Poor service, frontline staff, dichotomy of emotions and Munna Bhai MBBS


It is not uncommon for customers to grumble over poor service experience primarily caused by indifferent and sulking frontline staff. The irony of frontline staff is that they stack at the bottom of the hierarchy but from customer’s perspective they are crystallized essence of what an organization stands for. Through their close proximity with the customer, their interactions become a glass through which entire service  is looked at. They make the process by which service is delivered or enacted.

 HR Magazine (UK) reported that issues related to people like staff attitude and competence are responsible for the majority of (62%) problems eliciting complaint. A survey of customer service complaints on twitter (groubal.com) categorized them into seven categories: slow service, rude service representative, money related (hidden charge, refusal to return), uncaring staff, clueless staff, quality, and language. Note that majority of these complaints are related to service staff.

The complaints and their causes are axiomatic. But it throws  an important question as to why frontline staff fails in its  duty to please and delight customers.  To customers the inside working of either the person or organization is not a concern. All they expect is a satisfactory service outcome.  Is it that people facing customers by design wage a silent war on organizations that they work by adopting customer bugging acts? Do these people have revengeful personality? Or is it that there exists a gap between their job requirements and compensation which makes their job inherently annoying?

In a recent conversation with one of my students, Ruchi  Solanki, the topic related to frontline staffers surfaced.  She revealed the pathetic conditions that these people have to work under and how poorly they are paid (long working hours, continuous standing, noise, short break, stringent supervision, poor wages).  These aspects can be called job hazards and one should be prepared to cope with them.  But what is more spirit killing aspect of their job borders on a larger existentialist concern.  Imagine a person who earns Rs 6000 after working for 30 days and toiling for more  than eight hours a day is confronted with  shoppers  ( giggly, happy, superior, rich, with an air) who splurge sums often exceeding their yearly salary. Dealing with poise and contentment is indeed a challenge for them. Envy after all is an emotion, and a very powerful one.  Getting the body to respond (smile, courteous, helpful, gracious) contrary to spirit is  indeed a tough challenge.  Frontliners  are forced into living a dichotomous existence, the broken spirit often subtly manifests and at that moment failure occurs.

I personally had spoken with many shops and showroom managers including Costa and Woodland about the blue attired door man/ guard. I inquired as to why these people cannot be given a stoo to sit onl  or made to stand inside the showroom in sweltering summer temperature.  They appeared to be completely oblivious of what I pointed out to them. They took refuge in the practice- this is how it has been happening.  These people are often given a script to welcome and express gratitude for the visit. As customer we get bugged that their behavior- cold and disinterested. Look closely for they stand throughout the day and have no place to sit for a moment. The dichotomy of human condition confronts them every single time a customer walks in or out after spending money that often far exceeds their monthly or yearly salary (depending upon the showroom).  

I am reminded of  a sequence in Munna  Bhai MBBS in  which a cranky sweeper  is shown to be getting bugged at people walking over mopped floor.  Munna  walks over the shining floor leaving marks and undoing his labor only to invite his wrath. But then he continues to  walk up to him to give a magical  hug. The entire objectified exchange becomes human and emotions come alive.  In no time tears trickle down his cheeks- as if for the first time he met a human being.  He forgets the poor conditions that he is in and punishing existence cast by social hierarchy – a moment of joy is created.

The frontline jobs are punishing, people manning them are lowest in organizational hierarchy, and they are poorly compensated and go unappreciated.  For them customers come one after the other like an assembly line but for a customer each visit is a unique.  Wearing customer friendly behaviors and attitude is tough. The issue is how to make their job joyful.  The creation of joy is not always about   money guzzling initiative, a lot can be achieved by taking a humanized approach to people who stand on the edge. 


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