Sunday, December 22, 2013

Social Media and Customer Service: Part 1

Before I begin, on a very different note, please avoid any of the private bus operators if you want to travel between Mumbai and Pune or vice versa. Shivneri buses operated by the Government are very efficient. 

Coming back to what made me pen this post; my very own experience of social media 's power in bringing a corporate "down to its knees" and make it listen to a disgruntled customer. More importantly, today organizations seem more worried a cure rather than prevention. Cure here would mean that organizations are willing to act upon escalation of complaints on social media rather than building robust customer service organization and processes that can prevent escalation on social media. 

Recently, I had to travel from Pune to Mumbai, from where I was to board a train to Surat. I used to book my ticket. Before booking I went through the Terms of Use. Do read, could be useful if you intend to use redBus to book tickets.

So, on the designated day I reached Purple Metrolinks boarding point opposite to the Pune Bus Stand on Station Road. The bus was supposed to leave at 5.30 am. I reached the stop well in advance. I waited. At around 5.40 am an outlet next to where I was supposed to board the bus opened. As I approached the outlet, I realized that it was Neeta Travels' dealer and not Purple's. I resumed my waiting there. The arms of the clock seem to be ticking faster, then. My train was at 11 am from Bandra Terminus. And I knew that it takes a minimum of four hours on the private buses and was worried that I might miss my train.

Then it became 6 and then 6.15. I started getting restless and checked with the Neeta Travel's operator. He said that Purple's service was bad and the buses were cancelled often and they were always late. I made frantic calls to Purple office and no one picked. Finally, I picked up a ticket with Neeta and left Pune at 6.40. At around 7, I got a call from someone at Purple asking me where I was! Not keen to have a conversation I just told the guy that I left by Neeta and cut the call.

Immediately, I also mailed narrating the story that you have been painstakingly reading so far and sought a refund. That was about two months back. And then the waiting game started again, this time with redBus.

After many mail exchanges, numerous calls and waiting for about two months, I realized that if I didn't escalate the issue to higher ups, I will probably never get a refund. While I used LinkedIn to connect to the officials of the organization, I also went to Facebook and Twitter. Usually I would avoid bashing anyone on social media. I don't think that is a good practice. I would prefer using these social media forums only if I have exhausted all other channels of redressal. Two months of waiting and no response meant it was time. I left a harsh note about the customer service and their refund process on both forums.

Voila! Within an hour, I got a call, a mail and couple of messages on the forums asking for details. Two hours later refund was done. Followed by confirmation calls and a mail. And a request if I could remove my social media bashing!

As a customer, I was happy. As a marketer, saddened. While organizations are taking social media appearances and image seriously, are they missing out something?

To be continued.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Democracy and House Party

At ITM, the five of us were a very close knit gang. After college, work split us though the bond was intact.

And now, after about ten years all of us are in Chennai. We all got together on Whatsapp. Suddenly, it felt as if we were back in the small room at Vanniyambathi Street in Mandaveli, though virtual.

We decided to to have a family get together. And that's when I realized how difficult it was to run the country in the democratic set up.

Here's how the rest of the story pans out or should I say fizzled out.

1. Date: Since weekdays were impossible, there was an agreement that it has to be on a weekend. But would that be on a Saturday or Sunday, that was the question. I preferred Saturday while other friend preferred Sunday. After a bit of persuasion, we decided on a particular Saturday. But soon after agreeing, few days later one member informed that he was not going to be available that particular Saturday. Now, thankfully we all quickly agreed for the next Saturday.

2. Make, Deliver or Go Out: Initially the plan was that it would be a potluck. Each household gets to make a particular dish. While the idea was good, after some considerations we decided to go to a restaurant. So we started discussing which place and type of food. At this point, I noticed that one particular friend wasn't communicating. So I called him. As I had anticipated he wasn't happy going to a restaurant. So we decided to order and I offered to host the meeting at my place.

3. Biriyani or Pasta: The decision was to order bucket biriyani. Just as we got close, a friend checked if we could order pasta instead of biriyani. After discussing the palate of people, we decided against it. Just as we finished the conversation, we realized we had nothing for the lone vegetarian in the gang. An additional logistic load.

Of course as the day neared, I had a hunch. So three days before our meeting, I called each of them to reconfirm. As I had thought, two of them said that something had come up at home and that they couldn't make it. That was three days before our grand meeting. Finally, there was no get together, no biriyani. Just some irritation and acidity.

Now if you were patient reading all these trivial details about dates and biriyani for an insignificant meeting between friends, I thank you. All these happenings reminds me of the state of our nation. It makes me wonder if Democracy is bane or boon to our country. Is it helping the country move forward or pulling it backwards?

Take Andhra Pradesh turmoil for instance. One party brings the state to a halt as it wants a separate state to be carved out. When a decision is taken, the rest bring it to grinding halt fighting against the division. Take my own state for example, the power starved Tamil Nadu. Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project was planned more than a decade ago. The construction of the plant started in 1998, now in 2011 we have protests about its safety.

Seems like democracy in India is only letting the nation take one step forward and two backwards. The consensus building exercise is a task juggernaut with too many voices and so many power centers.

Would an autocratic rule be the answer? Would someone who can rule with an iron hand be better for the country?

And then I think about this example and feel proud that India a democracy. Because the basic bedrock of democracy is that citizens are intelligent. And that ultimately the power lies in their hands.

Think about how China and India have dealt with one of their biggest problems - the burgeoning population. While China decreed one child policy with strict enforcement. Any exceptions was dealt with strongly.

India too had a brief enforcement through vasectomy. But otherwise, India's strategy to controlling the population growth was and has been based on - advocacy and public relations. No one can ever forget hum do, hamare do (we two, ours two). You could see it everywhere, the inverted red triangle. TV programs, Radio Streams, Hospitals...The messages appealed to people's good sense. Apprised them of the benefits. No coercion, no punishment. In fact, if I am not wrong there were no incentives, as well. It was freewill.

Becoming republic was probably the best gift that our leaders gave us. But I guess with it also comes along different voices often with narrow vision. With Federal system, the power becomes fragmented. And this is a scenario not just in India. The United States of America witnessed shut down recently. There are certainly challenges, but I guess this is the better form of governance.

In the end, it is a two way process. People have to exercise their choice carefully and their representatives in the Republic have to act responsibly. Idealistic? Is that too much to expect? 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Indians and the Finishing Touch

If Frenchman Jacques Bigot had dark skin, he would look like an Indian old man. He was a short man with sharp pointed mustache. He was heading a special project of building the factory for the organization where I worked. As the infrastructure was nearing completion, he called me in to carry out branding at the factory.

Jacques Bigot had an eye for detail. He was also very particular of sticking to schedules. And while communicating, he was straight and blunt. Despite that it was fun working with him. Despite pushing everyone to commit to a plan and ensuring they stick to it, no one could ever hate him. He was jovial and fun loving.

After the completion of branding at the factory, I went a little late into the factory next day. I was feeling proud that I had done a good job and was sure Jacques will be impressed. As I entered I found Jacques outside and as soon as he was me, he welcomed me by giving a warm handshake and thanked me. I felt good. Then, he said "come with me". I knew there was something else.

He took me to one part of the factory and said "I don't blame and you have done a good job. But I have always noticed that Indians are not good at finishing things properly". Then, he showed me the mounds of mud that had accumulated on the skirting under each of the poster. He said though the posters were properly placed, the vendor had left without clearing the dust. Then he went on the point out to the pencil marks on the wall that had been etched around the poster. This is usually done to ensure that the posters are aligned properly but now they were part of the wall too.

At first, I was upset. Then after some thought I felt Jacques Bigot wasn't wrong. I have myself had such experiences after a visit from a service provider - electrician, AC mechanic, plumber, carpenter. Am sure you must have experienced this as well. Bits of wires strewn around? Pieces of wood, plastic, copper wire, dust that we clean up.

This can be experienced almost everywhere in India. Have you experienced the sudden bump on the road throwing you off balance and giving your back a big surprise. Or the other kind which emerges half feet above the road surface. Not sure if Corporation staff were planning a gutter closing or a speed breaker. The height of the pavements differ or are laid without a thought. Sometime, you wonder why the pavement was laid at all. Or take the Kathipara Grade Separator in Chennai for that matter. In one particular part, the rain water stagnates. And worse the surface is very uneven in other parts. Such a massive project handled by a professional organization with huge amounts of money invested!

Why does this happen? Lack of interest to complete our tasks fully or are we insensitive to the "finishing". 

Friday, October 18, 2013

Disruptive Technologies: Mobiles Vs The Rest

Now, I just wrote about how mobiles could kill the watch brands. With Samsung Galaxy Gear, the battle for the wrist is official. If Apple gets in, it will be more interesting. If this was not enough, Adidas has launched a smart watch while Nike already has one.

Now the other day, I was watching TV and saw Priyanka Chopra, the former Miss World, movie star and a favorite for brands in India, promoting two different brands with conflicting interests. In one ad, she is promoting Nikon. In the other, she speaks of Nokia as a listening brand and how the camera in Lumia allows one to take pictures in the low light.

Strange isn't it? Or at least that is what I thought. I posted my opinion about this conflict on my Facebook status. Interestingly, few friends felt that Priyanka was not professional. But that was not the point. She is quite fine in pocketing the money offered by the brands. It should have been the brands' responsibility to ensure that there are no conflict of interest.

Conflict of interest?

On the Facebook status, some felt that there was no conflict of interest. They said one was a mobile phone that has a good camera and the other was a camera brand. Why am I seeing a conflict? Because I saw a sign of disruption. How? First Canon, then Olympus and Fuji exited the low-end camera business.

So, Nokia Lumia 1020 will come with a 41 mega pixel camera. How long before the mobile industry brings cameras that are more sophisticated and capable? Now that is disruption for you. Like classic example of computers replacing typewriters. Emails and electronic transfers have hit the humble neighborhood post office. Telegraph is already history.

As I had said, if Gear and similar devices make watches irrelevant, then there is every possibility that Cameras will also be eaten by mobiles. Going by the looks of it, in future, any device that doesn't multitask is likely to face a death. So, TV can no more be TV, it has to be smart. Gaming Console is not just gaming console, they have to help us watch movies, organize our pictures and listen to music. Watch is not a time observing device, it has to help us read messages, take calls, shoot pictures. Or as Nike and Adidas want it, be our health monitoring device.

While it seems easier for technology companies to diversify, would it be possible for traditional one-category brands to diversify into the technology sphere and stay relevant. Say, would Swatch and Titan start making watches that can be a smartphone? They currently rule the wrists but will it be easier to transform themselves into a technology brands? Will Canon start making phones with much better camera than Samsung or Nokia?

Let me take the risk of predicting the future, here. I think it will be the technology brands that will win the battle. Why? It is the world of Digital Natives who are exposed to technology brands from very early on. Once they grow and find their beloved brands offer more, they are more likely to continue patronizing them. On the other hand, Watch or Cameras come later. Think about it. Children start taking pictures using mobiles and pads much before they are handed over a camera.

The era of technology brands is ushering in, I suppose. Time for other brands to watch out and take steps to evolve and protect their territories.

Oh, by the way, did you read about Google's self-driving cars

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Samsung Gear: Doomsday for Watch Brands?

Now I know how the Samsung Gear works.

Internet and Computing technology have brought many disruptive changes and transformed the way we live. Older technologies for which Digital Immigrants have nostalgic feelings are unknown to Digital Natives. Existing technologies are made obsolete while the new ones itself become irrelevant in a short period. So when Gear was launched, I wondered if we will witness any disruption?

Will Swatch, Rado, Rolex, Seiko, Citizen, Titan et al become obsolete? Or like how mobile phones have pushed Canon to exit the low end camera business, will watch brands be relevant only for a niche segment? Or will  it be the Gear and its likes become niche?

1. Watch is not a time machine: One thing that goes for the watch brand is that the device is not a functional piece that adorns our wrists. It is a symbol of status. Will mobile brands be able to crack that grip?

2. We have but one wrist: I know we have two wrists but watch goes to only one wrist. If the Gear and Watch have to co-exist, will we start wearing a device in each of our wrists? Will watch lose the race to Gear or will it maintain the hold on its citadel?

3. Gear is no replacement for a phone: If you have seen the video, you must have figured that the Gear doesn't do away with the actual phone. You still need the Note. If I can say, Gear is an extension of phone. Of course, Gear can exist on its own but it will be limited. So you will need to have two devices. I am already thinking of cost.

4. What does Gear offer?: Does Gear have anything substantial to offer? Does it solve any problem for us? Or does it make life easier for us? I believe that the Gear is largely for the Gatekeepers. Will it cross over to the main market, I am not sure.

But if the Gear does win the battle for our wrists, God save the Watch brands!

Imagine after 20 years, when the then Digital Natives look at a piece of today's watch in a museum, they will chuckle and wonder how the Digital Immigrants (that is today's Digital Natives) ever lived without a Gear! Will this happen? Only time will tell. 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Micromax, the true Indian branding success

I usually don’t read Annual Reports that are mailed systematically by the Company Secretaries of the organizations whose shares I have bought. More so if it is AGM address.

But for a change when the AGM address of ITC Chairman YC Deveshwar landed into my inbox recently, I felt like reading it. Maybe because the ITC shares have given me good returns and also the fact that ITC is a great case study of how the group has reinvented itself from being a predominantly Tobacco major into a well-diversified conglomerate. It is also probably the best example for a professionally managed business amidst the predominantly family owned businesses in India.

Mr. Deveshwar's address is very interesting and informative. I specifically like the part on THE INDIAN GLOBAL MARKET: DOMINANCE OF FOREIGN BRANDS. He quotes The ET Intelligence Group report - "...royalty payments by Indian arms of top MNCs have trebled over the past 5 years. The report points out that in FY12, 306 listed companies paid royalty and technical fees aggregating almost Rs 35,000 crores.” Further, a similar analysis by Business Standard of 75 BSE500 companies reveals that these firms paid out royalty equivalent to 32% of their net profits in FY12. This sudden surge he notes is after the removal of ceiling on royalty payments in 2009.

He also quotes media reports that this spurt in payments did not reflect any noteworthy value-addition from technology transfer by the foreign entities. These media articles also expressed concern at the adverse impact of this huge outflow on minority shareholders and on the exchequer.

Look around, one can easily find this dominance in our lives. Almost all the products that Indians consume are foreign brands. But then as Mr. Deveshwar says there are not many Indian success stories. He has listed few in that address. 

What probably he missed is Micromax! The great Indian mobile brand. A brand that has managed to make a mark for itself in a space that is dominated by the Korean Chaebol. 

And I must say in its fight Micromax had to face not only the competition but also the Indian mindset! 

Indian mindset: I am not sure what it is because of but Indians probably don't trust Indian brands. Maybe Indian brands actually do not deliver or as it is said we have a colonial mindset. For us, anything foreign is superior. Couple of years back when Apple was yet to revolutionize the smartphone market, it was the world of feature phones. When I bought one of those feature phones, a colleague exclaimed - Micromax! Yes, it was that degrading tone. Things have changed since then and Micromax seems to be fast catching up with Samsung. But has our mindset changed, I can’t be too sure.

Yes, it's a Me Too: Yes, but in many ways Samsung, LG or any brand is also a Me Too. The advantage of Android ecosystem is so, it provides opportunities for many. Everyone assembles!  

Branding, the game changer: In addition to lacking the drive to innovate, the Indian brands are also not very successful in branding. Thankfully, Micromax has been very savvy. In addition, Micromax products are attractively priced. 

Just like Galaxy, Optimus and Lumia, Micromax has managed to draw its own Canvas. 

The good news is that Micromax is not alone. Recently when I was planning to buy a phone and sought advice from some of my friends. They not only suggested Micromax but also spoke very highly of Karbonn and Xolo. Heartening! Couple years back, many Indians would not have considered them a great choice. 

As a person who has used Micromax product, I urge my fellow brethren to take pride in our local Indian brand. Not just because they are Indian but because these products 

  1. Look as great as any other
  2. Perform as great if not greater than others 
  3. Come at price points which are very attractive 
Unless you want to sponsor the royalty payments that Mr. Deveshwar's address talks about. 

But why only mobile phones, I think there are great Indian brands in almost all the categories. Take Dabur Red for example. Why not Bovonto or Kalimark! And why not Poomer

Go Indian! 

Monday, September 16, 2013

Teacher's Day, Lesson Learnt

During my school days, I was given opportunities to present Thought for the Day during the assembly session. During one such opportunity I was looking at various proverbs to present. And I came upon this - Those who can, do. Those who can't, teach!

I shared it with friends and we had a good laugh. Of course, I refrained from sharing it in the assembly for obvious reasons.

Couple of weeks back, I realized how immature I was to have made fun of teachers. And how difficult a job they have.

On my visit to my parents place, I chanced upon my niece's Maths test papers. She is an excellent student and a very smart kid. But on that test paper I found a mistake. The problem involved division.

In my mind, it was simple. And I wondered why she could not solve it. I resolved to teach her division. After all, I know division; it is such a simple thing. I scored 91% in senior secondary. And at work, I had trained couple of my colleagues.

But in the process of trying to teach, I ended up scaring my niece and made her dislike me. I didn't have any patience. While I did the sums, I couldn't teach her the basics. I expected her to pick up things just by looking at how I was solving the problem. I ended up admonishing her.

Over the next few days, I realized my blunder. The little girl, who used to like me, now was scared of me. And I started to feel miserable.  

Then, I admitted to my little niece that I was wrong and was sorry for making her feel terrible. Thankfully, the situation was salvaged. And now my niece again looks forward to my visits. On my part, I ensure I don't get into teaching mode. 

Teaching requires not only the knowledge of the subject but also the skill to impart or disseminate it to the students in a manner that they are able to grasp it. A teacher requires enormous amounts of patience. I learnt it. 

Moral of the story: I now realize that teachers are also doers. They just create many other doers. Those doers shouldn't assume that teachers aren't doers.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Nokia Android Phones! Why Not?

I am not sure who wants whom more desperately. But now I feel Microsoft wanted Nokia than the other way. And I am not sure why Nokia decided to marry one partner rather than bed with many at the same time?

As I wrote in my previous blog about the closed architecture and open architecture, I am not sure what Microsoft wants to achieve going forward. Did it want to go the close architecture way like Apple? Or did it want its own handset like Blackberry? Or it was just about the patents and technology of Nokia that they went after.

Whatever be the reason, I cannot understand why Nokia gave itself away so meekly.

Google's Android is a thriving platform. It has given fillip to many brands and a great chance to gather market shares. India's Micromax is a great case study. I certainly will write about the great Indian brand soon.

Nokia like its competitors in the market, Samsung, LG, HTC..., could have had a stronger play if it had kept an open mind to work with any environment. Its brand equity, reputation for making sturdy phones and great network would have definitely worked in its favor. HTC for example is quite agnostic. It produces models in both Android and Windows platform.

Somehow I think the Finnish owners took a rather easy way out. 

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Why Apple Can Never Be No. 1?

Android has 1 bn activations!

1 bn! That's roughly about one-seventh of world's entire population! Almost the entire population of either India or China. Android is the biggest, no doubts. 

Interestingly, history seems to have repeated itself. The architecture of PCs first was closed with each player having their own design, and then IBM standardized it. This environment was and is dominated by Operating System (OS) and Chip combination of Wintel who actually grew the market. The brands productized and marketed.

Mobiles were also segmented with each brand defining its architecture till iOS and Android started scripting the road map. 

In many ways, Android ecosystem is similar to IBM PC whereas Apple has retained its philosophy of being closed. The benefit of an open architecture is that the market is grown by many of its constituents. Whereas Apple is solely responsible for growth of its devices. Imagine a cart driven by many horses versus the one with just one horse. Which one do you think will run faster? 

I wonder if the Late Steve Jobs underestimated the power of the multi-horse chariot steered by Google. Even if he had seen, which I assume he did, I am sure nothing could have changed the way Apple approached the market. Being the sole owner of its ecosystem is at the core of its strategy.  

But I think Apple should do two things, differently. 
  1. Products at multiple price point: The problem with Apple is that we see only one product at a time. iPhone 3 has to be killed before iPhone 4 is launched. And iPhone 5 has to be over iPhone 4, itself. So at any point of time, a consumer has only one option from Apple, limiting the market size. Apple could do better by planning products at different price points. Why can’t 3 co-exist with 4, 4S and 5?
  2. Look East: America without a doubt will remain a strong market for Apple. But then there is a mighty chunk of willing fans in this part of the world. Though little late, Apple has finally started to focus on East, especially the big emerging markets. If you noticed, India got a special mention during the last results for being a high growth market. I personally know many acquaintances who jumped at the opportunity to own iPhone 4 and 4S.
Apple already has a great brand equity and its technology leadership is unquestioned. But it always loses out due to its close architecture. What Apple needs in my opinion is smart product planning. Products at different price points. 

It may still not be enough to beat Android base, but it would certainly shore up its numbers.  

Monday, July 15, 2013

Why I Don't Like Watching Roger Federer Matches?

"When you watch Roger Federer play, you are not watching tennis. You are watching art!"

If this is how I feel, then why would I not like to watch him play?

Unfortunately, though I have been playing tennis for more than five years now, I started following the sports on TV only very recently. All these years when Federer was reigning supreme, I didn't watch him play. Then when I started following the game, Federer's dominance is on decline.

Though he is losing matches rather easily nowadays, watching him play is still a delight. I believe that he has single-handedly raised the level of tennis played today.

To see him lose makes my stomach churn. I get acidity and lose sleep. I usually switch off the TV and go to sleep when I see signs of Federer failing.

Do you feel the same when you see your favorite star go through such situations?

I realize that it is not just Federer. I have the same going for Kamal Hassan too. I still can't watch Moondram Pirai or Ek Duje Ke Liye!

Do you feel the same when you see your favorite star lose?

That also makes me wonder, why can't I just enjoy the sport? Why do I have to take sides? Is that even possible? 

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Death of SMS Messaging

One, two, three, four, five, six...

No, wait! This is not blog for kindergarten kids. I was just counting the number of messaging apps on my phone. 
  1. The native messaging app that comes along in the phone 
  2. WhatsApp 
  3. Google Hangout (earlier Gtalk) 
  4. Facebook Messenger 
  5. Skpe 
  6. WeChat (till sometime back) 
Previously, I also had Viber. Like WeChat I removed it. How many do you have?
Couple of days back, BSNL, India's telecom behemoth, announced the winding up of probably the original SMS in India.   

The news made me wonder if SMS as a native app will also meet the same fate. The short life of Short Messaging Service? 

Do I need six apps for messaging? What differentiation does SMS anyway bring to the table? 

Cost did you say? Probably, there was a time when the number of free SMS used to be a differentiating factor while choosing a plan. For years now, I haven't kept track of SMS usage. 

Does it work cheaper then say an IP based Messenger such as WhatsApp? I seriously don't know. Actually, I don't care. 

In one of my previous jobs, my colleague and I had a discussion about the low cost PR agencies which spoilt the market for a large, high-fee charging national agencies. I told her that such low cost agencies are good for national agencies because without them the value that a national agency with its reach and good trained manpower is never realized by clients. Similarly, even if SMS is cheaper, I presume, users will prefer messaging tool that provides them greater user experience. 

I always had trouble sending an image though MMS, the superior cousin of SMS. But with WhatsApp, it is a breeze! 

It is also much more cooler to use the messaging apps then a plain vanilla SMS app. Yes, I know SMS Pro type apps spruce up the native app but then why bother? 

I can't think of any reason as to why I would want to use SMS. Internet on mobile is a reality and will certainly become ubiquitous. Other certainty is that every phone will be "smart" in some ways or other supporting such messaging apps.  

What happens to my alerts regarding bank, credit card or any other utilities? Tough one. Isn't there a way that that can be accommodated in CRM for customer contact? See, there's a business opportunity for some! 

Somehow I am not able to convince myself that SMS, in its current form, will last. Would it? 

Monday, July 01, 2013

How to Make Best Use of Gym Equipment at Home & Dan Ariely!

I recently bought an elliptical at home for work out. In order to find quick opinion, I asked for suggestions on Facebook. I did get some valuable inputs from friends and acquaintances which helped me make a buying decision.

But there was this one friend who said that buying an equipment at home is not a good idea. He said that one usually loses interest in working out sooner and then the equipment just becomes part of the furniture at home. I knew what he meant. Couple of years back I had brought home a stationary cycle which met exactly the same fate.

And finally ended up as scrap.

But this time I was determined to change that.

And I made the investment. And
to ensure I don't fail again, I devised a plan.

The idea is simple. It is based on Dan Ariely's story of how he managed to go through a very tough course of medication in his book The Upside of Irrationality.

As I step on the machine, I switch on the music channel on TV, preferably Tamil Film  music. Trust me the actors and actresses of Kollywood take away the boredom of me fighting against my weight. On an average a song lasts for five minutes; with six songs I am able to complete my 30 minutes of exercise feeling refreshed by the beautiful faces, nice moves, lovely music and scenic locales.

As Dan mentions in his book, we behave very irrationally. We are unwilling to undergo negative immediate effect (read exercising) for the sake of a positive long-term effect (read good health). But with some smart planning, this can be overcome. As Dan did; as I do! 

Just hope I keep doing it. 

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Dear Mr. Narayana Murthy,

Dear Narayana Murthy,

Because of Infosys, your son and yourself, my wife and I had a very intense yet stimulating debate two days back. The evening which we could have spent watching some matches at Roland Garros on TV, we spent discussing your coming back into Infosys with your son. 

She was upset that I wrote negatively about Infosys and you on Facebook. She said that I was very harsh on both. She feels leadership is not emotionless decisions but one which is about people, hence very emotional. I agreed and disagreed. 

Let me cut the chase and go to what I think . 

  1. HR at Infosys has failed big time. Shame on them!  
  2. Infosys is not a "professional" organization.  

People are saying that you are to do another Steve Jobs. Even if you do, then? Poor Tim Cook is still suffering from Steve's ghost. 

I have a question for you, and to your HR. Would you bring back any other retired employee? Say, a Project Manager, Coder or an Admin Manager? Why have you been given special treatment? Don't you have a retirement policy?

Next point to ponder. 

If Congress decides to make Rahul Gandhi the PM candidate, I wouldn't be surprised. 

If Ambani brothers decide to make their children head of their respective groups, I wouldn't be surprised. 

Or for that matter your competitor Azim Premji would not surprise me if he follows the family traditions. 

But, not Infosys! Why did you have to bring your son into Infosys? Couldn't you find anyone else who could have done that job? And what is this Re. 1 salary stunt? What are you trying to prove? 

Your HR policies were something that other organizations would have wanted to emulate. But I think behind those great places to work atmosphere, your succession policy failed big time. 

The biggest mistake you and other founders did, in my opinion, is the want to be CEO of the organization by rotation. Why? Just because you are founders, all of you need to take a stab at the position? All of you wanted your names get etched into history books? It seemed like a merry-go-round. 

With you and your son in the organization and this merry-go-round, it feels Infosys today is a hybrid variety of Family-cum-Friends organization. A unique breed! To be proud of or not, I am not a judge. But Infosys, I knew, wasn't supposed to be that way. 

All the best in your old role. Hope there is a quick and sure turnaround. And maybe by then your HR will also have a good time to work on a succession plan. Could be Rohan, never know!

Love and regards,


Monday, June 03, 2013

When Ads Speak The Truth

Kudika vendam, appadiye sapiduven! 

Translates to I don't want to drink, I will eat it. That was the legendary line from Horlicks' ad.  

For a matter of fact, I myself preferred eating Horlicks as a kid rather than drink. I am sure many of my generation also used to do the same. It was more delicious that way. And the ad was not far from the truth. Not many ads can boast of capturing the true essence of what the product or service does? 

Last week, Indiblogger organized a bloggers meet in Chennai - The Ambi Pur Experience (). Though my blog is listed on Indiblogger, I have never been to any of their previous blogger meets, despite wanting to. Sabbatical and a nudge from a good friend, I found myself at the meet.

How many remember the Ambi Pur ad? It is a blind test conducted where people are made to sit in a car and share their experience about the perfume and how they felt. What the participants don't realize is that they are sitting amidst a mini garbage dump set up in the car. They are shocked to find that despite such filth the car smells fresh and nice.

If you own a car you know how cars can become smelly and unbearable to drive. My search for a good car perfume has never been successful. There are so many brands, some known and otherwise. I have tried few, including the previous Ambi Pur model. But never been satisfied with their performances. After sometime, one just doesn't feel the perfume.

The blogger meet replicated the blind test ad for the bloggers, more than 200 of them that day. I was eager to experience the brand promise. And I must say I was sweetly surprised to find the ad true. The car was filled with bad odor emanating sources like a shoe, plates with stale food...but the car smelt fresh. Later on a representative from P&G explained how the company had not only worked on the formula of product for great experience every time you use it but also how the design of the product has been changed to make it more effective.

I came back from the meet after collecting the complimentary pack of Ambi Pur Sky Breeze, one of the five variants available.

But then I prefer only camphor to keep my car fresh, nowadays, and didn't want to change that. But that Ambi Pur was so effective, I fitted it into the window AC in my bedroom, as suggested by the P&G representative.

I was not sure if the Ambi Pur would be effective considering the room is much larger than the size of a car. But then I switched on the AC and the result was instant. The room was smelling great. In fact it remained so for quite a while even after I switched off the AC.

Planning to try other fragrances.

Thanks to the blogger meet, as a customer I found a good product that delivers on the promise and as a marketer an ad that captured what the product delivers.

Tata Sky Responds

Tata Sky gave me an additional waiver of Rs. 750. Please read this previous blog of mine.

I am not sure if it was:

1. My interaction with customer service executive who would have escalated and then management took action, or,
2. My interaction with a senior executive at Tata Sky with whom I chatted on Facebook, or,
3. My blog on the subject

I am still forming my thoughts on which form of reaching out to a brand is more effective if you want them to listen. Will take little more time for that blog.

It certainly would make sense that brands treat existing customers equally if not more than a new customer. 

Thursday, May 30, 2013

New Customers or Existing? That's The Question!

I met my friend Deepak Chopra for coffee, couple of days back. A soft spoken Chartered Account, he often makes interesting observations. While discussing about a venture I was planning to be part of, he quipped, "Indian customers seek value for money. We don't buy products or service because they are low cost, we seek value. No wonder, that a Rs. 10 lac Renault Duster is selling like hot-cakes whereas Tata Nano, the world's cheapest car, has failed miserably."

Recently, I decided to upgrade our SD DTH connection to HD. Tata Sky is also running a seemingly good scheme for existing customers. At Rs. 1800, an existing customer could upgrade to HD. But I decided to upgrade to Tata Sky + HD, instead.

There was an online offers page on the Tata Sky website. Upon checking I found that there were interesting offers for a new customer. In fact, I realized to my disappointment that the offer for existing customer was not "as sweet as" the one for new customers.

Here are the details.

For existing customer

Cost: Rs. 4990/-
Value: Upgrade to Tata Sky + HD

For new customer

Cost: Rs. 6440
Value: Tata Sky + HD connection, 2 months of Grand Sports package free, 2 months HD fee waived, 2 Showcase movies plus Rs. 1000 Myntra gift voucher and 15% on purchases on another online ecommerce site.

How does this pan out?

Tata Sky + HD connection = Rs. 4990 (based on what is offered to existing customers)
2 months Grand Sports package: Rs. 820
2 months HD fee waiver: Rs. 200
2 showcase movies: Rs. 100
Gift voucher: Rs. 1000

Let's discount the 15% discount coupon for now.

The total value that a new customer gets from Tata Sky is Rs. 7110. Which would mean that a new customer gets an additional "value" of Rs. approximately Rs. 670.

I reached out to the customer support but as I had guessed the customer service support is not empowered to cross the line. Most of the time, they are dignified parrots, not only at Tata Sky but also other organizations. That will be another blog.

Anyway after some failed attempts, I felt a bit cheap to have done so much of calculations and trying to haggle for a paltry sum of Rs. 670.

It was then that I remembered an interview of CK Ranganathan of Cavin Kare making an interesting observation on the success of his Chik shampoo that catapulted a small shampoo company into one of the top FMCG companies in India, today.

He pointed out that customers in India are very diligent. He said customers didn't buy his sachets because they were affordable. He said that customers would calculate the cost of sachet shampoo and compare it with the cost of bottled shampoo before buying. Meaning, just because sachet was affordable at that point, customers would not buy it if the bottled shampoo was "cheaper" (read value for the money), overall.

But that is how we as customers are, I suppose.

Coming back to my DTH connection, I reached out to a top official at Tata Sky. After a small exchange, I realized that he also failed to understand the issue. Considering that my shift to Airtel would have to wait for six months and being impatient, I upgraded to Tata Sky + HD at a "not-so-sweet-deal" given to existing customers.

When I was doing MBA, I remember reading an interview of a Marketing Guru who urged companies to keep their existing customers happier than put all efforts to acquire new ones.

But I guess it is two in the bush is better than one in hand for many brands. 

Monday, May 27, 2013

Can Walmart Kill Nadar Kadai?

We moved into the house where we stay now in 2007. An avenue, the street is like a private colony despite not being one. Though located in a good upmarket location, we did not have any shops around. No Nadar Kadai (or as North Indians might understand - Baniye ki dukaan), no vegetables shops. Closest Nilgiris is about a kilometer away, Vitan store at a similar distance.

The only convenience we had was the short bearded man in his late forties selling vegetables on his push cart in our street and a couple adjacent to ours. Clad in lungi and a dirty shirt for most part of the year except in January when he would adorn black dhoti and shirt as he went on his annual pilgrimage to Sabari Malai, he would start work each day around 7 am setting the vegetables on the cart. By 8, he is on the street yelling on the top of his voice to get attention of buyers. A funny and fun loving man, he would joke around with security guards and maids working in various houses.

He would stock only regular fair. Onions, tomatoes, brinjals, drumstick...nothing exotic. If one wants broccoli or courgettes, he was not the man. But his stock was enough for any household planning a regular south Indian meal - Sambhar, Rasam, Kootu, Poriyal.

After spending about two to three hours in our street, he would move to another street.

Very recently Kovai Pazhamudir Nilayam (KPN), a retail chain that sells vegetables, opened its outlet at the end of our street. While we were worried about the traffic, we were also happy that we will have a proper shop which will not only be easily accessible but also convenient to shop in. KPNs are air conditioned shops which stocks not only regular vegetables but "exotic" ones. Further, they also stock all kinds of fruits, breads, pickle and even rice. They also have a juice shop near the entrance. With a self service model, they have computerized billing facility and accept cash and plastic. They also have a Facebook page!

While KPN brought good tidings for us, business was no more good for the push cart vendor. I neither find him nor the push cart in our street, anymore.

Can Walmarts kill Nadar kadai (baniye ki dukaan)? Can large MNC retailers do what KPN did to the vegetable vendor of our street? 

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Communicating in Social Media

Those in the communications industry know that there are two forms of communicating - one-to-one and one-to-many. As the terms indicate, one may want to converse with only one person at a given point of time or with more than one at the same time. Basically it is about impact and relevance.

Till about a couple of months back almost anything that I posted on Facebook was one-to-many. Be it some story from the net or photographs from holidays. This despite that I have created a variety of lists categorizing friends.

Savitha on the other hand is more discrete. Her sister is far more conservative and prefers not posting photos on Facebook. She and her husband prefer to share pictures only with family through mails or Picasa. In fact, my sister-in-law observed that the practice of publishing huge albums, detailing the action in respective lives, on Facebook was more Indian behaviour. Hard to say if that is true, but does seem to be.

After that I did practice restraint, but the narcissism got the better of me. And after a recent holiday I posted photos on Facebook, for everyone too see. I must say, the number of likes is directly proportional to the feel good factor.

Photos are still tolerable.

What really amuses me is a spouse wishing the partner on birthday or anniversary on Facebook. "Happy birthday, husband (or wife, as the case maybe). Or "I miss you". Recently someone added pictures and details of the shradh for their deceased family member. There was this one occasion where a lady on Twitter spoke about the state of her undergarment during her menstruation.

I wonder if these people would do that in real world, especially in public. I am sure they won't. But social media somehow removes inhibitions. 

How do you wish a friend on his or her birthday? Call, SMS or on Facebook? If on Facebook, do you send a private message or write on the wall. A look at my wall on birthday tells me that people prefer the wall to a private message. Nothing wrong but why wall and not a private message, I wonder. Should be convenience.

I do not have to emphasize the need for exercising caution while communicating on Social Media. It is surprising that while we are agitated by the privacy settings of some social media sites, we ourselves do not practice discretion while we converse.

Here is a model that we could use while communicating in social media. It is based on personal experiences, observation and logic.

Before communicating, consider whether you want to communicate to an individual or a group. Though the group could be anything from a crowd to a close knit group. The message could be a personal. For example, say health records or bank details/passwords. Even things like I love you or my pantie is stained kind of information. Or message could be non-personal like news, jokes, trivia or any information in the public domain.
Based on this, you may want to:
  1. Whisper: If it is a personal message, please keep it strictly one-to-one. Use tools that will preserve the piracy.   
  2. Relay: Even if there is nothing personal about it, it is better to be one-to-one. While using any tool shouldn't cause any harm. Would still prefer that one uses an email or private message rather than a social media.
  3. Hidden truths: Imagine a secret society. The membership and communication is strictly controlled. Secret society or a close knit group, open communication with outer world is strictly avoided.
  4. Loudspeaker: Tweet or share in public. It's information, for the public. 
Some mediums provide only one-to-one communication while others provide multiple options. The choice of communication tool has to decided based on the audience and the relevance. Having said that it is a personal choice of what to communicate and how to communicate. For others, there is a model here. 
How much this thought is going to be relevant to people on Facebook, I am not sure.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Packaging and labelling in India: Think Global, Act Global?

I recently visited Mallorca, the beautiful island in the Mediterranean. My sister-in-law gifted us a holiday through a vacation ownership package that came their way. Being a villa with a kitchen, we could cook food. Saves costs and takes care of the needs of the Indian palate. While we did purchase most of the groceries here before departing, there were still some purchases to be made for which we visited a super market, there.

At the super market, I realised that all the product packaging and labels were in Spanish. Without an exception. I guess I was too naive to get surprised. In India, while there are some brands which use Indian languages, I felt English was the language of choice for packaging.

Now, it could be because I am getting old and hence I am getting more attached to own culture and language. Or maybe the marketer in me suddenly woke up. Why can't the packaging in India be in Indian languages?

Before you make judgements, let me clarify that I have nothing against usage of English but the usage of local languages in packaging is certainly a win-win for all. The consumer, the brands.

By the way, how many brands or products do you know off that have packaging in any local language? Nirma came to my mind, immediately.

After my return, I went through the house looking at various products. Not surprisingly, almost all used English. In fact, many had foreign language. For example, the new Vaseline moisturising lotion had Arabic script, the Gillette shaving foam and shower gel had French...But few, very few had any Indian language. Surprisingly, even Pazha Mudir Nilayam, the local Tamil Nadu retail chain that sells fruits and vegetables used English and no Tamil.

Consider this.

According to statistics, the percentage of English users in India is about 33% translating to about 330 million though the English speaking population in India is only about 9% which is only 100 million. Of course, after the United States of America, we have the second largest English speaking population in the world. But still the percentage of people that does not understand English is still 700 million and odd!

Before I move on, the difference between English speakers and English users is that the former can read, speak and form sentences, the latter can only read English letters. This means that effectively, the packaging and labelling is reaching to only 100 million Indians.

Also consider this, the population of Spain is about 47 million. The population of Tamil Nadu is 60! And remember there're many states that have far higher local language speaking population than English speaking. Why do, then, the marketeers shy away from using local regional languages in India?

Now, the challenge for marketeers could be that there are far too many languages for them to cover in India. Also, is it viable as the cost of packaging might increase?

But that brands will be able to connect better with their consumers by communicating with them means greater loyalty. Right? Unless the brands have assumed that in India it is ok to have the packaging in English. Or because English is aspirational and any presentation in local language might decrease the brand equity!

I spoke with few, very few though, about this subject. The thought seems to be that premium segment products, if in a regional language packaging, may actually deter them from buying the product.

But it may also be true that the packaging and labelling in products distributed in B, C and D centres may actually be in local language. I am not able to confirm that.

I am not suggesting that English be abolished. Just add the local language for that particular state. For example, all the Lays chips that go to Assam could have branding in both English and Assamese. Of course this means that the packaging itself will have to be redesigned as there will be more to add in the same space.

The brand consultants, advertising agencies and PR agencies should urge their clients to use local language in their packaging.

But more importantly it should be the mandate of political parties to ensure such a change is brought about. The regional parties who take upon themselves to promote the language, art and culture in their state must insist on this change. In Tamil Nadu, due to one such order, all shops and establishments are mandated to have name boards in Tamil.

But why only packaging and labelling? What about websites of corporates? How many corporates do you know who have website in Indian languages? I am sure very few.

When the entire corporate world seems to chanting - think global, act local - why must packaging be not so.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Why do men rape?

The recent rape and unfortunate death of a student in Delhi has stirred intense emotions in India. Reading the reports on this dastardly act does stir up anger and fear even in men. No man wants any women, family, friend or otherwise, to go through such gruesome episode. But it does happen and I am afraid this may continue to happen. Read the pondering of a girl who articulates her experiences and shares her state of mind which I am sure is how many women would be feeling, today.

But why do men rape?

Some of the things that is commonly attributed are

  1. Women dress in a manner to incite a rape.
  2. Women travel late in the night, alone, making themselves vulnerable
  3. And many more such nonsense

This The Hindu article throws some light into the remedy and the causes. But still why do men rape?

Shouldn't men know the answer, for it lies within and not outside?

This cartoon shows the comparison the human mind - males vs. female brain. While it does make light of the state, it may not be far off from the mark. At least I cannot lie to myself. Men are more obsessed with sexual act then the fairer sex.  

The Maslow's hierarchy of needs classifies Sex as one of the basic physiological needs for man (or woman for that matter). Just that men's needs are insatiable till death and the subject perennially dominates the thoughts. Not an excuse to commit the crime, though.

Can rape actually be avoided?

Castration, death or any other punishment is not going to undo the damage that already has been done. It can act as deterrent. But will it ensure that no such acts take place again? Do you think the countries that have strict laws and which are enforced religiously have no crime? Many countries have death penalties, but does that ensure that no murders or other gruesome crimes take place?

How many of us stop for the signal? Why do we spit when we know it is not a good habit? We happily (men, mostly) urinate in public. We don't stand in queues. To follow rules and be disciplined is not just in us. What I am trying to imply is that if we leave the emotions to a side and think about other dishonorable acts, like murder, stealing and those I have just mentioned, rape is also an act of an immature mind. A mind which despite knowing still commits what shouldn't be. 

Deterrence by exemplary punishments is one way. But avoiding? How do you avoid rapes? I am unsure.