Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Customer Care Challenges

With competition rapidly increasing in the market place, the “product” is no longer a sole winner for any company. Customer Support has gathered importance like never before and every organization today has an increased focus towards the support function. The movie Rocket Singh which came a couple of years back, clearly portrayed the shift in the customer’s preferences.

Thus 24 x 7 Customer Care Centres have become a norm today. Even the smallest and insignificant company today boasts of a Toll Free Number. Major companies are now also resorting to social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter to engage with customers. No doubt there has been a tremendous improvement in the way customers get support as compared to the situation earlier. But there still is a long way to go when it comes to the “care” aspect of it or in terms of providing real support.

Firstly, the customer care executives, who answer your phone call / chat, are trained with Standard Operating Procedures on how to handle queries. When you mail a query, they just copy and paste an answer which is already a part of the FAQ they have been equipped with. The moment your query is different from the normal and frequently asked ones, comes the real test of the support system. Most of the times, the response I have received to a query I have asked is something that I already know.

Secondly, the response time to queries is a key indicator. The time taken to answer a call, the time it takes for you to navigate through the IVRS and get to what you are actually looking at, the time it takes to talk to a Customer Support Executive from the time you have dialed the number is pretty long on an average for most of the Indian companies.

Third is the question of empowerment. Most of these executives are hardly empowered to take decisions. As a result the call keeps escalating on and on till it reaches the right person. By that time, the caller usually loses patience. Imagine a situation when you are talking to an executive, have taken a long time to explain him your problem, and he is not in a position to solve it for you and you have to go through the same thing explaining it all over again to someone else. Alternately, you have explained everything to someone and you call gets disconnected for some reason. You do not know how to get in touch with the person you have already discussed the matter with!

What is important to be remembered is that a person calls the customer care only as a last resort. He usually calls only when he has tried and explored other means and methods to solve his problems. In such an instance, the quicker he gets a solution, or a direction towards it, the better. This requires people in such positions to be competent enough to answer any kind of queries that might arise. They need to be street smart and handle each and every query that comes their way. And most importantly, it requires a lot of patience to listen to frustrated and angry customers throughout the day and still manage to smile at the end of it all.

It is simply like this. Till the time it was not there, it really did not matter. But now that it has started, and now that people have been made to taste it, the demands will only increase. What started as a luxury, is today a necessity. What started as a “good to have” quality, has today become a “must have” quality of service delivery.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Aspiring Managers..... Time to be mentally strong!!

A hot topic which brewed quite a strong storm a couple of months back, I have been wondering whether I should comment on it or not. I am referring to the first barrier for entry to B Schools – the entrance tests - and all the wrong reasons for which different tests have come under the scanner.

CAT – the single largest test taken by the highest number of people who aspire a career in the business world – went online a couple of years back. And ever since that happened, it has only been marred in controversies. This year, the controversy cake was taken by SNAP – for faulty question paper setting and also to have some questions directly picked from preparation material provided by “Coaching Centers”

Having closely been involved in work related to Admissions of a B School for two years, I have a couple of observations to make. Referring to the SNAP fiasco, there apparently were some questions where none of the options given were right. There apparently were some questions which had multiple correct answers. There might have been major mistakes in the question paper and the authorities conducting the test need to be meticulous and have due diligence when you are conducting something at such a large scale which has such a large impact. But let us park that thought here.

It is true that a lot at stake in these exams. Candidates prepare for months and go through a lot to crack these tests in order to get a call from B Schools of their choice. It’s the pinnacle of months of waiting and sacrifice and the probability of succeeding at times is lesser than 0.01%. The pressure is tremendous because it stems out of expectations – your own and your folks, and also because if you don’t succeed this time, the wait continues for another year!

Mistakes in the questions set however doesn’t give the test takers a license to take on the test conducting authority. It was hard to digest B School aspirants vent out their anger in public, on news channels, on online forums, creating videos and viral campaigns trying to fight against the so called mishaps. I think such an action is unjustified and uncalled for, for the simple reason that indulging in something of that magnitude is not going to reverse whatever has happened. Public demonstrations, showing mob mentality, displaying traits of netagiri while responding to situations under frustration, anger and disgust is not going to solve or simplify the issue in any way.

Figure this. What if those few incorrect questions were intentionally put in the question paper? Everyone who takes the test gets to answer the same question paper. So there is absolutely no point in sitting and complaining about it. Different tests assess you on different aspects. Some test your knowledge, some your speed, some your agility, and some a combination of all of these in various proportions. There are certain tests in which you are required to mark all the options that are right. And there are some, which might not have a right answer at all. This might just have been one of those that test your ability to spot potholes on your path and how you navigate through them! Why do we always need to go to a test – that too a competitive one at it - with a certain preconceived notions?

Life is full of surprises. Everything in life doesn’t come with loud announcements. Not all situations can be addressed with fixed algorithms. As a manager, not everything that you face in the business world comes with a definite solution. A lot of occasions arise, where one has to take a decision with limited resources. That time, you cannot sit and complain about it, for you will be branded as incompetent. And to handle all these, the most basic requirement is a calm mind that thinks rather than an impulsive aggression that speaks!

At the end of the day, the B Schools are looking at selecting the people who show characteristics and potential to lead businesses tomorrow. Further rounds of selections anyways make use of different tools and criteria to evaluate the candidates and filter the pool so that only the best survive. So what’s wrong if some of those is built in the first phase of filtering?

Simply put, MBA is just a journey, not the destination in itself. Entrance tests are some of those milestones you pass on the way. If one cannot handle simple hurdles, how would he gear up for bigger challenges?

Monday, February 20, 2012

The difficult part of being on the other side of "Six Feet"

Year 1997.

As a school going young kid, I was very happy. Along with toughly fought academics, I was now on records a topper in one more aspect in my class. At five and a half inches over five feet, I was the tallest!

Fast Forward to year 2012. Surely and certainly at the end of my vertical growth, I am a tad under Six feet four inches. Am I still as happy? Ummmm… Well…..

Being tall is undoubtedly cool. It gives you that towering personality which in first look can give a great inferiority complex to a lot of people. But without going into all that, let me try to draw your attention towards the other side of being tall.

The most basic disadvantage is that almost all the products that are mass produced come in standard sizes. The taller you are, the farther away you are from the standard. Be it the clothes you wear, the footwear you use, the mattresses/cots and bed sheets you use your choice gets limited. You might really like a particular design or a colour combination, but it might not be available in the size that you are looking at. Many a times, you will be forced to go for customized orders, which take their own sweet time not to mention the additional burden it’ll put on your wallets.

Next comes the comfort while you are travelling. Be it air, rail or bus travel, you are never at ease! The leg rooms available in the buses and aircrafts are so meager that you will simply be waiting for the journey to get over and run out of the place. You’ll start cursing your height when people start brushing against your feet every second minute when you are attempting to catch on long lost sleep on a long distance train journey. Travelling is one of the biggest nightmares I personally have. That’s not all. You sit on a two wheeler, and appear as if you are riding a bicycle. Your knees at times get locked with the handle bars when you try taking a deep turn. Four wheelers are no different. A height as big as that, drastically reduces the alternatives you have!

Then, as a tall person, you are easy to be spotted from a distance even in a thick crowd. It’s difficult to hide from others (read people you want to avoid). You need to take extra care about yourself when you go to new places. When I go to my hometown, where most of the houses are still of the ancestral days, I need to be very careful when moving between rooms as the doors are very short. Additionally the ceilings too are pretty low, which necessitates me to have a watch on my hand movements!

You are tall, will require you to bend a lot. If you weigh disproportionately, the whole weight falls on your ankle and that goes for a toss. Wrong postures can lead to major problems on the spinal cord! Though everyone can be prey to problems stated here, the tall ones are slightly more vulnerable!

So yeah, being tall is not easy! It comes with its own, unique, unavoidable problems. And the bigger challenge is you can’t do anything about it and you just have to live with it! :)

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Co-existence and NOT the survival of the fittest!

“The road belongs to others as much as it does to you!” shouted my uncle seated next to me. A few years back I had just got my driving license and was driving on the highway when someone tried to overtake me. Seeing this, I too accelerated denying him enough room to clear me and move on. Had it not been for the skill of the driver and of the vehicle coming from the opposite direction, I would have probably been witness to, and perhaps even the reason behind one of the most horrible road accidents! The learning still remains.

Think about it. I am sure you would be seeing it every day in and around you. People behaving as if they are the kings! Breaking traffic signals at will, entering no entry zones, riding on the wrong side of the road, parking randomly etc are things we have all seen happening. Some of us probably even do it every day! These people hardly think about the inconvenience it causes to the others around them, be it fellow motorists, be it pedestrians or the society in general. Today, it is all about I, Me, Myself! It’s true that basic human instincts might be the reason that propels one to remaining ahead. That maybe the reason why one starts honking at a signal even when it is 10 seconds to turn green. That maybe the reason why one doesn’t even consider stopping and instead accelerate further when he sees the light turning yellow from a distance. It is hard to even think about the risk everyone is being exposed to. Consider the amount of anxiety and stress it causes! Consider the poor pedestrians, who have to suffer all these, be doubly (perhaps even more) careful and always be attentive and watchful. One momentary lapse of concentration could mean disaster.

Driving is not about survival of the fittest. It is more about coexistence! You are not responsible for your safety alone, but also of the safety of everyone else who is driving around you! My driving license shouts “Driving is a privilege, not a right”

A friend of mine who used to drive eccentrically fast used to say “Driving is all about taking decisions in a split second, and I am able to do it! So there should not be a cause to worry!” But the question isn’t about your ability alone to take split second decisions. Safety on the road is also a function of the ability of everyone else to take decisions in the same split second as you do! And most of them may not have the same kind of a response time as you have!

It is true that today, vehicles have become more and more affordable. Infrastructure in terms of roads, parking facilities etc have not grown in proportion to the growth of vehicles on the road. Not everyone has good traffic sense. And that creates more problems for everyone! When I say traffic sense, I am referring to that City Bus driver who stops right in the middle of the road to pick up and drop passengers. I am referring to that SUV driver who has to take a right at the junction, but sees that there is a green to go straight and goes till the junction and blocks the traffic heading straight! I am referring to those lorry drivers who occupy the three lanes on the Mumbai Pune Expressway on the Khandala section, each travelling at 9.42 kmph, 9.81 kmph and 10.27 kmph respectively! I am referring to those fickle minded people who keep changing lanes just because the other lane ‘appears to be moving faster’!

Education is an important part to develop this traffic sense in a society. These basic things have to be imbibed in everyone right from childhood. Punishment for the guilty also needs to be severe. If educated and reasonable people like us tweak rules here and there for the sake of convenience, what do we tell others? How will the country prosper? Most of us sit and curse the traffic which is a major cause of our worries, especially in big cities. But it is we, who have to start doing something about it. Instead of jumping a signal to make sure you reach your destination early, you can very well start five minutes early. Travelling through a no entry in the pretext of reducing the distance by a few kms and reduce on fuel consumption, should in no way be acceptable when you compare the kind of misery you are going to inflict upon a lot others.

As they say, charity begins at home!