Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Ok, a fabulous ambiance, an amazing set of SKUs lined up, you do everythin on mother planet to get those footfalls of SEC-A category and bang you create an impression!
This latest bombshell from the FUTURE GROUP called CENTRAL MALL has everything...Apparel, cosmetics, accessories, books, electronics, home appliances, furniture and...yea so much more as the recycled plastic bag next to me says...

So today, the 16th of July I was @ CENTRAL Vashi with a bunch of friends from my BSchool and I experienced something that we’ve always done at case studies of our service marketing lecture and that experience is called MOMENT OF TRUTH.

Yea you heard it right, and I’m not this cynical fool running around and writing this page up just for fun. There is a deeper learning in this...something that we always admit in our campuses but very seldom follow. So what was it all about....here I tell you!

On an early evening on a rainy Tuesday, 5 of us enter CENTRAL Vashi’s top floor where there were novelty items, furnishing and E-Zone. I really liked the stuff lined up there. One such eye-catching offering was a desk calendar. It had 3 cubes- 2 of which had numbers scribbled on it and one had the days of the week...Obviously you understood what one had to do with it...Lovely right. Yea so I pick this thing up to admire it and suddenly I hear glass break. Wow! Where from? Yea the offering also had a mini-test tube which apparently was a pen holder attached to it. Okay! Done Hands up I broke it...lol

(fig i) The desk calendar in its broken form- still looks intact

(fig ii) The pen holder which had the glass test tube which was not fixed & fell off

Now what happens, I see four to five tweens (wearing an orange uniform) who were the salesmen and women come near me. One of them yells a female’s name. She comes inspects the glass broken...tells me “Sir...one minute please” And calls the floor-incharge (I guess it was him) who comes and tells me “Sir, You have broken it. According to our company policy you have to buy it.”

Now you know, all I could say is dude...your owner has pumped in crores for publicity and called it a uptown store to take a head on with Shoppers Stop and here you give me a moment of truth that just about screws up your quality of service. Anyways as he reacted that way, I was observing his gestures. He was happy enough to push that thing to me. Anyways, will dissect the case further but what happens next, the lady (assistant) takes the stuff (yea worth Rs.645/-) from my hand and says “Sir, Please come with me” and takes me to the counter. Fortunately enough I had my credit card (Sorry Mr.Warren Buffet you asked us not to unnecessarily use plastic money...but), and she bills it for me. Then comes the second shocker!!! She doesn’t wrap it in a box, neither does she put the packing (yea the test-tube was just 10 % of the offering) and just gives it to me. I had to ask her for a box which she reluctantly gets and on her way signals her colleague that this dude wants a box for a product he has just broken. All this while my friend & I just look around. He, an HR student and I, specializing in marketing decided that yes, we pick this stuff, go upstairs and dissect the case right away.

Now to proceed, let us first look at the flaws in the whole process of service:-
1. When the glass broke, no one asks the customer if he is ok.It could have hurt me too!! So your customer-centric service goes for a toss!!!
2. You are catering to a customer who can afford the damaged offering, so there was practically no reason to be over-defensive. You could have done it in a much better way!!
3. This one is the worst of all, and I suppose a cardinal sin in the service sector...You are disposing the offering rather than selling it! The woman bills it and doesn’t even bother to hand it properly. The offering was pretty functional but she just puts it in the polythene and hands it to me.

Now unfortunately for the store I was with a bunch of crazy-MBAs whose minds are bombarded with case studies (mostly Harvard Business Reviews) day in and day out. So all of us were really excited to do a real case which happened in front of our eyes. So after placing the facts in front of you, I now tell you what we thought ,how things should have gone so that dissonance like this one doesn’t hamper the service quality and it really would have been a world class service- you know the ones we always benchmarks as- the Ritz Carlton case or Southwest Airlines etc. Before proceeding, I am making it clear, THIS IS WRITTEN IN NO INTENTION TO HUMILIATE THE STORE OR IN VENGENCE THAT I HAD TO PURCHASE THE OFFERING.I REALLY ADORE IT AND I WOULD HAVE ANYWAYS BOUGHT IT. THIS IS JUST ONE OF THOSE MOMENTS OF TRUTH WHICH I ENCOUNTERED.

1. When the tiny-little thing breaks, there is no reason for 4-5 people to run around the customer. There are care takers around each zone and they should first see the situation. If he/she feels the customer may flee, they could ask someone to get the store incharge and just enquire (not question) how it broke. I’m saying this as we are not in BIG BAZAAR right. We are targeting a different set of customers here and the front end guys better know how to deal with the customers.
2. When the store incharge comes, he should have a bold smile on his face which reassures the customer that “Hey, no big deal, it wasn’t your fault! Just an accident, but according to our policies, along with your other purchases, we have to bill this to you.” Either ways one wouldn’t run from there as the person who enters CENTRAL could anyday afford a Rs.645/- stuff.
3. Also another flaw in service was what I mentioned earlier. Thanks to my HR friend next to me reminded this one, the prime concern of the store incharge about customer’s well being really goes for a toss, as not even for once did anyone from the front enders ask me if the glass hurt me. This shows the focus here was just that the customer shouldn’t say He doesn’t want to pay for this.
4. Ok.Now the ugliest part of the whole scenario that kind of pissed me off really. All this while I was pretty ok since I admit it was my fault and I never bothered to argue or try to defend my act. (Although I must say, the part that broke didn’t showed that it was attached to the main body, so I had no clue it could fly away) But anyways, the lady just billed it and didn’t pack it at all. She was just dispensing it. I had to ask her “Don’t you even have a box for it”. What a sorry picture you are portraying in front of the customer really! You show to him that look “You are at fault, so here...take this and go away”. Sad...reallllly sad as this is really not expected from a HIGH CLASS STORE.
5. Funniest part of it. None of them even bothered to ask me if I or my friends were interested to buy anything else. That goes to show the kind of mentality of the front end staff. The whole matter-antimatter collision that happened didn’t permit them to think that...”Hey what about my customer...did he come here just to break the thing and go away with it...Or he would like something else too.”Going further, if the store manager was smart enough, he should have tackled the situation saying “Sir, please don’t consider this incident to be a part of your shopping experience, I regret for the inconvenience, but kindly let me know if you need any help during your shopping further!”

Ok, before I get too much, I’ll close on saying that its not just the glam, glitz and harping about service levels that takes modern high class retail formats to success...Its more than that. For instance, it was that one small gesture of a front line employee at Hotel Ritz Carlton to deliver the handbag of a customer till the airport that makes Ritz Carlton’s case study a benchmark in service industry. It is what we all call MOMENTS OF TRUTH – Something that gives you the TRUE picture of your service deliverables and shopping experience. It is the moment of truth that can differentiate between a low cost airline and a full fledges quality airlines or a BIG BAZAAR and a CENTRAL.
A very integral part of any service industry therefore undoubtedly is training of front line employees as no matter what your mission and vision statements are , no matter what your tag line says or no matter how many red carpets you put to draw footfalls on your opening day, it all goes right out of the window (escalator here!).
Today with innumerable players dominating the retail scenario, its not how many footfalls you get, its more of how many repeat footfalls you get. A customer while walking out of your store should walk out with pride, with an experience that is so vibrant that he goes and gives a positive feedback to anyone who asks about the store.

Again, as I close I am repeating, this is not really to pull down CENTRAL MALL’s image or to say that it has stupid employees, it is just a MOMENT OF TRUTH. This is REALITY!! And sad but true, come to think of it....WE STILL HARP “CUSTOMER IS KING”... ITS TIME WE TREAT THEM LIKE ONE!!!