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October 30, 2011

Excellence in Customer service - A Network Experience - Part II

“That’s a problem! Can you push it to 14 days? I have some urgent work”. I promised to try and followed it with the head office. It was an uneven fortnight and the SP promptly called on the 13th day which was a Wednesday. Luckily the machine had arrived. I told him that we would deliver and install the machine on Friday. “As you know sir tomorrow is Deepavali and it is a off for us”. “That is right” he said.

“But it would be nice if you can install it tomorrow itself as I have to make a presentation to the District Collector. Try your best. I know it is not possible, but that’s my need” Saying this he dropped the phone. By his voice I could make that he was annoyed and upset. But he was too much of a gentleman to shout at me.

I went to my RM (regional manager) and explained the situation. My RM could understand my predicament. We loved the customer at Network and we wanted to serve him at all times. My RM was helpless. Deepavali was the biggest festival of India and there was no person who was willing to work on a festival day. The problem was that the district was 250 kilometers away and that meant that the entire day would be spent in delivering and coming back to Hyderabad.

I volunteered to take care of the training. Electronic typewriters were considered to be technically advanced and all customers were trained in the usage of the typewriters.  I went to the service deportment and explained the situation. A service engineer Durga Prasad accepted the challenge and volunteered to take care of the installation.

On Deepavali we started out at 6 in the morning, took a train and travelled till 11. Finally we reached the destination. A royal reception was waiting for us. There was a police jeep waiting for us.

Our day was very eventful. The SP of Police was delighted by our gesture to install the typewriter on Deepavali. We were given royal treatment. It was customarily to eat only vegetarian food on Deepavali. Otherwise I was very sure that we would have been treated with the tastiest non vegetarian dishes!

We installed the machine, trained the typist, and showed him how to make good presentations. The SP was overjoyed. We were dropped off at the railway station. It was almost 10 in the night when we reached Hyderabad. The bursting of the crackers (the highlight of Deepavali) had already ended.

Yes that Deepavali had become a normal working day for me and Durga Prasad. But we had achieved something that will last for a life time. We had succeeded in delighting the customer who will remember us and Network for a life time. Yes we were the company that sacrificed our Deepavali so that our customer’s day would be lit up like the Deepavali night. 

Excellence in Customer service - A Network Experience - Part I

The year was 1988 and I was a sales executive with Indian Communications network Limited. Network was the market leader in the Electronic Typewriter Industry and it was famed for its ace sales people. Way back in 1988 we were marketing successfully typewriters worth more than Rs 50,000/-.  Even our cheapest typewriter was over Rs 10,000/- rupees.

On that eventful day I was the office sales executive. Office sales executive is the backup sales executive. The city had many sales executives and the office sales person takes the place of the sales executive who is on leave or if all the sales executives are present then he is stationed in the office to take care of the walk in prospects (walk in prospects are customers who might walk into the office to buy a product).

At around 1600 hours a prospect did walk in. He was a strapping man who had ripping muscles. He appeared to be quite knowledgeable. He asked us many intelligent questions. It was crystal clear that he not a window shopper. We had to tread more carefully. May be this man meant business!

The prospect asked for a demonstration. I along with our stores in charge R.C.Raju demonstrated the typewriter. We were still very skeptical. In those days a sale could not be transacted so very easily. We had to struggle and make many sales calls and slog for many months before we could get the dream document - the purchase order.

We had come to know that by that time that our prospect was a Superintendent of Police (SP) from a district in Andhra Pradesh. He was fond of technology and wanted a electronic typewriter to make his correspondence more professional and appealing. The SP quietly watched the demonstration and said “I will take it. How much does it cost?”

My heart skipped a beat. It was like struggling to see Sachin Tendulkar for a second and suddenly coming to know that Sachin would be staying in your house for a week. We have been struggling to get order and here was a prospect who was dropping a order literally into my lap.

I gave out the financials and he quietly listened. He never asked for any discount. We watched with a open mouth as he took out the entire amount in cash (usually customers paid us 10% in advance and the rest 90% after lot of persuasion). We quickly made out a purchase order and got it signed by him. We gave him a receipt.

Things took an interesting turn. Our customer asked us as when we could deliver the electronic typewriter. “Minimum 21 days are needed” I added. Why 21 days?” I had to explain to him that the AP sales tax was 13.77% and the central sales tax was 4%. All our orders were booked directly to our factory at Noida.  The machines were delivered directly from our Noida factory to the customers. Of course the consignment was taken by us (with authorization from the customers) from the airport and delivered to the customer. 

October 28, 2011

Best Technology based innovations in marketing in the last ten years - Part II

6) Retargeting: Browsing the internet, many browers do feel that the advertisements for a particular company or brand keep following them from site to site. For marketers, retargeting provides a more intelligent way to run display advertising for prospects they might otherwise miss once the potential buyer moves away from their website.

7) Location Based Marketing: Local search, mobile device adoption, QR codes, online commerce all helps lead marketers to the concept of location based marketing. The integration of GPS allows for the accurate detection of a specific location, and mobile computers allow interactive media to be linked, for users to access data.

The small business is getting invested in location based media. According to Google, 20% of all searches are related to location.

8) Video: Technology innovation has made the internet more accessible and faster for the end user. 68 percent of households have broadband in the United States. “Broadband penetration” is now treated as a key economic indicator.

High speed internet has made video more accessible to the masses. According to comScore, in December 2010, 178 million people watched 33.2 billion videos, with the average viewer watching 187 videos per month in the U.S. In August 2010.

9) User Generated Content: The ability for the user base to create the content that drives website presence has taken off with the emergence of social media. Entering mainstream usage in 2005, almost every major site online has some form of user generated content (UGC) function in today’s marketplace, even if it is only a component of the organizations online presence. The ability to enable user generated content is the foundation for sites like YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter to become so successful.

10) Mobile Device Technology: The evolution of mobile device technology completely changed marketing scenario. The adoption of smart phones, tablet computers, and other mobile devices will continue to grow. Already in India there are more than 650 million cell phones and that is a penetration of nearly 65% of the total population. India now has more cell phones than public toilets.

Mobile device adoption must become a priority in B2C and B2B marketing strategy. We are in the cusp of a complete shift in how people will consume information.

Best Technology based innovations in marketing in the last ten years - Part I

Marketing is talked about as a live science. There are continuous innovations being tried out. Let us discuss some technology based innovations that are creating a Tsunami of change in the way the art of marketing is being practiced or will be practiced in the future.

1) 1-to-1 Personalization: 1-to-1 marketing (personalization) refers to marketing strategies applied directly to a specific consumer. With four main steps in the process (identify, differentiate, interact and customize), organizations like Amazon, Nike, and Dell all leverage one-to-one marketing campaigns in their overall marketing mix.

2) Gamification: Beyond Angry Birds and Farmville, the concept of gamification refers to the use of game design techniques to solve problems and engage audiences. When one shares something in places like Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook, by way of the “progress buttons” illustrating the number of shares and likes it is gamification. Additional methods of gamification that have become more widely adopted include Achievement “badges”, “leader boards” and virtual currency

The concepts within gamification tactics are getting more heavily integrated in employee recognition programswellness adoption programs, and even project management tools.

3) Group Buying: Group buying, also known as collective buying, might have been around for centuries, but widespread internet adoption has allowed group buying sites like Groupon and LivingSocial to thrive in today’s marketplace. Group Buying offers products and services at significantly reduced prices on the condition that a minimum number of buyers would make the purchase.

4) Social Networking: Facebook and LinkedIn lead a growing number of public and private social networking communities, attracting all forms of networking, from purely personal to specific interests. When Google+ opened to the public last week, traffic was up 1,269% in one week, making the site the eighth largest social network on the Internet. The Google+1 button is being served 2.3 billion times a day all over the web.

5) Inbound Marketing:  “inbound marketing is the use of inbound customer interactions as an opportunity to cross-sell and upsell products and services.”

The most concrete example of inbound marketing success came from the 2008 presidential race, when Barack Obama’s Internet Marketing strategist Chris Hughes leveraged blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and more social media platforms, to help build Obama’s campaign, and ultimately winning the Democratic Presidential nomination and election. 

Generation Gap!

One day my nephew was bemoaning the fact that they had only one car. He was saying it was not fair. I was lecturing my nephew about the fact that his generation should consider themselves lucky that they are going to the school in a car/auto/motorcycle. I told him “you are lucky, we had no option at all. We had to take the public transport and at times had to walk both to school and back to home". 

My father who was listening to the conversation piped in. He told me "your generations should consider yourself very lucky. My school was 8 kilometers away and every day I walked all the way to the school and back to the home. And I had no foot wear. My first foot wear was bought when I was doing intermediate (11th)". 

The travails of three generation of school going children were apparent in the gasps of amazement given out by me and my nephew. 

October 20, 2011

Masters of Customer Service - Southwest Airlines - Part - II

One year Southwest was challenged by the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) to change its funny on board announcements as they felt people were not taking the safety messages seriously. Southwest argued back that to the contrary, it felt that because it infused humor into the typically rote, boring announcements, that people listened more. The FAA finally agreed and dropped the issue.

Southwest created a dollar bill with Herb Kelleher’s (CEO of Southwest) picture in the center and sent these Herb Bucks to its most frequent fliers, asking that if they saw a Southwest Employee going above and beyond the expected service, they give them an Herb Buck. At the end of the program the Employees would be able to purchase items from a catalog with the Herb Bucks.

The program was so popular that within weeks Southwest’s Customers were calling asking for more Herb Bucks. They were having a great time, and it was a great way to tie  Customers to employee recognition program. Customers often were featured in Southwest onboard magazine, “Spirit,” such as the lady who attended law school in Lubbock and flew back and forth twice a week on Southwest to attend class. Southwest also featured Chuy’s Restaurant when it announced that they only opened new restaurants in cities served by Southwest due to Southwest’s low fares.

To remind it to consider the Customer, Southwest created the committees to review operational failures. The rule of thumb was the employees have to ask themselves “if my Mom had been on board, would I be happy with the way she was treated?” Southwest keeps an empty chair in marketing meetings to remind itself to consider the Customer.

Frequently, Employees were given $25 coupons and asked to recognize any Customer doing something nice. One scenario often repeated was a young mother and child boarding late. Because they were the last to board, many times there were no seats together.

The flight attendant would make an announcement asking if any passenger would be willing to move so the mother and child could sit together. Somebody always volunteered. The flight attendant would then seek them out during the flight and thank them for their kind deed by giving them a $25 coupon good towards their next flight. They were always pleasantly surprised.

For many years employees of Southwest got their paychecks with the message “Provided by our Customers” to remind the employees of the Customers’ importance. Anytime the words Customer or Employee were written, they were always capitalized to stress the importance of both.

These Customer service principles are generic enough that most companies can implement them. It’s not rocket science, rather its common sense. The Golden Rule…putting yourself in others shoes, being nice…seemingly simple concepts that smart companies like Southwest realize keeps them at the top of their game.

Masters of Customer Service - Southwest Airlines - Part - I

Post 9/11 Southwest began to get requests for refunds from Customers who had purchased tickets but were now afraid to fly. Most of the competitors of Southwest decided to allow the refund, but add a “refund penalty” to cover their cost and lost revenue. Not Southwest. It put itself in its Customers’ shoes. Southwest thought, “Why should we penalize people who had become fearful of flying due to circumstances beyond their control?” So, Southwest took a risk and decided to offer full refunds to anyone who asked with no penalties. No questions asked. Southwest was counting on all its Customers not to make a bee line on refund request. Why? Because Southwest had developed a great relationship with its Customers and trusted they would have faith in Southwest.

And, the customers they proved Southwest right. In fact, not only did many of them not ask for a refund, Southwest was overwhelmed when many customers sent their tickets in with notes saying “Southwest Airlines take this ticket and keep it. I don’t want my money back…I just want you in business in five years and today you need the money more than I do.”

Southwest Airlines sends out most frequent Customers a birthday card. One year, a Customer called to let it know that Southwest was the only one who remembered his birthday! The airport ticket agents are on a first name basis with most of its frequent fliers and knew the names of their children, spouses, etc.

Southwest would often invite its Customers to participate in company events. Halloween was one of the holidays that Southwest celebrated in a big way. Every department competed by having a theme and some even put on shows for customers.

When things get stressful at the airport due to bad weather causing delays, Southwest plays gate games with its Customers to relieve that stress. The gate agent might announce to the Customers sitting in the boarding area that Southwest was giving a $25 off coupon for their next flight if they had a hole in their sock, people took off their shoes and held up their foot to let Southwest judge who had the biggest hole. It is a lot of fun and takes the Customers’ minds off the delayed flight.

South-west pilots and flight attendants have a fun attitude. A pilot might walks up the Jetway into the plane with a briefcase. Sticking up outside the briefcase is a book entitled “Idiots guide to learn How to fly a jet plane”, or the flight attendants would announce that there was an individual on the flight who was celebrating his 95th birthday and would asked the entire cabin to sing Happy Birthday.

At the end of the song, she would then announce that the 95 year old pilot was very grateful for their attention. They might sing a song, tell a joke or tell people “Smoking is not allowed on this aircraft. Anyone caught smoking will be escorted outside to watch the movie “Gone with the Wind.”

World's most innovative CEO - Gerb Kelleher of Southwest Airlines

In September 1993 Southwest Airlines decided to have flights from the new Baltimore centre to Cleveland. Five weeks prior to the first flight Gerb Kelleher, CEO Southwest and the governor of the State of Maryland declared opening of branch of the company in Baltimore, and Kelleher has handed to the governor special "wonder-working remedy" from high prices for inhabitants of Baltimore.

When the company has made decision to establish a route at a rate of 49 dollars, it organized a free trip for 49 schoolboys in a Cleveland zoo. Then to all who are in Baltimore who go often on short distances, the company has dispatched special messages, suggesting them to take advantage of the program of discounts that Southwest offered.

Southwest also distributed brochures along with a peanut in streets, offering low rates "only for a peanut". This was followed by a series of advertisements on TV and in a press. Such combination of public relations, direct mail circulations, advertising of the prices and conditions of fulfillment of flights in press and Television had led to record quantity of advanced orders - 90 thousand passengers had purchased tickets even prior to the beginning of flights.

Herb Kelleher had this fun loving persona that fitted to the bill his role of the CEO of the head of the “most entertaining airline of the world”.  His funny yet radical tactics have helped the airline tide over turbulent times and controversies.

One such incident was his arm-wrestling showdown with the CEO of Stevens Aviation in 1992. Both Stevens and Southwest were using the advertising tagline "Plane Smart." To settle the matter, Kelleher suggested an arm - wrestling competition with the winner keeping the rights to the slogan. Kelleher lost the match, but the event generated so much good will and publicity that Stevens let Southwest continue use of the tagline.

Herb Kelleher studied California-based Pacific Southwest Airlines extensively and used many of the airline’s ideas to form the corporate culture at Southwest, and even on early flights used the same "Long Legs and Short Nights" theme for stewardesses on board typical Southwest Airlines flights.

The original flight attendants that worked for Southwest Airlines were chosen by a committee of individuals that included the same person who had selected hostess for Hugh Hefner’s Playboy jet.

The selection resulted in a group of female flight attendants that were described as long-legged dancers, majorettes, and cheerleaders with "unique personalities". Southwest Airlines and Herb Kelleher proceeded to dress these individuals in hot pants and go-go boots.  

Herb Kelleher’s enormous success with Southwest proves the point that to be innovative the CEO or the entrepreneur needs to have that fun, zanky and devil may care attitude. This attitude will take the company to make profits even on the downturn. Southwest has been a consistent performers been on the times of recession. Post 9/11 when most airlines companies were bleeding Southwest did well. This was due to the excellent relationship that Southwest had with their customers.

October 15, 2011

Innovations in Indian Film Industry - Part III

6. One actor movie: Yaadein (meaning "Memories" in Hindi) is a 1964 B&W Hindi film directed and produced by Sunil Dutt starring himself. The only other actor in the film is Nargis Dutt that too in a silhouette in the final scene.

This film is first-ever Indian and one of kind films in world cinema as it features only a single actor and hence has found an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records in the category of fewest actors in a narrative film.

Film narrative progresses through dialogues and background music composed by Vasant Desai, who also gave a song, Dekha hai sapna koi  was sung by Lata Mangeshkar.

7. One day movie: Suyamvaram is a 1999 Tamil comedy-drama film starring an ensemble cast from actors in the Tamil film industry and shot by a large technical team from the industry. The film was planned by Giridharilal Nagpal and brought together 14 associate directors, 19 cinematographers and over thirty leading actors in the Tamil film industry.

The film also holds the Guinness World Record for casting the most stars in a film and also for being the quickest ever full feature length film made, with filming being completed in 23 hours and 58 minutes. The film released on July 16, 1999 to positive reviews from critics, praising the intentions of the makers.

8. Mixing cricket with movies:  There are two things that fascinate Indians. The two things are movies and cricket. Both cricket and movies are viewed as competitors and it is quite common to see many movies getting delayed because of cricket matches. But it took creative geniuses like Aamir Khan and the director Ashutosh Gowariker,to combine the two things and make a blockbuster film called Lagaan.

Brilliantly conceptualized Lagaan is the tale of poor village simpletons who overcome the British Empire. The villagers are pitted against the might of the Britishers in a game of cricket. Defying all odds the villagers come out as winners. Critically acclaimed as one the best movies that portray situational leadership Lagaan, was the Indian entry for the Oscars. It could not win an Oscar due to its extra ordinary running time.  Americans could not get a grip about the game called cricket. Lagaan remains as the only Indian movie that has entered the category of “100 movies to see become one dies”.

Out of eight innovations discussed 3 are from Tamil film industry, 3 are from Telugu film industry and 2 are from Hindi movies. Kamal Haasan is the hero in three movies Pushpak, Apoorva Sahodharargal and Dasavathaaram. Without doubt the south Indian film industry is way ahead of the Hindi movies industry in the field of movie innovations.

Innovations in Indian Film Industry - Part II

3. Name less movie:  A Telugu movie tried the unthinkable. It was a movie without a name. In a movie industry where a name is everything this movie went to the town saying that it has no title. The producers claimed that the viewer could name the movies after watching it in the theatres. It was a very brilliant concept but the movie was not great. Finally the movie was named Paape na Pranam (My daughter is my breath). The movie sunk without a trace.

JD chakravarthy the hero and producer was of the opinion that nameless movie will arouse the curiosity in the audience and that they will come to the theatres and according to him it worked, until they named the movie. The co-producer wanted to release in B and C centers (In India that would mean small towns and rural areas) and he felt that audience won't accept the movie without a title and opted for this title. That effectively took out the USP of the movie which was not having a title. A brilliant marketing coup laid waste by a back peddling co producer. 

4. Apoorva Sahodharargal  is a 1989 Tamil feature film directed by Singeetham Srinivasa Rao. The film had Kamal Hassan in triple roles, as a mechanic, a circus clown who is a dwarf and a police officer.  Due to its mega success in the south, the film was dubbed into Hindi as Appu Raja.

The make-up for Kamal Hassan as a dwarf in ‘Apoorva Sahodarulu’ has floored the people and they have no clue as to how he could make it even several years after the film is released.

But, the film’s director Singeetam Srinivasa Rao not only revealed the secret but also felt that an interactive session with members of a film society and others was the right venue and best occasion to do so.

At the session organized by the Vizag Film Society, Mr. Srinivasa Rao said that the credit goes to Mr. Kamal Hassan, who worked very hard for the role, photography director P.C. Sriram and a set boy who is called by his nickname ‘Japan’. Readers who are interested to know  how it was done Can read it at 

5. Dasavathaaram is a 2008 Tamil film co-written and directed by K. S. Ravikumar. Kamal Haasan, who wrote the screenplay and story of the film, stars in ten distinct roles, including the lead character. The film, which had been under production for nearly three years, was produced and distributed by Venu Ravichandran, who made the film with a budget of 60 crores.

Kamal Haasan was keen to break the record for an actor appearing in the most roles, so he came up with an original storyline and got it directed by K. S. Ravikumar. 

Kamal Haasan played 10 roles at a time making it the first time that an actor has appeared in so many roles in world cinema (this record was later broken in 2009 by Priyanka Chopra who played 12 roles in What's Your Raashee?).

Innovations in Indian Film Industry - Part I

Indians love movies. Thus it is not surprising that India produces the most films in the world. Let us examine some innovations in the Indian cinema over the years.  

1. Mythological movies: Telugu cinema is well known for being the best in the production of folklore, historical, fantasy and mythological films in Indian cinema, a considerable contribution has been made in this genre through critically acclaimed films like Vipranarayana, Palnati Yudham, Narthanasala, Mahamantri Timmarusu, Patala Bhairavi, Maya bazar, Bhakta Prahlada, Bhookailas, Tenali Ramakrishna, Gulebakavali Katha, Dakshayagnam, Sampoorna Ramayanam, Pandava Vanavasam, Lava Kusa, Daana Veera Soora Karna, Alluri Seetharama Raju etc.

The movie that stands out is Maya Bazar. Maya Bazar without argument is the greatest telugu movie of all time. It had the best screenplay. It is said that the Director short only 200 feet of film more than the film length planned. And in 1974 Ramesh Sippy shot three times the length of a full movie. The editors had a tough time to edit it to make a another epic movie – Sholay.  Maya Bazar is a laugh riot and It had the best trick photography ever seen. The movie was shot in 1957.

Marcus Bartley the Anglo Indian cinematographer of Maya Bazar was an exceptional cinematographer. The heroine of the movie is shown as a small girl. She is peeping into the water. The camera moves to the reflection and then onto the face again. To the viewers surprise instead of the small girl he sees the fully grown heroine Savithri. And it was a single short. No fancy editing. In one of the songs Marcus filmed the moon light song in full day light. That song is even today is said to be the best moon song ever filmed. 

The camera tricks that Marcus deployed enthrall the audience even after 55 years. Even grownup squeal in joy seeing laddus magically fly into the mouth of Ghatotkacha. Many people have watched it more than a dozen times and still find the movie to be charming and magical.  

2. Silent movie: Pushpak is a silent comedy released in 1987. This film was directed by Singeetham Srinivasa Rao and written by Kamal Haasan. Set in a large unnamed Indian city (shot in Bangalore), the film is based on the king-for-a-day story. The film is notable for its inventive re-casting of the silent film format. 

Though shot in color and featuring incidental noise, the film does not have any dialogues. Instead, clever cinematography, implicit and physical communication, and creating scenes or shots where a dialogue would plausibly be absent are used. Additionally, crafty camera placement is sometimes employed to rationalize the inaudibility of dialogue.

October 11, 2011

The art of observation - learnings from Animal behaviour

The mother of all education is observation. I have learnt so much in life from observation. One of my favorite books is "How to read a person like a book". Let us discuss animal behavior especially dog behavior and what we can learn from it. 

Dogs gulp their food: This is a tendency that they have retained from their wild days. In the wild dogs are pack animals and they hunt and eat in groups. It is very important that a dog eats and eats fast. The dog that shows table manners by eating slowly will starve itself to death. Speed matters in eating if you are a dog. 

Dogs circle the place where they sleep many times before they settle in: Again a throwback to their wild days in the forest. In the forest dogs have to sleep on grass. The grass might be thorny, tall or might have unwelcome pests, small insects, bugs etc. By circling the grass gets crushed and so too all the unwelcome guests. That is why even domestic dogs circle many times before settling down. 

Dogs treat different people in the family differently: Very true. Dogs are pack animals and they tend to treat member of its family differently. The most dominating person (in many cases the father) will become the tribe leader and mother will become the feeder and the others will be the siblings. If the dog can dominate it will become the most dominant of the siblings and would dictate things to the children!

Dogs are friendly and are very social: Most well trained dogs are very friendly and can adapt to new situations very easily. A new dog in the surroundings would immediately gauze the environment and adapt. If it is possible the new dog would stiff leg (walking to the other dogs with stiff legs) and appears to be bigger than itself with raised body and fur. The dominant dog would growl. If the other dog does the same it could either led to a fight or one of the dogs will withdraw the aggressive posture thus defusing the situation.

The submissive dog would immediately tuck its tail inside its hind legs and make itself appear to be smaller and whimper. The entire posture is that of submission. If the aggressive dog were to approach the submissive dog, it would yelp and fall on the ground. It would lie flat on its back, expose its neck and look away. This  indicates total submission. The submissive dog is saying “I am totally at your mercy. Kill me if you want”. The dominant dog also has a code of conduct. The dominant dog would sniff the neck of the submissive dog and both would become friendly.  

Thus it is important to notice the play of body language in all situations including in sales and marketing. The customer might be saying something and the body might be saying something else. If there is a discrepancy of what is being said and what is being felt (through body language) the smart sales man who can detect and act on the discrepancy would emerge as the winner and walk away with the sale.

Caring for the customer - The american way

America is the Mecca of marketing. There are so many things that one can learn from the American way of marketing things. The one thing that immediately comes to the mind is the panache or the flair of presentation. Americans have a definite flair for dramatization. Right down to Donald Trump who named his hotel “Taj Mahal” and boasted that it was as good as the original Taj!

American trouser sizes: One thing that all people hate is the dreaded question that the sales person asks in a textile shop” sir what is your waist size?” Shoppers in USA are in for a pleasant surprise. The American size is one size less than normal. For example Indian size 38 would be size 36 in USA. Shopping in USA is a pleasurable experience as 2 inches are taken of your waist that too instantly! The only other place that can make you even happier is Ethiopia where one magically becomes 7 years younger (Ethiopia follows a calendar that is 7 years behind the Georgian calendar. Ethiopians are right now in 2004!)

Large, extra large: America is the country that made inches redundant by getting in a new concept called small, medium, Large and extra large. Many people console themselves saying “well we are large”. But how large, no one really bothers because after large it is all XL (extra large and one can go on till 7 XL). Bank on Americans have taken the guilt out of shopping!

Plus sizes: Fat is out but fat people are still good for business. In a country that celebrates thinness paradoxically most of the customers are fat and they have to be pampered. USA has a very polite name for fat customers. They call these customers plus size customers and there are shops catering to plus size customers’ fashion needs.

Zero size: USA worships thinness. USA has coined a term called zero size. Zero size does not mean having a waist of zero. It is 22- 24 inches at waist. But the concept of zero size becomes so popular that a winsome lass like Kareena Kapoor starved herself to get a zero size. Sanity prevailed and she has returned to her earlier and normal waist size.

Calling clients as guests: One of the things about USA is the terminology. All other countries call their customers as customers but US airlines have taught the world to call their customers as guests. Guests in the house and they must be treated as guests are treated at one’s home. Albeit many companies call customers as guests and merrily cheat and rob!

Allowing readers to read to their hearts content: American book shops have mastered the art of display and enticement. American book shops are so inviting that readers can go to the book shop pick up a book and read it to their heart’s content. There is no pressure of buying. One can sample the book and buy it only if one wants. It works to the advantage of the book shop as the book shop appears to be crowded. A crowded shop always triggers others to walk in. It is a win-win for the book shop.

Allowing readers to borrow as many books as possible: American public libraries allow members to borrow as many books as they want. There is no restriction on number of books that one can borrow. But one should be cautious about the due date. After the due date the borrowed books will be charged a dollar a week as late fee. 

Thai English

I had taken a group of students to Bangkok. The guide was impressing the student about the precautions that they should be taking when they are going out in the night. He told them to be careful and to be good boys. The parting shot of the guide was “get lady in the room by 8 in the evening”. The students were immediately very inquisitive. Here is a guide who is telling them to get a lady and that too directly to their rooms! 

I asked the guide so to what he meant by his statement. He gave me a quixotic look and said “ It is very simple.  Well they can wash their face, change their dress and get leady for the evening meal”. Then it struck me the guide meant READY when he said LEADY. When he said Leady my students understood it as lady.

Some Thai people have difficulty to pronouncing the r r r sound. So READY becomes leady and Camera becomes Camela.  As soon as the bus stopped my students would sing “take care of the Camela and get lady to leave in another one hour”. The Thai guide took the good natured ribbing in his stride and started to converse in bits and pieces of Hindi by the time our tour got concluded. Talk of the mixing of the cultures and of languages. The students taught his to sing the latest Hindi film songs.  

October 02, 2011

Hyderabadi Es-style - English

Hyderabad is a city where predominantly Telugu and Urdu are mostly spoken but strangely there is a fascination for using English. This leads to many funny situations. Some of them are listed. 

An apartment block had a tenth pass watchman. The apartment block was being harassed by unwanted salesmen. The apartment owners asked the English educated watchman to put up a notice. He put up a notice “No Sales, Men allowed”.  He was severely reprimanded and finally he corrected the sign as “Salesmen not allowed”. A disgruntled Salesman rubbed some of the letters off selectively to make the sign read “Salesmen loved”

Most hospitals have many sisters (nurses as they are popularly called in India). They sometimes fill up the preliminary case sheet. One sister made this report “Patient has one small son at home. So she wants to remove her stomach”. On enquiry the real story come out. The patient had a small baby at home. She was pregnant and wanted to abort the baby as she feared that she could not manage two kids. She wanted an abortion. An abortion was reported as removing of stomach aka stomach stapling a completely different procedure for a completely different ailment.

Another sister made out this gem” Patient complaining of pain. Wants an abortion. Mother-in-law can’t see”. The doctor asked the nurse “I can understand the patient’s problem. But why don’t we refer the Mother-in-law to an Ophthalmologist?” The nurse sheepishly answered “Nahi doctor madam, the mother-in-law can’t bear seeing the pain of her daughter-in-law. There is nothing wrong with her eyes”

A small sugar cane juice seller put up a sign. Amitabh – 5 rupees and Jaya Bhaduri – Rs 2.50. What he meant was big glass – 5 rupees and small glass – Rs 2.50. For the uninitiated Amitabh Bachaan the superstar of India is very tall and his wife Jaya Bhaduri also an actor – is small and petite.  

Small time motor cycle mechanics in Hyderabad would be seen shouting “Areh Chotu bring me the 2-3 panna”. Panna? Panna is the Hyderabadi word for Spanner.

As a child I remember going to a stationery shop and asking for a sharpener. The shop keeper was puzzled. Luckily for me I could spot a sharpener and pointed it out to him. He said “Aare babu woh tho Chakmaar hai – (translated it means – that is a Chakmaar)” and gave me a Hyderabadi sharpener (Chakmaar)

My mother’s friend was taking a new type of medication. My mother enquired “is it Homeopathy that you are taking?” Her friend promptly said “No Hemalatha garu not Homeopathy, I am taking Ompathy” (Ompathy – Oh my god! What a name for Homeopathy).

A newly minted doctor asked for a new sign. What the sign maker gave him almost killed him. The sigh said “Dr So and So The Rapist”. The doctor was a Therapist!

Children in Hyderabad play a hide and seek game where the catcher sings out “Iceboy” when he sees a hidden friend. “Iceboy" is the Hyderabadi equivalent for the game "I saw a boy”.

The common way of talking to each other in Hyderabad would be to say “I say you” and “what say you” This is what the Queen ’s English has become in Hyderabad. (I told you and you told me for the grammatically inclined readers).

One of my BIFAAS student from second shift Mr. Bharat came out with an interesting word of his own. He said that the popular word for eraser was lubber (rubber). Very funny.

Also it is quite common to hear customers shouting out “I need a chilling cold drink” in a hotel. What the customer wants is a chilled cold drink. Chilling is a process and chilled is the end result!

Hyderabad is known for its big mandis (huge whole sale markets). Fruit sellers sell fruits in small hundreds and big hundreds. A small hundred (chinna Vanda) is 96 mangoes like in the case of a hundred page note book and big hundred (peddha Vanda) is 192 mangoes like in the case of a 200 page note book.

Similarly a baker’s dozen is not 12 it is 13. In the by gone era when a customer buys a dozen loaves of bread one loaf of bread is given extra as a bonus. Very confusing.

Many of the TV anchors and experts are seen saying “Both of you all danced very well” – Both of you should be used and not both of you all.