Times Of India, where is your judgment?

One rich woman in Mumbai goes to Starbucks in South Mumbai with two daughters. The daughters accidentally spill water in washroom. Another rich woman sees this and forces the girls to wipe the floor. The daughters inform this to the mother. The rich woman makes a big issue out if this and lodges a complaint in the police station.

On 6th January 2015, The Times Of India published ‘news’ about this incident on page 3 of its Mumbai edition, rather prominently. See the link here.

Both the rich, arrogant women may have nothing better to do in life than making disproportionate issues out of everything. That could be helpful in pampering their inflated ego. But, I don’t understand why Times Of India gave such a huge importance to this. Did this incident matter such a disproportionate exposure on the pages of a national daily?

Was this incident so vital that “the nation had to know” about it?

Or is it in their business interest to dance to the tunes of idiosyncrasies of the rich and the powerful?

Whatever may be the reason, I think it is a disappointment. A let down from a powerful media icon. A responsible media should exercise rationality in giving importance to the issues which are reported to it.

Let us hope for better, impartial and more sensible Times.

We find what we are looking for. Bombay Times proves it.

Medha Jalota (wife of Singer, Musician Anup Jalota) passed away in USA on 24th November 2014. In the news item informing her death, this is how Bombay Times (dated 26 November 2014, Page 10) referred to her past marriage with the renowned filmmaker Shekhar Kapur, quoting from her biography. “the reason she separated from him was because he never fully understood her passion for music.”

On the contrary, as mentioned in the same piece by BT, this is what Shekhar Kapur had to say about his ex-wife, on her death. He expressed his graceful tribute thus through a Tweet : “Probably the bravest person I ever knew. Medha Jalota. Rest in Peace Medha, You showed that life can be lived and loved despite all odds.”

When we have a choice to extract few remarkable lines from the hundreds of pages of the biography of a dead person, what we choose reflects our own preference, our attitude and our focus.

Media is commonly known for looking at and highlighting the dark side of everything. Including at the tragic times of death.

We generally find what we are looking for. In life or in death. Bombay Times has reinforced this belief.

It is not only the product or brand that sells

Only a strong brand is not enough to succeed. Along with “what” we are selling, “how” and “where” we are selling that also matters.

It is not only the product or brand that pulls the customers. Customer Experience counts.

If along with the product and its brand name the selling process is not transferred with the brand’s true spirit, all the franchisees of a product don’t get the same response because the customer experience is not duplicated everywhere. Here is an example.

Even though Juhu’s famous Ice Cream brand has its franchisee parlors at many places in Mumbai and elsewhere, only the flagship one at Juhu is always very crowded. Others are not so successful. Some are complete failures. Reasons?
1. Location plays a very important role. Some parlors are in very inconvenient locations, which people don’t like to frequent.
2. Service and Customer Experience are most important than the brand or the product itself. At their franchisee store in Malad-West, for example, customers don’t feel welcome. The franchisee owners are very greedy and the staff completely unprofessional, making a customer’s experience unsavory in contrast to the brand’s tasteful reputation.

It is not only the product or brand that sells. The process of selling and customer experience also affects sales equally.

Along with financial strength of a franchisee, their value system also must be examined. Otherwise their association will damage the brand’s image.

The games Indian telecom operators play make customers hate them…

If you ask any mobile subscriber in India about their experience with the operator, 99% chances are that his/her experience is not pleasant. Why? Because true to a maxim in Gujarati which says “All crows are black, no matter from where hail”, almost all telecom operators in India are notorious for their dubious and customer unfriendly practices. I am sure, most of us may have suffered due to some or the other of them. Here are some examples.
1) When a mobile operator comes out with a cheaper plan, it NEVER informs the existing post-paid subscribers about the new plan, which surely can reduce the subscribers’ billing amount. But, when you apply to port out from their service or try to get converted to Pre-paid connection, their customer service (!) personnel get hyperactive. At that time they call and offer “A much cheaper plan to reduce your expense…” I wonder in which heaven these overzealous souls were resting when we were subjected to higher tariffs which forced us to get away from patronizing them. I have had such unpleasant experiences with Reliance Mobile and AirTel.
2) If you change any value-added pack, and then next day you wish to subscribe the same pack again, the operator may give you the bad news that “That pack is no longer available. Now the same pack is available with half of the benefits at the same price.” Previous day, at the time of taking your request of cancelling the existing plan, they don’t inform you about the plan not being available for new subscription. This gross loot they do with the loyal subscribers (whom they classify as “Platinum” subscribers), who have been with them for years. This is the worst gift for loyalty a customer should expect. Reliance Mobile, AirTel, Idea and Vodafone all of them have done this.
3) Mobile Number Portability (MNP), is the facility TRAI has provided to customers, giving them an option to change their mobile service providers. But, in MNP the mobile operators have found a new way of harassing customers. Because of any reason, when a subscriber applies for Porting out, the erstwhile operator puts as many obstacles as possible.  Recently, Reliance Mobile delayed releasing the number beyond stipulated 5 days and then released the number at 10 pm on Saturday night, knowing very well that the offices of the new mobile operator will be closed for weekend and the customer will have to suffer no-mobile services for the weekend. This is like arresting somebody on Friday evening, knowing well aware that the courts will be closed for the weekend, so that the person will have to remain in custody for at least two days as no bail can be processed. This dirty kick by the telecom operator in the butt leaves a painful wound in the customer’s mind.  We had a similar experience with Idea when they, too, delayed releasing the number for a very long time.
Every subscriber in India may have such stories. In response to my post on Facebook about one such grievance against Airtel, one of my friends commented, “All operators are same.”
Truly echoing the fact “All crows are black… regardless from where they hail.”
Do you have any experience with any of the crows? I invite you to come and share.

Are we shattering our customers’ dreams?

A friend was thinking of buying a new car. One day, he and his son went to see the new cars available in the showrooms. They had shortlisted three brands and  visited the three car company dealer showrooms. At each, they understood about various models available within their budget and took a test drive.

When they visited the first showroom, they rejected that brand out of their consideration list of three brands, due to one small but unsavory incident. It went like this.

They had discussed the various models, variations, prices and even took a test drive. It took them one good hour. In the end, they wanted to see a brand new car of their desired model with a specific color. The salesman willingly showed them the new car kept for display. They were very happy with everything including the price, and almost started dreaming of owning the car. While they were leaving, the son remarked “The interior of this car is very good.” To which the salesman said, “Yes, they are tailor made.” Further inquiry revealed that the car shown on display was not the standard model with accessories listed in the brochure, but with a lot of customized add-on, which costs at least one lakh rupees, not anywhere mentioned in the brochure and also not informed by the salesman throughout this one-hour interaction with them. He disclosed it only when asked. The incremental cost was prohibitive for them and they had to leave leaving their dream behind.

At other two showrooms, they were shown new cars as they were described in the brochure. That made a lot of things easier to decide. They appreciated the business practices of these other two car dealers in contrast to the earlier one.

We all may have come across incidents where we had to pay some “hidden costs” which we were never aware of or were never told of. Such things happen when we are on tours and we are more vulnerable. At such times, we don’t have much choice than to pay up.  It creates very bitter word of mouth publicity and damages the brand reputation irreparably. But when the customer has yet to make a choice, such incidents result in direct loss of sales and our credibility.

Customers are delighted when they get more than they expected. And they get equally disappointed whey we shatter their dreams. Nobody likes people who show them the dreams and then increase the cost of realizing them. Dreams are too precious to be broken by bad marketing. Specially if they belong to our customers’ eyes.

Leadership lessons from young CEO Tarun Katial

The young CEO of Reliance Broadcast Network Ltd (92.7 Big FM) recently shared his experiences as a young leader. Here are some of his insights :

Culture building is the key thing : The leader’s job is to build a strong culture in the organization. A company is known for its culture. When an employee leaves, he may come back to our company, if he can’t adjust to the culture at the new organization.

How to win confidence as a new leader : A leader’s success in the new organization depends on his success with the people. Insecurity in people’s minds must be addressed quickly and surely. When a leader goes to the new organization, he should not bring ‘his’ people from outside or from his own circles. He must try and understand existing set of people and let them perform at their optimal potential without fear.

How a leader should take decisions : The values that our parents teach in childhood like honestly, transparency, humility etc. must be always remembered because these basic moral values can be our consistent compass and they can always help us in handling crisis and challenges of our work life. According to Tarun, when in confusion about taking some important, sensitive decision, one simple method can be to ask yourself “Would my parents do this to me?” or “Would I do this to my child?”. Answer to these questions may clearly provide you a way out of the dilemma.

How to identify winners in the team : Just like any sports game of Cricket, Football etc, there are two types of people : Players and Fans or spectators. Players are those who work. Who put in hard work. Who don’t run away. Who provide stability. Fans are those who look for failures and excuses for not doing or getting things done. Find out the players and fans in the organizations. Players must be nurtured. Players will provide stability always whether we may win or lose a particular game. Fans will crib, live in the past and will eventually quit. Keep the players. They provide stability, which is very vital for the success of an organization.

How to develop people : Give time to people as much as you may need to complete a task. Don’t sit on their neck. Don’t create favorites. Treat all with the only yardstick of performance. A leader’s job is to make sure that everybody in the team wins. With people, be transparent, not translucent, because your duality will become apparent soon and you will lose trust of your people. Develop an ability to be empathetic and to look within by regularly spending some time with yourself.

How to get accepted as a leader of the people elder to you : Humility is the only approach to win confidence and co-operation of people older than us. With them, we should not use Ego or Position Power. Tarun said he always calls the older people respectfully by addressing them “Sir” even if they may be structurally reporting to him.

Really, the young CEO of Big FM gave some Big lessons on leadership. May be only because of his humility and commitment towards people  development, he has moved ahead rapidly in his career. Tarun has not given up his adolescence as far as seeking guidance form parental teaching is concerned. If the child in us remembers his childhood and its learning, many of the problems of adulthood can be resolved.

What damages the reputation of our business?

Suppliers or vendors are the lifeline of a business. They provide us with materials, parts, accessories, products and services which help the business in carrying out operations to manufacture our products and satisfy our customers’ needs. The success of the business depends a lot on them.

But, we must check : are these suppliers being treated well by our people? Are they considered as the lifeline of the business?

Often not. One sad and unpleasant aspect is the supplier payment process. I have seen some suppliers’ representatives repeatedly following up or visiting their customers’ business places for collecting their over due payments. And they are often told to come back after few days. Payment to suppliers, vendors or service providers is one thing some companies want to delay as much as possible on some flimsy reasons.

This is one ugly patch on the company’s reputation. Some may argue that paying always on time is only possible by the rich companies who have deep pockets. Actually, it is not a funds flow problem. It is more of an attitude and values related problem. If there is funds crunch and the company is passing through lean times, it is understandable that the payments may be delayed for some time. But, when the cash flow is not tight and the company has enough funds to make the payments, such treatment is detrimental to the health of the company’s reputation.

Some companies have very fair and excellent method of processing supplier payments. They send the properly due dated cheque to the supplier well before that due date and confirm that the cheque was received before it was due. Vendors love to work for such customer companies and give them best goods and services.

On the other hand, in some companies there are some characters in the company’s payment process, who enjoy the sadistic pleasure in making the suppliers’ life miserable while getting their due payments. These companies are hated by the suppliers and they look forward to getting rid of such customers as soon as possible. When they get a chance to supply to a competitor, they would not hesitate doing so and will switch loyalties immediately. No wonder, our people in charge of payments made them do so…!

If we have sustained support and cooperation from our suppliers, we can build a quality reputation on the foundation of this relationship. Suppliers can help us in achieving true competitive advantage. So, if we wish to build long term relationship with our customers, we must also focus on establishing long term relationship with our suppliers as well. For that, we should not make them beg for their dues. Nobody likes to beg for payment after giving us goods and services. Beggars may not have choices, but our suppliers do have choices. Our competitors may welcome them with open arms.

When customer feels hurt the most?

When customers feel hurt the most is when they feel cheated by us while they are in a vulnerable condition, when they are helpless.

A person approaching a nursing home or a hospital for a surgery is one such vulnerable customer. A nursing home is a place where people arrive out of helplessness. Nobody likes to go there by choice, as it is hardly an enjoyable experience one may look forward to. Here if one is cheated or is taken for a ride, then it leaves a very bad taste with him who spreads the bad word outside, too. One such friend who had recently gone through one such unsavory experience narrated this with bitterness :

I had to admit my mother in emergency for a surgery at a private nursing home operated by a surgeon. When we checked in, we were given options of various rooms. When we asked for a separate, independent room, we were told that they have a Special Room with AC, attached wash-room and a bed for the patient’s companion. The room also has a refrigerator, we were told.

We checked in the Special Room. The room was average and disappointing, with the facilities mentioned were present only for the name sake.

a) The AC was there, but the switch was outside, under the control of the head nurse. She would switch on or off only during a specific time. Also, obviously there was no temperature control possible…!

b) The bed for companion was so small where nobody, except a child could sleep.

c) The funny thing was : the refrigerator was very much there, but it was locked…! When asked where was its key, we were told that it was being used for storing some medicines and the keys can’t be given. If we need cold water, they would provide from cooler outside, we were told, coldly.

d) Here comes the funnier part : The medicines belonged to the chemist shop downstairs. And, the chemist shop belonged to the nephew of the surgeon…! He would come occasionally, whenever he needed to take out some medicines… The most strategic arrangement was, the doctor prescribed medicines which were available only at the nephew’s shop. You won’t find them from any other shop nearby. How convenient?”

The friend was angry and hurt for being shortchanged, because in the name of Special Room, what was given was a set of hollow promises. And the compulsion for buying the medicines from a specific shop was also an irritant. The doctor also charged many things exorbitantly, much beyond the estimate given earlier.”

My friend had no choice but to comply, even though reluctantly. But, he vowed not to recommend this doctor or the nursing home to anybody else. In fact, he alarmed all those who listened to him about the unfair practices going on there.

If we treat our customers badly, particularly when they cannot take any objection, or if we take advantage of their helplessness, they may tolerate it then out of no choice, but they may feel terribly hurt and disappointed. And when their bitter experience is spread to others, it spoils our reputation badly. Our business suffers irreparably due to the poor mouth publicity.

We must not take advantage of the customers when it hurts them the most. The bitter experience they will neither forget nor forgive. Instead, at that time if we genuinely help them, that too, they will never forget and thank us a million times. Such grateful customers will remain with us forever.

Angrez style management practices must be adapted to Indian cultural sensitivities

Recently, while I was talking to the HR Head of a reputed company, he mentioned one very important point of impact of culture in organizations and management.  He was referring to an incident about a new junior executive joined in his company. The young man had previously worked with an MNC after completing his MBA. This was his second job. As could have been a culture in the MNC firm, as soon as he joined here, he started calling people by their first names. He did not realize this, but people started resenting him. They began to keep away from him. He did not get support from them. Many of the clients with whom he interacted also complained to his senior about his way of talking to them. He could not understand the reason. He approached this HR Head to find out what was wrong. After discussing with the young man, his senior and other colleagues, the HR Head found out the real cause of the problem. The young man’s habit calling people by their first names without the customary suffix or prefix that people were used to (e.g. Mr Ramesh, Rameshji, Ramesh Saab, Rameshbabu, etc.) was disturbing people.  He explained to the young man about the problem and suggested the corrective practice of calling people by the names they are used to being called.

The young man was puzzled. He argued, “But in my old company, this was the practice. We used to call our CEO also by his first name. This gave rise to an atmosphere of openness, you know. It fostered improved teamwork and bonding. Why can’t we have the same culture here?”

The HR Manager could empathize with the young man’s enthusiasm towards adapting newer, western practices. But, he was aware of the lack of social awareness on the part of the young man. He explained “I agree to what you are saying. But, we live in India. In Indian culture, we give a lot of importance to RESPECT. And one of the ways of showing respect is by how we address a person. In western countries, the person may be called only by the first name, but in India, sometimes some prefix or suffix is added like Rameshji, Ramesh Saab, Rameshbhai, Rameshbabu, Ramesh sir etc. This practice is a part of Indian culture of showing respect to seniors or elders.”

The young man was adamant. “But today, we are living in globalized world. We cannot continue this old fashioned practices of previous centuries. To be at par with the world, we must change to First Name Culture in our company. I urge you to implement this cultural change and start First Name Culture. It will improve out company’s image and performance.”

The HR Manager explained, “You may implement such practices with your foreign business partners or associates, but in India, it is not that simple and not advisable, too. You need to understand the language differences before implementing First Name Culture here.” He gave him an example :

For example, in English : Ramesh, how are you?

can be translated in Hindi in 3 ways :

(a) Ramesh, Aap Kaise hain? OR

(b) Ramesh, Tum Kaise Ho? OR

(c) Ramesh, Tu Kaisa Hai?

Now if we start calling everybody by first name, many people may not have the wisdom to use appropriate Hindi translations, when they speak to the same person in Hindi or other Indian language. This adaptation requires a certain degree of wisdom and intellectual capacity on the part of the person involved in the communication. In the absence of that, they may hurt the sentiments of the other person. Also, we may have got exposed to the global practices, but there are outsiders like customers, suppliers, associates and  millions of others in our country who are yet to be aware of many such practices. First Name Culture is just one example. There are many such practices, where mindless imitation is sometimes funny, appropriate or out of place. We may follow such practices while dealing with foreigners, to express our awareness and respect of their cultures, but by suddenly shifting to such superficial practices in our Indian work practices, we may inadvertently hurt sentiments of such people. By trying to call a big company’s senior manager by his first name who can be a big prospective customer for us, we may lose him forever.

The young man’s enthusiasm waned, but he was not convinced. HR Head was clear about the inappropriateness of changing some superficial practices, without understanding the underlying values in the culture.

Culture is the way we, as people, respond to various events. It gets manifested in various symbols, rituals, habits, languages, practices, images etc. The core of the culture is the values that we hold.  Values are the broad tendencies to prefer certain states of affairs over others. These represent the ideas that people have about how things “ought to be”. They are among the first things we learn as children, implicitly, not consciously. These values may remain unconscious to those who hold them. they can’t be directly observed by outsiders, but can be inferred from our behavior under various circumstances.

Respect is a very important part of Indian values. By adapting some practices like “First Name Culture”, we may bask in the satisfaction of being modern, but the reality of cultural difference remains and it may lead to some misunderstandings. Thoughtless imitation of western practices without realizing its repercussions may give rise to some undesirable outcomes by offending people’s sentiments and sensitivities. We must ensure that our organization does not jump into such superficial practices. We are Indians and we must be proud of our Indianness.

In my opinion, the tendency to adapt to such practices is nothing but a management wannabe-ism. We must not want to be a wannabe. Still a lot of our own potential is intact, waiting to be explored. Instead of being blind followers, we must be wise and selective. We must not sell our cultural values for some shallow management fads. If we do not exercise discretion, we will be left somewhere in the middle, neither in the West nor in the East.

That belonging to nowhereness will be similar to Shah Rukh Khan’s character in Subhash Ghai’s Pardes, in which towards the end of the film SRK reaches a bus stop somewhere in rural India, rejected by both the Indian as well as American families. On asked by a villager “Kahaan ke ho sahab?” he aptly replies “Kahin ka nahin….!!!”

Following quote of Peter Senge (Management Guru, Author : “Fifth Discipline”) drive the point home, precisely.

My intuition is that India and China will move somewhat together, but in very distinctive ways. But I think the thing that will be really common to both of them will be the fact that they won’t be able to do this without reconnecting to their heritage. They will have to develop a confidence that they can do this as Indians and they can do this as Chinese. They have learnt a lot from the west but they don’t have to copy, they cannot create an Indian or a Chinese version of a Western model. The Western model itself is basically bankrupt. It does not give enough side to the human side of development.

I think I need not say more on this…!