-English-speaking Indians are discriminated against, in fact looked down upon, particularly if their attire is not fashionable enough for us Brown Sahibs.

One of my clients is a self-made man who now runs a business with an annual turnover of over Rs. 50 million. He always complained to me that he is given second-class treatment by his customers, bankers, etc. only because he lacks educational qualifications and does not know English. Initially, I thought he was being unduly touchy, but after I had accompanied him to a few meetings with his customers, I realised he was absolutely correct. I have seen how differently the same customers treat their other suppliers (also my clients) who are qualified persons familiar with English. Unfortunately, my client’s is not an isolated case.

Knowledge of English is definitely an advantage, but it is no indication of a person’s qualities or capabilities. Some of India’s greatest achievers (and many great achievers in non-English-speaking countries) have either not known English or have been obviously uncomfortable with the language. This is true, not only in high-visibility fields like sports, films, performing arts, fine arts, social work, politics, etc., but also among engineers, industrialists, businessmen, etc.. If lack of fluency in English did not prevent them from becoming achievers, why should it prevent us from giving them their due respect?

(This post was originally published on June 29, 2013.)


Generally late for meetings?
The ‘not-so-important’ person is unpunctual.
The ‘important’ person is punctual, but she/he gets delayed due to factors beyond her/his control.

Doesn’t work hard enough?
The ‘not-so-important’ person is a lazy bum.
The ‘important’ person is ‘not in the rat race’.

Doesn’t speak up?
The ‘not-so-important’ person doesn’t have courage.
The ‘important’ person is soft-spoken.

Didn’t achieve the desired result?
The ‘not-so-important’ person didn’t put in enough effort.
The ‘important’ person was unlucky.

The ‘not-so-important’ person is drunk.
The ‘important’ person is mildly intoxicated.

Drinks too much?
The ‘not-so-important’ person is a drunkard.
The ‘important’ person is fond of drinks.

Eats too much?
The ‘not-so-important’ person is a glutton.
The ‘important’ person is a gourmand.

Generally gets work done by bribing?
The ‘not-so-important’ person is corrupt.
The ‘important’ person is ‘street smart’.

Plans carefully?
The ‘not-so-important’ person is finicky.
The ‘important’ person is methodical.

Election results?
The winning party wins because of their ‘important’ persons.
The losing party loses because of their ‘not-so-important’ persons.

How come most situations are interpreted in almost diametrically opposite ways for the ‘not-so-important’ person and the ‘important’ person?

Is it ‘different strokes for different folks’? No!

Is it because we believe that “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”? No way!


This post is a part of Write Over the Weekend, an initiative for Indian Bloggers by BlogAdda. (Prompt: Your post has to revolve around the word Magic! What does it mean to you?)