Saturday, September 27, 2008

Monday, September 22, 2008

Take the real character test

Terrific article by Shoba Narayan in the MINT .

The point that today , many confuse character and reputation is a valid one .

Friday, September 19, 2008

Barclays Bank

Barclays Bank entered India probably a year or so ago . I'm quite aware of their presence in India . This has nothing to do with their advertising or PR . Every other week I receive calls from people claiming to call on behalf of Barclays Bank and offer a personal loan or a credit card . To each caller I explain that I need neither . The cumulative number of such Barclays Bank calls is at least 12-15 in the past 3 months . They all call on my mobile . If all these callers had called on my various office or home numbers it may have been understandable . By now every marketing agency in India that Barclays Bank has employed in the past 6 months should have on their database that this consumer was contacted and has repeatedly declined every product offering.Yet the calls continue . 

This could mean - 
a. Barclays Bank has no idea (yet) that their attempts to garner business are turning consumers off 
b.   They know . But have run out of ideas to reach consumers . So this kind of harassment has the tacit or explicit approval of the Bank folks.

Either way this isn't doing much for the bank other than make it appear rather desperate and clueless . Maybe Barclays Bank is a terrific bank that provides exceptional service . After the experience of the last few months would I consider a banking relationship with Barclays ? Nope.

Trust and comfort are essential for a consumer to establish a new banking relationship. This kind of calling may work for a mobile services provider seeking to offer a new SIM card . It's grossly out of place for a bank.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Go Fish

Fishing rod from Chanel for 18,000 $ . Will be a long time (if ever ) before this makes contact with water :)

Chanel can make a 18,000 $ fishing rod . And someone may even buy it . Question to both - why ? 

Monday, September 15, 2008

Say it..NOW

If you want to extend a helping hand or say a kind word , don't wait . Do it now.

A philosophy that can extend to all life situations . Kindness not just as highlighted in the article above . Everyday kindness that brightens up the world for everyone connected . 

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Small service from big companies

Service has a relation to big + organized in Indian retail and phone/internet service providers . Service seems to be inversely proportional to the scale of the company .

In an earlier post I had written about big service from small retail . For the past several weeks I'm experiencing small (read : no ) service from 'big' service provider Airtel . About 2 months ago we shifted to the Airtel internet connection . For the first 2-3 weeks it worked well . Post that there are problems everyday with the connection . Either it won't work or it will work for 30-40 mins and stop thereafter . In 4 weeks I've called Airtel more frequently than I called the cable internet guy in the 4 years we had the connection . One of the factors seems to be the poor quality of the modem . It heats up to an extent where one can toast bread on it while on the near daily call to the Airtel call centre to lodge a complaint . The problem re the modem has been advised to Airtel . One of the service persons turned up , checked it and declared it fit . Hence , no need to replace ( He analyzed the problem as being one of connectivity alone . Whereas the problem is the duration and consistency of the connection ) .The problem persists to a point where if it is not not resolved we will disconnect the service . And certainly share the problem with folks we know so that other can make informed choices on whether to take an airtel internet connection .

The people at the call centre seem to be well meaning folks . They in fact bear the brunt of a customer's dissatisfaction . The problem is at the levels and with the people at Airtel who make crucial decisions like quality of equipment to be purchased , the design of the service process . 

Airtel spends crores on advertising to build the brand . Some of it put into buying better equipment , ensuring problem resolution and follow up calls to check if the problem has been satisfactorily resolved will do much more to build the brand than the advertisements.

It seems to be the malaise of many mammoth organizations to focus on growth , market share , market cap , profits at the cost of service and value to the very entity on whom all business is based - the customer . Airtel is not alone in this delusion . The list of companies who join them in this category makes for who's who of Indian business . It's an diverse group where multi-nationals and Indian brands have equal representation .

To paraphrase the (now) popular idea that there is money to be made at the bottom of the pyramid - there's money to be made and an enduring brand to be built by being customer focused .

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Airports as cultural ambassadors

Each region of India has a wonderfully distinct culture . The cuisine of each region too is distinct. There are amazing heritage products in each region . You'd never know of it though from the airports of the region / city .

Air travel has gone up tremendously in India . This means millions of travellers who spend ( or are forced to spend due to delays ) time at the airports . Each airport could be a magnificent cultural ambassador for the region offering authentic local cuisine , best of the products from the region . This would make it way more interesting for travellers  and rewarding for the airport and the retailers .

In a recent visit to Chennai I observed the changes in the Mumbai domestic airport .It is  by far the best airport in India . The stores , Cafes , foot reflexology massage offer good options to travellers. Would be terrific to see Mumbai food like Pav bhavji , vada pav (low oil variety !) available at the airport .  

Chennai airport has few food stalls . All of which offer high calorie , average tasting snacks . The kind you could find anywhere - sandwiches , samosas etc . A restaurant that offers average fare with no local flavor (except an odd dosa on on the menu ) . There's a new restaurant that offers fancy fare like Pesto Panini . For region that has mouthwatering , exquisite cuisine there is no representation of it at the airport . Likewise there is no representation of the gorgeous silk products of Tamil Nadu , stone work , wood work or any craft from the region for that matter.
( in a few airports where local products are available they unfortunately often tend to be average e.g Lucknow)

Turning the airports into cultural ambassadors for the region / city would be a win-win situation for all - the travellers , the airport , retailers , the artisans . Introducing the richness of each region of India to it's people and guests has a value that extends beyond business and monetary benefits .

Monday, September 8, 2008

Talent does not always have a specific degree

In an earlier post I had written that talent has no gender . According to some companies talent comes with specific educational degrees (only). Anyone without those degrees is deemed unsuitable .

Picture this – a fashion clothing manufacturer which insists on hiring only engineers with a MBA  degree for customer service and sales positions . Not only are the recruitment criteria irrelevant . They are sometimes counter productive for the business .

To succeed in customer service/sales in the fashion business one must have an eye for detail , understand the product in detail , seek to innovate , have an interest in fashion , be people centric , willingness to learn , willingness to work on the shop floor / with the artisans (if not all then at least some of this attributes in varying degrees ). Does an engineering degree ensure these traits ?

Since the creation of SoulQuest I have had the opportunity to work with a very diverse group of people and companies across India . Talent abounds in the most unexpected places .

The dedicated sales girl in a handloom store who in a few visits understood our requirements and created relevant sample ranges on her own . Built a strong rapport to an extent where my colleagues go an extra mile to develop business to place to her . It was incredibly touching to see her follow up to service some enquiries (which she knew were important for us) while on her maternity leave . This is service that can’t be taught or forced.

An entrepreneur who (works with artisans) provides consistently high levels of quality and personalized service.

    A young girl with Higher Secondary Education who today effectively manages the administration of a start-up software company . She made the effort to learn whatever was needed , asked for additional responsibilities . Of course the organization supported her . But without her initiative it would not have been possible.

The examples could fill a book . The point is not that engineering or certain degrees are of no value . An arts graduate may be able to bring immense value to a software company and a biotech graduate may make a terrific designer. The point is that talent does not always come only with a uniform package of specific degrees.

This is even more relevant in a country like India where the educational system is quite rigid. Add to it the fact that career choices get determined at an age when (in most cases) the person makes choices from a limited understanding of possibilities . For many certain educational options are not available due to monetary constraints . But they have the attitude , talent and willingness to learn .Given this background - ill conceived recruitment criteria are a disservice to the business and every stake holder involved.

Oddly companies seem to look at non-linear profiles to recruit only when faced with a crisis of shortage of ‘suitable’ candidates .  It’s a reaction rather than a pro-active strategy .

Large corporates  tend to seek homogeneity of sorts – within a function , across the organization . In some it takes the form of documented recruitment criteria , in some it is informal e.g hire people who are likely to be in sync with the culture of not questioning the hierarchy etc . The end result is a group with an alarming resemblance to the agents in the Matrix movies .

To navigate through today’s world new (relevant) skills are vital – to understand the changing business landscape , innovate continuously and to build strong relationships.

It takes self-confident and strong leaders to redefine the business and invite the (relevant) diverse group of people on-board .

p.s - The very existence , shape and form of organizations is undergoing scrutiny and change in a world where groups come together and create something that would have been impossible for an organization to do / do at a comparable cost e.g Wikipedia , Flickr . More on that in a later post…

Friday, September 5, 2008

Sign of the times

Visited an Archies store recently ( it's a chain of stores in India that retails greeting cards , gift items ) . Having taken to making personalized cards and letters I had not visited any such store in months . The range of cards was ok . The gifts items give the impression that the store seeks to cater only to teenage girls who want to buy gifts for other teenagers . It would take a courageous father to display any gift from that store in his office . Tough luck if you are out shopping there for any person who is not a teenager . Archies is certainly missing a huge opportunity to cater to a wider segment of the population . 

As I walked through the store I saw something I'd never seen before . There were ceramic piggy banks (nothing piggy about them though) . The color scheme was very feminine . And the piggy banks had slogans like "shoe fund" , "hand bag fund" . There was one piggy bank that had some message from a parent to the daughter encouraging her to save for her dreams (or something to that effect). Apparently boys don't save money or at least they don't save money this way . 

This kind of merchandise is telling of our times and it's rampant consumerism. A retailer is marketing piggy banks encouraging girls to save money to be able to buy hand bags and shoes . Interestingly the piggy banks were the variety where the only way to access the money is to break it ( as the tag read " we encourage you to wrap a cloth around it before breaking to avoid any damage to the user" ) . So each time the consumer breaks a piggy bank she'll need another one . Maybe the idea is to launch a mini piggy to gather funds to buy accessory specific piggy banks .

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Handle with love

At SoulQuest hand-made products are a passion for us . This coupled with the exploration of India's textile heritage makes for a lot of 'aha!' moments at work. 

While maintaining a certain quality and look we experiment a fair amount to make product presentations creative , engaging and more importantly respectful of the product , people and everything that went into creating it . Few months ago we decided to stamp some of the exceptional hand made products with a stamp that says "Handle with love" . It was interesting to see the response it elicited within the extended SoulQuest community . Many loved it . Some were alarmed (what's the word love doing in a company's lexicon ? ). Spirited discussions ensued. Can't say that we have converted all the skeptics . The doors are open for an ongoing dialogue .

To our delight a Japanese retailer loved the idea and has requested to feature "Handle with Love" on their forthcoming garment collection . 

Business is essentially a human endeavor . A working person spends most of his waking hours at work . As consumers we experience the products and services created by businesses. Worldwide business is a force that wields far greater power than governments or any institution . In an essentially human endeavor that is today the most powerful force shaping the planet - does it make sense to pretend that emotions , values have no place ? To see business primarily as an aggregation of numbers ? This view of business in varying degrees is responsible to a large extent for the state of the planet and it's inhabitants . Sadly this 'view' is not just a view . It's the eyes through which many see i.e it's so deep rooted . Active acknowledgement and inclusion of emotions and values are essential to nurture creativity and intuition . The quantum leaps we need to make as a species are unlikely to come from a view of business where business is seen an end in itself  or an elaborate number game.

For many the sterile view of business is like 'The Emperor's New Clothes' . Not everyone though has the honesty and courage of the child in that fable . 

We can alter the view and role of business through actions and choices we make everyday as business people and consumers. Granted that the change is unlikely to happen overnight . But the current view of business too did not develop in a day .

Tread with courage .