Respectful or disrespectful? Smart or foolish?

One afternoon, I was with a customer in his office, when he received a call on his mobile from somebody whom he addressed as Chachaji (Uncle). My customer immediately stubbed out the cigarette he was smoking, shouted for the peon, switched off the air conditioner, opened the windows, put on the fan, asked the peon to take the ashtray away and spray room freshener, and ran to the washroom while the peon did as instructed. A few minutes later, the peon put off the fan, closed the windows, and switched on the air conditioner. By then, my customer had returned from the washroom after having washed his face and gargled with mouthwash. The smoke and smell of tobacco had almost totally vanished! It was an efficient military operation!

A minute later, an elderly gentleman entered the room. My customer stood up and, saying, “Namaste, Chachaji!” touched his feet, and introduced me to his uncle. Chachaji was collecting funds for the construction of a new wing in the school run by the Trust of which he was Secretary. My customer dutifully handed over his cheque and touched Chachaji’s feet again. His work done, Chachaji left.

“Thank God!” my customer exclaimed as he sat down in his chair. “I have a lot of respect for Chachaji. To me, he is like God! He considers smoking a sin. If he had seen me smoking, he would have been terribly upset,” my 40 years old customer said.

I knew this customer quite well, so I responded, “If you really respect your uncle so much, and if he considers smoking a sin, you should stop smoking.”

“Boss, I’m under too much stress. Right now, I can’t even think of giving up smoking!” he declared.

“I think that, by continuing to smoke and concealing from your uncle the fact that you smoke, you are not respecting your uncle. On the contrary, this is utter disrespect,” I replied.

My customer is not an exception. He is the rule. Many men smoke, drink, etc. without the knowledge of their families. I know of some men, paragons of virtue at home, who ‘freak out’ on alcohol and tobacco when they go out of town, only to become ‘goody-goody boys’ when they return home!

I also know of women from conservative families leaving home dressed in traditional clothes, ostensibly to attend a ‘ladies get-together’ (or a ‘family get-together’ if they’re accompanied by their husbands), but actually headed for a discotheque. Under the traditional clothes are worn ‘daring’, ‘modern’ outfits. The traditional clothes are shed before they reach their destination. After enjoying themselves at the discotheque, they again don the traditional clothes before reaching home!

If a person believes that there is nothing morally or ethically wrong with whatever he/she is doing, why can’t that person do it openly? (While I’ve confined my comments to smoking, drinking and dressing, this applies to many other matters. Please read this Firstpost report about an engineer committing suicide because his wife posted photographs of their ‘secret’ wedding on Facebook.) If he/she faces disapproval from his/her elders, he/she should discuss the matter with the elders and come to a mutually acceptable conclusion. If he/she feels very strongly about the matter and if the elders are just not willing to accept his/her opinion, then he/she should do whatever he/she thinks is right and be prepared to face the consequences. Doing anything on the sly is not the solution.

At the same time, elders should understand that they cannot expect their children and children-in-law to stick to the same lifestyle as theirs. Change is inevitable.

Most importantly, youngsters must resolve that, when they become elders, they will not forget that they were once youngsters themselves

What do you think?

(This post was originally published on Oct 31, 2013.)


Not legally obliged, but morally obliged!

My company had just started representing a machine manufacturer based in Mumbai as their dealer in our city. While this manufacturer had supplied machines to many customers in Maharashtra, they had not supplied any equipment outside Maharashtra.

Within a few weeks, we had generated many enquiries. One customer decided to buy one machine immediately, but he wanted to see a machine in running condition before he placed the order. Since no machine was available locally, the manufacturer offered to arrange our customer’s visit to their customer’s factory in Mumbai where their machines had been working for over five years.

The customer visited the Mumbai customer’s factory along with the manufacturer. He was satisfied with the performance of the machines and with the Mumbai customer’s feedback about the manufacturer’s after-sales service. The day after his visit to Mumbai, he released his Purchase Order and advance. Two weeks later, his machine was delivered at his factory.

Two days after our customer had transferred the payment to the manufacturer, our commission was transferred to our account by the manufacturer. I realized that the manufacturer had transferred an amount exactly 1.5 times the commission due to us. I telephoned him immediately and pointed this out.

He clarified, “Your customer bought one machine. But his friend in Mumbai also bought a machine based on his recommendation. Since his friend’s enquiry was generated by your customer, we’ve paid you the sales commission (50% of the total commission) for this sale as well. We’ve retained 50% of the total commission since we will provide the Warranty service. I hope that’s OK with you.”

I pointed out to the manufacturer that, as per the terms of our agreement, he was not obliged to pay us any commission on the sale to a Mumbai customer. He replied, “If we go by the letter of the agreement, we need not pay you the sales commission. But I am going not by the letter, but by the spirit of the agreement.”

I was stunned! For the first time, I had come across an Indian businessman paying somebody not because of a legal obligation, but because he felt he was morally obliged to do so.

How many people in India, or in the whole world, would do that?

(This post was originally published on Sep 24, 2013.)

Handling customer grievances

My post Sweet gesture or publicity stunt? was about a customer who received a package from Snapdeal containing a bar of Vim soap and a brick instead of the Samsung Core 2 Duos smartphone ordered and paid for by him. The issue was resolved a week later, but it’s clear that Snapdeal took their time to respond to this customer’s complaint, if one goes by his first comment on Facebook: “Beware of Snapdeal guys!! It’s a fraudulent e-retail company. We have lost our money and there’s been no response from Snapdeal whatsoever.”

Quite a few persons have found that, when they have complained regarding defective products, poor service, wrong billing, etc., the supplier of the product/service does not respond or claims that there was no mistake on their part.

How should customer grievances be handled? I will share one of my own experiences.

About 16 years back, my company had introduced a foreign manufacturer’s brand in India by displaying the manufacturer’s machines at an international trade show at Pragati Maidan in New Delhi. Most of the exhibitors at such trade shows try to ensure that their exhibits sport ‘SOLD’ boards. Despite our brand being new to India, we had managed to secure confirmed orders for all 3 displayed machines from one customer well before the trade show had started.

Immediately after the completion of such trade shows, the customs clearance of machines sold during or before the trade show is done at the venue, with the venue being treated as the point of entry into India. Machines that remain unsold are ‘re-exported’ to the manufacturers.

After this particular trade show, the customs clearance of all sold machines was delayed by almost one month for some reason.

Immediately after our customer’s machines reached his factory, our service team started the installation and commissioning work. Our Service Manager reported to me that, on a couple of occasions, the customer had remarked bitterly that he had incurred a loss of about Rs. 150,000 due to the delay in customs clearance.

The customer had not spoken about this matter to me. Neither the customer nor we were responsible in any way for the delay in customs clearance. However, I felt that it was not fair that our customer had to suffer this loss for no fault of his. I reported the matter to my Managing Director and suggested that we should pay the customer Rs. 75,000 as a gesture of solidarity. My MD accepted my suggestion without any question.

The day after the machines had been commissioned, my MD and I visited the customer. After ascertaining that the customer was completely satisfied with the installation and commissioning, my MD handed over a cheque for Rs. 75,000 to the customer and explained that this was our way of sharing our customer’s anguish.

The customer was pleasantly shocked!

Did we do this as a ‘sales strategy’? No. We did this because we felt this was the correct thing to do. (16 years back, when this incident took place, Rs. 75,000 was a much more substantial amount than it is today!)

What do you, as an observer, have to say about how we handled this customer grievance?

How would you have felt if you were the customer?

What would you have done if you were the supplier?

(This is a re-post, with a few changes of Handling customer grievances, which was originally posted on October 01, 2013.)

Dignity of Labour: practising without preaching!

My company had supplied a CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machine to a medium-scale manufacturer of automotive parts. The machine costing around Rs. 4 million was the first CNC machine being purchased by this company. While finalizing the order, we had emphasized the importance of routine maintenance for ensuring the machine’s excellent performance and long life. We had committed that our service team would impart maintenance training to their factory personnel.

During the week after the machine was installed in the customer’s factory, our service team conducted maintenance training for the customer’s personnel as committed. Later, our Service Manager visited this customer’s factory every Saturday morning to check that all maintenance procedures were being followed correctly.

One Saturday afternoon, the MD of that company telephoned me and apologized profusely for ‘subjecting the Service Manager to humiliation’. My repeated attempts to get him to shed some more light on the matter were unsuccessful. Fortunately, the Service Manager was in the office, so I could get a firsthand clarification!

On the previous Saturday’s visit, the Service Manager had noticed that the ceiling fan above the machine was rotating very slowly, because of which air circulation around the machine was less than desired. On checking, he found that the fan was not rotating fast because a lot of dust had accumulated on the fan’s blades. He pointed this out to the Factory Manager and requested that the fan be cleaned immediately since insufficient air circulation would result in the machine getting overheated. The Factory Manager assured him that the fan would be cleaned as soon as possible.

On the next visit, he saw that the fan had not been cleaned. Upon enquiring with the Factory Manager, he was told that the responsibility for cleaning the fan had not been assigned to anybody; hence nobody had cleaned the fan. He felt that that this ‘issue’ wasn’t likely to be resolved soon. Hence, without a word to anybody, he brought a step ladder which was lying nearby, shut down the machine, switched off the fan, took some cotton waste, climbed on the step ladder and cleaned the fan. Obviously, somebody had reported this entire incident to the MD of that company.

I asked the Service Manager why he had chosen to clean the fan himself; it wasn’t his job. His answer was, “If the fan wasn’t cleaned immediately, our machine might have suffered long-term damage due to overheating. Hence, it was important to clean the fan immediately. The customer’s people did not understand this. So, I did it myself. I hope they have now understood that we were serious about the importance of keeping the fan clean, and will do it themselves in future. If not, we will clean the fan regularly as part of our maintenance routine.”

He had taught many persons, including me, ‘Dignity of Labour’ by practising without preaching!

This post was originally published on July 20, 2013 as I Saw, I Learnt

Unbelievably heartwarming customer care at a petrol pump!

Guest Post by Tushar Sakhalkar, my batchmate in college

On 23rd October 2014, I was driving from Pune to Mumbai, and as I do on most Pune-Mumbai drives, I decided to fill up Petrol at Shri Siddhivinayak E Way, a Bharat Petroleum (BP) petrol pump at Punawale (near Pune, just before the Pune-Mumbai Expressway starts).

After the attendant filled up the tank with Rs. 1,900 worth of petrol, I gave him my credit card. The card was swiped and I entered the PIN. I signed the charge slip without paying any attention and drove off. I got an SMS while I was on the Expressway. I did not read it since I was driving.

When I checked the SMS on reaching Mumbai, I was shocked to see the amount stated as Rs. 1,90,000. I checked the slip and it was matching.

I called up Standard Chartered Bank and tried stopping the payment. However, I was advised to contact the Petrol Pump as soon as possible.

I tried all resources – JustDial, Google, BP Customer Service etc. to find the telephone number of the petrol pump or its owner. However, I just could not get any information. Finally, I decided go the petrol pump while driving to Pune on Monday, 27th

On 27th October, when I talked to attendant at the petrol pump, he immediately directed me to the Manager.

The Manager, Mr. Subhash Choudhari immediately gave me a cheque of Rs. 1,88,100 in my favour, and told me that the cheque had been prepared on 23rd October itself! They had wanted to contact me, but did not have my phone number. They had no option but to wait since all banks were closed for Diwali. They had planned that, on Monday afternoon, they would:

* Meet HDFC Bank (their banker) to try and get my contact details in case I have a bank account. They would have requested the bank to give their phone number to me if bank was not prepared to share my number.

* In case I do not have a relationship with HDFC Bank, they were planning to find the name of my Credit Card issuing bank (from the Credit Card number) and then contact that bank to get my contact details or to have their phone number given to me.

He assured me that I could deposit the cheque that day itself since sufficient balance had been maintained.

He requested me to call the Proprietor, Mr. Navnath Dhavale and inform him that I
have collected the cheque. This was because Proprietor was worried about “my” amount and he may initiate the steps given above with HDFC Bank or the Credit Card issuing bank.

I telephoned Mr. Navnath Dhavale and thanked him, and deposited the cheque later that day. On his part, he expressed regret for the inconvenience and anguish caused to me by the wrong entry of the amount on the charge slip.

Imagine the possible scenarios (based on the experience of others who have been in similar situations):

* Mr. Dhavale could have squabbled with me about extra processing fees charged to him because of excess amount.

* He could have asked me to come and meet him at his petrol pump according to his convenience. (For me, this would have meant at least 90 minutes for the drive of about 30 km.)

* He could have made me make few rounds till he gives the cheque.

* He could have forced me to come though Credit Card issuing bank, making me run around while he could use the funds for some time.

Instead, he tried his best to ensure I got back my money as soon as possible.

I am really happy with this experience at Shi Siddhivinayak E Way. Its attendants, Manager Mr. Subhash Choudhari and Proprietor Navnath Dhavale, are all role models to us!