The double fault of Indian Service

Last month the Economic Survey was tabled as the usual precursor to the Annual Budget presentation which reaffirmed the economic paradigm that India is witnessing. While Agriculture and Manufacturing sectors were registering poor growth, the GDP growth was held up by the Service sector. This note, however has nothing to do with an analysis of economy, but  I am thinking aloud about the hidden irony of it all.

India is shining in Services, a sector which it is least equipped to.  I have never left the Indian shores but despite my handicap, I think I can safely proclaim that Indians have the worst ‘service mindset’. As a country we are poor service providers and very poor service consumers.

Foreigners who visit India, I am sure have a harrowing time dealing with the taxi drivers, auto drivers, lift men, janitors, cab drivers, tourist guides….just about anyone they come across. The attitude of ‘fleecing’ is firmly inbuilt into the Indian mindset. The very sight of a white skin brings out the worst in us. And we don’t even need the excuse of five star comfort to dupe the hapless visitors. There was this famous story some time back about a ‘samosa’ vendor charging Rs. 10,000 from a foreign couple for a plate of samosas !

If the service providers indulge in massive fleecing of the foreigners, with fellow indians, they adopt an attitude of indifference, callousness or plain negligence.

We come across every day, conductors who don’t return the change,  bank tellers who take enormous time, janitors who don’t clean the rest rooms properly, auto drivers who cheat on the fares and waiters who are plain rude.

But we have learnt to endure them and take them in our stride.  Presumably helped by our ‘chalta hai’ attitude and the subconscious realization that we are such poor service consumers. So in effect we get what we deserve.

When was the last time we gave the correct change to buy our ticket ? When was the last time we used a public toilet conscious of the fact that it should be left usable for the person following us ? When was the last time we went to the Bank with the form filled up or at least with a pen ?

The days when I miss my company transport, I use public transport. One of my favourite pastimes is to see the percentage of passengers to tender exact fare. Over 90% of the passengers don’t carry any change at all and flash 100 Re notes to the hapless conductor. While the males are a tad better in flashing it as soon as they board the bus, the women folk go through an elaborate process.

First they would take time to balance themselves in the bus, usually stomping on a foot or two. Next they will wade into their handbag opening up every zipper before locating their wallet. Depending upon the size of the wallet, it may house a smaller wallet inside or if the conductor is lucky enough, a crumpled note will finally emerge. Phew !

The scene in the bank is much worse. Customers surround the teller or the executive with no regard for order or queue. They usually come without any basics – forms, documents and a pen. The bank executive is expected to provide the forms, the pen and then guide them in filling it up while the customer who is getting serviced uses up as much time as he wants totally oblivious to the holdup and the lengthening queue.

With such customers to attend to, it is no wonder that the service providers have so much indifference build into their mindset. Back to my favourite bus, recently a woman puked at the door while alighting from the bus and walked off without even bothering to say a sorry. The poor conductor had to request a nearby eatery for a few cups of water and clean up the entrance. Who wants to be a conductor eh ?

I am not here to suggest that the poor quality of service is only due to customer apathy as service consumers but it is my endeavour to look at the issue in complete perspective. I feel it is incumbent upon the service consumers to adopt a model code of service consumption and follow it.

Poor attitude to service consumption breeds poor service delivery. The barber would in all probability do a lousy job if we slip into the chair bathed in sweat and body odour. The cobbler would only do a cursory job of mending the shoes if they are unclean and worse still, smelly.

As service consumers, it is incumbent upon us to avoid ‘service abuse’. Whenever we indulge in abusing the concept of service, we lose our moral right to insist on service quality.

We are in a world of service partnership. Good attitude to service consumption would facilitate provision of good quality of service. As service consumers let us help others to help us.

Service is clearly the vehicle of growth for Indian economy. It would really be a stark irony that a nation whose GDP is prominently made up by the Service sector is rated very poor for it’s service mindset.

It is up to each one of us to ensure that Indian Service doesn’t become a laughable oxymoron.

About hariharanbond
I am who I am !

9 Responses to The double fault of Indian Service

  1. Subha Menon says:

    good one! i agree with you fully, especially after having experienced life oustide our country. Many a times I have encountered situations where I see fellow Indians behaving like they behave in India. if you feel its the place that makes us do what we do, its not. its the mindset. if we can get away with it, we will do shamelessly.
    from simple things like leaving trash bags outside the chute, returning used items back to supermarkets (since the policy here is that they take back virtually everything if you have the receipt), misusing services like online movie watching sites (one Indian takes a subscription, gets a password and his whole friends will be watching using the same subscription – which is an excellent business model, dont you think?). I sometimes wonder why i get so agitated seeing these outside India when I take all these on its own stride back home.

  2. Ek Mamooli Aadmi says:

    You have commented on the ‘service’, issue very elaborately. But ‘service’ you referred to is only what the economists call as ‘service’ .

    There is yet another classification of ‘service’ in our country. The service which we all render to ourselves, to our chosen gods, and finally to others, selfless service. And there is yet another form of “Service”, the venerated “Civil Service” . All the forms of ‘Service” call for detailed discussion before you close this topic.

    Let us begin with “Indian Civil Service”. Jawaharlal Nehru once commented – Indian Civil Service is neither Indian , nor Civil and is not a Service at all !

    The British left India but did not take with them the steel framework with which they lorded over the Indians. The so called Civil Service got renamed as “Public Service” at least at the level of recruitment and the governments renamed them as “Union Public Service Commission” at the central level and as “Public Service Commissions” at the state levels. The commissions were expected to search, select and recruit the best available talent for the highest form of service, i.e., the service to the public, both civil as well as military.

    I wonder why no one ever thought of writing volumes and volumes on this interesting topic of Civil Service and why it escaped the scrutiny of media, poets, novelists etc. The only good insights into the Civil Service come in the form of “Yes Minister” and “Yes Prime Minister” and occasional caricatures of civil servants by cartoonists.

    The civil service stood by the nation, in the difficult hours, at least the steel framework part of it. A fledgling democracy could have easily fallen prey to vested interests, myopic leaders and lack of sense of nationhood among the vastly fragmented public, fragmented along religious, linguisitic, regional and caste lines.
    India survived, since ’47, and is in reasonably good shape. It did not dis-integrate as the British once expected, in their secret dossiers.

    Who ought to get the credit for this remarkable feat ?
    The leaders ? or the Bureaucracy ?? or Cricket ??? or the Film Industry ????

    (…to be continued….)

  3. Ganesh Kini says:

    I agree that the service in India is not to the extent as outside India, but there are a few things I would like to point out.
    What do you call as service? Tendering change to conductor is not service, its discipline. Maintaining toilets clean, not throwing the dirt??same again.

    This aspects certainly needs a lot of improvement in our people and society. I think the education system can change this and I see significant change in this too. Chennai, which I remember as a DIRTY city during my initial days, I see a lot of change now that I stay here. I couldn’t believe when garbage collection vans appear 3 times a day (3rd at 11 Pm), and roads being cleaned by corporation vehicles every week. There are very few potholes in chennai and the ones I see after harsh rains are mended within a week, which is beyond an INDIAN expectation.
    However, people still use empty roadsides as toilets, queues are violated wherever a chance is seen, but yes, I see a change. I guess the education system has to cultivate a lot of discipline in our system. And no doubt, this is an area we are ages behind even Asian countries like Srilanka, forget about US / Europe.

    If you think about service, I can think of couple of hotel service, transportation services like Air, Bus, Taxi or Auto.

    Here, we need to remember, we get what we pay for. While we compare Singapore / USA, we pay almost 5 dollars for a taxi ride of about 5 to 8 KM. You pay the same here, you will be taken in a TOYOTA INNOVA from a reputed taxi service with a chauffer in clean uniform and an offer of drinking water ( AQUAFINA, mind you, not any Indian local water)

    We have hotels of all kinds. When I went outside India, I had to pay a minimum rent of about 90 USD per day for a decent hotel. The service levels at our 5 star hotels are certainly at an acceptable level, though may not be at par with other developed countries, and most often, costs considerably less.

    Then about Auto rikshaws. We pay 14 Rs in Bangalore for 2 Km ride. What right do we have to expect a royal treatment? Though, I do not support autowallah’s for fleecing, but you may also note, all foriegners can get PREMIER CAB services for cost lesser than what they might pay in their country for local taxies. A autowallah probably generates a revenue of 30,000 a month ( assuming a high estimation of 1000 Rs per day, working 30 days a month). After all his expenses, he might earn 15,000 per month at best. What quality of life he can live? That shows in his attitude.
    How many of us are willing to pay 100 Rs ( mere 2 USD) as minimum fare in Rikshaws? I am sure you will get all the SERVICE you expect, from the same rikshawalah even today, if you pay like this.

    People who go to USA, let them come out of a restaurant without paying TIPS to the waiter ( TIPS is supposed to be voluntary) and try going to the same restaurant and same waiter and see what SERVICE you get.

    Be realistic people.

  4. Rajesh says:

    I partially agree with Ganesh regarding discipline that he talks about. But in most of the cases, people who are not following the self discipline are educated ones.

    Again if we talk about money for the service that we get, I feel that it is not comparable. My understanding about earning at the base level depends on the cost of living of the region that we live in.

    Are we paying the same amount to have travel for 2KMs in both Bangalore and Chennai? Are we paying the same rent for 2BHK in a metropolitan city and in a small town? There are many factors which decide the wages or salary or income.

    But the fact here is that we should have discipline, honesty and non negligence while consuming the service.

  5. sachin s says:

    I disagree to a large extent. The basic need of humans is to survive. To survive the less privileged in India resort to fringe benefits like the conductor not returning the change.
    I strongly feel this is due to the huge gap we have between the poor and the rich. This inequality, poverty (and thus illiteracy) and the huge population are the root causes of all the chaos we have in India. We can keep on harping on the bad things in India, but its high time that we accept the fact and instead channelize all our energy to change this. To change this we need to first target poverty and illiteracy with a two- pronged strategy. And this must be done by the every privileged one who has been lucky to have got the right education and hence now is in a position to lead and bring about a paradigm shift to eradicate all the evils we face as Indians
    I have seen in the past 10 years of my experience the hard work being put not just by the engineers at office but also by the bus drivers who wake up earliest to make sure that we reach in time to office, by the caterers who ensure that we get hot-stuff to eat in the wee hours of every morning, by the operators at night who spend countless hours driving at night to ensure that we reach safe home.

  6. Amuthan says:

    Nice detailed reply Ganesh. But i feel you are missing one point here. How many of us can AFFORD to stay in a hotel paying 90 USD here in India? I think we are getting carried away by few techies earning in dollars, while the vast majority of the so-called highly paid techies do not earn significantly higher that what you have estimated as the income of the auto-wallah. I think end of the day it is our attitude that is resulting in such a pathetic situation here.
    I agree with Hari that we need to maintain a minimum standard of service – and this is not something which is directly related to the cost you pay. It is the attitude. We pay through our nose for a dosa in Saravana Bhavan which is costing us Rs.50, while the same dosa else where will cost not more than Rs.20. But is there such a significant improvement in the service at HSB for the premium we pay? I dont think so.

  7. Ganesh Kini says:

    Amuthan, You have picked up both the examples (How many of us can pay 90 USD & example of Saravana Bhavan) which strengthens the point I made, that is, you will get what you pay for.

    Yes, about more than 70% of our population may not be able to afford this USD 90 per day. But then why we compare the service of 90 USD & higher with our low cost service? You may note that this point was brought up because Hari had compared services of India with that of “Abroad” which in general I presumed is US & Europe, which is frequented by us Indians. I was trying to say that COMPARISON must be on level grounds.

    On your other point, About Saravana Bhavan, you pay 50 Rs per Dosa, where somewhere else it costs 20 Rs. This is an excellent example for my point.
    Look the food service in its entirety. This includes the quality of food, hygiene, ambience and comfort. Consider ‘Hygiene’ which is the lowest focussed aspect in India, the 20 Rs Dosa doesn’t come from a kitchen which is as clean as Saravana Bhavan.HSB may not be Best, but its better than most in Kitchen cleanliness. The water served in Saravana, is certainly safer for drinking (he has his own packaged drinking water). The cooking processes in Saravana are more automated than other restaurants (this I have witnessed myself), which reduces human and hence germs intervention.
    I have seen many low cost hotels where the waiter serves water with a finger dipped in the glass..!! Even if its mineral water, I am sure you would not consume it. Show me how many restaurants in Chennai provides air conditioned seating for 20 Rs a Dosa? What about the consistency in the food quality? Again Saravana will count higher.
    Ambience & even the attire of waiters are much better ( you wont find rough bearded Lungi wearing people serving in Saravana).The difference from 20 to 50 may not be justified, but certainly Saravana’s service levels are far better than you might find in those other restaurants referred. The point is, for better service, you have to pay higher.

    I am not saying Indian service is equal to USA service level, its certainly not. But its not at the level one has to feel ashamed for. Poverty & discipline yes, we need to be ashamed of, no doubt.

  8. Amuthan says:

    Ganesh, fair point. I totally agree with you that we will get what we pay for.
    My point is, the cleanliness in cooking processes, neat and clean servers etc – should these not be a given thing? a minimum standard? should we consider this as a premium and pay for it? Its ok to consider the air conditioned restaurant as a premium. But the other things that we talk about should be the minimum standard. I agree that 90% of the restaurants are not at that level and we should look at raising the bar, but my view is that the guy who actually provides these can definitely claim this as a differentiatior, but not charge the customer an exorbitant premium for maintaining that standard. Is his costs significantly higher than the other guys that justifies charging so much of a premium? OK, he gives a better service, he can charge 20% extra for the service, but not double or at time even thrice. To me it looks like exploitation.

  9. Ganesh Kini says:


    Again you are bringing up the point. Perfectly right expectation that Higiene should be minimum standard.

    What should be the cost for that minimum standard? We are not paying HIGHER for this but we are paying LOWER when we pay 20 Rs Dosa, because he lacks these standards.
    If you calculate all the aspects of restaurants ( including AC, Ambience and maintenence), may be the optimum cost will turn out to be around 25 to 40 per Dosa.

    Saravana is making most of his Brand and non availability of good compitition. But then, thats business.

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