About a Boy

At Maxsimos & Curologic we are constructing a CSR policy. At this moment we are considering various avenues. During one of the weekly meetings, a colleague suggested that we help the tea delivery guy learn English as a second language. 

Everyday, a 21 year old Viru (Biru) from a nearby tea-stall delivers tea at our office. He is polite and mostly shy and he is our favourite 'chaiwala' (one who sells tea with warmth).

Our CSR team proposed him the idea. His response was "Let's start tomorrow." 

Biru is anyone you know and anyone you don't know.

Biru is anyone you know and anyone you don't know.

Yesterday was his first session. To break the ice, I started talking to him about some of the mundane things. For the next five minutes all I could hear from him were some half baked answers, ending with a smile. After that his answers started becoming more n more cohesive. He started explaining his thoughts. It was pleasing. 

When I asked him how he spends his Sundays, his reply was "I work. I always try to find some work. I don't enjoy watching TV. Five years in this city and I have seen only two movies ( a great smile appeared ). " I asked him "Just two? Wow. Which ones?" Biru says "I saw Talaash and I don't remember the name of other one. But even before that I realised that I am doing alright without these movies."  

I enquired "What makes you say that?" 

Biru "When our father left us with nothing, mother took care of us. The rent was Rs 300 per month and we had a hard time making ends meet. So all of us worked hard. After that I have never said no to any work."  

Me "I can't imagine how hard that must have been. Did you ever want to give up?" 

Biru: "I don't know. I always wanted to work hard. So I always worked hard."  

Me: "So is there a happiest moment that you treasure?"  

Biru: "Sunday is nice. I am happy on Sundays." 

Both of us laughed. 

I was really curious at this point. So I decided to dig a little deeper. "But Sundays are Sundays. Any special moment that made you extra happy?" 

Biru paused for a bit and without changing his expressions stated "Today! It's as if I am restarting my life. When I will go to bank I will be able to write down the details on the deposit slip without anyone's help. I know that from here on I can only be better." 





After Sales Service Failure: Skoda

In 2011 when I purchased Skoda Fabia, I was in love with the car. It is my first car. Two years down the line, the car is still a brilliant workhorse. 

Last year I called up Asset Auto in Pune informing them that my car was due for its first servicing, following information was passed on to me over a period:

  1. In the month of April I was informed by Asset Auto that their workshop is being renovated, so I will have to wait. I said okay.
  2. I called up in the month of May asking for a booking date - I was told that their two workshops in Pune and their showroom is under renovation. I never have heard of something like this before.
  3. In June I walked into their renovated showroom on Bhandarkar Road demanding some answers. The manager apologised and told me that the workshop will be ready in July.
  4. In the month of July there was no response.
  5. I called up Skoda's helpline with the intention of launching a complaint - to my surprise I was given an option of sending the car to Asset Auto's competition - Pashankar Auto. I gave up and said okay for an appointment in August 2012.
  6. Pashankar Auto's sales executive came to my then office in Aundh and picked up the car. I duly informed him about smaller niggles in the car.
  7. When the car was delivered to me, those niggles were not solved. I called up Pashankar Auto's relevant executive who kindly informed me that " in order to solve such problems, you have to personally come to the workshop".
  8.  In this process I tweeted, posted on Facebook asking for help. Many of my friends tried but no luck. 

With this backdrop, earlier today I called up Skoda (Asset Auto) again. This time I was hoping for a smoother process for the second free servicing. 

Following conversation took place over the phone:

Me: I wish to book my vehicle for its second servicing.

Skoda Lady (SL): Certainly. What is your vehicle number?

Me: It is ___________

SL: Let me check our records. <pause> It appears that your second servicing has lapsed.

Me: Last year because of your problems and unending renovation at your facilities my car was looked at by your competitors in August. You see lady, I do not want to deal with Skoda anymore. I am not even going to buy a Skoda car after this. So let's just get over with this?

SL: Let me book a date for you. <pause> Here's the number of Service Executive at our facility please speak to him about your car's current problems if any.

Me: Thanks. I will do so. I appreciate it.

After the call was over I called up the Service Executive (SE).

Me: My vehicle number is ________ and I have booked an appointment for this week.

SE: Is your car facing any particular problems?

Me: For past 2-3 weeks I have been regularly checking the tyres. Something does not feel right. Could you check on that?

SE: Are these tubeless tyres?

Me: Yes. Haven't changed them since I purchased the car.

SE: Sir, why don't you take it to the near by car tyres vendor and check with him. We don't offer that service.

Me: Wow! Are you serious? <laughing> Thanks for letting me know this beforehand. I am definitely not buying anything from you guys.

SE: ........

Me: At the time of purchase I opted for Caska's touchscreen display for the car. It is not working properly. The rear view camera isn't working either.

SE: Sir, why don't you take the car to the Skoda showroom and tell them that the Skoda workshop will not work on it. They will help you out.

Me: Why can't you do it - either solve the problem of the console or speak to the concerned people at the showroom and get it done?

SE: .......

Me: Alright. I'll leave the car at the showroom one day in advance.

Let me make it clear that Skoda Fabia (Diesel) is a brilliant piece of hardware. It is almost perfect - the air conditioning is mediocre for a top end car.

In all likelihood, Skoda will say that the problem is because of the dealers and their after sales service. I am saying that Skoda has done a great job of selecting horrible partners and offering post sales service which lacks common sense to the core. 

Many a times, companies have great products and great ideas. But the likelihood of them succeeding depends on how they manage their service delivery and post sales services. In mileage driven economy, longevity of a product can be mostly decided by the support it gets form the vendor. My experience with Skoda can be summarised as follows:

  1. Amateur treatment to post sales service mechanism
  2. Skoda tries a lot to enforce "soft spoken" approach - it does not mean I am being impressed by the quality of your service delivery
  3. Car is not the same as wheat or rice purchased from the corner store. Customer expects special treatment. This special treatment implies understanding what your customer is looking for and answering accordingly. Customers do not want structured call centre quality service.
  4. If you are going to say No to a particular demand your cranky customer has, then try and make his life better by solving another problem. If you are going to say No to everything, I am not sure what sort of customer satisfaction one would be dealing with.

Like any other company Skoda can improve upon what they are doing. If any of the thoughtful Skoda executives are reading this then I would love to hear their thoughts, problems and questions. 

And if Skoda feels so, I would like to be there with them to solve this problem. I firmly believe that simple criticism is boring and it does not solve anything.

Service Delivery Mechanism

Today I stopped by for lunch at one of the Subway outlets in the city. I had to wait in the queue for a bit and then got my order in a couple of minutes. It was a standard procedure, which was carried out without much fuss. 

When I got off from my work, I tagged along with my younger brother for another round for sub-sandwich at the same outlet. We reached there at 6.50 pm. My brother stood in the queue. We got our order at 7.15 pm. For those 25 minutes I observed following:

  • There were quite a few people in the queue or something that resembled a queue. No one from the outlet instructed these patrons to stand in the queue.
  • Although an evening time slot, the outside temperature was in excess of 30C. The air conditioning system was not working.
  • Various questions were being asked amongst the staff members about whether various quantities of various raw material had arrived or not.
  • A third party home delivery service representative was present to pick up an order, for which various notes and numbers were exchanged.
  • A lot of idle time for patrons was observed.
  • When I walked up to the counter to pay for our order, straws and tissues were not provided.
  • I paid for the order with a debit card. I was given a pencil to sign on the card receipt. I refused. I fetched a pen from my bag and completed the transaction.
  • Side note: By the time we finished eating our delicious order there were a couple of school girls there to place an order. It appeared that they had brought exact sum amount required for their order. There was an apparent miscommunication between the girls and one the staff members. The manager overheard it. He was smart and kind enough to bend the rules, so that the girls would get their order. But he also indicated it to his staff member that the current prepared order can be passed on to the next customer.

Before I move forward, let me make it very very clear that I am not criticising Subway chain store. I love their food. I am a die-hard fan of Subway subs. 

The problem I am looking at is much larger than a chain-store's identity. The above scenario is more often than not observed at many Indian restaurants - retail outlets - coffee shops during evening peak hours.. When I visit a retail store or coffee shop in the evening, the staff over there is busy loading new stock so I end up waiting. Many a times new stock is brought in through the front door, as back door facility does not exist.

So I do have a few suggestions for these stores:

  • Reload your stocks before 4.00 pm everyday, preferably through a back door
  • Make sure you have enough inward cash of various denomination after every 4 hours
  • Make sure the staff drinks good quality tea/coffee as many times as they want without leaving the workplace during office hours
  • Ensure that there is a back door for smooth stock inwards - outwards
  • Ensure that your customers understand the meaning of standing in a queue - do not pamper your regular visitors in this case
  • The floor/branch/store manager should speak to the staff politely and respectfully when the store is open and closed for customers.
  • Enforce a delivery time frame that will make a brand name for yourself [Hint: McDonald's]
  • Ask your regular clients/ customers to do an impromptu review of the service delivery mechanism - this will instill confidence in both the parties. 
  • If you are a store manager then wear a badge that says manager or behave like one - you should be able to earn respect with latter without much efforts

This list can be made extensive. I would encourage readers to write their views in the comments section. 

The failed service delivery mechanism seem to be common with restaurants, retail stores, chain stores. McDonald's keeps itself away from this scenario, because without their awesome delivery methodology the burger and the doctored fries will be nothing. 

So the gesture to bend the rules to accommodate problem of the school girls was a good step towards making things better. But the manager ruined it when he told his staff to pass that 'fresh product' to the next customer. He should have asked him to keep it aside and bill it against the whole team. It was a great opportunity to showcase collective responsibility but I guess he did not feel the same.

Perhaps he (the services sector) has never really thought about adding finishing touches to excellent decisions.

Product Incubation Centre

Product Incubation Centres are a commonplace sight in startup world of Silicon Valley. They are the need of the hour and some of them have an interesting future ahead. 

In India, the scenario is rather different. If I have an idea I would go through the following generalised process:

  1. Speak to a couple of trustworthy friends and bounce the idea off them
  2. Think the idea through for next 3-4 months
  3. Once I am sure of the idea and its prospects I gather a few people
  4. I form a company and employ a bunch of people
  5. I start developing with an excellent intent and a sufficiently long term view
  6. As time goes by I realise that the long term view is like a dream. So I focus on present with much energy
  7. In this process I forget that my development process (need not be IT solution) is becoming a heavy cost centre instead of a profit centre.
  8. And then...

Well, you get the picture. For help, I tend to reach out people I know as I am afraid of the IP theft. 

Now, various startup experts will tell you about 10 escape routes or 121 ways to sell as a startup and some more. Also, about a bunch of success stories of Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Charlie Chaplin will be told and you'll be given some motivational quotes. 

I am not undermining the importance of the above. But many a times, what one really needs is a pool of experts who will be kind and honest with you. And will keep your IPs safe. That's where Incubation Centres help you out. They offer you honest advice and a strong validation process. And of course, a strong product development support. 

So if you have a startup or know of a startup or if you are an established entrepreneur looking to establish a vertical, get in touch with me. At Curologic and Maxsimos, we now are accepting new proposals for Product Incubation Centre.

You can get in touch with me using social links on this website.

New Venture

After a few stumbling blocks and tough couple of weeks, I came across an opportunity to work with some very interesting entrepreneurs in Pune. They have one of the best business models, which I have seen in a very long time.

Henceforth, I shall be heading the Business Development activities at Curologic and Maxsimos.

Quite excited and looking forward to the battlefield!