I should have had my questions answered even if they sounded silly and made it clear to him that the job he’d done was shoddy

The second time I walked into the service centre that handled my car, I was more intimidated than the first time around. This was a big, complicated job. One I knew nothing about, except words such as ‘suspension’ and ‘high beam not working’. I was hoping for an explanation that broke down into parts — exactly what the problem with the car was, what my options to repair it were, and approximately how much it would cost me. In hindsight, this was sweet but foolish hope.

What I got was bigger words thrown at me. Apparently, there was something wrong with the steering rack. And the clutch box. And the ‘silencer assy’. After giving a laundry list of ailments my car was suffering from, the chief engineer shook his head in sorrow, made a disdainful remark about old cars that had been driven for too long, and presented me with an estimate that gave me mild palpitations. Questions that popped in my mind went unanswered because in the midst of attempting to understand what the engineer was telling me, and nodding in what I hoped was an intelligent manner, I realized he wouldn’t accord me more than five minutes — every 30 seconds he glanced at his watch. In less time than it takes to buy a hairbrush, a receipt was presented to me, and I was on my way home.

Now, had a marvellous job been done on my car, and had it then felt like I was driving atop the sleek back of a leopard on rollerblades, I probably would have taken his behaviour as that of a harried professional. But barely three weeks later, the steering wheel refused to move. This time around, the chief engineer had no time for me. After a glance, he consigned me to an underling, declared he had no idea how this had happened, and said it would take at least three days to sort out. Baffled, I walked out, wondering what this would do to an already wrecked budget. And while nearly getting killed trying to cross Mount Road, it occurred to me that I should have said something. Something very specific, actually — that I was not happy.

In practically every area of life, we are customers of various sorts. Our mobile networks, television connections, vehicles and refrigerators are all serviced by big companies whose motto invariably seems to be that the customer’s happiness is their happiness. Their definition of happiness must differ considerably from ours. How many times have you waited ‘on hold’ in frustration as an apathetic-sounding ‘customer care’ executive attempts to retrieve your account details and then tells your problem can’t be solved? How many times have you tried to get someone to take a look at your old television that has broken down for the nineteenth time and waited in vain?

It shouldn’t matter how old the product is — service can and should be just as friendly and efficient as it was when you bought the product.

A similar phenomenon exists in high-end malls when you walk into a designer store in somewhat ratty jeans. If you dare to ask to see something or, heaven forbid, try something on, the chill in the air can revive a melting ice cream.

As a customer, I should have asked for more time from the engineer. I should have had my questions answered even if they sounded silly and made it clear to him that the job he’d done was shoddy. At a mall or even the restaurant of a five-star hotel, I am a potential customer. Granted I don’t have the money to buy most of the things in there. But I do have the right to window shop. To touch, try on, and longingly glance at the product, for minutes on end. To dream, just a little.

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