Sunday, December 28, 2014

The grass better be greener on the other side

I accompanied a friend and his companion to a mall recently. It was one of these malls where you press a button upon entry to generate a time-stamped parking slip and settle the parking charges while exiting the mall. We were surprised to find on our way in that the vending machine didn't work and, since the gates were open, my friend just drove in. We parked and shopped; my friend and his companion shopped whilst I walked roughly behind them starring at my mobile screen. On our way out, we were stopped and asked for a ticket. The attendant was extremely polite and as soon as my friend explained how we had entered, he was flexible enough to just ask us the time of entry and collect a rough amount. My friend though, was righteously outraged at being asked to pay for a system fault. He did pay eventually, but he kept raging on all the way back home about the missed opportunity to teach the mall authorities a lesson. It must have slipped his mind that he had used the parking facilities, for which it is only natural that he pay.

On another day a family I know ordered pizzas from a popular outlet. The pizzas came on time but it was found upon unpacking the boxes that the pizzas were cold. They were about to heat the pizzas on their own microwave oven when it occurred to them that as paying customers, they did not deserve to be treated poorly. They placed a call to the outlet, ignored the apologies, and asked for some sort of compensation. The only way out was for the pizzas to be boxed and sent back to the outlet, when the outlet sent out another dispatch of the same order to be delivered a few minutes later. The family contemplated this, and were coerced by their hunger to simply drop the issue.

In my short -- albeit seemingly extremely long --  career, I have not been perfect at my work. In my first year at an IT company, I kept making a series of mistakes. More experienced people stuck with me, and kept giving me more opportunities, and I committed more mistakes. With time , I learnt - not exactly to avoid mistakes -- but to handle them, and to reduce their frequency. When I find other people committing minor mistakes in their own jobs, I feel a healthy camaraderie towards them. "What, you forgot that? Haha! So, I am not the only imperfect person around." Naturally, it amuses me to look at others who expect no mistakes at all when they pay for things.

Of course, I am not Buddha (despite my occasional claims to that effect). I do get irritated at bad service, and I often take it out on an unfortunate representative. The justification for it is simple : the company makes so much money, why shouldn't they serve me well? But often, we don't hurt the company. Yelling at a pizza delivery guy who is late by a bit doesn't change much. Yelling at the outlet about the tardiness of the delivery guy could reward us with free dinner, but chances are that the dinner is involuntarily sponsored by the lowly paid delivery guy. A phone call to the customer service of any popular telecom company yields only a self-gratification as we harangue a helpless (and irritatingly repetitive) customer care executive. A I-pay-for-it-I-deserve-to-be-treated-better mentality is dangerously close to a class mentality, where class is defined by how rich you are.

And why this obsession with flawlessness -- especially in other people? Every corporate looks towards a zero defect product. Let's face it, most of our jobs are not, for my inability to think of a better term, "mission critical" (supplementary question : What is this mission? What is the purpose of human existence?). Most of our jobs are useless, contributing absolutely nothing to humanity. Yet we go around with a demeanor of self-importance as if we are Atlas, bearing the whole brunt of the World on our shoulders. Of course, there are professions that are critical. In the science fiction novel Martian, thousands of NASA scientists work around the clock for the survival of a single man, and despite their stress, they are acutely aware that a single mistake would be costly. Bus drivers (a thankless job), doctors, judges, juries, pilots, certain programmers, safety device manufacturers are a few professions I can think of where perfection is an absolute necessity.

But should we really insist a machine-like perfection in every walk of life? Or is it the quest for such perfection that makes humanity what it is today? I seriously don't know. But often, I wish that we just have the ability to take people's imperfections lightly, and be polite while pointing them out.

PS : In case there are typos in this post, you know what to do.

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  1. nice one machi.... I totally agree with the last statement. I have somtimes overreacted in such situations. But I also realised this and have changed my behaviour. It is ok not to be selfish at times and take what comes to the the mistake of the other person away....

    But if we think why such mistakes happen, it is because someone is not doing their work properly!
    In some situations do we not have the moral responsibility to improve that person with a feedback??!?

  2. Thanks da! Moral responsibility is too big a burden to take up on ourselves. There are times when we need perfection, yes. But again, this post is only against the cases where we react disproportionately to things.

  3. There is a mechanism of approaching consumer court seeking compensation for deficiencies in service. But the problem in India is that only those with great endurance capacity can avail this remedy as the case may drag on for years. There are also really astonishing tales of courts awarding compensation in thousands of rupees for short changing five paise by a bus conductor(The litigant in this case was a lawyer!). This is India and we will have to put up with bad service with a karmic detachment. Otherwise, we will be spoiling our health.

  4. Hey Adarsh, nice choice of topic to write about! I'm sure you're penning down a lot of people's thoughts about such reactions.Thought I'd share two points that occurred to me.
    You've mentioned that this post was to highlight the cases with irrational reactions. I'm with you on this one! I think it is created by the steeping hierarchy in our country. I haven't seen this is any other, at least not yet. It is so badly ingrained in our society, that it despises me. I know this is coming off as a really strong opinion, but it's an honest one.
    About the obsession with flawlessness, I think it isn't the person or people that we end up having a problem with. It's with the service. We're in a society where consumer is king. With the vast variety available in every product, the consumer is left with tremendous choice, and promises are made about how buying a certain brand will give you certain (additional) benefits over another. So then why should the consumer not expect these things when he's paying for the service? I think it'd be lax to not point it out. Of course, this can be done well, without hurting people's feelings. And I don't think it's a person's imperfections that are being targetted in the process. It's in what's being created. So I think it's a two-way thing. I think it should be pointed out when a service is not able to provide what it says it will, but should be done without insulting people. And I think the person taking this feedback should not be taking it personally, but more objectively, as feedback for where the service can improve. Not sure if I've made myself clear, but I hope you got the point....

  5. Haha :) Thanks pa. Karmic detachment is a nice way of looking at it.

  6. Hey Shriya, glad that you are back here :) You make your points well. The first, about the unwritten class system is what I am worried about, and because of that I didn't expand on the need for good service that you make in your second point. I agree on you on that too, but sometimes I feel that instead of being a consumer vs a service provider thing, it becomes personal and the feedback often does not reach the service provider at all (which being a corporate is a nameless entity). Take any popular, big brand, say a telecom provider like Airtel or Reliance and chances of it changing based on an individual feedback is very very low. Again,thanks for reading and leaving a comment.

  7. Great post Adarsh. How do you differentiate a mistake from bad work ethics? In any case, there is a need for affection, love, politeness and compassion, which sounds too idealistic or impractical, but needs to be reinculcated in our culture. I think that might begin to resolve such issues. Do i sound too naive? 😉

  8. Hi Shrini, thanks and welcome back! Has been really long since you ventured into this parts of the Universe :) I am not against pointing out mistakes, but I just wonder if we can do it without hurting people. And yeah, I am hoping for what you call as "naive" too. I do hope it is not that naive!


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