I remember well, when in the late 1980s, ensconced on the St. Augustine Campus as Consultant to the Caribbean Agriculture Research and Development Institute (CARDI), of Trinidad and Tobago, the branch of the bank situated there, apart from being open during hours amenable to the schedule of the University students and lecturers, arranged for special attention to be given to senior citizens, amongst the other customers.
Following the numbering system to which there were clear directions, there was also special seating accommodation, along which each prospective customer moved until accessing a specially appointed attendant.
But even if in such comfortable circumstances one had to wait longer than expected, there was the thoughtful availability of coffee to soothe anxiety.
The comparable experience in Kingston, Jamaica, was even more elaborate – for a larger population of course; with the bank’s senior customers being provided every kind of business service required. And in addition to the well organised hospitality, there was the offer to each of a choice of free tickets to attend current theatre performances.
One does not immediately recall experiences of a similar level of banking hospitality in our hometown. Indeed, in more recent years the technology about which the system boasts has, more rapidly than gradually, over-ridden the adult humanity with which earlier generations used to be treated.
Now, irrespective of age or generation, one is identified as just a ‘customer’ – in fundamental disacknowledgement of the individual persona; so that somewhat self-consciously there is a hesitant, deferential reservation displayed on the older side of the counter – whether a debit or credit transaction, it is a deficit relationship nonetheless.
For the young, inexperienced recruits, of which incidentally there is an understandably high turnover, having been inducted primarily into the technology’s ‘artificial intelligence’, concentrate more attention to an automatic process of institutional alignment, than on analysis of the individual’s problem, or the latter’s perception of one.
But who could have predicted that the foregoing uniformity, would be but precursor to today’s pandemic developments:
Business hours, limited as they were, have been further curtailed
Physical connection has been boastfully transitioned to ‘Online’ communication, regardless of the social and/or mental ingenuousness of a variety of customers
Meanwhile many customers, employees of other organisations, rue the value of lost productive time from their own workstations, and of the cumulative effect on the productivity of their respective institutions. The self-employed are perhaps even more disadvantaged.
Little or no allowance is made for parents disconnected from children, now domesticated from their schools, nor for the urgency of their being reconnected.
Critically, there is little or no sign of leadership ‘walking the floor’ to assess the related inconveniences of the ‘virtual lockout’, and to provide considerate options for assuaging the dislocations of the so-called ‘customer service’, or, for that matter, evaluating how substantive are the deliverables from such a service in these pandemic times.
There is little or no anticipation for ‘Dear Customer’ to register, and have answered, the complaint of having to abandon, after three consecutive days, a queue so publicly constipated.
Fortunately for all the parties there has been minimal inclement weather, from which anyhow no retreat has been catered.
However, this is not to say that inclement situations do not occur ‘Online’, but may have to be explained to needy customers while, they are actually standing ‘In Line’.
Why is it that, looking through their masks, the evidence appears to suggest that the management system may just be ‘Off Line’ – ignoring the queues whose ‘commercial distancing’ may not be compliant with accepted ‘social distancing’?
How next will we be queued when the climate changes?