We Deliver.!

We Deliver.!

Several years back, I used to work in the ever so famous BPO (Business Process Outsourcing) Industry in one of India’s IT hotbeds, Bangalore. My job involved providing technical assistance to North American customers of our pretty impressive all-in-one printer range.

There was a time I wondered if the monotony could leave me permanently depressed. Or worse, brain-damaged. But right then, I received an email from my boss. He was forwarding an email from a customer I had assisted a few days before. The customer had needed print cartridges urgently. For some reason unknown to most of us, it took about 3-4 days after placing an order, for the cartridges to actually reach the customer. (And in case you wondered, ‘no, the cartridges weren’t shipped from India).

While this was a free delivery, there was a 1-day shipping for some charge. I was aware that in some special cases, I could request a senior colleague to waive off the charges on the 1-day fee, but it was not a luxury I’d like to take for granted. So I promised the customer a 3-4 day delivery period and that I would try to have the cartridges delivered earlier if possible.

Coming back to the email the customer had sent, it read something on the lines of  – I would like to thank XYZ for the quick shipping of my print cartridges. He said it would take 3-4 days, but when it arrived the next day, I was thrilled. He has done what we in the customer service industry call ‘under-promising and over-delivering’, the surest way to win a customer and a little more to that effect.

That was my first lesson in customer service; ok maybe not the first, but certainly the one with the most impact. It has been a while since that corporate ‘high’, and since those technical support days, but that feedback has stayed on with me. While I’m no ‘pro’ at customer service, I do understand its ever-increasing importance in any business, and I constantly try to figure ways of improving the customer’s experience.

And I have found many an Indian BPO employee, or for that matter, even your average sales or service staff at any retail outlet or business centre, bubbling with enthusiasm to cater to the customer’s every demand. And while this is a great thing for customers, there are 2 key ingredients missing in many cases. Those being  Planning and Communicating. A simple equation of their effect on customer experience would look something like:

Customer Experience = Communicating (Planning+Commitment+Delivering on Commitment)

Most of us are great at committing, but tend to fall a little short when it is time to deliver on the commitment. And this causes unnecessary customer dissatisfaction.

In our endeavor to give the customer that little bit ‘extra’, we often miscalculate delivery or commitment deadlines. And this ends up causing the exact opposite of the effect we had planned for.

If we were to take into account all possible influencing factors (Planning) and build it into a commitment or delivery deadline, and perhaps even throw in a little buffer if we have a gut feel about possible delay, we would be giving the customer a more realistic picture. And of course, nothing beats plain old ‘Communication’. It is extremely important that we communicate with the customer. Even a call or message updating them the moment you see a deadline getting stretched, does wonders. You cannot imagine how much customers appreciate that phone call informing them of a delay. It beats them arriving at your doorstep on D-day only to be asked to come the following week.

To my customer.
I may not have the answer, but I’ll find it.
I may not have the time, but I’ll make it.
-Unknown

Then of course, nothing beats delivering on a commitment or deadline.!

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Bumblebee

According to the theories of Aerodynamics, the bumblebee should be unable to fly. The size, weight, and shape of its body, in relationship to its total wing span make it technically impossible to fly. The bumblebee, however, being ignorant of those theories, goes ahead and flies anyway.

I was reading an article about how some researchers are expecting another recession in the United States before things finally get better, and what that could possibly do to small businesses which survived the first bout of recession.

This sounds like an average day in the life of most of us, speculating about what might, and what might not; constantly living in fear of the unknown. I was trying to imagine myself as running a small business someplace, and if the economy were heading south, what would I do. Would I panic, and try to do as much business while the scene is still looking good, or would I try to re-work my business to make sure it sees the highs after the dip?

If most of us reduced all that speculation, we might just be staring at brilliant and simple solutions to many of life’s intriguing questions right in the face.

Keep Flying anyway…

what’SAPpening?

what’SAPpening?

You know the whole “effect” thing. It is all about how things are put, less about what things really are. Its more about the gift wrap than about the gift. More to do with the fanfare, and less about the intention; all about quantity, not much about quality,  and all that.

For the past few months, one of my responsibilities at work includes contacting the Management folk at Colleges and B-Schools and introducing them to the SAP uAcademy courses, which are an innovative way of enabling students to gain working knowledge of SAP by way of a Learning Management System, an online Audio-Visual module, whereby students can take the course at their own pace, re-work topics, and they can have queries immediately answered by SAP’s support team by way of call, email, chat or video chat. And all this at a heavy discount to the SAP courses available at Training Centres.

Anyway, a part of this task involves me looking up college websites, identifying the right person to contact. A Vice Chancellor (VC) or Chairman, and in many cases, the Director or Dean.

I had a list of colleges that I started tackling one by one. The first few calls felt like I was speaking to the gatekeeper to heaven. Whose only job was to make it nearly impossible to reach the VC or President. I heard every reason from ‘he is traveling’, ‘not in town’, ‘not at his desk’ to more direct ‘no one can speak directly with him’ and so on. Schools, and I thought these folks were supposed to be a little more approachable. I have not had even half the trouble speaking and meeting General Managers and Directors at companies. And here I was, struggling to meet people at colleges.

Then, one Saturday, a few days and many calls later, I called a college on the number given on their ‘Contact Us’ page. And to my surprise, the Director answered! (‘Wha.!’, I’d say to myself, just praying it wasn’t a prank by a bored peon looking for a kick out of his otherwise mundane routine).

As I kept working on my list, I got to some colleges which had mobile numbers listed under ‘Contact Us’, which belonged to Directors or Dean’s. A refreshing change from the otherwise fortress some institutes had around their heads.

And today, when I was almost at the end of my list, I call a college and asked only for the Director’s email id (no, couldn’t find any direct lines, and I was way too bored to request a direct word with the Director), saying I will first email him and then call to speak with him, and the generous person at the other end says ‘Hold on, I’ll connect you to him, you could speak to him directly’.

The more you want something done, people seem to make it that much tougher. When you don’t care, they’ll give you that extra push up the hill. Humans, never cease to amaze.

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Facebook without a Face

Yesterday, Airtel launched a USSD (Unstructured Supplementary Service Data) system based service. The service, jointly developed by Facebook and U2opia Mobile, a Singapore based company, allows users to access Facebook on their mobile phones without the need for a GPRS service. It works on the same concept as the messaging service you use to check your prepaid balance, etc. So essentially, you would be able to check updates, view comments and ‘like’ news feeds, add friends, post on walls, etc. Of course, since it is a message based service, you will not be able to acccess any media content like photographs, videos, etc. It is useful for people with basic mobile handsets too.

Wonder how that’s gonnna be. Facebook, without the media content, would not be half as fun. A Facebook without a face. It would be similar to trying to read the news by way of SMS’s. Quite painful to say the least. And in this day and age, when phones without a decent screen resolution and GPRS capability is almost an unheard of thing. When even people who just about earn enough to make ends meet are probably onto their second or even third mobile phone that supports GPRS and media content, I wonder who would be the target audience for such a service, even if its free, which by the way, it’s not (don’t lose heart, it comes at a nominal Re. 1 per day).

So, back to who might use such a service. Only person I can think of is a Facebook addict, who, when stuck in an area with a weak network signal, not sufficient for GPRS, and is about to break into a sweat wondering about all the updates he or she is missing as the seconds tick by; then, such a service might just save their lives.

I like

I suppose the reason behind people “liking‘ all the pages and songs and tv shows and blah blah on Facebook is that they’re kinda lonely, and are, by some natural instinct, walking around with their hearts and about 50 MB of data from the deepest crevices of their brains, all on their sleeve, for the world to know.

All the movies they like, the soaps, celebrities, ideas, businesses, brands, songs, books, (groan), and what have you.

It’s akin to people dressing their best even when they are grocery shopping at their neighbourhood store, always prepared for a possibility of bumping into their soulmate or whatever. (don’t give me that puzzled look, there has been a study carried out to that effect).

So I guess on one side, you have people desperately seeking attention with an ever-increasing sense of loneliness, who’re adding to their information ‘sleeve’; and on the other hand, an increasing reduction (ok, I’m sure you can use those two “opposite” meaning words together, they’re supposed to attract afterall, remember?)… ok, enough of all that play of words.

Back to the topic. Yeah, so on the other hand, you have an increasing reduction in the amount people care for details nowadays, so who do you think, would have the patience, or be inclined to read your entire bio-data (read info or wall) unless they’re perhaps, in school and going through the phase of their first 50 or so crushes?

So then, what is the point of it all anyway?

Worth a Thousand Words

Worth a Thousand Words

A picture, it is said, is worth a thousand words.

In the past few months, I have taken a few which, I’ll say, left me totally speechless.

#7 Somewhere in Rajasthan, left turn’s not free, they say..

#6 This one was at the entrance to a mall in Jaipur. Firearm not allowed.! Sounded like something straight out of the good ol’ West.

#5 This one’s all about having something to offer at various price points… Car with body colored side-view mirrors, car without body colored side-view mirrors; juice from a mixer, juice from a juicer… take your pick! Reminds me, I’ve even seen one on a menu card at some shady restaurant, Chicken with bone, Chicken without bone. All us well-fed, comfortable living, taking-everything-for-granted city folk don’t know much about all the limitless possibilities offered in smaller towns. This one was at a nice joint on the outskirts of Mangalore.

#4 The world as we know it…

#3 In a shopping complex in Pune. Whoever thought of this, obviously, does not think too much.

#2 This one was in some small town on the outskirts of Pune. The residents must live in fear.

#1 This one takes the cake and the bakery with it. They say even the Almighty can’t understand women. At least these folks are giving it a shot.

Ok… Apologizes everyone. You know how life is, right? Just when you think you’ve seen it all, something better, or worse, hits you in the face. Well, I just found our new #1. Its a restaurant I had the fortune of visiting on the outskirts of Pune, a couple of days ago. The menu card had some very interesting dishes to offer.

(guess the chicken is a resident of the place, hence the apt ‘lastname’. Its funny how I’d cross this place every other day and wonder how the food might be, considering the fancy cars and huge waiting outside. Now I wonder if the crowd was only to check out the menu 😉  And if you thought that’s all they had on the menu, you aint seen nothing yet)

The winner (picture from the same menu) is……

 I’d like to add though, the food was quite alright, it’s the swallowing while laughing that was becoming a problem.

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Senti-mental

Senti-mental

Remember ‘Compromise‘?

Human mentality doesn’t cease to surprise. Astound even.

We all have come to believe that the stock markets seem to move much more with tiny human sentiment, and less due to company or industry fundamentals.

Lets have a look at the Sensex movement in relation to ‘sentiments’.

I’ve taken the Sensex merely as a representation of the fluctuation of such sentiments.

When the world was hit by the sub-prime crisis, the all-famous Global Meltdown, Indians saw the Sensex “melt” over the next few months, as shown below:

The markets were beaten down to about 60% of their August 2008 levels. And it took the Sensex about 9 months to go through the meltdown to regain those August 2008 levels.

And August and September of 2010 saw not one or two, but a series of scams happen at home. If we start with the CommonWealth Games scam of (I say ‘start with’ to define a period I’m talking about, as many of us have literally grown up hearing about one scam or another, and have taken them as inseparable parts of our lives); around Rs.70,000 crore. Some magicians seem to make the Taj Mahal or a big truck disappear. These folk must have thought, ‘what the hell, let’s make unimaginable amounts of money disappear’, and that, under the watchful eye of the authorities, who then managed to brilliantly gasp when the scam was brought to light.

Anyway, after that came the 2G scam of around Rs.1.76 lakh crore, and the even harder to digest news of involvement of the Tata Group in the same. Around the same time, we also had the Adarsh Society scam, where shameless, soulless individuals deprived war widows of homes in an attempt to satisfy their own greed.

So, lets say between September 2010 and Jan 2010, we’ve seen three shameful scams involving ridiculously high values. Lets have a look at how the Sensex moved around this time while we all sat in front of our TV sets eating popcorn and swallowing scam after scam:

Surprisingly, the index didn’t fluctuate more than a 1000 points. Despite the fact that such news dealt a hard blow to the economy. And to the image of India and that of every Indian the world over (not necessarily in that order).

Guess all we Indians would say to this is, “who the hell cares about scams or whatever, they’re part and parcel of life. All we’re concerned about is our money. And image, err.. What image?”

And foreign investors observe and learn fast; so tomorrow it’s just business as usual.

(like ol’ times, these are my views, and you are free to comment/ disagree/ discuss).

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Compromise? Don’t!

Compromise? Don’t!

Several foreign countries have been following the professional hire-n-fire policy for several years if not decades, now. We Indians on the other hand, still go strong on references and the ‘chalta hain’ (a Hindi phrase meaning ‘it’s alright, no big deal’), ‘adjust maadi’ (maadi is a Kannada word meaning ‘to do’, in this case, asking someone to adjust) and ‘ki farak paenda’ (a popular Hindi phrase meaning ‘what difference will it make’) attitude.

Do you think Infosys would have been what it is if they fed their ever-increasing hunger for talented workforce with just about any relative, friend or a friend of a friend? Sure they would’ve filled seats in a jiffy, but I strongly doubt Infy would’ve made it even half as far.

I remember some elders telling me years ago, that it’s all about networking, all about the contacts you have, etc. And sure it worked brilliantly when I was watching the Godfather movie. All the ‘offer you can’t refuse’ and ‘I will call upon you to do me a service in return’; but it doesn’t seem to have a very good effect in the corporate world. If favours are done or asked for in any manner that’s less than at what they call ‘arms’ length’, it is, without doubt, going to compromise on something.

Close friends don’t feel uncomfortable in declining requests if they have reasons to. And they feel comfortable in expressing the inability to do so, and it doesn’t in any way, affect the friendship either.

But in our rat race, we have really gotten programmed with the whole ‘doing a favor, asking a favor’ routine. So much so, it is second nature. Often at the cost of compromising on something else. Ki farak paenda after all, aye..?

And don’t you feel its way beyond time that we Indians graduated from call centre jobs? Even if we were considered good at being the ‘back end’ to the world (no pun intended). I ask you now – can you think of any one company, where you’d feel genuinely satisfied with the level of service, were you to call their helpline? Hell, even I’ve worked with a call centre, years ago, so I know what I’m talking about. And believe me, in the past few years, interacting with call centres of the likes of biggies like Vodafone, I can genuinely relate to the frustration and helplessness that foreigners may have felt over the years, when we’ve struggled to ‘resolve an issue’ for them.

And while I still have some hilarious memories from work at the time. For instance, the general process was flawed then, and it is flawed now. So after almost a decade of BPOs, the least we could have done is worked on and simplified the process? Made more sensible options on the IVR? Or made agents more efficient at what they do? Perhaps taught them to ’empathize’ with customers rather than doing a mindless line-by-line delivery of a script? And finally, if it isn’t too much trouble, ensure that the ‘issue’ was resolved? But I guess ‘woh bhi chalta hain yaar’.

So put a bunch of ‘chalta hain’ attitude people in a company, and what do you get? Then put a bunch of companies with a large number of ‘chalta hain’ attitude employees in them together, and what do you get? And while we’re at that, what if we have a nation with several such companies, then what do we get?

What I’m guessing is, a strong probable cause for the next slowdown, where there is a strong possibility that India would play host, because employees and organizations compromised on several little things, and just drifted along, till a point where, just like the gig at the CWG, products, services and efforts start collapsing in front of bigger audiences.

Compromise then, just became a real dangerous word for me right now, something representing slow degradation. How about for you?

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India – The State of Affairs…

India – The State of Affairs

Just when we Indians thought things couldn’t possibly get any worse…

We got an opportunity to host the Commonwealth games. But instead, Kalmadi and his cronies stretched their luck way beyond the Milky Way with corruption. And the Prime Minister’s office magically stretched a sanction to several multiples of the same. Wish someone would do that with my pay too. How Rs. 70000 crore of hard-earned money vanished over a span of a few years. And into how many Swiss accounts of how many politicians, we’ll probably never know.

Yet somehow, the poor are still poor, people still pay taxes in the hope of betterment of the country, and politicians still spend it thinking its part of an inheritance their grandparents left them.

And while the CWG scam unfolds, next month it’ll be 2 years since the Mumbai attack.! Two years.! That’s seven hundred and thirty days. And with our judiciary system sitting with their thumbs up their ass, we’re still trying the terrorist responsible.

Perhaps that’s why most crazies (terrorists n many politicians) have the impression that everything they shouldn’t be doing, can perhaps still be pulled off with ease and gotten away with, if it’s in India.

Left to the citizens, we’d have tried and sentenced the terrorist in less than a week after the attack. Who the hell cares about the defense. He is a culprit. He killed nearly 200 innocent Indians, and the legal system gives a f@(& about what he has to say about anything? News channels still manage to keep debating. Courts will have hearing after hearing. And before we know it, we might even be talking about it at the third anniversary.

More than anything else, it’s an indirect way of humiliating those brave Indians who faced the terrorists in that fateful attack.

At the bottom of it all, guess more than anything else, we Indians lack self-respect.

Take any small attack on Israel or on Israelis in the past. It would tell you what or how a nation should be towards its citizens. They’d hit back so hard, not only would it not instill fear in the enemy, but also cultivate a sense of belonging among their citizens.

Reminds me of a hilarious dialog from the movie ‘Bad Company‘ which describes the incompetence, if I may, of the concerned authorities. In the movie, the hero, Chris Rock tells the head of an FBI team, “Man, you guys can’t even find Saddam Hussein! If you told a woman at 8 in the morning, that her husband was sleeping with Saddam Hussein, she’d find Saddam by 8 that night!”

Look at it from the point of view of the brave Indian cops who nabbed the terrorist in hope of a trial and execution. To witness or read about the inane tantrums of the damn terrorist, two years after the crime.

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An uncle and a friend

An uncle and a friend

I just heard a few hours back, that one of dad’s closest friends, Eshwaran, passed away this morning. That was extremely bad news.

I had probably met Eshwar uncle and his wife several times as a toddler. And then I met them nearly a decade or more later, probably when I was in the eighth or ninth standard at school. And yet the meeting still feels recent.

Anyone who ever knew him, knew him as an extremely light-hearted and jovial person. But something else apart from his great sense of humour came across strongly too. And that was his keen interest in photography. That, and of course the way he expressed that interest. He was probably around 40-45 or so at the time. But he’d sit and chat with me as if I was just another buddy of his. And yet, the conversation was always extremely interesting, relevant, and still, simple enough so as not to bore an easily distracted kid.

He would tell us about some hilarious incidents from bachelorhood when he, dad, and some friends hung out together. He would then literally zoom in on an important part of his life, his hobby, photography. And he’d  give us a vivid description of some amazing scenery that he’d seen. A scenery he had taken several photographs of, several years before. And yet, he’d remember it with more clarity than any of us would remember our last holiday anywhere. And he’d almost get into the technicalities of how he’d place his real fancy camera on the tripod on a slope perhaps, and adjust it to get that right shot.

Or of another incident at another holiday spot that would be amazingly breathtaking, and how he’d proceed to click innumerable pictures of. And it didn’t end there. Back in the day, photograph films had to be developed, and he’d do that too himself. So he’d talk about that too. The dark room, the negatives, and then, how exactly the pictures would have captured to a satisfactory level, a beautiful sunrise, or sunset, or a vast stretch of lush green.

And all that talk would just express his true love for his hobby. That was probably one of the few times when someone’s passion for something they absolutely loved doing, came through very strongly. I even bought my first camera on his recommendation; and just like he said, snaps did come out ‘superb’.

Not only did I learn quite a bit about the basics of ‘clicking a snap’ from him, but also little lessons on perfection. While most of us nowadays just pull out a digital camera and fire away, the little extra effort that I take when clicking snaps to make sure they come out good, are to a great extent, thanks to his photography tips  that I got on the few occasions that I got to spend time chatting with him.

And in our world of fads and herds, a few people like Eshwar uncle, stand out for pursuing even a hobby with more interest and dedication than many of us show towards even our work.

Uncle, you’ll live forever in our minds, and it truly has been a pleasure knowing you, as an uncle, a friend, and most importantly, a great human being.

And while I’ll always regret not having spent enough time with you; a line from the movie, Mr. Deeds, comes to mind; that I’ve reworded a little, and that goes like:

We never hung out (enough), and that makes me sad…

All the good times we could’ve had…

But when I die, uncle, you better say cheers…

Cause me and you are hanging at the pearly gates…

I’ll bring the beers… I’ll bring the beers.

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