Friday, May 8, 2009

Odyssey Kolkata Disappoints

It’s rare to find a really good bookstore chain in the cities these days. Most large chains, like Crossword for example, have become “populist”. They stock very limited kinds of books, and titles, mainly sticking to the popular and chart topping books only. Anyone looking for anything out of the ordinary, or a little offbeat, is likely to be sorely disappointed at these stores. The south Indian bookstore chains on the other hand have a much better and wider selection. As a result, south Indian chains like Walden, Higgin Bothams, Landmark and Odyssey are a true haven for bibliophiles. Landmark and Odyssey are the only ones among these chains that have made the effort to go truly national. With stores in most of the big cities, these two chains bring new hope to the booklover.

No longer will the bibliophile be forced to read only the popular stuff pushed at them by callous stores like Crossword. One can choose to buy books one likes, rather than be forced to buy the books the store forces you to. So when these stores arrived at Kolkata, this city of book lovers sat up and took notice! Glad to have got new book venues, apart from College Street, kolkata welcomed the stores with open arms, and wallets! However, some recent incidents have shaken my faith in Odyssey Kolkata at least.

It seems that Odyssey Kolkata is but a stepchild of the larger all India Odyssey chain, and the same standards of business practice and customer service do not apply at the Prince Anwar Shah Road store that apply to the other stores all over India. Recently, I, a regular customer of Odyssey all over India, had a very bad experience at Odyssey Kolkata. The incident shows the appalling state of customer service at the outlet, and makes it clear that this store at least has not heard of the idea of earning goodwill. It is an internationally accepted rule of business that if customers are happy with you they keep coming back. If you don’t treat customers well, no matter how great you are, they won’t come back. However, this store does not seem to have heard of the concept.

When I, on one of my many trips to Kolkata, arrived at the store recently, in the horrible summer heat, at around two pm on a weekday, and got out of the cab, I realized I didn’t have enough change to pay the cab. Well, not a problem, I had a large shopping list of books and music to pick up from odyssey, surely as a regular customer they would be happy to give me the requisite change! Well, apparently not! I walked into the store, after checking in my bags and such at the bags counter outside, and walked to the cash counter to ask for two 50 rupee notes instead of the hundred I had. The sullen store employee at the cash counter told me they didn’t have any change.

Huge store, three floors, hundreds of thousands of rupees turnover a day, and they don’t have two fifties?!! Sounded and looked like they didn’t want to “give away” change. A lot of Indian stores have this mentality, and don’t give you change unless you buy something from them first. Well, I said, could they give me one fifty then? Since I was going to be buying quite a lot of stuff there anyway, surely they could adjust the rest along with the bill. I was even willing to give them the hundred, and take only a fifty, for now. They still refused, claiming that they didn’t have any change in the till, because the change GUY didn’t come in the morning. When I pointed out that it was after two pm, all I got in return were blank stares. Then I said does an employee on this floor, one of the twenty I could see there, have two fifties? Or even one? They stared at me as if I had demanded that they all dance the hula in the nude.

By this time, the cab meter had gone up at least another twenty rupees, and I had seen that these people were just rude, so I turned around, got my bags, and left. Without buying a single thing! This was an unprecedented and totally unexpected incident. I had never faced anything like it when I shopped at Odyssey stores in Hyderabad, Bangalore and Mumbai.

Now this is where the stupidity of the employees loses business for the store. This particular customer is obviously never going to go back to the store. Neither are my family members. Plus, I am going to grab every chance to badmouth the store to my friends and acquaintances. On the contrary, if I had been given a fifty, with a smile, which would have been repaid half an hour later anyway, I would have a feel-good association with the store, keeping my thousands of rupees a month budget for books and music all to them!! Prime example of stupid sales behaviour, and very disappointing in a store which has set benchmarks in customer service and satisfaction around India!

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