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The Indian cultural secret to Great Customer Service

Customer service, and how learning about Indian culture can make it the best ever!

First let us look at customer service:

Table of Contents

What is customer service?

Customer service refers to the support and assistance provided by a business or organization to its customers before, during, and after a purchase. It involves ensuring that customers are satisfied with their experience and helping them resolve any issues or concerns they may have.

In general, good customer service involves being responsive, helpful, and empathetic towards customers, understanding their needs and concerns, and providing effective solutions to any issues that may arise.

How does customer service look like?

Customer service can look different in various scenarios and contexts, as it depends on the type of business or organization, the industry, and the customer base.

For instance, customer service in a retail store may involve greeting customers, providing product recommendations, processing transactions, and addressing any complaints or returns.

On the other hand, customer service in a call center may involve answering questions, resolving technical issues, and providing information about products or services.

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What are some examples of it, in action?

Examples of customer service include:

Customer Service
Customer Service Representative Photo by Charanjeet Dhiman on Unsplash

A customer calling a company’s customer service hotline to report a problem with their product. The representative listens to the customer’s complaint, offers a solution, and follows up with the customer to ensure their issue has been resolved.

Friendly waiter taking customer orders in a restaurant
Friendly waiter taking customer orders in a restaurant

A customer visiting a restaurant and being greeted by a friendly and attentive server who takes their order, checks on their satisfaction during the meal, and offers dessert or additional beverages.

Customer service
Customer Support helping online customers Photo by Malte Helmhold on Unsplash

A customer shopping online and encountering an issue with their order. They reach out to the company’s customer service via email or chat, and the representative responds promptly, offering a solution and ensuring the customer receives their order as soon as possible.

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What does Indian culture have anything to do with customer service?

Technically, it does not. But functionally it has everything to do with it.

We saw how it looks like in the examples and by a definition mentioned above.

Let us forget those for a minute and let us take a look at some aspects of a custom from the Indian culture.

It is quite important to understand the context of what we are referring to later on.

There are a lot of customs and traditions in a culture.

Particularly, over time some traditional protocols are established and you can see this when you interact with people from diverse cultures.

How people greet each other and their interactions in various contexts show the unique nature of that region’s cultural traditions.

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How do Indians greet someone?

When most Indians meet someone – the traditional way is to bring both palms together at chest height, a slight bow of the head towards the person/s being greeted and saying Namaste or Namaskar.

What is Namaste or Namaskar?

Learn more about greeting someone in India

Showing respect to everyone is paramount in everyday interactions, especially to people who may be or perceived to be older than oneself.

Bride greeting elders with Namaste
Bride greets guests and elders with Namasthe – Source

Even while referring to someone a respectful word is attached to the persons name indicating respect. It’s quite common for younger folks referring to someone older as Uncle and Aunty (in the regional language – do note there are many ways for these two relationships) instead of using their given names even if they are not related to them – as a sign of respect.

When someone is seen as closer to their age – they call them the word for Brother or Older brother or sister as the case maybe.

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In India and in the surrounding region, there are specific words for relationships. To put it in context in a western or English words used – let us look at what we call siblings, then cousins and older relatives.

The words for brothers, sisters, uncles, and aunts vary across different languages in India. In the modern day, Uncle and Aunty are commonly used in place of these below.

Here are some examples:

Hindi:

  • Brother: Bhai (भाई)
  • Sister: Behan (बहन)
  • Uncle (paternal): Chacha (चाचा)
  • Uncle (maternal): Mama (मामा)
  • Aunt (paternal): Chachi (चाची)
  • Aunt (maternal): Mami (मामी)

Bengali:

  • Brother: Bhai (ভাই)
  • Sister: Bon (বোন)
  • Uncle (paternal): Kak (কাক)
  • Uncle (maternal): Jethu (জেঠু)
  • Aunt (paternal): Pishi (পিসি)
  • Aunt (maternal): Mashi (মাসি)

Telugu:

  • Brother: Anna (అన్న)
  • Sister: Akka (అక్క)
  • Uncle (paternal): Pedananna (పెదనన్న)
  • Uncle (maternal): Mamayya (మామయ్య)
  • Aunt (paternal): Peddamma (పెద్దమ్మ)
  • Aunt (maternal): Pinni

Marathi:

  • Brother: Bhau (भाऊ)
  • Sister: Bahin (बहिण)
  • Uncle (paternal): Kaka (काका)
  • Uncle (maternal): Mama (मामा)
  • Aunt (paternal): Aai (आई)
  • Aunt (maternal): Maushi (माऊशी)

In many Indian languages, the words for relatives are specific to the gender and age of the person being referred to, as well as their relationship to the speaker. The use of these specific terms shows respect and acknowledges the complexity of family relationships.

These words for specific relations are sometimes used to refer to total strangers as a sign of respect.

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How are guests treated in an Indian home?

Guests are treated with a great deal of respect and hospitality in Indian homes.

A guest is served a meal in an traditional manner in an Indian home
A guest is served a meal in a traditional Indian home

Here are some cultural and traditional customs associated with how guests are treated in Indian homes:

Indian Lady welcoming guests with traditional welcome
Welcoming Guests with a traditional Aarti – Source
  1. Welcoming the Guest: As soon as the guest arrives, they are welcomed with a warm greeting, often with a garland of flowers or a tilak (a mark made with vermilion powder on the forehead) and offered a seat. The host or hostess may also offer the guest a glass of water or a hot beverage like tea or coffee.
  2. Serving Food: In Indian culture, offering food to the guest is considered a way of showing respect and hospitality. Guests are often served a variety of dishes, including snacks, main course, and desserts. It is also common to serve the guest the best food the family has to offer.
  3. Accommodation: If the guest is staying overnight, the host provides them with comfortable accommodation. They may be given a private room or a bed in a common area.
  4. Departure: When it is time for the guest to leave, the host or hostess may offer them a parting gift as a token of appreciation for their visit. They may also accompany the guest to the door or the gate and say goodbye.

Almost anywhere in India – regardless of whether the host is well off or not, it’s common for travelers and visitors to be offered a place to clean up or to bathe, clean clothes, a hot meal at a minimum, and a place to rest. The host family will offer the best of everything they have.

These customs are deeply ingrained in Indian culture and are seen as a way of showing respect, love, and hospitality to guests.

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Athidi Devo Bhava – The guest is God!
It is believed that when a guest comes to one’s home, they are a representative of God and should be treated as such.

Indian cultural traditions
Athithi Devo Bhava - Guest is God
Athithi Devo Bhava – Our Guest is God!
What does ‘Athithi Devo Bhava’ mean?

“Athithi Devo Bhava” is a Sanskrit phrase that means “Guest is equivalent to God.”

This phrase is often quoted in Indian culture to emphasize the importance of treating guests with the utmost respect and hospitality.

It is believed that when a guest comes to one’s home, they are a representative of God and should be treated as such. This concept is deeply ingrained in Indian culture.

And that folks is what Indian culture can help us learn about Customer service. Treating our customers like a guest in an Indian home or rather using that concept:

It is OUR privilege to SERVE our customers with respect, affection & anticipate and fulfill their needs before they have to ask – just as we would if they are our guest in OUR home.

Key principles in action
  1. Respect, Respect, Respect
  2. Understand the needs
  3. Anticipate the next needs
  4. Serve with humility and affection
  5. Offer the BEST of what we have
  6. Invite back

This will definitely lead to higher customer satisfaction and retention.

Let us know what you think, and if you have tried this how it has worked for you.

Try it out today on your friends and family to test this concept out – Treat them like your top customers!

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Are there different customs in different regions of India?

India is a diverse country with many different regions, each with their own unique customs and traditions when it comes to hospitality and treating guests. Here are some examples of how guests are treated in different regions of India:

  1. North India: In North India, guests are often welcomed with aarti, a ritual in which a lamp is waved in front of the guest as a sign of welcome. They may also be offered paan, a preparation made with betel leaves, nuts, and spices. It is common to serve guests rich and spicy food, and to make sure they are well-fed and comfortable.
  2. South India: In South India, guests are often welcomed with a garland of flowers and a traditional sweet called Mysore pak. They are also served a variety of vegetarian dishes, including rice, lentils, and vegetables. In some parts of South India, guests are also offered a banana leaf as a plate to eat their food from.
  3. East India: In East India, guests are often welcomed with a gamosa, a traditional cloth towel. They may also be served a refreshing drink made with mangoes, or a sweet made with jaggery and coconut called rasgulla. In some parts of East India, it is also customary to offer guests a traditional paan made with mustard oil and betel leaves.
  4. West India: In West India, guests are often welcomed with a tikka, a mark made with vermilion powder on the forehead. They may also be served a refreshing drink made with kokum or a sweet made with milk and sugar called peda. In some parts of West India, guests are also offered a traditional snack called farsan, which is made with gram flour.
  5. Northeast India: In Northeast India, guests are often welcomed with a traditional shawl or scarf called a phanek. They may also be offered a refreshing drink made with fermented rice called chang or a sweet made with black sesame called til pitha. In some parts of Northeast India, guests are also offered a traditional rice beer called apong.

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What about in other countries in the region?

Hospitality and treating guests with respect and honor is an important cultural value in many countries and cultures around the world, including those neighboring India. Here are a few examples:

  1. Nepal: Similar to India, Nepalese culture places a great deal of importance on hospitality and treating guests with respect. Guests are often welcomed with a garland of flowers or a khada, a traditional silk scarf. They are also offered food and beverages, and it is customary to serve the guest the best food the family has to offer.
  2. Bhutan: In Bhutanese culture, guests are welcomed with a cup of suja, a salty butter tea, and a plate of traditional snacks. It is customary to offer guests a comfortable place to sit and to engage in conversation with them.
  3. Iran: In Iranian culture, hospitality is known as “Mehman Nawazi.” Guests are often welcomed with tea or coffee, sweets, and a range of snacks. It is also customary to offer guests a comfortable place to sit and engage in conversation.
  4. Turkey: In Turkish culture, hospitality is known as “Misafirperverlik.” Guests are welcomed with tea, coffee, or sherbet, and are often offered a range of snacks and sweets. It is also common to offer guests a place to rest or to stay overnight.
  5. Japan: In Japanese culture, hospitality is known as “Omotenashi.” Guests are often welcomed with a bow and a warm greeting. It is customary to offer guests a comfortable place to sit and to provide them with food and beverages.

Important Disclaimer: Just because your Indian origin/desi friends do not treat you exactly as described above does not mean disrespect! Traditions have changed over time, but the principles do remain in action. (But if you think it will help, feel free to forward them this link 😉

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