The business of enterprise

This is the second post of the Defining Images ’08 series. Two more posts to go !

An autorickshaw meter. Mumbai ’08

2008 saw some of the craziest ends of the spectrum for ‘Enterprise’ ! From surging highs to commanding lows, we saw it all. We saw the investment banks zoom up and in no time go down to touch what seems like a bottomless pit.

No, This post isn’t about them. It isn’t about Madoff. Or of Lehman or that ilk. Or or Satyam or Satyam reversed, called ‘Maytas’ ! Or whatever. I hardly understand their world. This is about a world my plebian mind can understand. But hasnt connected to in a while. 2008 was when i dialled and reached out to them. Here are a few images, reminiscences and lessons.

Image 1
Mumbai ’08

I stumbled into this gent. A barber by day and an odd poster sticker by night. I caught him staring into faces, carrying a box and wandering around. His Modus Operandi is to stare just long enough into faces just to catch the subtle stubble or extra centimeters of hair on the head.

Upon such spotting, a quick conversation follows, and in no time, a roadside place identified and there is lather on a new chin. Every stroke on the chin, complimented by a new honk from a different car in the background.

10 – 20 customers is all that he gets a day. ‘On a good day, 20’. He adds. Rs. 50 – 60 a day is good enough. And then, with a smile he adds : ‘i sleep well’. ‘Where do you live’, i ask him ? With a toothless smile he asks, ‘Can i give you a shave ?’

Image II

Mumbai ’08

In a central suburb of Mumbai, early in the morning. These stores are yet to open. And these obviously are not stores demarcated with branding on neon signboards with semi naked men and women exhorting me to open a spent wallet.

These are road side stalls that have its occupants selling fish. Each stall having a loyal client base. I see them following simple principles : Arrive on time. Serve every customer well. Stick to business. Be fast. Recognise the ones who come back with a wave and quick value adding banter. Move on. Keep overheads low.

They sustain. Every day, thousands throng here. It truly is a fish market in the auditory sense, at peak periods. Recession or no recession, the din continues here.

Except during non business hours. Like this morning, when empty baskets and an expectant stray cat greet my camera. Somehow that is much unlike the neon sign that are yet to switched on giant malls some distance away.

Image III

In a market. Mahabaleshwar ’08

He says, with a slight hint of a gasp for breath. But only slight. “I do trips like this all day long. The man who sells me this, cant find good customers. And the man who i sell these to, cant find good quality sellers. I connect them up, but i cant find transporters who will ferry small units and my shoulders just grow stronger !!

My perfunctory questions follow. And he answers in the same vein. ‘I don’t keep count of the number of trips. I just watch for sellers and buyers. And their mood and what they say. Sometimes the sellers are desperate. Sometimes the buyer has a large order to service, and all they do is find me. Or someone like me.’

Someone who is truthful and honest’

I ask, why he does what he does. He looks puzzled. A new set of carrots arrive. He sorts and loads them on. With one final glance in my direction, shouts out, ” You wont understand’. He carries on.

I am left holding the camera and searching for meaning.

Those defined 2008 on the Enterprise side for me. Stick to simple principles. Seek out people and not things. Stay sensitive. Glitz is not growth. Honest still is the best policy, however cliched, old fashioned and disregarded that principle is. And don’t complicate things. A clear conscience and sound sleep is a natural consequence !

2008 reinforced all of that for me. Tapping me on my shoulder and helping me realise that i i perhaps could be veering off course, were i not careful.

Coming to think of this, this post was after all about satyam : The original straight forward satyam : Truth ! That was Enterprise ’08 for me !

Road to moksha !

The cycle of birth, death and migration of the soul is so commonly understood here! So much so, that kids in the neighbourhood speak about it.

( Overheard in the apartment lift, just as the lift is making its way to the higher floors.

Young boy, around seven / eight years. Wearing a big red T-shirt with ‘Tommy’ inscribed on it, clutching a ‘Granola’ bar. Accompanied by a middle aged man who hauls numerous plastic bags, apparently from weekend grocery shopping. Along with his paunch. Wife is missing from action today).

Boy : Dad if the lift doesnt stop at the 14th floor, will it take you above…? To heaven..?

Dad : ( Slightly embarassed )..hmm mmm

Boy : Thats great. Then you can be reborn as Aamir Khan !

Horror filled dad suddenly tries hard spotting cobwebs in the corner of a spotless lift !

So, that is that. Proof that everybody knows the story of a birth, death and rebirth.

My hypotheses is that children learn it from the way in which our roads are born, dug up, turned over and left to rot for some time. Until some time later, a brand new layer on top the existing layer is …i mean, given birth to !

Isnt that a perfect example of the cycle of birth, death and rebirth !

The alacrity with which roads are laid, and almost immediately, dug up for some maintenance work, sometimes is such a laugh riot, that it is not funny ! At other times, you wonder, why the tax payer should end up paying for such Sisyphean tasks that perhaps would put Sisyphus himself to shame !

So, for the tar on the road, i am sure, there is yearning to get Moksha. To be free from the cycle of the birth, death and rebirth ! So much like you and me ! But moksha isnt coming in a hurry. To you, or me.

Or for that matter, to the tar on the road !

Gmail Vs Airtel. A Sorry Regret !

I spotted this on the Gmail Blog.

And that set me to contrast with a letter that i received some days back & set me on this post. To me the Gmail blog’s post was example of building brand promise. Step by step. Even when the warts show up. The essence is to stand up and say ‘ we goofed up, we are sorry and it wont happen again ‘ ! Thats adds to the bottom line.

Big time Here is the post on the blog.

Title : We feel your pain and we are sorry

Monday, August 11, 2008 6:05 PM
Posted by Todd Jackson, Gmail Product Manager

Many of you had trouble accessing Gmail for a couple of hours this afternoon, and we’re really sorry. The issue was caused by a temporary outage in our contacts system that was preventing Gmail from loading properly. Everything should be back to normal by the time you read this.

We heard loud and clear today how much people care about their Gmail accounts. We followed all the emails to our support team and user group, we fielded phone calls from Google Apps customers and friends, and we saw the many Twitter posts. (We also heard from plenty of Googlers, who use Gmail for company email.) We never take for granted the commitment we’ve made to running an email service that you can count on.

We’ve identified the source of this issue and fixed it. In addition, as with all issues that affect Gmail and our other services, we’re conducting a full review of what went wrong and moving quickly to update our internal systems and procedures accordingly. We don’t usually post about problems like this on our blog, but we wanted to make an exception in this case since so many people were impacted. In general, though, if you spot a problem with your Gmail account, please visit the Gmail Help Center and user group, where the Gmail Guides are your fastest source of updates.

Again, we’re sorry.

I felt an air of sincerity in this note. And he stands up and says : SORRY ! Explicitly.

Twice ! This endears customers to organisations. And all of this, when there has been a disruption for about 2-3 hours !

To stand up and say ‘sorry’ along with articulation of all whats being done to ensure non-recurrence ( including conducting a full review etc etc ) is reassuring. Thats building brand promise. OK they goofed up. But i know, the chances of a recurrence are far dimmer if not remote !

Contrast this with Airtel. I had written about Airtel & the atrocity they inflict in the name of service in Mumbai. There was a fire at the Airtel office and hence services were disrupted across Mumbai. You can read my views here. To rub salt into a wound, was a letter mass mailed to all subscribers signed by Manu Talwar, CEO of Airtel, Mumbai Circle.

Heres how it goes.

Dear Mr.___________ You being an integral part of the Bharti Airtel family, i would like to personally share with you the recent ‘fire incident’ at Penisula Chambers, Mumbai on Friday, 16th July.

As one of our offices is housed in the same complex, our servers were damaged which affected our network services in some parts of south & central Mumbai. The access to the building was blocked for a considerable period of time because of the fire blah blah blah

100 % of the affected part of our network services are now up and running thanks to the extraordinary efforts of our engineers and technological partners – Nokia Siemens …….. However, some of you in the affected areas could still face congestion in he network. A few value added services may also be impacted during this period.

Let me assure you that we are doing whatever it takes for you to enjoy flawless services at the earliest. We regret every inconvenience caused. We understand how difficult it is to go through a day without being connected and not being able to stay in touch with family and friends. Meanwhile we request you to continue the support you have shown through these times.

Thank you for your understanding. Yours is a relationship we cherish. “

Sd/- Ok !

a. Sh.Manu wants to ‘share with you the recent fire incident’ at his office. To what end ? To explain ? And who cares ? The moment i pay for a service, it better be played with a full hand including disaster recovery plans et al.

b. You will notice a whole lot of ‘blah blah’ about whats happened. And nothing on whats being done about whats happened. ‘doing everything that it takes’ is as vague as a weatherman’s prediction.

c. A line of particular intrigue “100 % of the affected part of our network services are now up and running ……………….However, some of you in the affected areas could still face congestion in the network. A few value added services may also be impacted during this period”. If 100 % is up and running, then why would we have difficulty ? Dont customers of the modern day know these things ?

d. You will also notice that in the entire four – five paragraphs, there is an apology of a regret, given the gravity of the drop in service. (2-3 days of loss of connectivity can wreck havoc)! To me that appears insincere !! And contrast it with the post on Gmail’s blog !

A customary line about ‘yours is a relationship we cherish’ does not connect to a customer, especially after he is being put through trouble. I wonder why there is such a great hesitancy is standing up and saying ‘sorry’ !! I would imagine it stems from a disdain for customers ( and not laying the blame on competence or something of that ilk) !

Will Airtel not charge rental for those dates on which the service was down ? Will Airtel pay compensation for the trouble they inflicted ( and continue to do so with impunity in Mumbai ) ? Atleast a token compensation ?

Am not sure if they will do any of those.

One thing that they sure need to do is to learn to apologise & write a decent note to that effect ! I havent seen a single decent apology. An earlier press note quotes them as, “We would like thank our customers for their understanding and support” ! What understanding ? What support ? They sure do have hopes !!

And of course, if they want to see how to draft a letter that shows that they genuinely are sorry, they sure can learn from Gmail !

And by the way, they can continue working on their connectivity!