Effective execution requires cultural change

IRCTC, the Indian Railway’s organization responsible for online ticket booking among other things, has done a great job and has contributed immensely in making traveling a lot easier by successfully implementing online train reservations system.

One of the initiatives that IRCTC has taken up is discouraging printing of e-tickets. This is indeed a noble cause to save paper, ink and manpower. As soon as we give a command to print the e-ticket after booking it on IRCTC web site, it immediately informs us through a pop-up box that “You can travel by carrying the SMS sent by IRCTC or the PDF document (soft copy) of your e-ticket.”

But, one thing I have observed during my frequent rail travels. As soon as a Ticket Checker is shown a mobile or tablet for the SMS or soft copy of the e-ticket, he invariably asks for the identity card of the ticket holder. Even though carrying an original i-card is mandatory for e-tickets, many TCs generally don’t insist on checking the i-cards if we show them the printout of the e-ticket.

But, as soon as we show a digital form of e-ticket or SMS, they somehow feel the urge to surely check the i-card. I don’t see any reason for this behavior because carrying a printed ticket does not lend any more authenticity to the identity of the traveller than carrying its digital equivalent. I think it has become a habit, to see a ticket in paper form. When the equivalent of that ticket is shown in a tiny SMS, somehow some TCs get a cultural shock. Those who have not yet adjusted to this e-reality, still want to stick to ‘checking’ something tangible, if not a paper ticket, then at least a physical i-card. But they want to ‘check’ something for sure. They forget the perfect system of IRCTC, that the SMS is sent to the number which is specified while booking the ticket. It is almost foolproof.

But, some lesser enlightened ones among the TCs need technological upgrading of their knowledge and skills. They need to be trained to look the printed and digital forms of tickets at par. At present, due to their digital semi-literacy, they seem to doubt something in carrying SMS/soft copy of the ticket. This type of insistence disappoints the ticket holder and refutes the ideal purpose of discouraging the prints and saving some trees.  A lofty organizational goal may get defeated in execution if we don’t communicate to the cultural habits of our employees.

The product must match the promise of the packaging

Nandish had started a product manufacturing firm. He was very particular about the design of his office interiors. His visiting card, envelope, letterhead etc were perfect. He took a lot of pain to finalize on the logo and the signboard. His product catalog was shown as an excellent example of creativity and class.

Nandish gave the same instructions when his web site was being designed. He ensured to make it immaculate. It was truly world-class. He gave the same attention to the design of his advertisements or any communication. He also ensured that the packaging of his product was at par with the best in the world of their category of products.

“The images of our organization and our product must be immaculate,” he always said. Anybody who would see these collaterals, would build a grand image in their mind about the organization they represented.

But, all this perfection in communication and presentation did not result into the acceptance of his products in the marketplace.

All his brands looked good, but did not sell good.

The excellence in designs did not result into an enthusiastic response from the customers.

His business was bleeding. Finally, he sought advise to find out what was going wrong.

It turned out that all the visual and verbal communication that the brand was making raised the expectation from the product. The packaging was world-class, so it was expected to deliver all that the world-class products in its category did. The perfection of the web site was not reflected in the perfect quality of the product. The advertisement promised excellence, but the behavior and service of his employees was sloppy, far from excellent. Customers did not like the experience of working with them.

All this needed modification. The product has to match with the promise the packaging makes. The verbal excellence of the advertisement must reflect in the enthusiasm of the employees. The class of the web site must be experienced by the customers.

This discrepancy resembles the contradiction we see between the quote we see on a T-shirt and its mismatch with the one who wears it.

T-shirt quotes come in all types. Some cute, some weird, some funny, some arrogant. Most of the times, the quote does not match with the body (or brain  above) it covers. In rare cases, when it does, the quote speaks for the body and brain. And, vice versa. That is a superb combination.

All can easily find this conformity or the lack of it.

Anybody can buy a T-shirt with any grand slogan written on it. Anybody can get a world-class catalog, web site or packaging designed.

But, just as the emptiness of the head can’t be covered by a great quote on a T-shirt, the weakness in the brand can’t be concealed by a great design of packaging or communication.

A mismatched quote on a T-shirt can be ignored and smiled away, but similar mismatch between the product and its promise is generally not forgiven by the market.

Stink finds its way out. No matter how beautifully disguised.

The way Just Dial works, does not work…

This is how Just Dial works. And it does not work for its paid customers. It may be working for free listers. But moolah will keep coming only if it mends its way of working.

1) I posted a complaint on 14th June 2013 on its FB Page. Somebody responded in about half an hour saying “Please share your contact number with us. Our team will get in touch with you shortly to address the issue.” Today it has been more than 2 MONTHS, somebody is still working on it?

2) For free listings, JustDial may be a good option, (even though a lot of entries are junk and with wrong numbers), but for paid listings, I am finding that  JustDial is a waste of money and peace of mind.

We have registered for a paid National Listing for some Business Categories. But, this is how they are treating our paid listing :

a) On justdial.com, in many cities/towns our listing comes AFTER all the free listings in that city/town. But while in response to a phone query, our name is given along with other paid listers. There is a clear discrepancy in their logic for phone query and web query, but nobody at  JustDial is ready to listen. There appears a stubborn rigidity on the part of the decision makers at JustDial who are not able to see the obvious anomaly in their own product. Any sensible businessperson will agree that this is a wrong logic, but the honchos at JustDial prefer to differ.

b) In some cities our name is not shown (we have paid for National listing, which means all cities are included.)

c) At the time of booking, the sales person took an advance payment of 3-months of Down Payment and a mandate for ECS. He said, the ECS will start after 2 months and the third month amount will be adjusted against last month charges, when you terminate the contract. Contrary to his promise, ECS started in the very next month and that, too, in one month, JustDial deducted TWO installments. On seeking clarification of such random actions, I was communicated by JustDial that only ONE month payment is adjusted against your Down Payment and now, 2 months will be adjusted against your last 2 months. In short, within about 50 days, they collected 5 months of advance payment.

d) All the promises made verbally by the sales representative are not reflected in the contract. Even the contract is silent on Termination terms. On asked a query about the same, mumbai@justdial.com is yet to revert.

3) JustDial does not have any transparent customer accounting practice by which the customer knows when his contract starts, when it ends, when DP is adjusted and when ECS will start or stop. At least in my case, they have failed to come up with ledger or any such document with complete details, adding doubts about their system. They send various intimations in short SMSs or Emails and try to get away with the mandatory process requirements. But these “bits and pieces” practices are surely unfriendly to the customer because they leave him completely in the dark about the exact status of this contract with JustDial. Moreover, in the absence of any sensible person on the other hand, dealing with amateur customer care people really wastes a lot of talk time and and energy. If we ask anything about the accounting to these customer care people, they direct us to write to mumbai@justdial.com, the readers of which take weeks to respond with stock answers and then conclude that “the complaint is resolved….”.

4) A lot of promises that the sales people make are all verbal. I am still in dark about how many cities I am registered. Even though I was promised that my registration is valid for all Indian cities/towns listed in JustDial database, what I am discovering is that my name does not reflect in some of the cities, where in other cities for the same business keywords it does.

5) We have met 3 sales representatives from JustDial and each of them has quoted different rates for similar new listings. One of them remarked “June ke IPO ke baad hamare upar target ka bahot bada pressure hai. Hum sab ko target diya gaya hai…Kaise bhi sell karo…

6) When somebody inquires about our service, and after they give our info to the caller, JustDial sends us the caller’s info. Sometimes the same info is repeated 4 to 5 times, with the same caller details. They have not been able to develop a simple software to ensure non-duplicate leads going to a customer in a span of 4-5 minutes. In the business of information selling, they must have enough talent to catch such simple gaffes, but they come out with silly explanation “The customer has inquired 5 times, and hence 5 SMSs and Emails are sent to you…” I think Customer Care people as JustDial think that all their paid customers are dumbos and they will buy into any story they choose to tell them.

7) The Customer Support at JustDial is very bad. They take a lot of time to understand the problem. For all of the above concerns, we have contacted them umpteen number of times, but some ill-informed juniors on the Customer Care line respond with recorded feedback, which does not make any sense. Writing emails to mumbai@justdial.com also results in some feedback only after 2-3 weeks with some illogical and unsatisfactory replies and a prompt SMS saying “Your complaint has been resolved.” Writing some stock lines in reply has become a way of ‘resolving’ customer complaints at JustDial.

Honestly, it has been a huge disappointment and harassment after registering with JustDial. Nobody seems to care there.

It may be a good free telephone directory,  for finding some restaurant or courier numbers, but if you hope for some serious business leads, JustDial just does not measure up… They have a very long way to go. The first step may be to listen to the customers who pay them. Second may be in investing some really sensible marketing team, who can understand the mindless anomalies in their own products. Till then, it is not just  JustDial.

I am a well-wisher of JustDial.  I have put faith in its services, but the sloppy execution model of JustDial is utterly disappointing. Before it erodes the value created by the brand, I hope the top minds at JustDial will pay heed before it is too late.

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.

Options to the real estate industry

The real estate industry in India is facing an uphill challenge. Last 5-6 years have seen an unprecedented rise in rates of real estate all across India. The rise is really phenomenal as it is beyond any logic that market experts could attribute it to.

But, now it seems the rally has stopped. The rise has stalled for the time being. But, the recent hike in the sale prices in real estate has resulted into a corresponding rise in the input and interest costs. So, even though the prices are unaffordable, they are not coming down. The developers of the real estate industry can’t sell at lower rates and can’t bear the burden of the unsold inventory also.

So what is the solution?

In marketing terms,there is a NEED for the accommodation, for the real estate. But this need is not resulting into sales, because the price is not affordable to the customer.  How to bridge this gap?

1) If we observe recent trends, there is a lot of mobility in people’s careers. More people are shifting bases rapidly, jumping from one job to another, from one city to another. The demand-supply equation of the job market is prompting people to stay at a city for few years and then move to another city. A large number of these people are youngsters, who are not yet married and are open to change cities for few years. But, each time they shift to a new city, they have to pass through a lot of hassles of finding and settling into a new house.

2) There is a huge movement of marketing/sales/support people across the country for shorter periods at various cities and towns. They face difficulty in finding decent accommodation, because hotels are prohibitively expensive and the low-end options are unacceptably lower in quality. Admin departments of companies are always hard pressed to find good temporary staying solutions for their touring staff members.

Such types of movements of people from one place to another can be supported and exploited commercially by real estate developers.

For that, they need to look at little ahead in their value chain. They need to develop real estate management organization and provide managed, furnished, shared or independent decent and affordable paying guest type of accommodations to individuals, families or companies for various types of time periods.

In short, there is a huge demand for managed, rental accommodations which do not have troubles associated with Leasing or renting Leave & License accommodations and are affordable below the hotels. Also, if such housing options are available across major cities, companies will be interested in booking accommodations for their touring manpower. They will get same standardized quality across various cities.

In today’s changing India, temporary ownership is becoming popular. Customers are not averse to paying for using something of good quality. This way, even if they can’t buy it, they can avail of good quality product or service. And the real estate developers can get better returns on their investment, while still holding the ownership of the property and earning its appreciation.

Just like radio cabs pooled together many assorted transporting vehicles, it will be pertinent if real estate developers and investors look into similar options for accommodation.