An organisation, public or private, is as good in the public eye as the effectiveness of its delivery of service. Financial input, physical infrastructure and human resource fail to achieve the desired outcome if this effectiveness is not among the major goals of the organisation. Such goal setting goes beyond the efficient supply of the service and profit maximisation. Customer care and facilitation build reputation and trust, which contribute to the acquisition of a competitive edge. A common perception is that the private sector delivers better than the public sector. Since my retirement from the government in 2007, I have made it a point to personally go to every window of service delivery. Perhaps, with limited ‘connections’, having returned from Islamabad to Lahore after about three decades, I had no choice. I have stood in long queues in scorching heat at public sector outlets and I have sat on comfortable sofas in air-conditioned private sector outlets. In general, my experience is mixed and, at certain places, favourable to the public sector.
The delivery of pension is what matters most to a retired person. A poorly staffed and underprovided branch of the National Bank on Davis Road does a fairly good job of it. Private banks have been reluctant to take up this thankless undertaking. Bank Alfalah took a week to change the title of an account. It also made the inexplicable mistake of reversing my entire deposit to an ex-employer. Pensioners and other small savers frequent National Savings Centres to make some additional income. A modest and overcrowded Centre on Abbot Road has not yet disappointed me in its dealings. OCS, a courier service, runs a public-private partnership with the Higher Education Commission for delivering verified degrees. It demanded more paper work and took far longer than the Post Office would have required just to refund Rs800. Information on what needed to be done was also provided piecemeal rather than all at once and in advance. When visiting your house to deliver a service, the PTCL employees still expect to be paid for their transport, charge more than the market for any wires or accessories and ask you to provide screwdrivers, etc. There is no advance warning for the kind of reception they should be provided. Once they leave, the call centre chases you ad nauseam to wrench out of you a certificate of satisfaction. The experience with LESCO and SNGPL is much better. Response time for calls is tolerable and the waiting time for the workers to arrive is less than you anticipate. The workers also seem to know what they are doing.
My worst experience has been with Mobilink. While visiting Spain on our return from Cambridge, my wife and I were robbed of all our belongings in Barcelona, including my cell phone. A disconnection request was emailed the same day. The company failed to act in time and the robber was able to make calls worth a lakh rupees in a matter of two days. Repeated requests to redress the injustice have gone unheeded. Instead, I have been threatened with legal action if I do not pay for the calls not made by me. The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority and the Punjab Consumer Council, the public sector regulatory authorities, have not responded to my emails either.
The above are the personal experiences of an individual, not a representative and large enough sample required for a systematic study to draw somewhat reliable conclusions about who cares more for the customer. To an ordinary citizen, however, what counts is what (s)he experiences, not what researchers conclude long after the harm has been done.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 13th, 2012.