I was just 19 then. It was my first job.
A fortune 500 company. A new city. A magnificent office building. Elite corporate people. US Clients. American accent.
“Being raised in a middle class south Indian family, how can I even sniff success in this set-up?” was my first thought when I stepped into Hi-tech city the first day.
But I did, in a few days!
Because I was and I am an Indian!
And I thought how an Indian would think!
I belong to a simple family who speak mother tongue at home. I don’t remember a day when we conversed in English at home. I wasn’t an out-going kind of a person. I had my shell and I was comfortable within it. I wasn’t either open enough to try western clothes. I was in fact too shy to even inquire an address to a passer-by. That’s how I was during my childhood.
By the time I completed my bachelor’s degree, I was no different. I was comfortable with a small set of friends. I wouldn’t be at ease with an extended group. My English language was just decent then but not fluent enough to converse with an American. However, on the day of the campus interview, the recruiter was pleased with my performance (for whatsoever reason) and I received my letter of intent in a few minutes.
In a few months, while I was traveling in a second class train to Hyderabad, I least expected the upper-class ambiance that was awaiting me at my new work place. Tall, glass buildings furnished with classy interiors and grand lighting didn’t seem attractive to me. I wanted to run back home. For the girl I was, it was difficult to face this sort of a new change in life. Most of my co-trainees too seemed to be of an elect group. If you can understand what I mean, all posh, all hi-fi, all english-english!
I was to handle inbound calls for a US-based client. At the end of a month’s training, I hit the floor. Honestly, the training did not make me confident, (or perhaps, I didn’t learn to become confident) in either taking calls or in getting along with my corporate surrounding. On my first day on the job, I had no hope that I would survive in it for long. Yet, I stuck to it because I was too nervous to speak to someone about quitting. Sometimes, an irate customer would yell through my headphones, “Can I speak to your manager?” And my supervisor would continue the call while I would barge into his call like a scared crow. Struggling amidst understanding the American accent, handling impatient customers, learning finance (having come from a biology background) and trying to act normal in front of my peer group in spite of my secret struggles, my initial days were an everyday battle. In the meanwhile, I got to attend monthly award ceremonies for best call-takers, for receiving best compliments from customers etc. ‘Ha! I can no way get near to such awards’ was what I assumed then.
And then dawned that one day!
After a few calls of the usual struggling, I received a call from an elderly woman. She had been charged a late fee on her credit card and she was sad about it. I promised her that I would have a look at her credit history and do my best. During the course of the call, she began to narrate her personal situation where she felt bereaved by her six children who were far away, busy with their lives and that none cared about her.
Fortunately, while flipping through her account, I noticed that it was her birthday. I wished her a wonderful birthday, appreciated her for having spent a life raising six children and consoled her that her children might seem to be busy now but for sure will come back to her soon. It wasn’t in her memory that it was her birthday that day and she felt touched by my gesture. She asked me, “Can I speak to your manager?” My manager barged in. In tears, she explained to my manager how depressed she felt when she had dialed the number and how relieving she feels now after having listened to a few kind and caring words and for having been reminded of her own birthday. I read the message on the screen as my manager typed it through the call. And there I was on the stage the following award ceremony for receiving the best customer compliment of the month! It sure wasn’t a great success but was the very first in my life!
So, what’s so Indian in what I did?
I don’t intend to categorize a culture based on a few people. Likewise, I don’t intend to make a statement that American children do not care for their parents after they grow up. I also agree that not all Indian children do. As a matter of fact, I know of American families who are close-knit, loving and caring for each other as much as Indian families I’ve come across. So, my point is not that the old American lady was bereaved by her children whereas as an Indian, I cared for her. Definitely not!
From what I have observed of cultures in the few years I’ve lived, with the few people I’ve met and in the few places I’ve traveled to, Indians think to exceed expectations.
Beyond meeting expectations, Indians tend to act out of goodwill and sincerity to exceed expectations. What would have been expected of me in the incident narrated above is to waive off the late charge and end the call. But when I listened to the melancholy of the unknown stranger, as an Indian, I exceeded the expectation in order to make the customer feel cared for, at the end of the call. This could be just a small example of how Indians exceed expectations.
The thought of exceeding expectations is rooted in Indian culture. The then rulers of India built magnificent monuments across the country in spite of the huge time and effort it required. Most Indian parents co-sleep with their kids in spite of the loss of privacy and discomfort it might cause so as to make their children’s growing up years feel secured and bonded. Indian grandparents almost do a second round of parenting by raising their grandchildren in spite of their old age difficulties. Many Indian professionals work after office hours and during weekends in order to accommodate the work demands. And in yet many ways in our everyday lives, we exceed expectations because we think the Indian way!
Yes, India’s global influence is growing and Lufthansa is celebrating it. Watch Lufthansa’s latest Television commercial for its campaign MoreIndianThanYouThink.