Sunday, April 30, 2017

Don't Ask That Question, Again

The young bank manager was greatly influenced by his previous branch manager, who was his mentor. He had learnt from him about the theory of Hunting and Farming as tools for business development. He believed that building long term relationships was the key for his success as a branch manager. He had seen his mentor giving top priority for mixing with and talking to customers. He would make frequent rounds of the banking hall and satisfy himself that all the customers are being attended to promptly by his staff. He would keep aside all internal work and issues whenever he saw a customer or prospect walking into his branch. He would exchange pleasantries with them and enquire about the purpose of their visit to the branch. There would be some small talk about the happenings around, on some thing that would be of interest to the customer. The topic would differ with the age, gender and background of the customer. It was sports with some, literature with some others and politics with someone else. Music and price rise would also figure with some oneelse. If the customer appeared to have some extra time, he would invite him or her for a cup of tea in his cabin. His shrewd brain was always analyzing what the customer said and attempted to spot some business opportunity all the time.

The branch was located in an upcoming extension of the city and there were some educational institutions around. Many teachers and non-teaching staff had their accounts with the branch. Branch manager was particularly interested in this segment of customers as a good share of his branch's business came from these people. Their requirements were limited and often uncomplicated. They would recognize good service quickly and were also sensitive to delays and uncourteous behavior. Staff members were aware of this and attended to them promptly and efficiently.

The two lady teachers of a nearby school would always come to the branch together. It was so even if only one of them had some work at the bank. The other would just provide company to the one with some requirement. Their accounts were well maintained and transactions were also simple. Branch manager would greet them during their visits and they would reciprocate the gesture. 

One day both the teachers walked into the branch manager's cabin and took their seats before him. The elderly teacher took out two checks from her purse and handed them over to the branch manager. They were for substantial amounts and she told him that they were the fruits of her long service at the school, being retirement benefits. She wanted to deposit them in her account and desired to invest a part of them in fixed deposits in the branch. She said she would decide about investing the other part later on. Branch manager called out the dealing staff member and gave appropriate instructions. Tea was ordered and the teacher duo waited for preparation and handing over of the fixed deposit receipts. 

The branch manager had to keep them engaged during this period. "What are your children doing?" he asked. She replied that the elder one, a daughter, was working in a private company. The younger, a son, was pursuing his post graduation. "What is your husband doing?" was the next question that was asked as tea was brought in and placed before them.

The teacher got up from her chair abruptly and told him in a stern voice, "Don't ask that question, again". As she was walking out of the cabin, manager requested her to have tea and wait for the fixed deposit receipts. "I do not want tea and I will collect the fixed deposits later", she said and walked out of the cabin. The other teacher also followed her dutifully.

The manager was perplexed with the happenings and tried to gather his thoughts. The assistant manager who saw this from outside the manager's cabin was also flabbergast. There was nothing wrong with the question. It was a normal and usual question that is asked to many around us. There was no need for such response, he thought. What should be done next, he wondered. He decided to keep quiet for the time being.

The other teacher came to the branch alone after a couple of days. Manager tried to raise the issue with her. "It is not proper for me to say anything on this. She is not coming to the school as she has retired. She has also not spoken to me since. She may come to you to collect the fixed deposit receipts. Let us see", she said and left after her work was done.

The elderly teacher came to the branch after a few days. She seated herself before the manager. Manager was wondering how he should start the conversation. Before he could say something she herself started talking. "I am sorry about my behavior during my last visit. Your question is something that is often asked to me by many others. Unfortunately, that is one question I don't want to be asked. That is one question for which I have no answer", she said. The manager waited for a moment thinking as to what he should say. "I was young and beautiful and he was very handsome. He was a physical trainer in the same school. We fell in love and got married. We lived for five years together and they were the best days of my life. The daughter and son were born in that period and ours was a model family. But misfortune struck me suddenly. He left with his athletics team for participating in an event in a nearby city. He did not return from there. What happened to him is not known. All efforts were made to trace him. Nothing succeeded. Police closed the missing person case after sometime. I do not know whether he is alive or not. I have been living with this question since then. When you asked me that question, it touched a raw nerve in me and I walked off in a huff", she said and wiped the tears in her eye with her kerchief. 

She collected her deposit receipts and left. Her subsequent visits were rare, but as usual. 

There could be such instances when a seemingly innocuous question may bring a surprise response. But these are indeed rare and should not put us off. Talking to customers and looking for business opportunities should continue as always. Such instances provide an insight into the vagaries of life and its many dimensions. They help us to understand human nature and appreciate the joys and sufferings of people around us.


  1. Our association with any body should be in limited manner .like business or personal.When we try to cross Rekga it likely causesme embrassment.A matured person will have self thumb rule in these matters.a lot to learn from this episode.

  2. Good article on how to talk to a Customer.
    Thanks sir for my such inspiring articles.
    Thanks and regards.

  3. Three lessons in customer service -
    a. Give personal attention, even if small or brief
    b. Measure what you speak, lest it may be offensive (although unintended)
    c. Even if it backfires, take it in your stride and look forward.

    Nice article.

  4. We should restrict ourselves in asking personal matters as everybody do not carry a very happy background. I concur with the views of Mr.Dinesh.

  5. There is nothing wrong in asking the people about their personal matters. In big branches and city branches, there is no time or chance to become personal. Only thing, how the people take it?
    The moral of the story is to ask right questions to right people at the right time.

  6. In olden days these type of questions didn't matter , nothing was considered as very personal but nowadays we are becoming very sensitive to these kind of questions, we have to be very careful . It appears very funny as ,people are becoming too baring in the outward appearance but very touchy to enquiries. Your analysis is as usual very good.

  7. Sir, first and foremost, fantastic narration !

    Every person is unique and different and however high one's EQ may be , we have to take such 'surprise reaction' in our stride . In fact life is full of surprises and an occassional surprise reaction from one customer need not and should not put us off. We have to maintain personal relationship . Concern, care and good listening bring about a personal affiliation and loyalty.

  8. I totally agree with Mr.Vasudevan. It all depends on as to the time and circumstances under which these personal questions are raised. Showing your concern and some times extending a helping hand will result in long term business relationship with customers whose potential and also their family circle and friends can be gauged. A very good article.


  9. good narrative. This happens sometimes. I do not find anything wrong in the Branch Manager's questioning; anyone could have faced similar situation. It is only how you retrieve from an embarassing situation like this that matters. I know of a female colleague of mine who also had a similar misfortune in her life. Her husband boarded a train to Delhi from Bangalore (about 25 years or so back and that was the last thing known about him!! Whenever someone posed a similar question to her she would break-down; however, she held herself and did not lose temper. This piece brought back memories of that incident. very pathetic story

  10. Excellent sharing of experience. Thank you sir.

    It almost makes us reminiscent of our active days of banking. As a normal course of dialogue I used to ask our new customers........' many children you have'?. On many occasions I have felt embarrassed when reply used to be in the negative. But I was lucky as my customers used to take such questions in their stride and used to move on.

  11. Very interesting,well narrated. Good comments also.

  12. Some times it so happens that some customers after sufficient familiarity them selves narrate their personal problems, tragedies, joys, even without a direct enquiry from us. This happened to me several times during my decades long branch experience.