Scene: an outlet of a recently opened coffee chain in a plush new Noida mall. A cosy place, not more than 20x20 ft, with seven tables (only two of them occupied), all in full view of the counter. Behind the counter stand 5-6 people, which means there are more employees than customers at present, and everyone can clearly see everyone else. The staff seems indolent, uninterested, and resentful of their supervisor – an intense young man with a very short fuse, who frequently swears and sarcastically says things like, “MAY I KNOW what you are doing please?!!”. (No doubt he also has half an MBA degree and a perfunctory acquaintance with business management textbooks.) Abhilasha and I walk in, hoping for a quick coffee and sandwich before resuming our mall-tour.
At the counter
Jai: One cappuccino and a toasted cheese sandwich please.
(Short-fuse supervisor looks flintily at me through his spectacles, a psychotic love-child of Lord Emsworth’s secretary Rupert Baxter and Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle)
J: Um, are you taking the order?
SFS: One moment please, sir! (Barks at subordinates, mutters under his breath. They look at him with sullen resentment. He stares back at them in a fixed way, like Robert De Niro about to go at a TV set with a baseball bat, then redirects his attention at me) Yes, okay, please be seated.
J: And can we get some water please?
SFS: Okay, okay, okay, okay, I’ll send it across.
Minutes pass and there's no water in sight. The wife and I are making gagging sounds, like slaves working on the Pyramids. I approach the counter and ask SFS if there’s a drinking fountain nearby.
SFS (nostrils flaring magnificently) You mean they STILL haven’t given you water?! (Screams instructions at minions, spraying spittle all over the counter)
A few seconds later a sullen young employee approaches our table, bangs down a large jug of water with things floating on the surface, glares at us and leaves. Several more minutes pass and throughout this time we are in full view of the employees; they can clearly see that we’re waiting for our order, yet no one seems desirous of making cappuccino.
Abhilasha: Most of them aren’t even doing anything, just staring.
J: Ooh look, that one is sniffing at the coffee vociferously before serving it at that table – maybe they give out a free sample of nose-hair with each mug.
I approach the counter meekly, asking for food and drink.
SFS (eyes bulging, looking like he’s going to have a heart attack) Sir, what was your order again?
I remind him. He hollers at his staff who look back at him, contemptuously amused; stray words like “valued customer” and “respect” can be heard in the tirade, and SFS now resembles the Vodafone dog.
SFS (forcing a smile): Sir, please be seated, I will personally hand-deliver your order.
Which he does, five minutes later, along with an additional cup of cappuccino (“our compliments, sir, sorry for the delay”). He also forces two members of our staff to apologise to us by sticking his fingers in the backs of their necks.
Abhilasha: Aren’t you having your coffee?
J: No, they almost certainly spat in it. I would have.
Welcome to Customer Service (and Staff Management) 2007.
P.S. No, I'm not averse to naming names: it was Costa Coffee at the First India Place mall. But we went there once more and things had slightly improved. Less spittle on the counter this time.