NA-NObody

The Tata Nano, cheapest car in the world today, is arguably one of the biggest milestones in the auto industry in recent times, the world over. A close friend of mine, Sheshank Reddy shared an article which talked about how Mr. Ratan Tata, in hindsight, felt the Nano should not have been positioned as ‘the cheapest car’. Another close friend, Pradeep Shetty, Sheshank and I have, over the years, spent numerous hours over numerous pitchers of beer, discussing the Nano. We looked at the brand, the car in isolation, in the Indian context, imagined it in foreign markets, and so on.

Sheshank is highly knowledgeable in areas of brands and branding, and he’d throw light on lesser known areas like the powerful impact that appropriate fonts can have on a brand, and so on. Less detailed conversations I have had with several random people over time, has helped me form a rough idea of people’s perception of the Nano.

Nano - Viz

A good friend, Viz, in his beloved Nano

Americans, for the longest time, has been obsessed with powerful cars. Even the average petite young woman would drive a car powerful enough to lug a mobile home behind it. Inexpensive fuel and lack of public transportation coupled with easy financing made the dream of powerful cars commonplace.

Indians, on the contrary, have given more importance to value, and show. Value includes getting satisfaction from haggling with the grocer for little nothings.

Tata Nano - Value

Image: Imgur

Now if you were planning on buying an SUV, I don’t think the Tata Safari Storme would have appeared in your top 5 options. And yet, this tough SUV that has seen well over a decade of sluggish growth, boasted of a 30% jump in sales after the brand was associated with the Indian version of 24 (TV series). That is about ‘show’. Justifying 30% jump, I guess the mindset was that if it was cool enough to be on the show, it’s cool enough to buy.

The Indian economy has been shaky these last two years, mostly compliments of a corrupt government that facilitated several scams. Many industries have kept aggressive growth on hold till there is a more positive and promising outlook. Fuel prices have soared in this period. Yet, despite fuel economy being a key factor in the Indian customers’ car buying decision, Nanos’ sales just trudged along, while SUV sales boasted 2-digit growth rates last year. Somehow, SUV sales seemed to defy common logic and correlations between cost/price and demand, among other things.

I believe the Nano is a masterpiece in many ways, and the team behind it deserves recognition and praise. Mr. Ratan Tata is wrong when he says that they made a mistake by calling it the ‘cheapest car’; because in my opinion, the problem isn’t so much with the car, as it was with our perception.

I read an interesting comment on a discussion board a few years ago. A fellow Indian justified the Nano’s failure saying buying a cheap car went against Indian status. A foreigner rubbished his comment. He said it was a funny view coming from the citizen of a country with a large, poor population. Where per capita income was unbelievably low. And yet, where we thought so highly of ourselves, that we found a great product beneath us to buy. The foreigner thought highly of the Nano, and given a chance, said he’d be thrilled to buy a few of them for his family.

I was listening to Mr. D. R. Mehta speak at a recent awards event. He is founder of BMVSS, famous for the Jaipur foot. He spoke about a visit to the United States, where American politicians were asked to name 3 brands from India that they knew of. They could only think of two, the Jaipur foot, and the Nano. That is the impact the Nano has had, everywhere but at home.

Most car ads in newspapers highlight fuel-efficiency, even if they don’t mention many other key specifications. Even some of the more premium car ads. And everyone’s talking about how affordable and how easily financed, different vehicles are. That said, simply branding the Nano as ‘affordable’, would have been like winking in the dark, crying in the rain, or some such amusing phrase signifying pointlessness. The Nano dream, dreamt by Ratan Tata, was TO BUILD THE CHEAPEST CAR. That takes daring. That takes passion. And that takes commitment. Everyone’s making ‘affordable’, and ‘more economical’ and ‘faster’. But how many companies chase seemingly impossible dreams like ‘most economical’, or ‘the fastest’?

The Tatas did, to make a car accessible to a much larger population. And for everyone who has complaints against the Nano, and those who feel the Nano failed, I am reminded of the famous passage by Roosevelt. The man in the arena.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

To conclude, I will definitely look forward to new variants and more technology in the Nanos of the future. And there was never a fault with the Nano. It was more of a lack of appreciation in the eyes of the average Indian. We clearly failed to recognize a masterpiece our country had created for the world.

tata pixel_640x480

The Tata Pixel concept car

It Could Have Rained Nanos

Sure the Tatas have had their share of tough n’ rough times with the Nano, and they buggered up with the advertising as well. That means there was extremely insufficient advertising, and never at the right time. It just struck me, what stopped them from making a kick-ass tv commercial for the monsoon season. Am sure for bikers riding through heavy rains, praying you don’t skid, getting drenched less in rain water and more in dirty water that cars and trucks splash  at you would have made for a compelling reason to buy a Nano.!

Why, then, didn’t they think of it before? They really could have made it rain Nanos this season.

 

 

 

Serves you Right

“Quality in a service or product is not what you put into it. It is what the client or customer gets out of it.”
– Peter Drucker

We recently bought a cordless telephone from Croma (for the uninitiated, Croma comes under the Tata umbrella). Took it back home and it was not working. Late next evening mom and I made another trip to the store to exchange it. We entered Croma around 8:30pm, I suppose the store is open till 9:30pm or so. The salesman at the telephones section directed us to the Customer Service Dept at the back of the store. There we were directed to a small office cabin and asked to wait.

Right outside it was what appeared to be a desk where customers were guided and assisted with easy EMI and payment options. It seemed to be bustling with activity, with 2-3 customers waiting their turn, while an enthusiastic employee briefed each customer with her available options, found work-around solutions for delivery criteria, payment modes, etc. And here we waited patiently.

A few minutes later, an employee came by and we briefed him about the faulty telephone. He informed us, matter-of-factly, that the Customer Service dept closes at 8pm, and that the representative has left for the day. He said he’d check with someone. We waited another 5-10 minutes. And all this while, the “easy-payments” desk was abuzz. I was bored and sleepy. Someone told us that we’d have to come back the next day, anytime before 8pm. Mom expressed her displeasure. That was when someone took us to a senior manager on floor who promptly approved an exchange. It was past 9.

How unforgiving the present day customer is, cannot be over-stated by any measure. Companies offering services must go the distance while delivering the same. In this case, by service I do not mean the consumer products that Croma sells, but what they offer in the name of “customer service” or “after-sales service”, call it what you may. And it isn’t about Croma. Or any other biggie for that matter.

So if you’re offering a service (read customer service), offer it completely. Or don’t offer it at all. That’s about what you choose to offer customers. It’s different if, with a stiff upper lip and folded arms, you flatly refuse prompt after-sales service during a sale. But if you do offer it, do everything necessary to make it the integral part of your bigger sales cycle.

Nobody gives a shit if you have a nice big air-conditioned waiting room with a big board that says “Customer Service” if it isn’t manned, or if you close it hours before the store closes. If you’re open to business, you have to be open to customer service as well.

Because you could find a hundred different ways to entice people to buy more, ease payments, etc. but if something doesn’t work, until it is fixed, it is not a product that doesn’t work, it’s “their” money that’s just sitting there and not doing anything for them.