Death, Life, Destiny….

Death is nothing; It’s dying that is so hard.

Is there something called Destiny? or something called ‘Naseeb or Bhagya’ as it is meant in Hindi? or as it is referred to as ‘Taqdeer’ in Urdu?

I honestly do not know; many learned, cynical, scientific people would have answers, unfortunately I am not one of them and hence prefer to think of the easy words.

Death, something that most people are scared of, worried including me. But at the same time, there is some faith that says “Ab tera waqt nahi aaya”

Over the past so many years, it seems I have managed to get away, wouldn’t go as far as saying cheating; but definitely yes there is something that manages to save me always. Time, People, circumstances – honestly do not know and so refer to them as my Destiny, Taqdeer for want of something better. Out of the many times, fights, strikes, travel in Bihar, NE, Indonesia where there have been incidences, the following 3 are the one, where for a while I actually saw the light: Continue reading →

Mahindra Holidays – Mahableshwar

A contest for young, where Deepali of Mahindra Holidays convinced me to act as a judge.

A tough job indeed, but managed to do so. After sending the information, a couple of days later, I received an email that carried a gift voucher to be used for two nights, at any Mahindra resort.

Given the brief time, decided to try out something closeby and opted for Mahableshwar, N having never ever visited and my last visit was eons ago.

Planned, booked and off we went. A long but decent drive, with getting off a couple of times, finally managed to reach by late afternoon.

Checked in and alloted a room, a large Dak bungalow kind of room, facing the garden, with a small verandah; had me crashing out, tired after the long drive.

Awoke after a while and N was still asleep, decided to take a dekho and found some activities slated, but the family crowd was more keen on going to Mahableshwar for shopping or stocking up, given that it was a dry day.

I decided so, but was told that it gets dark pretty quick and better to take the car. Drove down to the town center and everyone was in the process of shutting down – 7.30 pm – though the restaurants – fancy or otherwise were open. Found a long Queue at the booze shop reminscent of Delhi, but was quickly attended to.

Picked up some nice Seng dana and chips; reached the resort with a couple of wrong turns, to find a note from N that she had gone for some Tambola and Singing activity.

Made myself home, outside with an old monk, contemplating the dark, brought back memories of the Tea Estates or Assam at night.

N soon came over, with her winnings from Tambola and off we went for dinner – buffet and ala carte options, however the buffet looked quite good and given that we wanted to have a quick bite and go back decided to opt for it.

A decently lavish spread, though the vegetarian was a bit lacking. I decided to partake from Italian, but two kids came up to me and said ‘this is the kids section’. So apologised and requested that I be allowed, which they graciously did so.

The next day was a lazy day spent lazing around or just a walk; N had her thursday fast so I tried out a sanwich – outstanding, with the bread being baked locally and good preserves with it, besides of course great masala chai.

One of the activity leaders came and made a lovely Ganesha from towels, which I asked if we could carry away, but alas No.

Being Thursday night, N’s fasting day we went quickly at 7.45 for dinner and found that the ala carte would take longer today, but buffet that was not too good was laid out.

   
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
    
   
So went for it, but a complete let down. To reconfirm my thoughts asked if the Chef was on holiday, which was so and the service was also a serious let down.

The next morning was a quick wrap and we were back by late evening, with the mandatory stop over for vada, missal.

Good

  • Nice location
  • Large rooms
  • Peaceful
  • Room service quite good
  • Reception and security quite good

Bad

  • Bathroom quite shabby
  • Room switches not working
  • Lock of door not working
  • Buffet service quite bad – refilling taking time
  • Food options limited, but resort kind.

According to N, this is not a place she would come for an occasion, but maybe good for my retreat.

 

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TIE Ahmedabad & Startup Saturday

Thanks to Lavin and Kanchan kumar TIE Ahmedabad decided to invite me to talk about my Life learnings for their members.

Normally, I would avoid a special trip, but coincidentally I was slated to be in Ahmedabad and so said yes.

After a number of calls, and my reassurance that I would reach on time; I did so and they realised that I knew Ahmedabad.

Entering the room, saw it quite full, with people actually standing at the back, some sitting in the aisle, started wondering and feeling a bit lost. But the Show must go on.

Asked how many were working, MBAs, CA, PG and found that nearly 90% of them were wanting to turn entrepreneurs without taking a risk. Simply put, wanted a magic wand that gave them a concept, idea, funds and they became Ambani, Bansals, whatever….

Having understood, pushed them for an interactive session. Ran thru my journey, glossed the winnings, focussed on failures; and took some examples from those present. A few interacted, a few tried their luck in asking how can we get funds before somebody asked about what should they keep in mind before turning entrepreneurs.

Keeping in mind the audience –

  1. Break barriers – family, friends
  2. Be ahead of the curve – Do not think today; Think 2 years from today
  3. Experiment – You are sub 30. You can afford to.
  4. Accept challenges & take risks
  5. Personal goal setting – as important or even more.
  6. Invest – in people, learning, meeting, building and maintaining relationships.

Upon winding up, many asked for my email id – which I readily shared, with a caveat that they need to send me a problem and their solution approach. I have received just one email in the past 45+ days.

But, what was heartening that People actually came from Baroda which is 100+ kms away AND an ex employee came up, introduced himself and share his success, thanking me for teaching him. My day ended on a HIGH

 

BMA debate on Branding

I was fortunate enough to be called upon, by BMA for a discussion on Branding a while back.

I thought there would be 10-15 people given that is what appears everytime, but was pleasantly surprised to see a full house.

Some brands were verbally discussed, with some agencies who handled them; students had a different POV.

Overall quite good. My thoughts, deck here. BMA30112015

2016: Things to do

Last day of the first month and somedays, it feels fantastic, somedays are extremely depressing; BUT then that is for everyone, isn’t it?

So, with 11 months left, I have decided to jot down some things I intend doing or following:

  1. Reboot my health, closet, style. 
  2. Money. Money. Honey. Free Lunch is over. 
  3. Say NO more often. 
  4. Continue and increase the walk
  5. Make a friends and family collage for the dining room empty wall.
  6. Take some time off from alcohol. Experiment with food/drink at home.
  7. Make an effort to rediscover the food from cities I have stayed, visit.
  8. Try the 5:2 diet. Normal – 2000(500) for women & 2500(600) for men
  9. Focus on sleep properly – try and implement a No screen deadline.
  10. Initiate family medical checkup again.
  11. Take a road trip for me time.
  12. Take a couple of long distance train – visit 3 never visited place
  13. Keep Thursday or Saturday date nights sancrosanct.
  14. Meet new people

What about you?

Swiggy, Swiggy…

Finally when Tiny Owl was getting it’s act together, it started falling apart – lot of restaurants stopped accepting online payment and the only way you knew was when you placed the order; delays of delivery etc.

I had been trying out Swiggy for a while, in fact got into a brief conversation also with one of their founders Sriharsha Majety a while back – here

Their 4th delivery went for a complete toss last Thursday. Ordered via them from Burger King for my mother, who was alone at home. I also decided to partake. Since I was at Juhu circle and the app showed 30-45 min, I immediately ordered. Smooth as usual and by the time I reached home it showed delivered.

I entered and Boom, the wife who had walked in 5 min ago asked me what happened to the food. Told her, and got a sharp reprimand ‘Stuff your apps, find out where it has been delivered’ Now the App does not allow me to call unless I fill in the feedback, weird or was it my ioS; hurriedly did so, and then there is nobody to call, cannot see the number. So tweeted to them in desperation, whilst ordering a grill sandwich from my trusty sandwichwallah. Received an answer that they are looking into it.

Delivery man Kishan called up, saying he has delivered, upon asking where, he said in your place next to the lift, 502 whereas I stay in 501. So he asked me if I could pick it up from them. I said No thank you; please cancel my order, because it is nearly an hour after delivery.

Ten minutes later, he comes having picked up the packet and tries to give it, which I refuse to accept; in the meantime he is trying to juggle two smart phones trying to call customer service and his senior. I wait with him for a while, before politely saying, please cancel my order and closing the door. Another ten minutes later, he rings the bell and says customer service would like to speak to me.

The said gentleman apologises, says they are processing my refund and if I would like to or at least keep the packet. I ask him, why would I want to? So I am asked if I would like a fresh order to be delivered, again refused and finally I end the conversation. Whilst handing over the phone I ask Kishan, did he not read the flat number? did he not ask the person who opened the door about the number? He forgot, and the person who opened the door, took the packet and said online order and took it.

After, this is over I see a tweet of apology on my time line.

Plus & Minus

  • Delivery boy immediately accepted the mistake and went out of his way to try and convince the customer (4/5)
  • Since empowerment may have been an issue, he still made every effort (4/5)
  • The Delivery supervisor did not want to be accountable, so kept pushing him to speak to customer service and couldn’t give him the number (1/5)
  • Trying to get to customer service easily by consumer (1/5)
  • Delivery boy managing to get to customer service easily (1/5)
  • No escalation matrix of journey plan with inward dialling (1/5)

So, yes definitely much to look at, which they must be doing; but the resolution and reaching out was superb and much better compared to others.

Will I use the services again, definitely. And hope the % comes down and they add more places which do not have a delivery mechanism in place. And yes I do not mind paying Rs 20-25-50 bucks depending on order value.

Zomato & Fatty Bao – Table reservation

Table reservation is the new black. You can read more about it here

As I said, the big daddy Zomato has entered the space recently.

Last week, a call on Sunday from friends led to my calling up Fatty Bao for reservations for Friday evening. They were polite – Pankaj attended and informed me up front that it is on WL and we will call you. Fair enough. (Disclaimer: I have already eaten twice at Fatty Bao, like the place, food, service. The first time we were early and so spent time at the Bar)

The friends were insistent about eating there, never having been there or in Bangalore or Delhi; hence I decided to check again on Wednesday. Fired the app and was surprised to see reserve a table service. However, since I already had a WL decided to call them. 12 noon to 2.30 the phone rang but nobody picked up. (This is the zomato service that they offer restaurants)

I decided to check out the table reservation; in parallel tweeted to Fatty Bao about calling me back.

A fair amount of Free advice floated to me:

  • Why should they respond here?
  • It is your fault for not checking with them
  • Make alternate reservations
  • Fatty Bao is so good that you won’t get reservations. And so on

Trying out the App offering, showed me the following:

Trying various combinations – Nos of people, time, date – none of seemed to work. To be fair somebody else managed to book a table for 2 people. However, I do not understand if the system is limited to number of people or is automated like airlines or is manual operated by the restaurants themselves.

Their tweet was 23 days old so did not bother, but tried the number on the Bio and a lady picked up spoke in hindi and said this is a personal number.

Finally got thru to a lady called Sonam(or Sonia) who said it was still on WL and if somebody cancels, we would give you the reservation. Or you can come at 10.30 pm and there would be a table, which I refused. Answer to my question ‘Are there chances, gave the same answer’. And she was unable to answer my question, why was your phone ringing but nobody picked it up. An hour later, Pankaj called up with the same spiel – do not know if they really call up or because I called up or I tweeted. And I was informed that Friday by 5-6 pm I would receive a call if my reservation is confirmed or not, but we cannot say anything.

We cancelled the reservation on Thursday night, went somewhere else.

Do I blame Zomato or The Fatty Bao?

No, absolutely not. They are here to do business and make money. However, the following points left me irritated:

  • Table reservation cannot be a lottery system on an App where the house always wins. If you have just two seating 8.30 pm and 10.30 pm Why would you have options of different timings open?
  • So many options cannot be full and if they are, switch of the Table reservation system.
  • Most restaurants, hotels, airlines over book and offer WL, however been in the business for a while, there is some data which tells you – that you cannot accommodate 6-8 pax on a Friday evening on WL; so be upfront about that.
  • As a customer facing operation, being on twitter should mean a reply in at least an hour. And not checking the wrong number is a bit much.
  • There was no response to the tag and questions asked from Zomato also.

All this can be fixed in half a day. I have had experience with Manu and Deepinder who are proactive about such things and hopefully would act upon it.

For, those who asked me, Will I go again, Of course, To me this is no deal breaker, except that I am probably more finicky about customer approach, communication and behaviour.

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Table Reservations App

As new fangled cuisines make their way; celebrity chefs open restaurants or chain of restaurants, PE/VC run after them with funds, would a ‘Technology disrupting App’ funded or looking for funds left behind?

And suddenly there are half dozen of them floating around. I have looked at trying the well known four of them:

Eazy Diner – Launched by Vir Sanghavi and team, which depends on crowd sourced reviews, recommendations, offers 10-25% discount on restaurants. BUT mostly chain or 5 star where most of the times walk in or just a call can get you in; and the same/similar discount is available on multitude of cards – credit, loyalty, debit what have you.

DishCo –  More like Burrrp and Zomato in a different avataar, again dependent on crowd sourcing votes; but yet to initiate Table reservations model.

Dine Out – From the Times of India Internet stable, which I thought would have a lot of synergies and could capture the market, provide competition to Zomato. But the listing of where you could reserve and get a discount is just ordinary restaurants. Their search and find, recommend location has always let me down. (example of Svenska which did not pop up) And in spite of constant feedback there has actually been no relevant change as far as I’m concerned. In fact somebody had called up, wanting to understand this better a month of so ago.

They have recently launched Dineout Plus where you pay Rs. 5000/- and get a card, which entitles you to 25% off on your meals at top restaurants in 5 star hotels for 12 months (The Orchid, Svenska, Royal Orchid central, Ramada plaza are examples shown)

Given an average of Rs 1750/- per person (excluding taxes) a couple would need to do 6 visits in the same city to recover Rs. 5000/- Given the options outside, with lesser prices and taxes, do not know how many would actually renew. Remember there are many more already around. Read here

Zomato – The big daddy of them all, recently introduced the service and it is this that I saw had some additions that would be of use to me. However, the first use showed me that, this is still in the nascent stage and unless, there is a clear investment, communication which is common for the consumer, it is not likely to work.

On all four, I felt the following:

  • An attempt to crowd source the main aspects – review, recommend.
  • Try to use the low lying fruit – restaurants, cafe, bars that are desperate/need footfalls and willing to play ball with discounts, offers.
  • There does not seem to be an offer differentiator, just the same 10-25%
  • Restaurants that are doing well by them selves do not wish to play ball; because they do not see the value this will bring to them – similar to food tech delivery companies.
  • Deal seekers flit from one app to another; one card to another; one reference to another.
  • Those who consistently visit the same places, know the staff and can get direct bookings, maybe even discounts, so why bother.
  • Then there are those who look at an experience at a new place, would be open to use the app provided there is a guarantee of the booking.

So, what exactly are these table reservation services providing, value addition to? The restaurants? consumers?

I checked with a few 40-60 age group, many not on social media, most CXO level, who entertain at least twice a week, who had not even heard of these, and use their assistants or phone number directly to reserve a table.

My pitch to them:

  • Would you download an App paying Rs 100
  • Would you pay for reservation or table cost (High roller method of fine dine, casinos, hotels, airlines)
  • Would they like places to be recommended to them based on data provided whilst registering?

80% said Yes. They were willing to pay for convenience, ego massage, avoiding the bill tussle, able to try out places.

What is in it for the Restaurants? All of the above and much more!

Now, if only somebody wants to take the difficult, but longer retention path.

 

Brand behaviour the only differentiator

For the past two years, in my previous avatar as Co founder of 1+99 experience consulting, whenever I was asked what does it do, I had a stock and short answer “We teach Brands to behave” with the next elaboration to – Brands cannot just stop at communication, unless its behaviour backs it up, it will be quite chaotic given the information, awareness, conversation etc thanks to digital.

My colleagues Yashesh, Vidya and of course the Brand Gurus Kiran Khalap and Andy Halve were amused, fed up and upset, even disagreed saying that our offering was quite large, different and etc etc

During the various workshops that I conducted for Brands, panels and interactions with CMOs the phrase worked very well, because ‘Customer experience’ as a differentiator was the buzz word and this resonated there. (Why it has yet to take off in India is another story to be told).

As a passionate service industry professional, I have been long a practitioner of how a brand should behave – words such as culture, policies, motivation – are good for 15-20% large MNCs (Foreign & Indian) For the rest, India is still dominated by Entrepreneur Managers, who run organisations as benevolent dictators where their behaviour is the Brand behaviour. In such an scenario, it tends to fluctuate wildly from one extreme to another depending on whims and fancies.

Many people on Social Media have taken opportunity to thrash Brands on an ongoing basis; but few acknowledge the good service or behaviour. Or the % is too low, or it is like a clique for a new service or app launched would have its team of founders, VCs, friends pimping it for a while but no consistency. Similar is the food business these days, and one could go on about it.

Since, I have no clue about Brands, names, logo I have taken the liberty of using a series of articles in The Mint by Kiran Khalap  some of which are quite relevant to this post.

Do brand names matter?

Dumb Logos vs ‘Lal Baraf’

(The most relevant and critical – probably where my constant hammering during debates may have had an impact I hope :))

Brands: Behave… or else!

Why brand behaviour bests brand communication in today’s democratised communication world!

There are a couple more in the series but they do not serve the purpose here.

Some time last year, Dina another Guru of the research industry asked the question and then tweeted “Crowdsourced list of Indian Organisations offering innovative/good customer service experiences: Flipkart, Paperboat, Urban ladder, Soufull, Big Basket, Fresh Menu, Amex, Explara, Exotel, Instamojo, Cucumbertown, Perfiniti, Gram Vaani, Taj, Oxford Bookstore, Bru World cafe, Faasos, Shreeji”

This is in no way a comprehensive or complete list, but it clearly has unknowns that few people know.

On 20 January 2016 Jessie ran a CMO twitter chat where Uber behaviour and customer service was spoken about. I have been a rare user and found them good, responded and sorted my problem out, which met my expectations. However, daily I see many tweets or FB updates cursing the arrogance, attitude and customer service problems faced by others from Uber, so I am confused here.

A poll run by me asking people on twitter, whether logo or behaviour is important to them (a by product of a prospective client willing to spend 5-7 lacs on logo design but not willing to invest that money in getting behaviour basics right) threw the following answer:

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As the digital era grows, there will be more peer to peer; unknown to unknown discussions happening that the brand would not be able to control always. Brand broadcast will not work. Logo, Tag Line, communication will be a long time haul. People demand instant gratification – acknowledgement, answer, resolution, rewards – in addition to engagement on a personal level.

Brand Behaviour will be the only differentiator in the cluttered ‘New Age Disruptive environment’ AND more importantly for the old Brands who are living in the past glory, getting away with color and logo changes every couple of year.

So, CMOs how much – time, effort, budget – are you actually allocating to this behaviour?

Disclaimer: All references to articles and information is my own. All mistakes in references are my own. ‘Brand’ has been used loosely with no disrespect to Kotler, foreign or indian brand gurus.

Personal Effectiveness – my secrets

I cannot remember people’s names or connect them with their work, location most of the time. But, I can remember one of the three. Quite bad, given the work I do, one would say.

However, on the other side friends, colleagues always commend, congratulate me on my excellent memory, ability to locate stuff and all which goes into making a person effective. Many a times, it is convenience based, to dump their work, habits and all :)

Early in Life, I learnt and accepted a lot of my short comings – inability to recognise people, remember stuff – a serious negative for a Sales man. It was then I decided and learnt to retain relevant stuff in my memory and push the rest to the back, that could be dragged out when required, with a couple of references – similar to the tags that we use today :)

As I climbed the ladder, a lot more things became relevant and helped me; some points that may be of help – nothing secret about them – just how you apply them.

  • Write everything down – I am a notorious scribbler, lover of notebooks, stationery. I have a literal OCD of writing everything down. And once written, it remains in memory for me.
  • Maintain a Diary – I maintain a diary, ruthlessly adhering to it, so much so that I’ve been known to be Anal about it at times. I have also been extremely fortunate enough to have had the best secretaries, assistants who agreed and kept me sane.
  • Use Sticky Notes – As a stationery lover, I would buy these in a variety of shapes, sizes, colors across my travels. And consistently use them for reminders on tables, computers, books.
  • Emails – Avoid them like the plague, keep them brief (yep, been accused of writing that many failed to understand; or a sudden barrage of reminders)
  • Meet/Speak to People – A promise to myself when I began my career, that became difficult to keep – Would meet 2-3 new people every week – clients, prospects, interviews, travel companions, competition, chaiwallah, security – these are the people who share observations, gossip, information.
  • No phone meetings – A sancrosanct rule enforced by me and trust me the productivity goes up by at least 30%
  • Daily commute – Using daily commute to manage the tactical part of the day. Meditate, Power nap, read, call, message.
  • Be approachable – Some friends have said, that I am overly approachable  but these are the same friends, who will call and say, Please connect us to xyz to who you spent time with.
  • Find solutions to problems – It is important that you offer solutions to problems – genuine or perceived – and not problems to problems. This is quite crucial in a leadership role.

This list is in no way complete; but something that has worked for me, more so as I kept refining the points and applying them as I grew in leadership roles.

Do you have some secrets that works for your effectiveness? Would you share? I would like to learn.