Saturday, February 27, 2010

Customer Service Or Great Product

Sundaram Motors Petrol Bunk at Whites Road in Chennai has always been regarded as the bunk that delivers pure fuel. Well, I believe it is an open secret that 'all' petrol bunks usually make an additional margin by mixing petrol with 'cheaper additives'. As we know it is a regulated market, the bunks usually make very little margins per liter over a lock-in of expensive realty.

Many would have heard of Manjunath, the IIM Graduate who was murdered by bunk owners indulged in such unscrupulous practice. Pity! But that makes a completely different topic for discussion.

Back to Sundaram Motors. Well there is always a huge line at the bunk. While earlier it were those who wanted to preserve their engines, today, I think it is simply because processes haven't kept pace with the changes in technology and the customer-focused initiatives of the oil marketing companies. One has to park the vehicle in line, walk down to a counter, make the payment and bring the bill to fill in their tanks!

With every fuel marketing company having their own quality and quantity assurance program, the competitive advantage gap of ‘pure fuel’ may have been a lot narrowed. The petrol bunk, in general, have started taking customer experience very seriously. Right from billing to a check up of your vehicle. Almost everything is offered to you. Filling, billing and collections happen at one point.

Now as for the customer, what does he do? Does he go through a bit of inconvenience to get the best product or he doesn't mind a 'slightly compromised' product for better customer service. My guess, from a bit of understanding of how I act and people around behave, we prefer comfort. Yes, we do desire for the best but often do not go the extra mile, if we have to, to make purchase. A look at the opportunity cost clearly tilts the favor for us to make compromised purchase decisions, most of the time.

What is more interesting to note about Sundaram Motors petrol bunk is that they have strict operating time. They have a proper one hour lunch break! If you go on a national holiday, be surprised to find it closed. I somehow get a feeling that Revenues may not on top of the mind for the Sundaram Motors. Surprises me!

Does this mean that the bunk will close down? No. On the contrary, it will always be crowded. If not for loyal customers, then for the legacy customer unfriendly processes.

Friday, February 19, 2010

When I Die...


The word conjures up images of pain, suffering and grief!

What is it about death that scares me? It is not as if I am worried about my own death. When I was young, I was scared that my parents would die in some accident and I would be rendered an orphan! Recently, my wife went on an official trip for about two-three weeks. I didn’t realize much when I dropped her at the airport. But when I came home from office, I felt a slapping vacuum. I have stopped myself from thinking about Cheeku and Pumpkin. They have shorter life span than human beings.

I was mightily depressed after Rajiv Gandhi's assassination. I was all of 15, then!

So, it is not necessarily only the loss of near and dear ones that affects!

What is it about death that scares us, if not ours then of our loved ones? Even people with whom we have never interacted seems to affect us? This despite that death is the only certainty in our lives and we all are aware or have been made aware of.

This could be fear of loss of one or a combination of the needs as prescribed in Maslow’s Theory on Hierarchy of Needs. Like when I was in school, the basic and security needs could have weighed heavily on my mind. But Maslow’s Theory doesn’t provide all answers.

Our life is akin to the particles in the universe. It is believed that the particles are always in constant motion while exerting pressure and maintaining a bond with other particles. When a star dies and becomes a Black Hole, it exerts far more pressure on nearby objects than it does in its lifetime. Similarly, we realize the impact of someone who is close more when the person is not around. Even if we don’t keep in touch with a person on a daily basis, the loss is felt. Like a computer, our memory is filled with the thoughts about the person. When we realize that the source of those experiences is not there, we suffer. The emotions and feelings could be mixed, but without a doubt very hard.

There is no running from the fact. Enduring the pain is the only way out.

How The Internet Can Impede Democracy

I often am lost on why would Chinese Government block and put curbs. I think whoever is ruling China has built it to a great organization which is increasing dominating the entire world. And, of course, people are never happy with their governments. India is the largest democracy, people get 'all sorts' of rights. But we haven't moved.

I am wondering if a good authoritative government is the key. Ah but as they say power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely. Catch 22!
How The Internet Can Impede Democracy: "
Yesterday I asked the question: does China really feel threatened by U.S. social media services such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube? As usual, I got an education in the comments to the post. While it's true that the Chinese government blocks Twitter, Facebook and all of the main American social media sites, several commenters pointed out they are blocked not because of their popularity (because they aren't, in fact, very popular in China), but due to their degree of freedom. In other words, the more open a social media service is, the more likely it will be blocked in China.

However, perhaps authoritarian governments shouldn't block social media - it may actually be helpful to them!


Evgeny Morozov, a Belarus-born researcher and blogger, presented at TED last year on the topic of How the Net aids dictatorships. In his presentation (embedded below), Morozov makes the contrarian argument that the Internet is actually helping authoritarian governments - more so than being a challenge to them. Morozov asserted that governments like China's have "mastered the use of cyberspace for propaganda purposes."

Morozov noted that in the Iran Twitter protests of June of 2009, services such as Twitter, Facebook and blogs were actually operational and being used by activists. According to Morozov, this was great for the Iranian government - as it enabled them to "gather open source intelligence." The government could identify how Iranian activists connect to each other, by looking at their Facebook pages or Twitter connections.

Kaiser Kuo commented in yesterday's post about the same issue in China:

"'s astonishing how cavalier some critics of the CCP [China Communist Party] are on Twitter, making no effort to disguise their identities, making their network of friends totally transparent (you can use any of a number of Twitter tools to see the extent of interconnectedness, friend overlap, number of @ messages back and forth, etc) and leaving a completely searchable history. Anyone with a serious anti-CCP agenda would be an idiot to use Twitter."

Also worth noting: Morozov said in his TED talk that cyber-activism may be offset by what he termed "cyber-hedonism." He claimed that people are becoming passive due to the Internet. He said that we often assume that the Internet is going to be the catalyst of change, but it may actually be "the new opium for the masses."

Morozov's theories were challenged in the comments to that TED video. One commenter claimed that "we focus on the obvious totalitarian regimes while our so called democracies use propaganda on a daily basis."

Regardless, Morozov raises some very valid points. While the Web promotes freedom of expression, at the same time it enables authoritarian regimes to monitor their citizens and identify troublemakers.

Let us know your thoughts on this in the comments.

Photo: harrystaab



Tuesday, February 16, 2010

When I learnt from someone younger?

Tennis when not played by pros is more about patience than power. I took up to tennis relatively late and started playing tournaments (doubles) even later.

I must say that I make a wonderfully miserable player and a doubles partner. Every time we lose a match which we do quite often, I would indulge in blame game. I realize it and am trying hard to not be a real loser.

In this context what I learnt from my partner who is half my age will remain etched in my memory for the rest of my life. As my regular partner could not play, I took this young boy to partner me for a match last Sunday. Must say, I wasn’t hoping for a win.

Surprisingly, we took the first set quite easily and were leading in the second set comfortably. Then the opposition adopted the strategy of targeting my partner. They probably thought he was young and might break under pressure. They kept playing to him and waited for him to make the mistake. The rallies extended beyond my level of patience. I stepped in between at the net but made mistakes. And we lost the second set. Then I realized that the boy had all the patience and was playing good. And that is what Doctors prescribe! To keep the ball in play and let the opposition make the mistake. As I said at amateur level, you have to be more consistent rather than display power.

In his place, I would have my cool and sooner or later I would have either hit into the net or outside the court.

I let the boy play his natural game. No surprises, we won the third set and the match.

It is often said that learning happens at all ages. But many of us probably do not consider learning from those who are younger to us. We become quite condescending. And probably that causes the so-called generation gap. But now I believe that there is more to learn from younger generation as they go through pressures which my peers or elder ones would probably have never imagined. What is more important is that they handle the pressure better and in the process become better beings.

The idea is to have an open mind.

In addition to learning from somebody junior, I also learnt what strategy is from the opposition team. They were both quite elder to us. They mercilessly went through their strategy and targeted my younger partner and almost walked away with the match.

So, I realized strategy is about deciding a course of action and following through it with complete focus. Of course, we should make well-judged tactical changes when required.

Ha, it was a learning Sunday!

Friday, February 12, 2010

6 Companies Setting the Standard for Great Customer Service on Twitter

Now this is very interesting. Till now, telephone, chat and email was a medium for companies to provide support or sell. Twitter adds to the list. While another opportunity for outsourcing firms in India to provide additonal service? Will the six companies use their IT or BPO vendors to provide support on Twitter, too?

6 Companies Setting the Standard for Great Customer Service on Twitter: "
By Jenna Lebel

blog picThe connectivity of social media has opened the door for companies in their efforts to engage their customers, solve their problems and build overall brand favorability. Aside from reaching fans of your brand, you can use the micro-blogging site to better serve them and improve your customer relations. The benefits of using Twitter as a customer service tool are unparalleled. Through Twitter, you can resolve problems for your customers, portray your brand in a positive way and set the record straight when it’s portrayed in a negative way. Arguably the most important benefit is that it can reduce costs since customer service via Twitter likely takes less time and money than a dedicated call center does. Here are examples of 6 companies who are very effective in using Twitter for customer service. Can you think of others? Share in the comments section below.

Whole Foods (@WholeFoods)

Followers: 1,755,414

Whole Foods uses Twitter to build relationships with their customers by not only having a corporate Twitter account, but also having a Twitter account for each Whole Foods location. Through the corporate Twitter account, Whole Foods effectively addresses customer concerns by directly tweeting at the customer with the response to all problems. Whole Foods answers customer service questions and takes actions to solve customer problems. For example, in response to one customer, Whole Foods tweeted “I just called P Street for you. The chicken breasts are fresh, but you can find frozen chicken strips in the store as well.” Whole Foods encourages customer feedback and as an added bonus, they offer a $25 gift card for the tweet of the day!

JetBlue (@jetblue)

Followers: 1,612,373

JetBlue uses Twitter to promote sales and provide information about flights and additional services. That’s only one way that JetBlue uses the micro-blogging platform. They also frequently use Twitter to respond to customers’ concerns and issues. JetBlue tweets use a light and friendly in order to keep unhappy customers somewhat calmer. For example, in response to a tweet concerning a 3-hour delay, JetBlue responded “JFK is on an air traffic control ground delay program due to gusting winds. We’re working to push flights safely asap!”

Zappos (@Zappos_Service)

Followers: 3,565

Zappos uses twitter for customer service by having a separate Twitter account that directly addresses customer concerns and enables customers to communicate with employees of Zappos. There are actually more than 400 Zappos employees tweeting! Sometimes an employee will introduce himself by name so that customers know that they are communicating with a real person (example from yesterday, “Good Wednesday morning! Stephanie here if you need any assistance!”) The employees who tweet for Zappos not only answer questions posed by customers, but also actively respond to compliments and other comments

Comcast (@comcastcares)

Followers: 37,613

Comcast has a separate Twitter account run by Frank Eliason, Senior Director of Comcast National Customer Service, that directly addresses customer service. Frank includes a complete bio as well as his blog URL and email addresses to encourage customer feedback and service assitance. In response to one customer’s concern about not receiving channels, Frank responds, “Not connecting to any channel? Any error message? Have you unplugged it and plugged it back in?” Frank’s identity behind the Twitter account gives a true sense of customer care because it lets customers know that they are directly communicating with an informed Comcast employee who will address their questions.

Microsoft (@MicrosoftHelps)

Followers: 4,693

Microsoft also has a separate Twitter account dedicated to customer service. This Twitter account has four customer service employees who tweet: Andrea, Andrew, Brian, and Zahn. Monday through Friday from 7:30am to 5:30pm, these Microsoft employees tweet to customers and answer questions and concerns. In response to a question about Windows Explorer crashes, Brian responded, “Since it’s happening on 2 different Windows 7 machines, I created an MS Answers post for you. –BK.”

Starbucks (@starbucks)

Followers: 756,106

Starbucks’ Twitter account aims at being very interactive with its followers. The bio reads “Freshly brewed tweets from Brad at Starbucks in Seattle, WA.” Brad works to address any customer concerns, comments and compliments. When responding to a complaint about a bad cup of coffee, Brad tweets, “@FaythMichelle Sorry about that. If it isn’t perfect, we’ll remake (repour/rebrew) it.” While the Twitter account is not dedicated primarily to customer service, Brad makes it a large part of his daily tweets.

Thumbs Down to Google Buzz

The problem of plenty. In my opinion, Buzz may not make a cut. It seems Wave and Twitter has been incorporated into Gmail. Force fit, it looks for now. Would be interesting to see what happens after a while.

Thumbs Down to Google Buzz: "
Dave Kerpen, our CBO, gives the thumbs down to Google Buzz. Google Buzz allows you to share information and get social with your Gmail contacts, but there’s no way to segment who you are sharing which information with– and your contact list might include contacts from all different sectors of your world. Try using Facebook lists instead!

Update: Thanks to Brad Ward, who pointed out that you can segment information you share on Google Buzz by different groups. See his screenshot here. We still think Google Buzz has a huge uphill battle to climb, as users don’t want another social network – and that once Facebook debuts its new email system (“Project Titan”), Facebook will own the online identity space that Google craves. But we’re curious about your thoughts: Google Buzz:  Boom or Bust?


Tuesday, February 09, 2010

When I Lost My Job!

Losing job can be counted as one of the most difficult situations in life. Earlier people had life-time jobs and retired peacefully. Of course, even then people lose their orientation after suddenly finding that they have nothing to do the next morning.

But losing the job when employer shows the door can be petrifying. And fortunately or unfortunately it is a reality, today. Indians have been slow but have woken-up to the rude truth. It is often blamed on capitalism. I would not say employers are wrong in asking employees to leave the job. The business dynamics demand organizations to be more responsible towards investors and are forced to sever the weakest link in order to run faster.

While on the other hand, employees are also not saints. Employee attrition in many industries is abnormally high. When unhappy, move. While handovers do happen, every attrition is a set back to the employer.

But as they say an organization is bigger than employee and since I am also an employee who has borne the brunt of employer harshness, let me deal with the problem of the member.

First of all, it is not that employees are thrown out all of a sudden. In most cases, there are signals. Every employee has to be alert to these waves.

1. Promotion denied
2. Increments lesser than your peers
3. Responsibilities being taken off
4. Change in superiors attitude
5. Even the changes in the business environment

I am sure there are more than those listed above that one should watch out for. While these are not signs necessarily that one will be given Pink Slips, but these are indicators that management is not happy with employee’s performance. But in most cases when such signals are not heeded to, then the calamity does strike.

The problem for an individual is more psychological than anything else. A person’s self esteem takes a big beating. There is a blinding sense of insecurity. One questions his or her own capability. The next immediate is the social pressure, the need to explain to stakeholders concerned. What will tell your family and friends? Then there are financial reasons. Most of us have commitment - expenditure, investments and debt. Sudden disruption in income can cause havoc.

So what can one do?

1. Avoid: Look for signals. But more than that perform, perform, perform. Become an asset. Two, take initiatives to become ‘indispensible’.
2. Accept the reality: Even CEOs are thrown out of jobs.
3. Think positive: In many cases, a break from a place where you are not appreciated is the best thing to happen to you. You get an opportunity to relook at your career. You can explore newer opportunities.
4. Manage your finances: Always save for the rainy days. You may have to sell the car or lose your house. You can get them again with the new job.
5. Fall back on your ‘circle’: Whether it is to get a new job or to seek financial help. You can always depend on your ‘circle’.

Losing a job is not the end of the world. It is only a step to new beginning. And you can make the new stint far better than your previous ones.