Emerging amid liberalisation and
increasing integration with the global economy, India's service
industry offers tremendous potential but also poses daunting
challenges. Underdeveloped infrastructure, archaic policies,
historical baggage of complex cultural mores and inadequate
exposure to services standards are challenges that remain even
after 65 years of independence. Yet, opportunities lie in
challenges and adversities.
Over a billion people, of whom 300 million constitute the growing
middle class, increasing urbanisation, higher levels of disposable
income and consequent demand for services are potential spots. The
service industry calls for more than just a highly trained and
Unlike traditional businesses, the degree and quality of training
transcends mere technical or product knowledge to include
communications, behaviour and interaction. This is because in a
service transaction, even seemingly minor or inconsequential
issues like tone of voice, body language or personal grooming
assume great importance.
These are coupled with the ability and willingness of a service
provider to go the extra mile and chase stretch goals to cater to
customer requirements. Other yardsticks of service are
accessibility, convenience, efficiency and customised solutions.
These in turn call for high quality of manpower and stronger work
ethics. With a few exceptions, both are found wanting in the
Indian service industry.
A third building block is civic standards and consciousness. A
society which does not realise the necessity of hygiene cannot
appreciate the quality of healthcare service. Efficient and safe
public transport systems cannot run without basic discipline and
care of these services by users. For a community to demand and
enjoy superior service standard, the pre-requisite is evolution of
its own civic consciousness as the two are inter-connected.
This partly explains why Tokyo's Shinkansen (bullet train),
London's underground, and America's Greyhound bus service have
grown beyond being mere services to reach the status of global
cult icons, while New Delhi still struggles with an ageing fleet
of public transport buses, three wheelers and the venerable
Another challenge for delivering world-class services in India is
the wide gap between lifestyle of the actual frontline staff
delivering them and customers. In an overwhelming majority of
cases, the service delivery staff is unexposed, even unaware of
the psycho-graphic profile of their customers.
The staff does not know and therefore cannot appreciate what
customer expectations are. This lack of understanding is
compounded by the sheer socio-economic divide between the service
deliverer and the customer. The result: poor service delivery.
India has created good service standards in equipment and hardware
related facets of service industry like in telecom and airline
industries. But in people-transacted service businesses, quality
declines like in banks. Within the equipment and hardware linked
service-oriented businesses too, poor back-up infrastructure
prevents greater efficiencies and growth.
The only way to achieve world-class service standards is to hone
our human capital. Education and training are the first building
blocks. Training is an expensive and recurring cost but is an
essential catalyst for growth. Hospitality and tourism industries
are examples of how training and education can not only transform
raw talent into professional service provider but also how
training is linked to creating competitive advantage by enhancing
Investments in training workforce can make businesses profitable.
No hotel can operate without constant staff training. The airline
industry too takes training very seriously.
At the same time, we must realise that what cannot be measured,
cannot be achieved or improved upon. It is therefore imperative to
invest in mapping the services area as an ongoing practice.
Service providers must keep themselves abreast of not just the
latest developments globally but also emerging customer
preferences and industry trends. Like training, these too are
dynamic and constantly evolving processes.
Closely aligned to this mapping is setting benchmarks with
world-class standards adapted to local delivery systems. Involving
customers in this process is particularly valuable. Equally
important is that rewards must be linked to performance.
Businesses must peg recognition and rewards in a manner which
prefers quality of service rendered, relationship building and
customer retention over mere achievement of sales targets.
Another interesting facet worth mentioning is of mystery customer
or mystery shopping. This element of unplanned experience of a
company's service level is commonly used by service businesses
across the world. It offers precious insights and a unique
perspective of how the service actually delivers on the ground.
Alignment and standardisation of services in all aspects is vital.
All functions, systems, and processes must perform in a calibrated
fashion. There should be a correct match of people, job
descriptions and goal sheets.
A new concept, sector, business or enterprise is not like a
military campaign. The odds are heavy, costs are high and victory
is the only objective. Those who lead from the front do succeed.
Unless the managers lead the enterprise personally and spend time
upfront even in minor operational issues, best practices cannot be
Another key aspect of a service business is contrary to what many
business managers think. Going slow may hurt revenues in the short
term but will be profitable eventually. Minimum transactions
through better designed operating procedures benefit the company
by saving time and resources. They also benefit customers by
reducing fatigue and making dealings with the company easier.
A common trap many service sector businesses fall into is
over-promising and under-delivering. Service excellence is always
about exceeding expectations. Corporate communications and public
relations also play a vital role in service businesses.
Services contribute 65 percent to the GDP. As India grows and
develops economically, this will climb further in coming years.
The services sector must galvanise itself to grab the momentum.
Amit Chaudhery is associate executive director at
Dalmia Bharat Group. The views expressed in the article are
personal. He can be reached at email@example.com