Friday, October 27, 2006

Personal Services

When our TV was delivered the guy who tuned it in - presumably part of the electronics chain we bought it from - gave us his business card in case we had any problems. It had his picture on it even if it seemed to more favourably portray him some years previously. Since then I've noticed these photo business cards attached to all manner of items in Korean homes - there's a real sense of personal contact here which is completely lacking in the UK. The idea of leaving such cards back home would be laughable because companies go to some length to be faceless corporations even while paradoxically trying to be more 'friendly', and to be fair, there is a matter of employees' personal privacy to consider. In any case, it wouldn't work back home because most people change jobs so often the idea that your fridge-freezer installer might be able to help you after a couple of years is unthinkable.

While the photo business cards are one thing, the 'extra mile' award has to go to the branch of Kookmin Bank where my girlfriend applied for a credit card. Having sent several text messages to advise her on the progress of the card, they finally phoned to say it was ready and they could bring it over this afternoon if it was convenient. You read that right - they could bring it over. And a guy from the bank did. Barclays is never, ever, going to do this.

There is a downside. A bank employee made a mistake in not imposing a small charge on my girlfriend's account for her credit card, the employee will have to pay it out of her wages, and there was nothing my girlfriend could do to redress the problem. Jobs here must be more stressful for this reason alone if this is a common practice here.

I can't help thinking that by British standards most shops and offices here are absurdly overstaffed, which probably affords them the luxury of personal service which we don't have in the UK. For example, in a local branch of Top-Mart which looked about 20m square I counted 18 staff that I could see at the checkouts and in the isles. That's easily over double the amount I would have counted in a Kwik-Save back home. One wonders whether the Korean market will eventually buckle under the economic pressure (and Western corporate disease) of endless efficiency drives, which coupled with a relaxing of concepts of lifetime employment could cause a real social shock here.

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