Archive for December, 2008
It’s a cultural cauldron of sorts, the India Immersion Centre at R A Puram. Swathed in a remarkably splendid Indian outfit, every little element here has a story to tell. Together, these fragments combine to portray the multi-faceted cultures of our country. To give you a picture, there are walls that are draped with fabric from Kashmir, a large Tanjore painting on the Navagrahas (the nine gods) by a Kerala artiste is as captivating as a sculpture of Lord Nataraja; an inlaid marble table that contains 20 different colours of marbles houses coasters that have inspiring words by Rabindranath Tagore; an array of interesting windows, many from Nepal, add a dash of exotic while a typical Indian kitchen with an opento-the-sky courtyard and a Tulsi plant in the middle, is a simple reminder of classic Indian tradition.
Like its name, this two-month-old centre, is an immersion of a kind. Its curator is Ranjini Manian, founder of Global Adjustments, who is in many ways her own brand ambassador. Global in her outlook – she speaks Japanese, French, Spanish and a smattering of Finnish, travels voraciously and has an innate understanding of world cultures – Ranjini is refreshingly Indian. For more than ten years now, she has grown her relocation services company into an India Destination company and a cross-cultural training company and allowed expatriates to soak in and savour the many flavours of India.
The India Immersion Centre, housed in a spacious independent bungalow, flows seamlessly from that same concept but has a touch of the personal. “I brought the expatriates to India, helped them find a home, settled them into the Indian way of life, and then somehow I felt that I lost them,” says Ranjini, “As time went by, I felt that I needed to have a continuity, a platform through which I could touch their lives on a sustained basis.”
The India Immersion Centre was designed and developed for over a year with this intent. “It’s a space that allows us to network and interact with the expatriate community,” explains Ranjini, “I also hope for it to become a centre for information and a hub for cultural experiences like dance, music, art, craft, etc.” Thanks to Ranjini’s dynamic team, a group of expatriates has already sampled potions of Indian culture. The day we meet Ranjini, a mixed group of women from across countries are trying to get their hand-eye-feet coordination right at a Garba session; a few others have picked up basics of the Tamil language, courtesy a Tamil for survival syllabus that has been formulated by Ranjini herself, while some clients have gone on a saree shopping spree and been initiated into the art of draping a saree.
As a resource centre for information, culture and experiences, Ranjini is also inviting participation from resource professionals in the city who are keen to sell a product or a service and simultaneously have an opportunity to connect with expatriates. That apart, the in-house team with Ranjini at the helm, has also created a Taste of India programme that allows delegates from countries get a sneak peek into Indian culture and “how to get on with it”. Recently, a delegation from the UK, savoured the Taste of India programme, and went home, satiated.
Although the parent brand, Global Adjustments, has a huge clientele – nearly 500 – IIC’s membership figures are relatively small. But as an innovative concept – an expat hub of a kind – that is only a matter of time.
Communication is a two-way process that can deliver immense benefit.
In my last column, I shared with readers the e-mail Barack Obama sent his supporters thanking them for their efforts. This week I am back with some more lessons on communication that can be learnt from another US president, this time a former president.
It’s all about communication. With technology advancing in leaps and bounds, communication of the wired and wireless sort is virtually a button away. Accessibility has increased beyond anybody’s imagination and you can almost instantly get anyone’s ear, from the president of your country to the booking clerk at the nearest railway station.
Ideally, communication is a two-way street. As business people, we need to put ourselves across to our clientele. How else will they know what we have to offer? Equally, our clientele needs to reach us; how else will we know what they have to say?
In the West, people appreciate the importance of two-way communication better than people in India do at present. Consider this e-mail sent from the former US President Bill Clinton’s address to those who had backed Hillary Clinton’s candidature as the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee:
I am sure you have heard the exciting news: Hillary Clinton is nominated to be our next Secretary of State! This is great news for our country. She understands the challenges we face and her experience and judgement will help President Obama restore America’s reputation in the world and make our nation more secure. Take a moment to celebrate this wonderful news by sending Hillary a message of congratulations. This nomination would not have been possible without the hard work of everyone like you who has supported Hillary throughout the years. I know I speak for her when I say thank you for everything you have done for her.
A link in this mail takes you to a site with a button which says ‘Congratulate Hillary’. By clicking the button, you can do just that and type out your message.
Wouldn’t you be excited to receive such an e-mail and wouldn’t you have used the link straight away? Hillary Clinton’s core team is ensuring that communication channels between Hillary and her supporters are kept open because the team understands the value of a two-way flow.
Too often in our busy schedules, we limit our communications to a single direction. But this way, we’re cutting off an important resource. For best results on both sides — company and client — experts advocate that the company’s representatives follow a procedure with the acronym LACE — listen, acknowledge, clarify, explain.
Not only allow, but also help the client/customer talk to you. Listen to the concerns/views that he or she expresses, acknowledge the feedback, clarify the situation if you have to and explain your position. This interaction will work to help the two sides understand each other better and ensure better results and mutual satisfaction in the future. No customer/client should be considered too small or unimportant to be a part of this exercise. Bill Clinton’s e-mail was sent out to each and every person who played a part in Hillary’s campaign, no matter how minor.
I know you will wonder: Won’t important messages get lost in the flood? Ease of accessibility is a good thing from the point of view of those who want to be heard. But those who are doing the hearing often wonder if it’s not more of a bane than a boon. But even this can be tackled if thought is put into writing the e-mail, to leave an impression and to get the desired responses.
Since e-mail is now more or less the preferred form of both inter- and intra-office communication, let’s take a simple example. This is an e-mail from an employee requesting leave of absence for a few days:
“I am writing to ask your permission to take a few days leave over Christmas and New Year, (note that she states the purpose of the e-mail in the very first sentence, respecting the importance of time for a busy person) as I hope to discover some areas of Rajasthan during this time (she gives the reason clearly).
More specifically, the period in question is from Thursday, December 25 to Sunday, January 4, which amounts to five working days leave (she makes the number of days clear and recaps so that there is clarity in the message).
All my work that needs to be completed before January, I can coordinate together with my manager (she takes responsibility and addresses the issue that is bound to be on the boss’ mind, thus making the decision to say ‘yes’ easy). I hope that this will be possible (the tone is polite and respectful without being overly humble).
Official communication that meets the parameters like this exemplary e-mail leave application does is sure to hit the spot. I for one granted the leave and even gave the trip as part of a bonus gift I had planned for this hard-working and focused employee.
Communication is a powerful asset, and like any other resource, if harnessed correctly, can power huge progress. If you are precise, coherent, polite and pro-active on the one hand and receptive on the other, this tool can only be a two-way boon.
A perfectly worded thank-you note delivered in the nick of time..
I am writing this week’s column in Harvard and the transformation in the American political landscape following Barack Obama’s election as the next US President is being discussed in the corridors here. So what is the first lesson to learn from Barack Obama? Customer service and follow-up!
“Your call is important to us… Please don’t hang up… Our customer executive will be with you in a few minutes…”
Now, be honest. What is your reaction to a taped voice assuring you some 10 times over that your call is important? Aren’t you tempted to hang up? And the next time you call and get the same message, you’ll hang up without waiting for the tape to reach round two.
Your irritation is entirely warranted; you’re within your rights in thinking that you have better things to do with your time than listen to a recorded voice spouting meaningless sentiment. You’d be justified in looking elsewhere for what you need. The fallout for the original service provider is, of course, loss of business.
Paucity of staff was most probably the reason you got the taped message in response to your call, yet keeping the two ‘Ps’ in mind is very important to all our business strategies. The first ‘P’ is professionalism and the second ‘P’ is personal touch.
As a manager, you need to make sure that your organisation has the right number of people with the right attitude to attend to customers’ requirements promptly and efficiently.
In this context, I’d like to quote an e-mail that Barack Obama sent each of his campaigners after his victory was announced. Obviously, it had been prepared in advance and Obama had made arrangements using technology to personalise each mail and send it out. But the beauty is the addressees got it just minutes before he made his acceptance speech. It was a small, superbly timed and important part of the elaborate strategy that put the first African-American in the White House and so made history.
Here it is:
I’m about to head to Grant Park to talk to everyone gathered there, but I wanted to write to you first. We just made history. And I don’t want you to forget how we did it. You made history every single day during this campaign — every day you knocked on doors, made a donation or talked to your family, friends and neighbours about why you believe it’s time for change. I want to thank all of you who gave your time, talent and passion to this campaign. We have a lot of work to do to get our country back on track and I’ll be in touch soon about what comes next. But I want to be very clear about one thing… All of this happened because of you.
Note the planning which went into this exercise; note the wording, calculated to make each one feel special, and therefore ready to give continued support: A calculated public relations measure from a master tactician.
I’m by no means decrying it though; rather, I wholeheartedly appreciate the thought that went into it and the wonderful results this relatively easy step is sure to have generated.
The same principles can be used and extended to draw up your winning strategy for customer service too — give personalised service wherever possible; get to know your customers by name, you could even ask after their families or their hobbies. Put in a little extra service when possible so they’ll feel they’re getting into a relationship that is above mere business. This way, you’re ensuring customer loyalty.
Our customer relations manager at Global Adjustments always has smiles that reach up to her eyes and says “terve” and “kiitos” (welcome and thank you) to all our telecom clients from Finland and each time, she gets a loyal customer on her side.
Also, one last point about Obama’s e-mail: It was, in a sense, a follow-up effort. And follow-up is an essential part of customer service. When you have concluded a deal or provided the service the customer sought, the story shouldn’t end there. You need to find out if the customer is happy. You need to keep in touch and offer solutions to any problems that might crop up. By doing this, you are keeping lines of communication open for repeat business.
For instance, just the other day, we helped a single, Finnish woman, who had just moved to an Indian city, settle into her new home.
When our manager called her a week later, she found her down with the relocation blues. Our Finnish client had been to a beach with a large number of poor people on it and had been overwhelmed by India. A visit to our office, a cuppa and a chat fixed her morale and sealed our friendship forever. We always have time for our customers, even when they don’t ask for it.
Successful customer service is thus a well thought out series of measures, sincere in its intent, yet a great strategy aimed at ensuring a satisfied clientele which keeps coming back for more.