Archive for April, 2010

Call taxis should introduce loyalty programs

I have had a chance to use call taxis on too many occasions in India now and day before yesterday as I was reaching Bangalore, I wanted to hire one so that I could get home without having to squabble with the auto fellows and not end up paying through my nose. So, I tried calling all the major ones. I noticed that many of them had introduced IVR (Interactive Voice Response Systems, the kind of ones that greet you when you dial toll-free numbers for customer service). I was aghast! Not only that I was thrown out of the system of a service that I’m a heavy user of, I ended up holding their call for more than 5 minutes before that happened.

I’ve a lot of reasons to be angry and a suggestion for them too…so here you go

The truth is, I loved the fact that when I called a human voice immediately answered with – “XYZ cabs, how can I help you?”, I mean it really showed that my query will get attended to immediately. IVR systems cost money to implement and do you no good if you cannot prioritize your queue with some form of pin code/loyalty number and leaves a spate of angry and dissatisfied customers! (Who will tell the call taxi owners this!)

That brings me to my idea, if the call taxis did want to do something hi-tech and advanced in marketing, they could launch some form of loyalty program that would guarantee stuff like “just 15-minute prior booking time”, “priority/emergency calling”. I’m sure people would even be willing to pay a premium for it. Although, offering it for free will get you the necessary customer sign-up and then you can prioritize your queue according to the value of the card holder. And, by the way, using the loyalty program doesn’t require the costly IVR implementation and will help them segment and serve the market better, while making more profits. What say people? All game for loyalty programs from call taxis?

Attitude is all that matters

I’m just back from a 2 day training for teachers at Salem in Tamil Nadu. It was an official trip and focussed on usage on creation of audio/visual content with RazorBee (the product that we have in the market currently) from the company I’m with, Ariem Technology. It was our first training in a tier 2 city and we were a bit apprehensive to begin with.

The device helps access internet resources (images, videos, text) for teachers, and though we simplify the process of search, creation and delivery of content, belief in the source (internet) and some experience with the alternative methods helps put some perspective on the device for an end-user. Someone with no exposure to content search or creation and even far less, delivery using technology in classrooms may appreciate the simplicity of the device but will miss the larger picture!

Anyhow, we arrived very early in the morning (4.30am!) and were greeted with so much warmth and care that we almost forgot the sweltering heat in Salem! Next pit stop was teachers themselves, many of them started dropping in as early as 7.30am to meet us at the hostel room itself, where we were put up. The rest had promptly arrived at the computer lab at 8.30am. To say the least, the training was a roller coaster ride.

By the end of the next day when we were leaving, the set of teachers were not only beaming from ear to ear – they had also created audio/visual lessons to support specific topics to teach in class. They went from not knowing anything about gathering content from internet, creating their own or delivering it to knowing and doing it all! Kudos to them, applause for RazorBee and a pat on the back for us :).

What really struck me was their attitude. I’ve not seen too many teachers ask questions, it isn’t considered good, it is considered a sign of weakness, of giving up power etc. However, they were open to ask questions and acknowledge things they didn’t know, that was a brilliant positive start. Next, came their attitude towards each other and team work. In some of the tasks we had divided them into groups and I noticed that they had an amazing way of working together. One would think they would not want to disagree with each other but instead they did, they resolved it very tactfully too. One would think they would not know how to structure a discussion and then assign roles, they did it very well. For me, the moral of the story being that it does not matter where in the world you are and in what stage of technology usage, with the right attitude and the right tool one can achieve wonders.

The end result was something that one could not make out as being created by newbees to RazorBee and all kudos to their attitude.

Movie Theater On Board

Long time ago the bus operators (especially the luxury kind) figured that they had a bunch of captive (and bored) audience making a long distance journey and one must keep them entertained by showing them movies or atleast playing some songs. Now, I’m not a big fan of their movie/song selections and they are not smart about the way they use the undivided attention of the travellers either, but there is something to keep you occupied (I’ve ended up watching almost all the movies shown to me in buses – whether I liked them or not!). That brings me to the point of railways.

When I was a kid, my dad used to be posted in locations far away from our hometown and every year or half year or so we did our 3/4 day trip across the country back to Kerala. We did our best to keep ourselves entertained, played games, sang songs, told each other jokes, befriended fellow travellers – but it was monotonous for sure with no other avenues of entertainment. I shudder at the thought of long train journeys today even if I have time – mostly because it is extremely boring. One can carry a lot of entertainment devices on board, but sooner or later your power drains out (not all of the trains are equipped with power points either)

Now, what if Railways decided to put a movie theater on board the long distance trains? Would that change the equation? I’m not saying it should be anything fancy – for starters, it could just be a coach converted into a seating-only arrangement (like the shatabdi) and facing towards the movie screen, have show times allocated and only passengers with valid tickets should be allowed based on a fee to watch the movies. Not a very difficult thing to do! In fact, based on the regions that the train passes through, Railways can even consider getting hold of some advertisements from the companies to show the captive audience!

In our country where services like the railways is very utility-driven, will entertainment hold its ground? What do you think?

New Media – Old Media

Some may balk at the expression “old media” but the implication of using the term “new” media is obvious, right? Anyhow, coming to the point of the post. I was listening to RJ Anjaan on 94.3 RadioOne in Bangalore FM and I noticed him do something very interesting, he called out to the listeners to look him up on Facebook, add him as a friend, write on his wall, tweet to him and that he will shout out their names on his show. This was interesting because he is using social networks as a “pull in”.

1. While RadioOne gets an alternate channel to pull in viewers, you would’ve noticed that the FM channels at least have stopped giving out their PO box numbers, they are still sticking to mobile and email IDs but I think soon that will be passe – Anjaan has started a trend with Facebook and twitter messages.

2. Previously, all “pull in” streams did not exist without the media itself. So if you take PO box numbers, email IDs, contact numbers – all of them are very “corporatish”, controlled, inbound and private channels. Facebook and Twitter go beyond that – they are open, mass viewable and public. Everything that the radio represents at some level!

3. The nature of Facebook and twitter (although there are corporates there for sure) encourages personal interactions with employees, there is a ‘realism” effect at play in there. So, what Anjaan is doing with his own personal profile in Facebook and Twitter is actually creating an open personal network for him in his professional role or in short, creating a brand of himself. Again, a trend?

What do you think? Is new media – old media partnership interesting?

Aryan’s Mom

I rediscovered a very old and good friend of mine along with her creative spark recently!Introducing to all of you my friend who blogs at – http://www.aryan-mylife.blogspot.com/.

I was amazed at the fact that she decided to take up blogging as a hobby, the fact that she could write well was a given. When I started reading, I could not stop at one. She is chronicling her journey with her son since the day he was born from his perspective. What started as a simple pass time has, in my mind, morphed into a very deep and humourous way of a parent’s discovery of a child’s world.

Kudos to her for the great job she is doing….keep up the good work and a must read for the rest of you.

Breaking the MBA myth

I was having a chat with a friend of mine who is about half way done with his MBA. I was asking him about the course and how he is doing, so he said, “for me now the MBA myth is broken” and I was like, “what do you mean?” to which he explained that, “everyone mostly pretends to know stuff when they are really just copying information from Google” (his words, not mine!). This set me thinking and I will share with you what I discussed with him.

To be honest, when you are surrounded by people who are all doing the same thing in the same way and you have not hit any real life experience of doing business, one can be pardoned to think that is all there is to it – copy stuff from somewhere, not go deep enough and present it as if you owned the data pretending to know everything there is to know about it. But, like I told him, if one steps back, we can see that the more complex the things get the harder it is to tell between someone who is just “speaking” their way through vs. “doing” the right things. It is the same case with business – strategy, marketing, finance, consulting, are all complex domains in their own right and unlike in engineering where if one does not code/do something properly, it shows up easily, here it might take ages to understand the “rightness” of a decision as the “wrongness” of it and the over-emphasis on “luck”factor  in the media doesn’t help either. It all boils down to decision-making in highly ambiguous situations and requires a lot of skill than just “copying and pasting” information.

I was reading a book called “Alternative Schooling in India” and a particular sentence there really caught my attention. It said that the real test of education is if it teaches you to stand your ground when everyone is doing wrong, to have the courage to stand up and fight for something if you believe it is the right thing to do, to stand apart when everyone is rushing to follow each other…and I can’t but help compare this with what my friend was feeling about the “myth being broken”.

What do you think, is MBA a myth?

Internships and Expectations

When companies hire part-time workers or consultants or even, outsource work, they are very careful to define and spell things out for the work that needs to be done. I wonder why companies don’t keep the same rules with summer/project interns? I heard of a recent case of unmet expectations and was wondering if there was a way to make it better. So, here goes my thoughts on the same.

Internships are a wonderful way for fresh graduates and undergraduates to relate to the real world and understand your company, products as well as the various functions. It is a way for the company to learn more about a future employee as much as the other way round. However, more often than not I’ve seen many people use interns to either do the number crunching jobs or expect them to deliver results when they have no context of the company’s strategy, customers or history.

Sometimes all this works out well, the intern learns that you need to do mind numbing work in corporate world, they sometimes outshine themselves and come out trumps because they have no fear of failure or sense of it’s-been-done-before-and-does-not-work! But in majority of the cases, it is a story of unmet expectations on either side. The company failed to set the expectations right to begin with and the interns did not probe and poke around enough to learn about the company.

Can the company or the intern-manager help set this straight? As a first step, setting the right expectations from a bunch of fresh graduates helps and then, giving them a proper orientation and sufficient context and history of the task at hand goes a long way. Getting regular feedbacks is important and so is, stepping up on ownership if there is a need for a lot of internal information to get things done builds. 

I’ve had interns in the past and have had fair amount of success in ensuring that they contributed to the company while learning about the company & marketing in the process. However, I did find that overloading information does not help them a bit because they are not able to process and too little of context does not help motivate them, so striking a balance is important.

What do you think? Do you have a story of a successful intern at your office? How was the experience and how do you think one can make it better?


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