Thursday, July 11, 2013

My Heartfelt Sympathies to these Ignorant Men and Women of My Country Who Discard their Opportunities to Serve Others !

Post liberalization, India has seen some very positive changes in a few fields of public service, the notable being in the retail banking field. Some of these changes have eased the common problems faced by the small individual customers to a greater extent while some other changes have made the people to consider banks as officially patronized looters.

My intention is not to write about all of them. I am just trying to share some of my recent experiences. The banking authorities and the staff could may consider these as some feed backs from an individual customer and may think of taking some lessons for improving their acts, if ever they take these in that manner.

The first experience to share is as a customer of the largest public sector bank of India-the State Bank of India (SBI). I have been a customer of this bank for the last over three decades. In the earlier days the branches of SBI and all other nationalized banks appeared more or less the same manner. Shabby, humid, and crowded with a few caged counters behind which those counter clerks performed their acts as if they were doing some great favor to the customers. They treated the individual customers with contempt especially when the customer crowd was more. Even on those days when crowd was less, the time to get your task done used to be more or less the same. Because on such occasions the clerks did their work at leisure. Those were the days when all works used to be done manually and fat banking ledger books and the various paper instruments had to be moved from table to table by the most important functionary of the bank-the peon. 

Then came the early era of computerized banking. Nothing much got changed with regard to the customer friendliness. The time taken for some work to be done in the bank for an individual almost the same as before, because this time the bank staff got various kinds of excuses related to non functional computers and printers.

Banking experience for the individual customers dramatically changed when the government allowed a few private new wave banks to get in to the act of banking. The ICICI bank was the first among this group which made a drastic change in the way the Indian banks worked. All of a sudden, the Indian people saw air conditioned bank branches which treated customers much differently than the existing nationalized banks. Added to this comfort was the ease at which these new banks introduced much efficient and proven computer software as compared to their public sector counter parts. The new wave private banks also implemented recruitment policies in such a way that they almost eliminated the clerical staff and got fresh talents with better educational qualifications and essential training to man their retail banking branches as junior officers. This helped them to implement single window customer relations desks in their branches where each individual customer got some personalized attention. Banking was no more a dreaded experience in India !

Almost all the nationalized banks thereafter have been spending  crores of rupees to implement face lifting acts for their branches. Now almost all banks branches in India, at least in the urban areas, regardless of they being in the public sector or private sector, are air conditioned and apparently have good aesthetic appearances. However, the cultural legacy of the public sector banks continue as they could not do much to improve the personal attitudes of their lower level employees. 

All these banks together must have installed thousands of ATMs across the country in the last one decade. However, it is a common experience now for the customers that many ATM kiosks are not maintained properly by the respective banks. Non performing ATM machines are a regular feature. Non availability of lower denomination currency notes and delivery of currency notes of shabby quality are all common.[ This blog gives some more insights about the ATM kiosks of India.]

The advent of internet banking in the recent years have made banking much easier and comfortable for people like me. Now-a-days, people like me have to seldom go to the bank branches for routine banking. But if you are required to go for some purposes, the experiences may not be always very pleasant. That is what my recent experiences teach me especially when it is banks like the SBI.

I have been a customer of the SBI in Bhilai, Chhattisgarh for about three decades where in one of its branches I had my savings bank account to which my salary used to be credited from my employer. Through the same branch, I took a housing loan and the loan account also was linked to the same account and the EMIs used to be deducted regularly as per standing instructions. Then my work place changed to Ranchi and the SBI branch in Ranchi duly got my account transferred  to their branch on my request. But, the the loan account was non-transferable due to some administrative problems and that account got remained at Bhilai. However, as an internet banking customer, my account showed all details at one place and I never felt any discomfort. A few months ago, my loan was fully paid back and was duly discharged. Now my problem was to take back my security documents from the bank. To be fair enough, this should be done by my branch at Ranchi. They should be in a position to get my documents from their counter parts at Bhilai and deliver the same to me at Ranchi.

But the SBI does not operate that way as I have been told. I had to go all the way to Bhilai and spend a few days to get me back the papers ! A spent customer is of no value to this bank ! Once their purpose is served, they would simply discard you without providing the final relief. Okay, I took the pains to travel to Bhilai and had to spend nearly two days to get a simple discharge memo issued from my original bank. Remember, it is just a matter of three minutes for the staff to get the same and give it to me. But they would not do it so easily, even when they knew that I had come all the way from a distant place for that purpose. The culture of this bank is to create problem to the customer if it is possible and get enjoyment from that small sadism. 

However, with the help of some helping friends, I got the discharge certificate issued from the concerned branch at Bhilai. Now, this bank has a centralized loan processing office in Bhilai which they call by some alphabets which is not so easy to remember. This is the place where they keep the security documents under lock and key under the custody of a document custody officer. Now I was required to go to this person with the certificate issued by one of their branch located a few kilometers away. It is worth noting here that some of my friends had to spend a day to find out the procedure of getting the documents returned back from this bank. They seldom give such information in their website ! 

When I reached the document officer, there were another two customers with him. He was an young man. Though he did not show the type of nasty face some of his older colleagues in similar situations would have done ( usually they ask the customer to come the next day even if the work involves just a few minutes !) he was also not very enthusiastic to give a quick service to any one. All the three of us, one an old lady, were waiting patiently for almost an hour for him to complete the tasks. By this time his assistant had located the document file and brought it to his desk and he had made us sign few forms as a preliminary to return the documents.

The events that happened in the same place a couple of year ago while was working in Bhilai at the same place flashed through my memory. That time I was required to take back the security documents related to my car loan. That time another man was there. There were at least five persons waiting. But I got the papers back within about 20 minutes. But this time, I had come all the way from a distant place and that fact I had already told this young man, who is perhaps of lesser age than my children. He was showing that he was working hard, but the time was running out  and the time was very precious for me that moment. I had other works also to do before I returned to Ranchi ! The time is already 6.00 pm and as scheduled the pick up car had come to the bank and the driver phoned me for me to come out to be dropped in my hotel. The young bank man told me that it is going to take some more time and informed me that I could go and return after an hour or so as his office would remained opened upto 8.00 pm in the night ! So, I decided to leave then and come back after an hour or so.

Around seven I get a call from this SBI officer. Initially I thought thanking him for calling me to tell that my work is completed. But no ! He called me to tell me that it would not be possible for him to return my documents. Because, he found that my security documents that I had given in the bank as a security for my loan had the name of my son too as a co-owner of the property and hence my son too should come to the bank to receive the documents. A new strange demand indeed. Evidently displaying the sadism of the employees of the bank to harass unprepared customers to the maximum. Since I do not live in Bhilai and my son does not live with me, the harassment would have the highest effect ! Imagine, it is my document. I have settled all dues with the bank and a certificate to that effect is duly issued. They should have returned the documents to me through my branch at my place of residence. They have not. And now when I have traveled all the way spending much money and time just to take back my documents, this fellow is making a new excuse. Good customer care by the SBI ? Is n't it ? This is how this bank trains their junior officers !

Okay. There is no point in arguing with such morons. I returned back to the bank hurriedly. It was going to be 8.00 pm. If I did not reach by that time this fellow would go home and I would not get even the discharge papers that I had given him earlier ! That means additional number of stays in the hotel and missing my hard earned railway reservations to return home !

I reached to his desk in time. I tried to reason with him as a last effort. The fellow is not at all considerate. Finally, I asked him to keep my documents in his own custody for some more years ( I had no immediate use of those except that those are some the stamp papers of registration that shows my ownership of the residential property that I acquired with my hard earned savings and paying much of that to this bank as interests  !)

But I requested him to write down the reasons for not returning my documents back to me even after my loans are fully settled and discharged a few months ago.

Then I got the next shock. He, being an officer of the bank, refused to write that. He said that would be written by his boss, the head of his loan branch. Had he been a non-officer, I could have understood that. But here he is an officer ! What officer ? I asked my self ! Now, where is his boss sitting ? Already it is the closing time. The boss might have left and I ought to stay back in this place just for nothing !

But fortunately, the boss had not left. It was a lady of my age ! Just then I noticed her name. It sounded familiar. Then I remembered. We knew each other. Yes, she was very happy to meet me. We exchanged a few minutes of pleasantries and then I told her my problem. She was quick enough to write an instruction to her junior officer and was considerate enough to accompany me to his desk to give the personal instructions.

Yes, I was fortunate. I got my valuable documents without future troubles.

But then I was thinking ! What if I did not know some one there personally ? How these bank fellows create trouble to those customers who happened to be of that category !

This is just one such example that I faced from the bank where I have been a customer for thirty odd years. I had much worse experiences there, every time to be sorted out with the help of some known officer. Remember, none of these problems were due to any mistake from my side.

On the other hand, I am also a customer to the new era banks like the ICICI and the Axis bank. Rarely I was required to go to these banks. But whenever I had gone, desk officers were quite unknown faces. But that never caused them to behave strangely. They were comparatively much better in extending the services.

The banks in India are much better in giving out the services, if you compare them with some of the government offices. At the lower levels, the bank staff are not corrupt as well. They do not have a system of extracting money from the citizens in general, unlike some of the notorious  government departments where the staff create problems to extract favors.

But then that is life in India. The most corrupt nation on earth now, as per the latest report of Transparency International.

In my opinion this happens due to the subconscious attempt from the side of the staffers to gain attention and importance. If every thing goes smoothly, they feel that their services get  neglected and go unnoticed. Create a problem and gain importance. This is the mind set of many employees in India.

Unfortunately, they fail to understand the pleasure of giving and serving. They fail to recognize the importance of getting the long lasting good wishes their customers would bestow upon them silently when they do the work they are supposed to do honestly , earnestly and pleasingly.

To me, it is the greatest opportunity one can have. The opportunity of serving others ! The opportunity to be of some help to others. Even when it is part of your job and even when that is what you are paid for.  

My heartfelt sympathies to those ignorant men and women of my country who create such situations to make their beloved country  to stoop down in shame by some of their acts of discarding the god given opportunities to serve others in whatever small way they could !  

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