Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Whatsapp Needs to Change!

Whatsapp can cause legal troubles. Frankly, as an administrator for a couple of Whatsapp Groups, I am scared. And if you are one like me, be scared. Yes, Whatsapp needs to change for I don't want to be added into some weird group that says - shoes or loan or some such thing - by some unscrupulous marketer. 
As I wrote in a previous post on the need for moderation tools, Whatsapp needs to introduce settings that allows users more control, especially as far as visibility is concerend.  
Here is why.
1. There are no moderation tools. Without moderation tools, there is no way an 'undesired' message can be flagged and deleted from the timeline. 
2. As a user, I don't have enough privacy. Of course, I have used this weak privacy setting to reach out to acquaintances who have just shared their numbers. But the recent trend of marketers creating groups and adding people without consent is unacceptable.  
3. Leaving a group. If you 'Unfriend' anyone on Facebook, it goes unnoticed. If you block someone on LinkedIn, it goes unnoticed. Same is the case when you block someone on Whatsapp. But if you leave a group, the whole world notices. As much addition should be by consent, leaving a group must be very discreet.
Have you noticed that as long as any medium remains uncorrupted by marketers, it is wonderful. Once marketers become aggressive, it becomes a nuisance. In Whatsapp's case it also can be dangerous!  

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Social Media as Sales Tool

Recently, head of an NGO asked me if social media was indeed useful for an organization. Do 'likes' translate to anything tangible for organizations?

While pursuing MBA, one term from accountancy that stuck in my mind is Deferred Revenue Expenditure. Though an expense, it is not entirely treated so. Advertising is one such example. I consider Social Media (or for that matter PR) also as deferred revenue expenditure. However, the return does not necessarily have to be in the long term!

After the experience with the bus company about which I wrote in my previous post, my belief has changed.

Internet is the only medium that empowers organizations to both market and register sales. Social Media platforms can act as great sales tools and generate revenues in addition to being a branding medium, customer service platform, and community builder. This is especially when organizations have a strong social media response team. 
If you read the previous post, you would note that I had already paid the organization for the tickets. When the website failed to record the transaction, all that the Twitter executive had to do was to take details of my booking and book it on the system directly.
In order to leverage social media for sales, organizations have to put in place systems and procedures.
  1. Integrate with the Sales: The social media platforms and representatives must be integrated with the sales process and systems. Reskilling maybe required for professionals to handle sales. The only worry is that organization can overdo it by attempting outbound. That is when social media can become what telesales has become.
  2. Robust payment process: One of the biggest concerns would probably be to do financial transaction. With technology intervention and processes, organizations can ensure that customer data is safe. For example, bank details for transfer should be published and customers can be provided a reference number for every transaction. A wallet system can also be created if required. In fact, it would make immense sense for Twitter to develop systems that allow transaction by allowing the platform be tightly integrated with enterprise software.

Once the systems are in place, not only ‘likes’ but also ‘dislikes’ can be converted into a revenue opportunity.

Social media channels provide a readymade platform for sales. With customers interacting with organizations more frequently over these channels, it should serve as a revenue earner and not merely deferred revenue expenditure.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Cardinal Sins of Communication

Recently, I used the website of an upcoming bus service provider in Europe to book tickets. There were a couple of payment options. The option I chose did not work when I tried. 
I raised the issue with the organization through an email. As I was in a hurry, I also tweeted to the handle and posted a message on the Facebook page. 
I got an immediate response from the Twitter handle that the particular payment option was available. After a bit of painful search on the website, I found the option in a microsite. I booked the tickets immediately. However, I did not get any confirmation and tickets were not delivered. 
The next day I received a response for the mail that I had sent. The contact centre reported that there were some technical issues with the particular payment option and that I should not use that option. It took some effort before I could get the refund. 
In the process, I made some notes, which in my opinion are relevant to any organization. Here are some cardinal sins that one must not commit while communicating. 
  1. Don't commit to anything on the website if it is not deliverable, even temporarily.The organization could have removed the payment option until such a time that they sort out the issue. At least communicate it actively on the site through a banner or a pop-up that the service was down temporarily. 
  2. Different channels, one message: In the experience that I narrated, the email contact centre had the correct response but was slow, Twitter response did not but was quick to respond, and Facebook response was non-committal. Remember this is all from the same organization! The consumer facing channels should have the same responses and not be working in silos.  
  3. Standard turnaround time: While on Twitter, most organizations respond with lightning speed. On the other hand, email responses are not so. While each channel is different, is it impossible to have similar turnaround times? 
If you were responsible for managing the communication channels in your organization what would be your priorities?
What sins would you like to avoid? 

Monday, July 20, 2015

Rise and Fall of Arrange Marriages in India: Part 2

By the time I wrote, reviewed, and published the part one of this post, I was exhausted. In the process, I also realized that arranged Hindu marriage is indeed very complex in nature.

After reading the post, one of my friends felt that the post might portray India negatively. It made me wonder if I was demeaning the country/religion. It, certainly, was not my intention. I was writing it as a matter of fact from personal experience and observations. It is true that things are changing and exceptions are being made more than ever now. Will the system remain relevant in the years to come is to be seen.

Before I come to the challenges that the system faces, it is worthwhile to take few moments to appreciate the system that is probably "successful".
  1. Grey hair over hormones: Experience does count. Having gone through the trials and tribulations, the elders probably have a better sense over raging hormones. Assuming that they have a broader outlook and wisdom, families can provide a third person viewpoint. This can make selection process holistic. 
  2. Highway or offroad: The fact that there are so many parameters that are applied while choosing a spouse, one can expect that there will be many things common between the life partners. Even for two people who have known each other well, marriage can reveal perfect strangers to each other. Since the system brings together people who have had similar upbringing, culture, traditions, beliefs, food production & consumption habits et al it ensuring homogeneity. While offroading does give hormonal rush, driving on the highway with clear directions and a smoother surface does provide one an opportunity to zoom ahead in life. 
  3. Family at the core: Marriages in India have always been more about the families coming together than the bride and the groom binding themselves in the wedlock. It is more about the confluence of two families. If you consider a couple to a tree, the families act as farmer enriching the soil. Arranged marriage allows the family to plan and prepare the ground for the two individuals to ease into the highly complex institution of marriage. 
  4. System for escalation and arbitration: As arranged marriages is about families, ensuring that the relationship lasts becomes responsibilities of the families. The success of a marriage is not two individuals' crusade but a collective movement. And collective strength can be much stronger than individual will. Families provide a platform for the couples not only to share happiness but also use it as a platform to smoothen the rough edges. 
Indeed, there is no qualitative data to say with certainty that arranged marriage works better than a system of free will. But I wonder if there is any data to prove that love marriage is a better system. If divorce rate is any indicator of success, then certainly arranged marriages last longer, at least in India. Again, these numbers do not indicate the success of a marriage, love or arranged. 

That brings us to the important question. What is marriage? I got into an intense discussion and debate on the topic of marriage with three educated, urban and erudite women. Must say, I am now confused what marriage even means? That and much more in the final part of this series! 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Rise & Fall of Arranged Marriages in India: Part 1

To many in the western world, the concept of arranged marriage is as mystical, if not more, as many other things about India. I have often attempted an answer when asked about it. Whether I did a good job or failed miserably, I am not sure. Hence, this blog. An attempt nothing short of the magna opera churned out by Bollywood with lavish "Indian" weddings as their themes.

It would be unwise to assume that arranged marriages are a unique Indian phenomenon. They are not even limited to Hindus in India. In fact, arranged marriage was the norm even in the Western world.

I am attempting to document this fairly complex system of match making largely from the Hindu perspective of which I have little understanding. Hopefully, it will explain rather than confuse.

What is Arranged Marriage?
It is the process of selection of spouse for the child by the parents with the support of their circle of relatives and friends. The entire process of selection, wedding and consummation is managed by the family. The participating bride or groom have but limited say in the affair. The family and other elders not only have the right to refusal but also may exercise their veto power over the decision of the bride or the groom.

Who are the enablers?
Usually, the immediate family members are the primary enablers. In case the family and immediate circle is unable to find the suitable person, then the services of a broker is sought. The broker is now being fast replaced by the matrimonial sites. Please be aware that these are not the dating sites that are more popular in the Western world. The matrimonial sites are purely for the benefit of those who intend to get married.

What is love-cum-arranged marriage?
This is a new development and a response to the changing social scenarios caused due to the growth of individualism. Considering the importance of family in India, it is becoming common that the children find their partner but marry only with acceptance and blessings of their parents.

This is turning out to be a boon for all as it provides the leeway to the young ones to meander in the market and find eligible one while allowing parents to preserve their perceived sense of position in the family hierarchy and respect in the society.

I, myself, make a good case study of this love-cum-arranged marriage trend. This process can be straightforward or extremely complicated depending on the mismatch in the parameters that I am going to enlist below.

So, what are the matches?
In order for two people to get married in India, there  are many criteria to be considered. Here are some of them listed in no particular order.
  1. Religion match: A no-brainer but there could be exceptions. For example, despite belonging to different religions, Nadar Christian may approve of Nadar Hindu and vice versa. But in general religion is the most fundamental parameter. 
  2. Caste match: Again a no brainer but it is not as simple as it sounds. There are many complications which you will understand in the parameters listed below.  
  3. State match: This is another peculiarity in India. The country is divided on linguistics basis. Belonging to the same caste but from a different state doesn't assure an approval.  
  4. Sect match: This is equally important. Many may already be aware that there are four general classifications based on the varna system. But within each of the levels there are further subdivisions. For example, Tamil Brahmins are divided into two categories - Iyer (those who follow Lord Shiva) and Iyengars (those who follow Lord Vishnu). Just because both are brahmins, marriages are very uncommon and avoided between these two sects. 
  5. Sub-sect match: The match now becomes more narrow, The funnel by this time is pretty well defined but still can cause issues. For example, Saiva Pillai may not prefer Asaiva Pillai. Within Iyers, vadama may not prefer brahacharanam or vathima or palakkad brahmin. 
  6. Socio-Economic match: One of the salient features of arranged marriages is that during the selection process the elders also keep an eye on the socio-economic background of the family from which they are selecting. The usual rule that I have heard here is that you can give your daughter to someone from the higher level than yourself but take a girl who is from the lower level. 
  7. Character study: A good character certificate cannot be undermined in arranged marriages. Usually, a reference check, in the lines of the background checks done by corporates on prospective employees, is very common. 
  8. Horoscope match: A very important step. Horoscope of a person which is drawn exactly at the moment birth is believed to predict how someone's life will progress. Before wedding, the families match the horoscopes of the prospective bride and the groom. The general rule here is that out of the possible ten parameters, there should be a minimum of five positive matches. Anything less is not progressed upon. 
In all these, there is just one exemption. Gotra is one parameter where it is expected that there shouldn't be a match. It is believed that every family is a descendant of a sage. Marriage between the Gotra is akin to promoting incest.

This is the end of part 1 of the post. I didn't realize that it would be no less an effort than organizing a wedding itself. In the next and probably the concluding part, I will post my opinions on the benefits of arranged marriages and the challenges this system of matchmaking faces. 

Monday, June 15, 2015

Social Media Lesson from Mahatma Gandhi

Long ago, I wrote a blog about my rather conservative views on what sharing updates in public (read social media). However, there was a time before that that I did not exercise much restraint. I have grown to believe that social media is not the channel for communicating with people, albeit it is a more effective one-to-many medium.   
This is not to say that general conversations need to be avoided. I do post about my religious, personal and professional thoughts and have debates and discussions with others. And yes change profile picture once in a while. For anything else, there is a phone, SMS/Whatsapp, or tete-a-tete. If I want to share my vacation pictures, I prefer sending it to the close circle through mediums other than Facebook and Instagram.
Here is a general rule that I would strongly advocate. If you have dirty linen to launder, do not do that in public and never ever in social media. 
My belief strengthened after I had to act as a sounding board for a friend. I will not get into the story in detail. Here is a quick snapshot. My friend had a small skirmish with a colleague. Agitated she posted the event without revealing the name of the other person. Things got only worse thereafter for her at the workplace. Not only was the bridge burnt with the colleague but also she almost was ostracized from the social circle. 
Mahatma Gandhi's Three Monkeys serve as a good guiding principle for everyone in social media. I doubt we can stop seeing bad things and hear bad things; we surely can stop saying bad things on the social media. For our own good. 

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Swachh Bharat: Beat The Stink

One of the oft repeated experiences that many foreigners share as their first impressions of India is that India stinks. Even before the eyes can capture how Indian cities look, the smells from the surrounding wafts through the air to the unprepared nose right at an airport or a railways station. As a Chennaite, the smell of Cooum is quite striking and overbearing even for me. 
Now, I am not suggesting that Indians are dirty. Not at all. Indians' sense of personal hygiene is high but realization that it is their responsibility to keep the surroundings also clean is growing, only now. 
In this regard, Swachh Bharat campaign comes as a breath of fresh air. Hope it does leave a mark on the nose and the minds. 
I am no expert on garbage management but one tactical idea to address the issue would be set up an economic zone for the Perfume industry near all major airports and railway stations. Just like the perfume mask our body odour, I am hoping they will over power odour reaching travellers. 
Sounds funny?
Once upon a time, Chennaites could easily identify that they have reached Pallavaram based on the nice smell emanating from the now-closed Pond's factory. I believe there is a reference in Silapathikram that in the olden days travellers could assure themselves that they have reached closer to Madurai by the sweet smell of food cooked. 
Till such time that the long term measures are in place to make sure India takes a clean bath why not mask the odour with perfume! :)

Monday, May 18, 2015

When Casteism Hit Me

Before I begin, let me warn that some might find the post offending. If you don't want to read it, please close the window and move forward. But if you are a good Hindu and want the religion to grow, please read it with an open mind.

Let me also disclose that I was born into a Brahmin family. I am married to a wonderful lady who is not a Brahmin. I have grown to become an atheist though I do feel like a Hindu. I know it sounds strange and, probably, I would explain this sometime later in a different post.

My father passed away on March 4. Like any other important event, Hindu religion has several rituals that needs to be performed. And the son is at the center of these rituals. Even as my father was being cremated, my troubles started. Towards the end of the day even before I could receive my father's ashes, the Vathiyaar (the person who performs the rituals) informed that he will not be able to perform the procedures for the rest of the days. If you did not know, there are important procedures till the 13th day. And, then, of course, there are more.

His reason was that my wife is non-Brahmin. And as per "rules", he was not allowed to perform the procedures and my wife did not qualify to be part of these rituals. I dismissed it thinking probably he was an exception. I thought, rather foolishly, that with education and various reform movements things had changed and that differentiation based on caste was a thing of the past. At least in Chennai which is a metro. Of course, I am not naive to think that the tyrannical system is obsolete.

After speaking with quite a few Vathiyaars, it was clear that no one would perform the rituals if my wife was part of it. The options for me then were:
  1. Have a non-Brahmin perform them for me which was not going to be acceptable to my family which again proves the entrenchment of the caste system, or, 
  2. Not have my wife participate in the procedure.  
I chose the second option. As atheists these rituals were meaningless for both my wife and myself. We felt that she was better off focusing on her career than extend her holidays and fret over the ridiculous system. But a pall of gloom has descended upon the entire family. They felt bad that someone in the family who was so much involved during the last few difficult days of my dad was now being forced not to be part of the rituals. Of course, it is hypocrisy that I chose to perform the function with Vaathiyar instead of not doing any ritual at all. 

This incident is not an exception. I noticed this distinction (discrimination based on caste) in Thirukadaiyur about which I have written earlier.  

Of course, Brahmins are not the only ones who perpetuate this heinous system. It is practiced by everyone. Many Dalits still don't have the 'rights' to visit village temples. There are walls built creating a ghetto for them. And even today in many villages lower caste members are served tea in different glasses in shops. And the guys who discriminate are not necessarily Brahmins, these are what media refers to as 'Caste Hindus'. 

Someone can ask if this is true only for Hinduism. No, of course, not. In fact, differentiation is a common thread that runs among all religions. Roman Catholics and Protestants differ and have fought war. And that Shias and Sunnis are at a bloody war. Even Shvetambars and Digambars have different views in Jainism. No religion is left untouched.

So why am I focusing on Hinduism? It is because as I said though I am an atheist, I still believe that I am Hindu. I have been raised as a Hindu. I firmly believe that the principles and philosophy that it is based on is far more scientific. But importantly for me, I believe that the religion is more open to change. But the caste system that discriminates is the only negative element that doesn't seem to have gone away.