Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Everyone does not use Windows !

I use a Macbook . For me it's a fantastic device . With it's intuitive functions it frees me up to work on whatever I need to without having to bother to master the nuances of the operating system or the interface . As a consequence I am happier and more productive in my work that involves the computer .

Bought some data recently . It came in a CD . Only problem is that I can't read any of it because it is designed only to work on a Windows based computer . 

We initiated an account with a courier and transport company . The person from the company came over to install some software that would provide a lot of the information one would normally need . Can't be installed on my laptop because it is designed only for windows based computers .

Companies/websites must factor that all their customers/users do not use a windows based computer . Is a Mac user going to trade his/her Mac for a windows computer ? Very unlikely . Is the business* that chooses to service only windows based computers likely to lose business (of mac users)  ? Possibly .
* especially if it's a generic , mediocre service provider

Monday, November 24, 2008

Listening to customers

At a recent seminar the CEO of a company that hosts a popular consumer feedback site Mouthshut.com talked about the unwillingness of most companies to listen to and speak with their customers . He jokingly offered a prize to anyone who could speak with the CEO of Vodafone in 24 hours . 

The tenacity with most which organizations stonewall efforts of customers to speak with a senior person (anyone one more senior than the team leader at the call centre ) of the company is amazing . At some point the call centre folks seem to have figured that declining to give information will enrage the customer . So now , they say " sorry we don't know who is in charge of customer service " . Some will go even so far as to feign ignorance of who is the CEO of the company . 

On one hand companies try vigorously to resist engaging in communication with customers. And the same organization will spend megabucks to engage the services of market research companies like Gallup to get customer feedback . Case in point - the world's local bank . Maybe organizations feel like listening only when they pay for the service ?

Friday, November 21, 2008


For a working professional the email inbox often provides a source of amusement...

I had emailed an enquiry to a company . Received a reply today that addressed some of the queries emailed . It had a rather baffling request "We request you to please re-send your enquiry on your business letterhead as it is our policy for new prospective clients. This may be sent either by fax to us at our fax number or by courier/post to the following address " !

Received an unsolicited email from a company that seems to provide website development and search engine optimization services . In the email the company ( I refer to them as 'the company' because the email was signed by 'The Sales Team' ) had mentioned that they had studied the website of SoulQuest and that they found scope for improvement . The 'improvement' being a form in the 'Contact us' section . When a person submits an enquiry a message would pop up saying " we will contact you in 48 hours" . Though the rest of the mail was pure jargon with over priced services I felt obliged to respond since someone there seems to have made the effort to study and site and suggest an improvement . So , I sent them an email thanking for the offer and that we would contact them in future if we felt a need for their services . Promptly I received a reply " we will contact you in 48 working hours " . 48 working hours is eternity in today's world.Assuming they work 8 hours a day it means a response time of 6-8 days depending on how many days a week they work . It's been 3 days since that message . It appears that they take the 48 working hours quite seriously :) They have an auto responder configured . Even someone who was writing in with a business enquiry would receive the same email . It's a counter productive message for a company operating in internet related services .
(in retrospect it seems that possibly the 'contact us' is the only section of a site they study to be able to write a message that sounds customized )

The UN's incomprehensible effort to become environment-friendly

article in the newspaper today...

The United Nations (UN) is working on a proposal to organize paperless and environmentally friendly international conferences in future.

To begin with, delegates attending a global gathering in Doha on the ozone layer are being issued laptops in a bid to minimize the use of paper for documents, reports and other publications.

Special software allows participants from 150 nations to share and amend papers. The pilot paperless programme will take its next big step forward next February at a meeting of the world’s environment ministers at UNEP’s headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya.

The UN makes laptops sound like non-wood paper ! Each of the delegates (most anyway ) are likely to already use laptops . The UN could have emailed the necessary software which would enable them to share and amend papers etc . In a world reeling under the impact of the current economic situation the UN seems flush with funds to try out such ideas to become 'environment friendly' . Wonder if they have a plan to recycle the laptops ? (The Indian delegate will have the task to explain to Indian customs why he left with one laptop and returned with two . I guess such a delegate would have the 'connections' to ensure a smooth entry )

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Help underprivileged children

There are several ways in which you can help underprivileged children get quality education .

1. You can identify children in your neighborhood / extended community whose education is restricted due to lack of financial resources . Sponsor the child's education and mentor them ongoingly .

2. Donate money to a NGO you trust will do a sincere job of providing education to underprivileged children .

Wow ! Wish I had a large family and could refer all of them to HSBC Premier and rack up good karma points for the contributions that the World's Local Bank will make to the cause of children's education . Since my family members already endure the trauma of being Premier customers of HSBC guess I'll have to let this opportunity to do good pass .

Seldom do large corporations do something altruistic because they are committed to it . Most such causes are promotions for business development , brand building , product selling . This 'initiative' from HSBC India sets a new low in the category of 'companies using charitable causes to peddle their wares'.

Nowhere does the mailer (received last evening by courier ) mention that HSBC has already donated a certain amount to the cause or is supporting the education of 1000 children . And your referral will add to the good work . Instead the mailer says ' At HSBC , we are keen to make a difference to the society that we live in and with a little help from you , we are confident that together we can make a significant difference' . Highly possible that Muktangan may get funds from the world's local bank for the education of 2 children at the most.

This initiative from HSBC is a study not just not the crude commercialism of corporations and the willingness to resort to any means to peddle their wares - it's also instructive in inefficiency and waste . For a program valid from 30th Sep 08 to 1 Dec 08 I received the mailer on 15 Nov 08.
A 8 page mailer (of which 1.3 pages are devoted to 'the cause' ) shrink wrapped in plastic . All this waste when an email would have sufficed (if they found themselves unable to resist concocting such an offer ) .

Education is a serious need for millions across the world . In India especially ( and unfortunately) we don't have to go too far from our homes to find children and adults who need support for their education . As the world gets more and more interconnected education or the lack of it creates a divide that makes the Grand Canyon look like a small crack . Pl do support and encourage education directly or through groups that have a proven track record of sincere and efficient efforts .

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Responsible design

Visited few stores retailing clothes for children . The violent , disturbing nature of the motifs on several garments for young boys 5 years and above was a shocker ( I could finally buy something at the third store ) . Clothing companies should exercise discipline and restraint while designing for an impressionable audience . 

Already children are faced with a steady stream of violent imagery on TV , newspapers , magazines. Surely they can do without violent images on their clothing .

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Brand label !

Brands put in a lot of effort to design and produce their brand labels .

To an average dry cleaner in India a brand label or wash care label is space to mark the customer's initials for identification !

Monday, November 3, 2008

Gift wrap

At a book store in Bandra last week I purchased some books that I wanted gift wrapped . The store had a lovely range of gift wrapping papers as a product for sale . Their range of gift wrapping papers which they offered for free gift wrapping were ludicrous (wish I had taken pictures of both to post here ) . The not-so-subtle idea being that the consumer would take a look at the papers they offered free , reject it and buy a sheet of the lovely range on sale .

Strangely and sadly very few retailers and brands in India understand that gift wrapping -
- represents the brand
- is a service to the customer
- has the potential to turn a sale into a memorable event (and the customer into an evangelist)

In the continuum of the quality of gift wrapping - a brand can delight the customer with exquisite packaging paper . Or be in the neutral zone with plain (but elegant ) paper . Why brands seek to trivialize their product and brand by offering garish options that are out of sync with the brand is beyond comprehension . 

Notice that the reference above is only so far to the paper / material . The next step is the neatness and creativity of the packaging . Again , most Indian retailers and brands don't seem to realize the importance of doing this right .

Lastly , the sentiment with which it is done . Ideally , the gift wrapping section should be a celebration zone . A customer has purchased an item to gift . Hurray ! Ask the customer about the occasion , the recipient of the gift . Customize the packaging to the extent possible . e.g which is the recipient's favorite color ? Would you like the gift to be packed in an unusual way ?

The gift wrapping in most Indian stores is a low end , unskilled job located in some small corner of the store. The individual handling the gift wrapping seems to receive very little training or motivation from the store managers . Most times they learn from customers chiding them to do neater job . 

The completely obvious is so difficult to see ? 

What's in a box ?

For some companies the entire brand is defined by the box that contains the product...

In a recent visit to a men's accessories store in Mumbai I found 4 brands with little or no product differenciation . If a consumer mixed up the products then it would have been tough (if not impossible ) for the sales staff to figure out which design belonged to which brand . The general idea seems to be that brand = the packaging with a name slapped on it . The customer is an idiot who will get moved into reaching for his wallet at the sight of the brand name . What else can explain a product with a price 4 times that of the exactly identical product  next to it ? The only difference being the box ( brand ) in which the products were placed . 

In any country this would be a crazy path to follow . One that will confuse and alienate customers sooner and later . To do this in a value conscious market like India is even more mystifying .
* a friendly chat with the salesperson revealed that not a single unit of the 4x priced product had been sold since the time the store had commenced operation .

The obscure some people eventually see . The completely obvious , it seems , takes a little longer .