Customer-facing jobs have not been finding many takers off late | Mint

Customer-facing jobs have not been finding many takers off late

Recruiters in the retail and banking sectors estimate that young job-seekers are keener to join newer sectors like e-commerce and information technology, but resist the idea of working in a bank outlet or store. (Photo: Mint)
Recruiters in the retail and banking sectors estimate that young job-seekers are keener to join newer sectors like e-commerce and information technology, but resist the idea of working in a bank outlet or store. (Photo: Mint)

Summary

  • Such jobs often demand a disposition of servitude. Front line workers are haunted not just by the tyranny of ratings and feedback, but also customers who are rude and hard to please.

A few days ago, before writing this Pen Drive, I was at the Kolkata airport, where about a hundred passengers were yelling at the two airline staffers at a departure gate. Their flight was delayed for more than 8 hours. They started thumping the counter and raised their voices. Some climbed onto seats in the lounge, took out their mobile phones, and began video recording the incident. Their anger was valid, but their protests were not. If the airline was at fault, why did just two of its representatives face the brunt of their ire?

It is unlikely that the hapless duo will head back to their stations or regale their juniors with tales of how they saved the day. No internal reward will be worth the open threats they received. No reminder of their duty will overcome the feeling that they were made cannon fodder in a crisis that they had no control over.

“Customer is God," or some version thereof, is an adage commonly plastered on the walls of retail outlets. Ironically, there are very few willing to serve this deity. Customer-facing companies in India are flummoxed to see young executives become misanthropes of sorts—when it comes to dealing with customers. They are exiting in hordes, repulsed by job profiles that require them to ‘handle’ customers.

“They complain that they will not handle irate customers and dealing with people gets too difficult for them. They find the role exhausting," said an exasperated HR head of one of the top five banks in India, “but working in a logistics company or in a delivery service, where they have to be out in all kinds of weather, is not exhausting?"

A similar story is playing out in retail chains, where candidates from remote pin codes are unwilling to move to larger cities for salesperson jobs. It often means having to be on one’s feet for 9-10 hours every day and folding clothes that shoppers callously leave dishevelled. For a monthly take-home pay of just 20,000-25,000 or less, with the rigors of big-city life thrown in, many don’t think the deal is worthwhile.

Attrition rates in customer-facing roles have been observed to go beyond 40% in sectors like retail and banking, financial services and insurance, and employers should be thankful that the country has so many fresh graduates looking for jobs each year. But why do so many quit within months?

One probable reason for the lost appeal of customer-centric roles is the fading buzz of sectors that offer most such jobs. Recruiters in the retail and banking sectors estimate that young job-seekers are keener to join newer sectors like e-commerce and information technology, but resist the idea of working in a bank outlet or store.

“During the harvest seasons, a large number of front line employees leave their jobs for few days to help their families, and many do not come back. The salaries are not high in the initial years and the number of executives willing to work in farmlands or look for another job than return to their billing/teller/help-desk counters is getting higher," observed the HR chief worried about it.

Another reason may be the image that many customer-facing jobs have acquired. There is a sense of servitude that such jobs tend to demand, a kind of behaviour code by which any response other than “Yes Sir/Ma’am" is considered blasphemous.

Some are deterred by harsh exposure to constant ratings and social media posts, a system under which even a remotely ‘unsatisfactory’ experience has consequences. Demanding customers have grown even more so, and many of them think little of subjecting front-line employees to rude earfuls with an inflated sense of entitlement. Mobile phones are whipped out to summon larger powers (like an X tweet addressed to a bigwig). Lack of empathy and skewed power dynamics are pushing many to leave these jobs. Replacement hiring is usually done in a rush, which means very little training is imparted before an unsuspecting employee faces the sort of humiliation that drives him or her to give up.

Then, there is a missing career trajectory that becomes another deciding factor for customer-facing executives. There are very few firms where a role-change opportunity arises at that junior level. Since many of these executives leave within a few months of taking their jobs, their potential for superior roles remains mostly unexplored.

So whose fault is it? Young recruits who seem to be more sensitive than those who came before them? Is it recruiters who don’t mind revolving-door crews and do not want to invest in staff training? Is it the customer who takes the first person in sight as the one to blame for the slightest dissatisfaction?

There is a possibility that winds of change are blowing across India Inc as much are Indian society. The docility of a “May I help you" may be giving way to an assertion: a demand that everyone is treated with dignity, and nobody should need to bow and scrape for a pay cheque. Or is it about everyone’s patience running thin?

In-person customer relations may no longer be an art that companies foster. It’s facing a crisis. So long as this art is needed, we should aim to resolve it.

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