Customer Services by India Post
- Present Practices and Potential Prerequisites -
By : Bruhaspati Samal
Secretary, AIPEU, Gr.C, Bhubaneswar
When I registered my name in a Diagnostic Centre to have some like WBC Total & Differential Count, ESR and Serum as per the advice of my Orthopaedician for treatment of Hyperuricemia, immediately, I received a message in my mobile “Thank you for using services of …... You would receive an SMS once the report is ready. To view it, log on to …… ID: …. Pass Word: ……” When the report became ready with the joint signature of a pathologist and microbiologist exactly by the time given to me, I got another message, “Dear Customer, Your report is ready for accession. Login to ….. for viewing reports”. All on a sudden, I could be able to download my reports without proceeding to the Diagnostic Centre in person. However, after consultation with my doctor, when I attended the Diagnostic Centre to thank them for timely intimation and delivery, I witnessed heavy rush of customers in the said centre as if it has been trusted by millions.
The particular Diagnostic Centre I attended is a Private Limited Company having few branches preferably spreading over the capital and metro cities in . Being surprised with the promptness of such a small company, I asked myself - Has India Post having the record to its credit as the largest postal network in the world with 154822 outlets as on date been able to show its promptness, effectiveness and commitment in service delivery to its customers? Immediately, I started doing Mathematics on India Post.
Since 1854, India Post has travelled a long way over these 159 years. Started initially with Mail Operations, it entered into the Insurance sector in 1884 introducing Postal Life Insurance for the benefit of the erstwhile Post and Telecom employees which has now been extended to the employees of other Central Govt. establishments, State Govt. employees, Central and State undertakings, Scheduled Commercial and Nationalized banks, Govt. aided educational institutions etc. and in 1995 introducing Rural Postal Life Insurance to cover the rural public. Similarly India Post actively entered to the Banking sector with introduction of Post Office in 1882, 1/3/5 Year Time Deposit on 16.03.1970, Recurring Deposit on 01.04.1970, 2 Year Time Deposit on 01.08.1973, Public Provident Fund on 01.01.1979, Monthly Income Scheme on 15.08.1987, National Savings Certificate VIII Issue on 08.05.1989, Senior Citizen Savings Scheme on 02.08.2004 and latest being the National Savings Certificate IX Issue on 01.12.2011. It actively entered into the digital era during the year 1090 – 91 and conceived the Project Arrow concept in April, 2008 under “Look & Feel Good” concept which has been extended to 18600 Post Offices in 2012-2013. In the mean time, India Post has computerized all its departmental post offices including all administrative offices starting from Directorate to Divisional Offices, all PAOs, PTCs, PSDs, CSDs, BD and PLI Directorate. In spite of such ground reality, though India Post has registered nearly a seven fold growth during the period of last seven decades from 23,344 post offices during the time of Independence to 154822 post offices as on 31.03.2012, it has not been able to retain its monopoly in mail, finance/banking and insurance sector. While emergence of electronic alternatives due to continuing advances in Information and Communication Technology and presence of organized / unorganized couriers for mail conveyance, increasing competition from the financial players like banks and insurance companies and above all the challenges of globalization, corporatization and liberalization are some of the important reasons , the poor and sub-standard after sale services provided by India Post is a vital cause for which customers are searching for alternative services rather than availing postal services.
Before proceeding further, let’s discuss some common expectations / complaints of the customers warranting to ensure effective after-sale services by India Post. So far as India Posts’ three major services comprising mail, banking / finance and insurance operations are concerned, it generally receives complaints of following nature which are just illustrative not exhaustive.
Banking / Finance
a. Delayed delivery / non-delivery / wrong delivery of mails
b. Non-receipt of AD cards
c. Abstraction of contents
d. Delivery to disputed / unauthorized firms / persons
e. Loss of article
f. Non-delivery of VPLs / VPPs / VP Intimation.
g. Recall of articles
a. Refusal to / delay in opening of Accounts / issue of cash Certificates
b. Delay in closure / pre-matured closure of Accounts / Cash Certificates
c. Delay in issue / non-issue of duplicate Pass Book / Cash Certificate
d. Delay in settlement of deceased claim cases with / without nominations
e. Non-transfer / Delay in transfer of Accounts / cash certificates both by Transferee / Transferring Office.
a. Non-Assignment / Delay in assignment
b. Delay in Change of Address / Nomination
c. Non-conversion / Delayed Conversion of policy
d. Delayed receipt / Non-receipt of Acceptance letter, Premium Receipt Book & Policy Bond
e. Non-issue / Delay in issue of duplicate/continued Pass Book
f. Non-sanction / payment or delay in sanction / payment of Loan / Surrender Value / Paid-up Value / Maturity Value / Death Claim etc.
g. Non-transfer / Delay in transfer of Policy
h. Non-revival / delay in revival
There was a time when specific time periods were fixed by the Department to lodge complaints for various services and the frontline workers were asked to explain even for accepting complaints before the prescribed time frame. But situations have changed now with rise in customers’ expectations. Customers now expect instant services. Without caring for the price to pay they are seen to prioritize the quality of service rendered. However, it is a matter of great satisfaction that to meet the challenges, to face the competitors and to prove itself as an efficient and reliable communication network as the main component of the communication infrastructure playing a crucial role in the socio-economic development and integration of the country, the Postal department is doing a lot of things other than just delivering letters aiming for a transformation with re-engineering of Business Processes and making it compatible to suit the new ICT solutions and evolving new processes based on customer needs.
But we notice some biased decisions, lapses and hurriedness in implementing several policies/programmes etc .that are responsible for inviting the above nature of complaints.
There are several unusual practices at present before us to illustrate.
Let’s analyze the case of Express Parcel & Business Parcel introduced by the Department on 02.12.2013. Citing the example of Bhubaneswar Hub, it was a surprise to note that while no software package regarding Parcel Net had been loaded at BNPL SP HUB for booking / dispatch of Express Parcel & Business Parcel and nothing had been loaded at NSH, Bhubaneswar for receipt / dispatch of the same, one Express Parcel booked at Bhubaneswar GPO was dispatched to Bangalore EPH on 3-12-2013 manually as Parcel Net was not installed. Similarly, one Express Parcel received from Chennai EPH on 5-12-2013 at NSH, Bhubaneswar addressed to Paradeepgarh PO under Kujanga SO was also dispatched to the destination manually. When articles were received / dispatched manually, obviously, it may invite public complaints since the same will not be available under the Trace & Track system. Besides, neither the required bar code nor the bag label was seen to be supplied to Bhubaneswar GPO. Another important thing noticed in this connection was that the update 9 of Meghdoot could not create BNPL Parcel database tables and stored procedure using Parcel Net software. User Creation error in Parcel Net software was found out and after successful up-gradation of MM 7 Update 9 in Postman Module, registered parcels could not be received with the existing barcode number and dispatching the old registered parcels in the Dispatch Module was not possible. The POS.exe in the solution folder didn’t work. There was no option for invoicing the express parcels in the Postman Module and no exl. file in respect of POS in the Solutions To Parcel Net Update folder. In addition, the required electronic message on Business Parcel COD / Express Parcel COD is not available for invoicing in Postman module to effect timely delivery and thus resulting huge deposit of BP COD/ EPCOD items in post offices ( till writing of this article on 23.12.2013) since manual delivery has been restricted. In the analogy of first impression lasts long, such unpreparedness in introducing a new product may not provide better customer services.
So far as delay in delivery of mails is concerned, we witnessed how the wrong policy decision for creation of hubs resulted in abnormal delay in conveyance and delivery of speed post articles and back-routing took place everywhere. Even articles meant for local delivery were unnecessarily dispatched to the hubs situated hundreds of miles away and from there again back-routed to the delivery Post Offices causing avoidable delay. Speed post started losing its speed and the faith of public. Number of articles and revenue came down. Voice of the right-thinking employees and officers were suppressed. However, of late the Department eventually changed its decision.
Another faulty decision is to allow the bulk-mailers to send advance SMS to the addressees intimating the alpha-numeric number of Speed Post / Registered Post articles containing preferably Passports, Cheque Books etc at the preparation stage long before the same are actually dispatched for which the customers are tempted to enquire regarding delayed arrival/receipt of such mails. Though Trace and Track System has been introduced for eMO, Speed Post, Registered Post (both domestic and foreign), avoidance to attend the complaints by the front line workers is witnessed either due to over pressure at the counter of single handed SOs, double / triple handed SOs running single handed or due to failure in broad-band services or system failure. Inadequate training / knowledge on the products and services including rules and procedures of the grass root level workers meeting the customers directly, acute shortage of delivery staff which are managed by outsiders having no responsibility, lack of soft-skill and realization by the front line workers with the fact that the customer is our boss and boss is always right, traditional mindset of some employees not prepared to accept the change resulting to willful avoidances, absence of proper administrative / financial authority of the Officers/Officials dealing with the matter, absence of administrative interest to promptly respond to the problems faced by the frontline workers and above all shifting of responsibility from operative to administrative and vice versa are also some of the important reasons for providing ineffective after sales service by India Post. There may not be any hesitation to admit that even there are employees working today who don’t know how to handle the computer starting from tracking / uploading an article to opening / composing / sending an e-Mail. Some officers have the mindset that they are there to make others work. The Steno/PA/OA can manage the work. There is no need of learning. Some officials working as front line staff have a mindset that they were neither recruited with any technical qualification nor given proper/adequate training on their job. If the system becomes out of order, such officials sit silent passing information to the higher authority and avoid the customers. Unless reminders are sent, the problems are not brought to the notice of the competent authority. Even if the problems are brought, there will be several queries / correspondences by the authorities in a time killing manner. Most of the time, nobody in the line remains prepared to take the responsibility. Under such circumstances, it is very difficult to face the twin challenges of increasing competition and continuing advances in communication technology and to provide better customer service with wider reach to the Indian populace through more customer interaction channels, growth through new lines of business and IT enablement of business processes and support functions as envisaged in I T Modernization Project, 2012.
Regarding the banking and financial services provided by India Post, it can be said that while India Post is rapidly proceeding towards Core Banking Solution, acute shortage of staff and sudden computerization with mismatch of transferred data in between the HO and its SOs strongly stand in the way of updating the minus balance settlement, settlement of S B objections and up-to-date interest postings etc. and there by leading to unwarranted frauds and inviting public complaints. Let me tell you the case of Kendrapara H O under Cuttack North Division of Odisha Circle. Computerization started in the S Os under Kendrapara HO during April, 2007 with transfer of data from the H O available as on 01.04.2004. The H O is running with 18 hands short ( working strength 20 out of sanctioned strength 38 ) where in the SOSB is being managed by 1 P A out of sanctioned strength 6 and the SBCO is having an untrained P A only out of 6 P A and I Supervisor. Barring a few, the position is almost similar in many HOs of Odisha Circle. When the available staff strength is unable to manage the day to day work, complaints relating to up-to-date interest posting, transfer of both accounts and certificates, settlement of deceased claim cases, issue of duplicate certificates etc. are rolling over for months/years together inviting public resentments.
While talking about the insurance business done by the Department comprising PLI and RPLI, I have the bitter experience of sharing the helplessness of one of our sales forces who could be able to procure 12 PLI proposals from a particular institution out of which 4 proposals were found with wrong data-feeding with regard to date of birth, date of entry, name of the proposer and nominee. When he contacted the DDM (PLI), the latter expressed his helplessness for instant correction since there was no access to the particular package. After running for months together, the same could be set right from PLI Directorate which discouraged the staff of that particular institution to opt for PLI anymore. However, now the authority for correction has been transferred to Circle Office. But when the data feeding of RPLI proposals are being done at Divisional level, no authority has been given to the SPOs/SSPOs for any kind of correction in case of wrong data feeding except the present address field out of as many as 66 fields. The poor GDS employees forced to procure RPLI business are seen running from Inspector/SPOs/SSPOs to DDM(PLI) for necessary correction and nobody is seen to concentrate on such issues and the issues are rolling over years together which is certainly unfortunate. Further, though the computer generated date of acceptance remains same as the date of proposal, date of declaration, date of initial deposit of the first premium in the post office and the date of medical verification of PLI policies procured by the sales forces, it is seen corrected manually in both the Acceptance Letter and Policy Bond when it is signed by the competent authority inviting several doubts in the mind of the insurants. Due to delayed acceptance, it is also noticed that the SPMs/Postmasters are instructed to collect higher premium if the date of birth of the proposer is changed in between the date of collection / deposit of first premium and date of acceptance by the competent authority. Due to no fault of the proposers and the Departmental employees collecting the proposals such unwarranted situations are created when the proposers do not hesitate to charge the departmental employee for misguidance during canvassing / motivating to sell a policy. The toll free number is of no use. The SMS sent earlier has been stopped. Frequent PLI / RPLI melas are organized and thousands of proposals are collected. But to the utter dissatisfaction of the proposers, Acceptance Letters, Policy Bonds and PRBs are not sent for months together. Contradictorily, instructions have been issued to all post offices not to accept the 2nd and subsequent premia at PO counter / by BPM unless the policy is accepted by Divisional Heads. The POLI rules in substitution of earlier POIF rules are not interpreted in favour of the proposers/insurants. In such cases, when the insurants attend the Post Office for depositing the 2nd / subsequent premia, avoidance to accept the same is putting both the insurants and Post Office into an embarrassing situation since late acceptance leads to payment of default fine by the insurants for no fault of their own which is obvious to invite legal complicacies and ineffective relationship in between the customers and the Department and thereby may discourage the public to go for subsequent policies. These are some of the very common phenomena witnessed in Odisha Circle. Other Circles might be facing similar problems also.
The list of such ineffectiveness may be longer. We have neither been able to provide separate counters for senior citizens and ladies nor disabled-friendly post offices so far. Issuing instructions only to the grass root level officials is not sufficient. Acute shortage of staff, space and accessories are to be taken into consideration for which cent percent administrative interest is required. Propagating we are the largest and oldest will not make any difference provided the age-old tradition of faith of the common man is not retained with prompt, effective and efficient services significantly enhancing the value of the products to all its users. In the days of liberalization, privatization and globalization, the whole landscape has been converted in to a Darwinian world. Everywhere there is struggle for existence and survival of the fittest is the only result. Thus for existence, satisfying the customer is one of the basic objectives of the organization, as it is often said that customer is boss and boss is always right. Making and retaining valuable relationship with customer using every aspect of taking, retaining and enhancing is known as customer relationship management through which organizations can achieve their objective of retaining and satisfying customers. After sales service is an emerging concept in the business community. Organizations have to provide better after sale services to retain and satisfy its customers.
. The vision of Strategic Plan of India Post is that its products and services will be the customer’s first choice and the goal under business objectives of Corporate Plan of India Post is to be a self sustaining organization by the year 2013-14. In this context, it is important that the after-sales activities demanding more tailored services have to acquire a critical role as a means to satisfy and retain customers especially in a time when India Post is experiencing increased pressure to downsize operations and to become more highly specialized in its core competencies. Front line employees play an extra ordinary role in service value chain having the scope for physical and direct interaction with the customers and thus, they have to deliver high satisfaction to them. However, the capabilities of these front-line workers to satisfy customers mainly depend on the environment the organization provides to these employees. Strategic human resource practices that create productivity at work environment are directly related with organizational outcomes i.e. efficiency, quality service and satisfaction of customer. Thus, India Post needs to extend its “Look & Feel Good” concept beyond Project Arrow post offices to improve relations with customers providing not only high technical service quality but also for extra-quality customer service through properly managed feedback conducting a research study to find out what are the factors or characteristics that might influence customer satisfaction during the services provided after the sale. More importantly, proper strategy for delivery of service towards the customer enhances the customer satisfaction and loyalty towards the product. Delivery of the product characterized by two dimensions i.e. speed and reliability ensures that right product at right time from right source is delivered to the right person at right price on right destination. The Mail Network Optimization Project of India Post needs to be undertaken with every positivity.
As a result of increased global competition and commoditization of primary products, the after-sales business has gained strategic importance now a day for numerous organizations across the globe. Accordingly, the perception of after-sales services has changed over the past few decades from the traditional perspective towards a potential source of competitive advantage and business opportunity. India Post can’t stay away from this reality. Formation of policies and programmes will not solve anything unless implemented in letter and spirit. This being the position, the staff side and official side including all stakeholders should work in tandem to render better customer services so that the vision, goals and objectives of the Strategic Plan, Corporate Plan and IT Modernization Project of India Post can be achieved.
Source : SAPOST