The week that went by was a reminder…life is what happens when I am busy making other plans. As I think of the lessons learnt (which usually become the topic of my column) the learnings are too personal and maybe too raw for me to process and share. My Achilles heel continues to be the inability to embrace emotions. I find it so much easier to block feelings, especially ones like grief over the loss of a loved one (ineffective I know as they always find a way out). My default mode is to block the painful emotions instead of allowing myself to experience them.
The tale of two rubber bands is an easier one to tell instead. In the midst of loss, in the most unexpected place, I found a moment that made me feel the world is a good place. This is the gift of goodness that I received in Kolkata. The city of joy which had brought me into her arms for a sorrowful occasion, showed me in so many ways that people care.
I had gone to a neighbourhood shop with my wife to pick up some clothes. It was a shop within a shop and the array of snack packets that adorned the entrance of the general provision store caught my attention. While my wife was busy selecting clothes, I sneaked back into the first shop and survey the mouth-watering selection. There is one particular variety of a puffed rice snack, with some nuts and bhujia that I love. I could not find it. In my broken Bengali I somehow managed to explain what I wanted to the elderly gentleman who was the shopkeeper. They come in 10 rupee packs, just right for a quick nibble, but he was apologetic that he did not have those. After rummaging below the counter, he produced two XL-size packets of the mouth-watering munchies that I was after. What joy, I was so excited, that I bought both.
After paying for it, I decided to open one in the store and reward my taste buds. Noticing me struggling with tearing open the packet he motioned for me to hand it over to him. With a pair of scissors, he neatly cut one corner off. After about two minutes of watching me enjoy my snack, he reached behind the counter again and gave me two rubber bands. One to seal this half-eaten packet and keep it for another time and the other for the second packet that I had bought. This to me is customer delight. Instead of the often experienced post-purchase dissonance that sets, this shopkeeper’s care and follow-through were superb. He did not lose interest the minute the sale was made and payment was received. He kept engaged, helped me open the pack and also offered me a solution I did not know I needed. He anticipated the problem of me not being able to finish the large packet and gave me not just one, but two rubber bands.
I received a master class in customer satisfaction. What delivers customer delight? What do clients want at the end of the day? A service provider that goes that extra mile to support them. A service provider that stays attentive and engaged even after the sale is concluded, because the relationship has just begun. A service provider that offers proactive solutions. A service provider that supports the client, anticipates future requirements, and does all of this with a smile. The next time I visit, this little neighbourhood shop will get my business. While that packet may be available in many places, the care the shopkeeper offers is not so easy to find.
One lesson digested, but the other still seems to be a work in progress. Maybe I needed to learn that celebrating life is what the passing on of a loved one is about. Remembering all the happy memories. And allowing the tears to flow when they come instead of blocking them. Being vulnerable takes courage and is true strength.
Like a rubber band, I must learn to allow myself to stretch into uncomfortable new positions and then settle back into the familiar shape that I am used to. Opening up to allow in emotions and then reverting to shape, is a super useful capability. Got to be careful not to push the edges too soon or too far, else like the rubber band that is stretched beyond its limits, it sometimes snaps.
I realise that despite trying my best to stay away from the real reason for my visit, even in my tale of two rubber bands, the emotions got entangled and found a way through. I am reminded of a piece I wrote a while ago about the five emotions (Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust) and how one must be open to letting all of them in. They come when you need them and stay a while like any good friend does. Then when it’s time and their job is done, they leave.
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