Category: Customer is King

Like Endorsing, Endorse Liking?

We all remember the notorious financial meltdown of 2007-08 that washed away a lot of dreams. We all know why it happened. Some wise (read greedy) people built a huge structure on an extremely very weak foundation (sub-prime mortgage). And then went ahead and added floor over floor to their fantasy at the cost of the masses, till the foundation and everything with it, buckled.

While the ‘Like’ on Facebook (FB) and ‘Endorsements’ on LinkedIn (LI) probably could not, and definitely would not cause any such global shock wave, it is interesting to see how we are adding to its weak foundation, floor by floor, and to see what might happen when it buckles, and buckle it will.

Paid, Forced or Uninformed ‘Likes’ on FB, and ‘Endorsing skills’ without being sure on LI, are really creating a big mountain of unconfirmed information, which at best, is questionable.

Quite some time ago, when I’d see a few hundred likes on an business’s service page on FB, I’d assume it was probably a respectable/ liked business/ service. But once you know that Likes can be bought, or when you get ‘Like Requests’ from friends & acquaintances that almost forced you to like a page (most FB like requests I receive read like this ‘Hi Shrutin, please like this page [link].’), and when you see people around you obliging to such requests, then those hundred likes don’t seem that impressive any more.

On LI, people endorse skills of their contacts. Which, literally is vouching for a skill that your contact claims she or he possesses. I consider vouching a responsibility, especially since that endorsement is public. It means you know, and acknowledge that your contact is good at, or even just knows, the particular skill that you have endorsed them for. And when you get endorsed for a skill by people you haven’t been in touch for a while, and you are dead sure they haven’t a clue whether you even know that skill, that’s when you wonder about the genuineness of similar endorsements showcased on your contacts page. LI’s recommendation option is fine in itself, as contacts recommend based on good interaction or experiences based on past work done; and mentioning it in words gives more credibility than just clicking ‘endorse’ over some key words.

Like Endorsing, Endorse Liking

I recently interacted with an eminent person from the social media industry, at a TiE session. He was speaking on the advantages of social media for business. I asked him whether he saw concern over the  questionable ‘endorsing on LI’ and ‘Paid/ Forced or Uninformed Likes on FB’  that are creating a false world around us.  He, thankfully acknowledged the problem, which meant it existed. And he added that the average person wasn’t affected or bothered much about it, so life would go on at least for a while.

Many people you know might not have a clue as to what exactly you do, or how good you are at what you do. And yet they’ll go endorse you for certain skills. Which, I’ll agree, makes you feel good. And you might be the best your industry has to offer, but knowing that the person who endorsed you for it doesn’t have clue about what exactly you do, doesn’t that make you question the value of the heap of endorsements that you are piling up?

I don’t have any suggestions for the ‘endorsing’ deal on LI, but if you intend to spam inboxes with ‘Like Requests’, here are a few things you could take care of:

  • Write what the page/ company/ service is about
  • Highlight any achievements, differentiating factors
  • Reasons why I might want to like it
  • And last, and only if necessary, request the friend to ‘Like’ the page if they find it interesting and if they can relate to it. Also offer to provide them with more information if they are interested

Here’s a recent article that shows how this hype that’s been going strong for a few years now, is not much more than just a hype [Quality over Quantity]

Beery Bad

Here’s a first. A product review.

Several weeks ago I was at a Raymond’s store picking up a suit I had given for altering. On one of the display sections, a number of beer bottles caught my eye. Looking closer, they read “Beer Shampoo”. Hmmm.!

Now I’ve heard that beer’s really good for the hair, softens it and all that. I never really bothered, because apart from never wanting my hair to feel that I’m getting in its hair [pun], I always believed in two things:

  • going by my family history, I’ve come to terms with ‘hair today, gone tomorrow’, and
  • it’s a crime to pour beer anywhere else except into the belly

Anyway, the bottle looked really interesting, and it claimed ‘Made from real beer’, so I decided to buy one. On glancing at the shelf of bottles, first thing I noticed was that the quantity in each bottle was unequal. That isn’t very cool, especially coming from Park Avenue. So, I picked out the one which had the most beer shampoo in it. Obviously.

Used it, and. It smells like beer for sure, but the ‘wow’ ended with looking at the bottle from afar, and the smell of beer. The lid looked cheap and flimsy. The shampoo was nothing great, hair didn’t feel any different either. And [hic] it doesn’t even give you a high.

[1.5/5] And that too just for the look of the bottle and the smell of beer 😉

Park Avenue Beer Shampoo

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.

Business – whenever, wherever

If you got to start your business, you can’t always wait for real estate prices to be right.

Sometimes, you just start..Wherever.!

(Saw this on some random inner road on the outskirts of Pune)

For those still wondering, that is a car covered with clothes that a man is trying to sell to passers by.

And while I was there only for a minute or two, while trying to make a u-turn as I was a little lost, he did have a few customers.!

Pretty cool huh?!

The Seat Next To The Lady

The Seat Next To The Lady

Recently, the latest player in the online travel business, Travelyaari.com brought in the option of “block your seat next to a lady” on your next bus journey.
Yeah, I know. My eyes lit up too for a moment there.

But no, buddies, your lifelong dream of getting a seat next to a pretty gal, will stay a dream, at least for now. What it does mean, is that ladies will get the option of selecting a seat next to another lady on a bus journey when booking online.

Its surprising redbus.in did not already think of this feature, which has been common since ’98 or ’99 or even before in the brick-and-mortar bus travel industry.

This would be great news for women, who usually book online. Especially since they often run the risk of getting a seat next to a creepy male passenger. Or ending up staying awake all night to avoid a bobbing head from landing on their shoulders.
The funny thing though, I don’t suppose the creepy thing or the bobbing heads thing happens as often in other countries. Out of respect for women, the concept of a ‘ladies seat’ might seem irrelevant there.

So then, just to make sure these guys actually had the option, I went onto Travelyaari.com and tried booking a seat next to a seat booked by a lady. It allowed me to do so (no, I didn’t actually go through with the payment). Then I tried booking a ladies seat (there is no such specific option). Though if you enter your sex as Female (that makes it a ‘lady is gonna sit on that seat’) I didn’t see any option restricting the next seat only to ladies).

So maybe guys can actually pick a seat next to a lady. Which also means Travelyaari.com might actually screw its own business prospects with such a decision. And redbus.in is missing out by not having the traditional ‘ladies seat’ option.

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Starbucks

The entire buzz in the recent past about Starbucks coming to India reminded me of this question that popped up in my head when I was at a Starbucks at a mall in New Jersey last year.

It was probably a weekend, the mall was crowded. There were a good number of people queuing up to get their caffeine fix or to grab a quick bite before getting back to shopping. It was apparent that the café was short staffed. There was a growing line of people waiting to order, and a fewer, but slowing increasing number waiting to pick up their orders. There was only 4 staff members.

Which brings me to the question.

What would you do in a similar situation, if the total staff strength was 4 (including you), handling a growing queue of coffee lovers. Would you:

  • Divert a larger number of hands to taking orders (so that you could lock in the revenues, so that customers would complain/ grumble at best, without you losing any business (since the queue to order is moving fast, and the money’s coming in), or would you
  • Have an  equal number of staff taking orders and preparing too, or
  • Would you have more staff members preparing customer orders, while letting the line to order grow, so that customers’ who’ve already ordered didn’t have to wait too much, and as the line to order would obvious grow longer, those in a hurry could go about doing their work and perhaps come in later when the lines were shorter, and those who didn’t mind waiting, could.

Let me know what you would do in a similar situation.

Your choice will speak a good deal about how you would run your business, your priorities, the whole jazz.

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If you own, manage or work at a company, and are grappling with a complex challenge or are in need of innovation for growth, get in touch. More here.

Layers of BS

Ever realized how much time we spend each day either building a thick layer of ‘unnecessary’, and/ or scraping a thick layer of it.

Rather than build quality products and services, we tend to build our own imaginary features, declare our products/ services to be the absolute best without the real stuff to prove it. Facts are covered up, hyped, or even distorted.

And customers on the other hand, while listening to people brag about their ‘best-in-the-galaxy’ offerings, have to spend most of their waking hours in a state of suspicion, of products and services they buy, of people they interact with, of ideas and suggestions they are given. Because, more often than not, there’s always a layer of bullcrap that customers are mentally scraping and making their own deductions. And usually, the more the BS, the poorer the impression they have of what you have to offer.

Sellers will ridiculously inflate prices. Buyers will be aware to some extent, and both will go through the motions till they arrive at a common ground. And it isn’t just about price. It’s the same with quality, safety, and a lot of such critical factors. One hypes it, the other either falls for it to whatever extent, or doesn’t at all.

Rather than spend time in building quality products and services, we have come to rely more on confident BS based on an illusion of supposed facts that we have created, and what we pass on to every new employee at most companies.

More emphasis is given on teaching the shortcuts, rather than on the product/ service or business know-how. Employees too would rather learn some quick fake facts about something they’re trying to sell, rather than know what they offer, inside-out; so that they could perhaps better understand it, better understand the customer, and help build an even better product/ service.

Guess the meaning of ‘learning the ropes’ has, over the years, slipped down the very same ropes.

Our innate attitude is towards avoiding that extra mile, towards quick fixes, rather than in the direction of building something that lasts.

The way I see it, that extra mile today usually saves several hundred extra miles in the long run.

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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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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