Archive for April, 2008
For a business in the service sector, every interaction with a customer is critical
The proof of the pudding?
Many of us are sceptical, even amused, to hear the word truth being used in a business environment. Does the focus on the bottomline exclude truth? Or is truth, like the proverbial one man’s meat and another man’s poison, best left to the discretion of individuals?
A service organisation is confronted with this truth time and again, and it is no surprise that the term ‘moment of truth’ gained currency especially in the hospitality industry, although it is of relevance across all service sectors today.
In the service industry, this simple phrase has grown to mean the critical moment of customer interaction that anyone in a service organisation is likely to have with a customer, and which can make or mar an organisation. Meeting a customer for the first time is one such moment of truth.
It is a decisive moment for your organisation, be it in IT, manufacturing, export, health or any other service sector, because the customer is experiencing and evaluating your service. His impression will determine whether he will return for your service once again.
There are several moments of truth right through the chain of customer service. Recognising these and responding appropriately can help you help your company.
How does this play out in a globalising environment where different cultures interact without necessarily understanding each other? From our company’s point of view as an India destination service provider, this is a challenging situation because the expatriate customer and the frontline employee in the service organisation are communicating with each other from often distinct, culturally determined positions.
For instance, Jim and Sarah have just arrived in Chennai from Connecticut with their two young children. They are eager to find a nice sea-side villa off the East Coast Road and a good school for their children. They are full of enthusiasm and want to quickly settle in. Jim is on a short assignment and has no time to lose. He needs to hit the ground running and get the new project moving.
Savitha, their experienced destination consultant, knows the cultural adjustment curve well and knows that every crest is followed by a trough and that there will be fall-outs.
She knows that the plumbing or the carpentry in Jim and Sarah’s home would invariably need to be redone; two or three people would be walking in and out of their home for this, and that perhaps this job would have been done by a single person back in their own country.
Savitha knows that her moment of truth is in the first encounter and in the way she deals with the desperate calls she will receive from them, thereafter.
She will need to manage Jim and Sarah’s expectations and help them readjust theirs. She could lose their loyalty and in a service organisation this is crucial. Managing outrageous expectations is a hazardous task. A plumbing deadline that is not respected is viewed as a service failure, whereas we in India know how difficult it is to get a plumber when you need one.
Managing expectations is about empathy. What this really means is being able to go that little bit further, beyond the price tag. Service is empathy and it is this empathy that helps one recover from service failure. The customer is generally receptive to a clear explanation and periodic updates and is then able to take a missed plumbing deadline and much more in his stride!
Time spent explaining issues helps resolve complaints quickly. Acting on them confirms customer loyalty.
‘Atithi devo bhava’ or the ‘Guest is God’ is not just a handy verse that has gained in popularity since India Tourism promoted it in its ‘Incredible India’ campaign.
For centuries, the customer in India’s traditional, agricultural economy has been served as a guest by the craftsman, the shopkeeper, the vegetable vendor… coaxed and never coerced.
Simply put, taking a little more time with the customer, managing expectations and empathy are crucial for customer satisfaction. It is also perhaps time we recognise that the moment of truth for a service organisation lies in the opportunity to build trust and social harmony. Profits will invariably follow.
By Rahul Bedi in New Delhi
Hundreds of Western business executives arriving to work in an economically resurgent India are undergoing tuition to help them adapt to their new cultural milieu at specialist courses across the country.
They are being instructed how not to offend Indians with their directness, manage domestic help and made aware of the contrasts between extreme wealth and abject poverty which many find difficult, if not impossible, to handle.
It is paradoxical for newcomers that India is the world’s second fastest producer of millionaires, lagging marginally behind Singapore, due primarily to its high economic growth, a robust stock market and rising real estate prices.
“Most expatriates come armed with misconceptions about India which have to be righted if they want to lead a contented and embarrassment-free existence here” said Rajini Manian, who founded Global Passage in southern Chennai to help foreign executives adjust to the intrusive and disconcerting chaos that assails most expatriates.
They need to be instructed that Indians are simply culturally different, not inferior, she added.
The author of “Doing business in India for dummies” Miss Manian said neither books, journals, films or cultural discourses equipped incoming Western executives to deal with India’s 1.2 billion people who effortlessly overpower their genteel notions of smell, space and privacy.
According to official statistics, there are over 50,000 expatriates, mostly Westerners, presently working in India, and more are arriving each year as India’s economy booms and employment opportunities, paying competitive salaries, proliferate.
In the ‘sensitising’ lessons that vary from a few days to a week, Global Passage and scores of similar organisations instruct clients from leading multinationals like Nokia, Ford and Hyundai to make sense of the bewildering body language of most Indians in the boardroom, the market place and at social gatherings.
The courses, costing between £625 and £1,875, advise patience, reiterating that expecting instant solutions to even minor household and work-related problems is being unreasonable, imperious and over demanding.
“We also teach our clients to manage boardroom etiquette with cultural traditions as the old equations where Westerners instructed and we listened were now over,” Miss Manian said.
The days of brusqueness or “White mans” pique were over, but there was still much which needed explaining, she added.
Many expats, for instance, consider the limp handshake by Indians to indicate a lack of character and manliness.
In reality, it is merely a mark of respect, as Indians are culturally not used to shaking hands but folding them in greeting.
Foreigners are also taught the importance of ‘face’ or ‘moustache’ to all Indians.
In many regions across India, upturned moustaches represent a man’s standing in society.
In the northern Punjab state, home to whiskered Sikhs, and nearby Rajasthan, there is a popular saying: “Not having a moustache is akin to having nothing.”
Hence, slighting somebody’s facial hair, however inadvertently, is the equivalent of “lowering their whiskers” or insulting their manhood.
Newly arrived executives are told not to take a bottle of wine to an Indian’s house when invited for a meal as it is considered a slight to his hospitality. Flowers are preferred.
Outsiders are also flummoxed when locals nod their heads, unclear whether it is a yes or no, depending on whether you are in northern or southern India.
Expats are also told that they do not have to visit the zoo to see animals like bears, camels and elephants; they are all freely visible on roads, even in cities like Mumbai, Delhi and Chennai.
Wives of executive are also instructed in ways to deal with household staff. They are advised to deal with them firmly and fairly and not to over-compensate them.
Conversely, hundreds of Indian information technology professionals travelling to work in Western countries are coached in ways to cope with their new environments.
“Indian professionals have the skill and talent, but the finishing touches are missing,” said Udayakanth, who ‘grooms and polishes’ IT professionals in the southern city of Bangalore, India’s equivalent to Silicon Valley.
Bangalore ranks among the world’s five top IT centres and of around 4,600 enterprises in the city, more than a third have some foreign alliance.
“Most of the time when I am with a foreign client I am on the edge of my seat as I fear my colleagues will commit a social blunder. He may bum a cigarette or pick his tooth and burp aloud. I have lost quite a few clients because of this,” Udaykanth said.
At these ‘manner schools’, Indian IT executives are taught how to dress, hold their drinks, communicate and mingle in professional and social settings and at times even instructed in toilet manners.
Get adventurous and discover flavours from around the world
How about having something exotic today?
I wrote this week’s article with our strategic training partner, Syndi Seid, who is a master etiquette consultant in California.
Syndi trained Sushmita Sen when she became Miss Universe. Not ready to be trained by anyone less important, I set off to find Syndi and I did. We have become great friends and co-trainers in Global Indian workshops over the years.
The first part of this article was in Syndi’s newsletter, and I reproduce it with permission from advancedetiquette.com.
“Some years ago, I attended a backyard barbeque. A man seated at a nearby picnic table was enjoying a meal of ratatouille prepared on a grill,” writes Syndi in her newsletter. (Until the recent animated film by the same name was released, most people would not have known that ratatouille is a delectable combination of tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, onion and herbs of Provence.)
“Soon, a woman joined the man at the table and began a conversation by saying, ‘Oh, isn’t this ratatouille delicious?’ The man agreed with much enthusiasm, as he continued to enjoy his meal.
The woman then added, ‘I especially like the eggplant.’ Suddenly, the man came to a screeching halt and asked, ‘Eggplant, where’s the eggplant?’ The woman replied politely, ‘Oh, they are the little white squares with the purple skin.’
The man ceased all further eating and said, ‘Oh, I hate eggplant!’ And with that, he pushed his plate away and didn’t eat another bite of that delicious dish.”
Now, I ask you, does that make sense? I didn’t think so, which is why I wanted to write about it.
All of us have pre-conceived notions about what we like and don’t like. A question I am regularly asked at my seminars is: ‘What should I do if I’m served something I don’t like? Do I have to eat it?’
Etiquette dictates you must at least taste all the food served to you. To do otherwise would be rude, particularly if you are a guest at someone else’s table. Don’t insult your host further by saying you don’t like it or by drawing attention to the situation. Keep an open mind and try bites of all foods served to you. Unless the food item is against your religion, you are allergic to it or it’s poisonous, try it; you may like it!
It is said that children develop their eating habits for life before the age of seven. If you are a parent, get beyond your own food preferences. Encourage your children to try new and different foods.
Even if at first you must ‘make’ your child taste something, I promise you, over time your child will develop a palate more accepting of new and different foods.
As a bonus, we develop an awareness of the many cultures from which foods originate. And as it becomes easier to travel the world, those who embrace, adapt to and enjoy the cuisines of the world will become the true cosmopolitans of the 21st century.
Besides, when dining with others for business or social reasons, isn’t it always all about whether you like the food and are willing to eat it? “No! Your focus should be on the friendship and rapport you are building with your friends, family or business associates,” says Syndi.
As Indians travelling the globe, there are meals in different cuisines which actually suit the Indian palate. Or a dash of something added makes a difference to most foods anyway.
In Mexican food, the burrito, quesadilla, enchilada or fajita are all similar to our basic paratha or chappati breads rolled up with rice, beans, cheese, tomato and baked. Salsas are like our chutneys and can be added on for additional flavour. The cilantro (coriander as we know it) used in this cuisine makes us happy as wafting in comes India wherever we smell it!
In Italian food, all pastas with sauces like pomodoro — tomato-based, alfredo — cheese, milk and butter-based, pesto — basil (tulsi) based, are tasty to Indians. Dry chilly flakes are always available for the asking in Italian restaurants and when added, seems to take most of us Indians to heaven. Alternatively, ask for or carry your own Tabasco (chilly) sauce.
Falafels from Lebanon are like chickpea vadas; couscous in France is like uppuma; udon noodles in Japan is like thick semiya; Chinese wontons or Malay poppiyas are like samosas; and the list goes on. Nasi goreng in Indonesia is a rice dish which can be ordered vegetarian too and their sambhal is a lovely, red, super-spicy chutney. And, of course, as Syndi says, French ratatouille is delicious for Indians too!
So the next time you travel, be open-minded and adventurous, eat what the locals do and find something on the menu that works for you. Let’s not go looking all over the world for an Indian restaurant which serves poor Indian food at exorbitant prices. Both will end up giving us indigestion!