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Violent customers add to the burden of ecomm cos and their staff, Retail News, ET Retail

Violent customers add to the burden of ecomm cos and their staff BENGALURU: Sometime last year, when a middle-aged man in Delhi decided he didn’t want to pay for the medicines he had ordered online, he pulled a pistol on the delivery executive to communicate his decision. The frazzled executive retreated and reported the incident to his operations team, which confronted the customer’s family and resolved it.

While that might seem like an extreme, one-off incident, it highlights how the tide has turned for India’s teeming army of delivery personnel, cab drivers and others doing blue-collar work for internet giants. From being painted as aggressors, field workers seem to be facing increasing safety risk from belligerent customers.

Last week, a woman in Delhi stabbed the executive delivering the smartphone she had ordered on Flipkart because it reached her late. In another recent incident, an Ola driver was found allegedly murdered by a group of passengers.

To be sure, most confrontations between delivery executives or cab drivers and customers are verbal and no side can be said to be less guilty than the other with any degree of certainty. But for personnel handling 40-45 deliveries daily spanning 7-8 hours, that alone can result in a serious spike in stress levels, affecting work-efficiency. The more serious incidents occur, maybe, once every 1 million shipments, say some analysts, which would translate to about one such incident every day.
Violent customers add to the burden of ecomm cos and their staff “In Delhi last year, a customer who was not happy with the product wanted an instant refund and held our delivery boy hostage for 3-4 hours,” recalled an executive with a logistics company that handles ecommerce deliveries. “We had no choice but to process the refund and the ecommerce company compensated us later.”

More than 3,50,000 delivery personnel are estimated to be working for etailers such as Flipkart, Amazon and BigBasket, either directly or through external logistics firms, according to experts. Job growth in the sector is projected to top 18% over the next year. As for the ride-hailing platforms, more than 1 million drivers are estimated to be registered with Ola and Uber.

While in most instances, customer service teams step in to resolve issues, companies sometimes resort to a last measure of blacklisting customers or even entire apartment complexes in cases of repeated instances of extreme harassment.

“If a customer’s conduct is to harm the executives physically or even use abusive language, we go as per the law and inform the legal authorities,” said a spokesperson for Flipkart, which directly employs 12,000 delivery personnel. “The delivery workforce informs the respective hub and depending on the gravity of the situation, the team gets into action.” An Amazon spokesperson said the company has a “dedicated helpline number for delivery associates for any help or support while doing deliveries.”

HR consultants said ecommerce companies are taking precautionary measures. “Harassment is anticipated by the companies, which is why the delivery executives are trained and advised accordingly,” said Rituparna Chakraborty, cofounder at staffing company TeamLease. As for Ola and Uber, the companies said they employ various mechanisms to address the safety and other needs of the drivers registered with them.

“Ola offers round-the-clock support and assistance to driver partners with a 24×7 driver-support center. When a driver partner contacts the support helpline, their concerns and requests are instantaneously addressed,” said a company spokesperson.

A spokesperson for Uber said the platform “is deeply committed to the safety of drivers on the app. Our driver app offers many of the same transparent and accountable features like that on a rider app.”

Some drivers, however, said they prefer to deal with u nruly customers by themselves than seek assistance from the cab aggregators’ helplines. “There are times when we have drunk or rude customers and we just deal with it because blacklisting commuters doesn’t really change anything,” said Sanjay Shah, a driver in Bengaluru registered with both Ola and Uber. “But in extreme cases, where a driver is killed or hurt, we expect the company to provide monetary and medical benefits.”

The ecommerce industry lures freelance blue-collar workers by having them believe they would be micro entrepreneurs or at least their own bosses. Work conditions in the gig economy, however, border on the exploitative. Blue-collar workers attached to ecommerce platforms usually end up slogging more than 12 hours a day to make ends meet. They are not unionised and do not get paid leave or sick leave, steady incomes, or social security in the form of pensions. HR consultants say benefits like accident insurance and night-shift allowance are available only to directly employed delivery staff and not to outsourced partner employees. “Rather than looking at the service workforce as transient, low-paid, it should be looked at as an important employmentcreation mechanism and fulfillment of the social need. There should be systems for their growth and career,” said Biju Varkkey, faculty of human resource management at the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad.

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