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July 9, 2020

Suffering services

Business

July 9, 2020

LAHORE: The practice of social distancing has highlighted the inefficiencies of our services sector. People now have to spend twice to thrice as much time to obtain any service they used to get urgently before COVID-19 restrictions.

The top service that is creating problem for thousands of consumers is the practice of social distancing at the bank branches. A limited number of clients are allowed to enter the bank branch to maintain social distance inside. In some branches, where space is available, some banks have placed chairs under a shade three to four feet apart, where the clients can wait till their turn comes. People form a queue in front of the branch entrance without observing social distance norms and they go in when the earlier client comes outside.

The services at almost all the branches are pathetic. One has to waste at least an hour even to deposit a cheque that used to take a few minutes before the pandemic. There is no planning to bifurcate the clients according to the service they require.

Before this crisis people used to go into any branch and get their ticket from the machine placed at the side of the entrance. Each ticket number was announced and displayed at the counters in the bank. The client after announcement of his/her number could go to that counter and get his/her issue resolved. The client had to identify the service required and the machine used to direct the clients to the required counter. The counters included those meant for cash deposit or withdrawal, for paying utility bills or any other fee. For those desiring to deposit a cheque there was no counter as someone sitting at his table used to serve them.

This system was evolved after careful research and planning. It eliminated rush at most of the banks. This should have continued after COVID-19 by bringing the machine outside the bank door and each client getting his/her ticket number. Then the gatemen or any other system or through an announcement system the clients should have been called in. But instead everyone is made to stand in line which means that most of the counters would remain idle and some would be flooded with clients.

Another problem faced by those sitting outside in humid summer days is that even the rule of ‘first come first serve’ basis is not being followed. The gateman can allow anyone he likes without turn or allow people out of turn upon getting a message from inside the branch. This unfair treatment creates many scenes by those braving heat (the shelter is partial and humid). Had the ticketing system been introduced there would be no chance of someone bypassing the queue.

The present system is highly inefficient as it takes at least 10-15 minutes before the person at the start of the line to enter the bank. It is advisable to open a window outside for receiving utility bills as was done in the past. It is a matter of satisfaction that no one is allowed in the branch without wearing a face mask. At least 30 percent of the banking service is digital (ATM, online banking) that has saved the day for the affluent customers, but the low-end ones are suffering. They have to waste their working hours for minor banking services.

All other services are also suffering from this inefficiency. The time to get your power or energy bill corrected has become painfully longer than pre-pandemic days. Even then the COVID-19 SOPs (standard operating procedures) are not being fully observed. The larger shopping malls are observing the SOPs without creating hardships for the consumers. Government offices are neither observing the SOPs fully nor are providing the services at least with same truncated efficiency that they used to provide in normal days. The COVID-19-induced inefficiencies in services sector are further slowing down the economic recovery.