Gandhiji and supply chain in service organizations!



On the occasion of Mahatma Gandhiji’s [ Father of India] birthday on 2nd Oct, I take his thoughts on customer service and look at it from a supply chain in the service industry perspective.

Gandhiji had said;

A customer is not an outsider to our business. He is a definite part of it. A customer is not an interruption of our work. He is the purpose of it.

A customer is doing us a favour by letting us serve him. We are not doing him any favour.

A customer is not a cold statistic; he is a flesh and blood human being with feelings and emotions like our own.

A customer is not someone to argue or match wits with. He deserves courteous and attentive treatment.

A customer is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him.

A customer brings us his wants. It is our job to handle them properly and profitably – both to him and us.

A customer makes it possible to pay our salary, whether we are a driver, plant or office employ

– Gandhi

Design the SERVICE CONCEPT before you setup a service organization:

The first step to setting up a service organization is to design the Service Concept.

The Service Concept is a process diagram which defines the action to be taken at each customer touchpoint, i.e. every time a customer comes into contact with your organization physically or virtually.

The service concept starts from the website or print advertisement- even before the customer enters your physical premises. Is the website easy to navigate? Is the website accurate and upto date? Does the advertisement give all the information? Is there a phone# that the customer can call for further details? Between what times is the phone# available? These are the questions and issues the service concept has to address.

At the call center is the phone picked up within 3 rings? Are most queries handled by the call center? Is you IVRS [ Interactive Voice Response System] designed well? I have experienced IVRS which cut you off if you press the wrong option or take too long!

If the customer visits your physical premises, is there adequate car parking? Is your office, shop easy to find? If no, include a map and direction in your website. I have seen this followed widely in Malaysia, where the directions would be at the back of visiting cards or on websites. Have sufficient directions and signage to help your customers find your office or shop or premises easily. In case of a big departmental store, the map showing the location or floors on which different categories are placed should be displayed at the entrance.

Once the customer enters your premises he should be attended or acknowledged within a minute. If it is a restaurant, does the captain seat you promptly? If there is a queue, is there a place to sit

It has been shown that a customer, who has been spoken to has a better impression about the customer service than a customer who has not been spoken to.

The Service Concept is a must for every service organization if it wishes to be successful. Petrol pumps, after-sales service, pest control service providers, mobile phone service providers, ISP, restaurants, taxi services, travel service providers, hotels, retail, courier companies, consultants, schools, colleges, airlines, railways, banks, AMCs { Asset Management Companies}, builders, passport offices, post offices, insurance companies, software companies, BPOs…..the list is endless.

The Service Concept has to be constantly reviewed and modified based on customer feedback, competition and evolving technologies.

The rule to keep in mind to design a good Service Concept is that ‘you cannot be detailed enough’!

Good examples

  • Taj Hotels: Impeccable service!
  • Jet Airways: Best designed service concept. It is constantly audited and improved.
  • IKEA: They have thought of everything. They provide pencils, measuring tape, a pad to write details of the furniture, give you free parking [ if you have bought something], very good trolleys…

Design service recovery processes in case the process does not work:

Since it is a service and people dependent, there will be times when the service delivery does not work as per the Service Concept. The Service Concept should have the actions to be taken if the service delivery fails.

What if the phone cannot be picked in 3 rings? Do you have a caller id phone using which you can get the number of the customer and call back the customer?

What if the car park is full? Do you have a valet? Do you have a overflow car park?

What if all the staff/team are engaged and cannot attend to a customer? Do you have the guard offer water and a seat till the shop assistant is free?

What if the credit card swiping machine does not work? What if the bill is inaccurate? What if the flight is delayed? What if the queue is too long? What if I run out of vegetarian meals?


Analytics is a very important part of designing and monitoring the service delivery process.

How many service counters should I have? It is a known fact that customers get dissatisfied if they have to stand in a queue for longer than 3 minutes. So, provide counters so that waiting time is never more than 3 minutes? Or provide seats, magazines, drinks, TV if waiting time is estimated to be more than 3 minutes? Give a number and approximate waiting time so that customers can go and attend to some other business instead of waiting. Analytics will help you calculate the waiting time. Analytics will help you calculate the number of seats to be provided.

How many car parking slots do I provide? How many call center operators do I staff? Which process in my service delivery is a bottleneck? How do I de-bottleneck it? How do I know how many vegetarian and non-vegetarian meals to load on a flight? How many passengers do I overbook, so that my flights are full, but probability of offloading a passenger is minimal? What is the most optimum layout for a shop? In which localities do I provide additional ATMs to reduce the queues? How do I route buses and vans so that I minimize the time spent by my employees in the bus or van [ at the same time keeping my costs minimum]?

Answers to all these questions and more, is provided by analytics. And this has to be done as the service delivery process is designed.

Good examples

  • Citibank: They tell you the minutes you have to wait before your call would be attended.
  • Air Asia: They told you the number of people ahead of you in the queue to talk to a phone attendant.


Get feedback after every transaction. Make it easy to give feedback. Via sms. Via internet. Via email. Via hardcopy. Acknowledge every feedback. Use feedback to reward and punish employees.

Good examples

  • Hutch: After every call to the call center you are asked for feedback via sms. Brilliant!
  • Jet: Proactively distributes the feedback forms. And it acts on them. Of all the airlines, I have flown, Jet has the best feedback process. Singapore Airlines does not even bother to acknowledge complaint forms. Indian does not even have feedback forms, at times on their flights.
  • Welcomegroup: Uses the feedback forms to reward employees- ‘Employee of the Month’

Mantra is get feedback at every opportunity. You cannot get enough feedback from your customers. Use the feedback to modify the Service Concept.

Complaint Redressal:

Have a formal process to redress complaints; have an owner, specify timelines by when complaints have to be responded, monitor action taken. Make it easy for customers to complain. Similar to feedback, get complaints via email, sms, phone or hardcopy. Use complaints to improve the service delivery process.

Good examples

  • Airtel: They give a complaint# and someone calls you up within 48 hours to understand and address the complaint.
  • Air Deccan: Irrespective of what you have heard, Air Deccan responds to every complaint.


The lifeline of a service organization are it’s people. Recruiting the right people is important. There are tests [FIRO B] that can determine the people who would serve customers well. Once the right people are in, they have to be trained. Once trained, they have to be monitored, coached and given constant feedback so that service levels are maintained..

People have to be empowered. The frontline staff must be empowered to do what it takes to satisfy the customer. Great service organizations have empowered employees.

It would be a good way to celebrate the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi- who understood customers and customer service very well to review your organization’s service concept and service delivery process. Is it satisfying the customer?

Needless to say, service is the only differentiator between a business which is successful and one which struggles and fails!



One thought on “Gandhiji and supply chain in service organizations!

  1. Terrific stuff!
    Keep sending ’em in.
    I was looking for the famous quotation being attributed to Gandhuiji on his views on the importance of being a Customer. And, Google guided me to you. And there you hjave it – right on top of your page! Terrific Indeed.
    – Piyush T Suraiya, DGM Marketing & Customer Care, Peninsula Land Limited, Mumbai

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