Friday, August 20, 2010

Hello Obama...America Calling?

121 - "Welcome to enterprise services of (BEEP BEEP BEEP). Dial 1 for English, Hindi mein jankari ke liye 2 dabaiye.

Dial 1 for Mobile / GSM, Dial 2 for Landline / Broadband...

...Please wait when we transfer your call to a customer service executive. (PAUSE) All our customer service executives are busy on other calls. Please wait. Your call is precious to us. (PAUSE) or (MUSIC)...

...All our customer service executives are busy on other calls. Please wait. Your call is precious to us. (PAUSE) or (MUSIC)...

EXECUTIVE - Hello, this is (BEEP) here. How can I help you?

ME - My name is Sanjeev Hariharan and I have called up w.r.t my mobile number 98XXX-XXXXX

EXECUTIVE - Kindly mention your mobile number.

ME - (again) 9 8 X X X - X X X X X.  My name is Sanjeev Hariharan and this number is registered in the name of (BEEEEEEEEEEP)

EXECUTIVE - May I know your name please.

ME - HELLOOOOOO...are you even listening to what I am saying...I already said that - THE NUMBER IS ------, MY NAME IS ------ AND THE NUMBER IS REGISTERED IN THE NAME OF ------

EXECUTIVE - (sounding very cool)...Thank you for the information Sir. How can I help you?

ME - (exhausted already)...I need to get my number deactivated as I am holding 2 mobile numbers.

EXECUTIVE - For this, may I know the name of the company and the billing address please?

ME - (ready to get hanged myself or kill somebody)...Ma'am...are you deaf or is it that my voice is not reaching you or maybe your service is getting disrupted while I talk...what is it with you?

EXECUTIVE - The company and the billing address please?

ME - aaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrgggggggggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh...okay lets start again...THE NUMBER IS ------, MY NAME IS ------ AND THE NUMBER IS REGISTERED IN THE NAME OF ------

EXECUTIVE - Thank you for the information Sir. How can I help you? 


EXECUTIVE - Sorry Sir. For that please dial 12.... Is there anything else that I may help you with Sir. Sir...Sir...are you there Sir

How many times in your lifetime have you experienced a phone call with a preposterous monster (no gender bias out here!) at the other end, which though hears your voice, your feelings, emotions, problems, et al acts completely ignorant to the fact that you are desperately hanging on for dear life at the other? Many I am sure.

In an era of globalization and economic liberalization, we are all prisoners of our own fate whereby we need to face such humongous challenges in our daily lives of dealing with mechanically trained artifacts called 'Customer Service'.

Whoever said Customer is King must have been living in a fool's paradise or must have been a Marketeer getting some psychological treatment or more factually must be from India. This is a land of surprises, flip-flops, twisted stories, unforeseen challenges which all end up as a severe 'bolt from the blues' for the distraught kings. Well, then, I am not here to talk about Marketing or Customer Service or Sales Pitches...what I am here to talk about is something more contemporary, more with the zeit-geist - yes indeed...Off-shoring or Outsourcing as we all know it. But more, I am going to stick with the Call Centre concept of Outsourcing or B P O, as we call it. I hope thats the correct terminology, if not...bhavnaon ko samjho

More recently, the first black president of the US of A announced a bill which aimed at protecting jobs in the US of A for the Americans - how? By imposing taxes on companies which outsource their jobs to India. This may be a good strategy, but only in the short-term. In the long run, companies needing to outsource such skills & services to India can surely find a via-media approach, which is anyway rampant in practice even today. Obama wont have a clue if its a Czech, Austrian, Australian (that is unlikely though!) or an Indian servicing his country. Now thats besides the point that I want to talk about and at the most, I don't care, at least for now.

What I care about though, is that with all these outsourcing of so-called American jobs to India or more specifically Indian' the serious drop in service levels of call-centres locally. The response and the service of most (99.999999%) of the companies offering such services is wretched, pitiful and deplorable. I am assuming like in most goods and commodities that are exported from our motherland, even in services, the better (if not the best) ones service the western world and the woeful ones remain behind. In fact the woeful ones are so pathetic, that even their English language is at times distressing to hear.

I am amazed that a country, which someone more recently in their book call the 'Super Power' or the emerging nation of the next century is not even attempting to address, leave alone improving the standards of service to customers. I am not even talking about the ones you face in person at the numerous Bazaars & Loons..thats a altogether different breed and would require a separate discussion. Why have the standards of call centers dropping or should i say stooping to such low levels? Why are companies which rely on them as front-end ops not even attempt at improving them? Why are companies indifferent to the needs and concerns of customers facing these specimens? Why? Why?

My perspective on the issue is as follows -
1. There is large and ever-growing need need of such a breed globally.
2. Companies feel that the global demand is more crucial to meet than the discerning Indian consumers.
3. There is a shortage in terms of the breed community which is able and effective to handle such services probably due to
- low salary & perks
- uninteresting job profile & career growth opportunities and alternatives
- family, societal & peer pressures - such jobs are being looked at as cheap & identifiable with those who are 'Losers'...
4.  Companies not interested in or not able to spend time, money and effort in training & developing them

But, whatever be the reason/s, it is imperative that the outcome of this is appalling and least for the end consumer who has to hear the music - literally speaking at times.

What could be the solution? One and something which is evident is addressing the above (read: my perspective), but second, which I term as more interesting and 'killing 2 birds with 1 stone' types (PETA - pls excuse; no harm intended) is -


Ok, ok, ok....I know what you guys are thinking - this guy is nits and he has no understanding of global economic scenarios or cultural concepts or blah blah blah...NOOooo...thats not the case!

I know the Americans come at a higher price...i mean...they just charge higher
I know that they would consider such an offer almost displacing their social standing, even if some of them were the SEC D types in comparison to India
I know the Americans consider sitting in a call center - cheap, unimaginative, unskilled kinda job, but then somebody's gonna do it dude...if its not India, who?

Listen, here's an opportunity for Obama to sit across 2 tables -
1 - with Indian call center companies tellin' 'em to absorb American dropouts / jobless
2 - telling his countrymen to engage and be in sync with the Third World (No, i don't say that either...its been coined by someone else)

I seriously think that the solution/s to the above growing and growth impeding crisis is this - just get the Americans to do what you have been doing to 'em. I am sure they will be better and more interesting to hear when you call helplines - and anyways if you dont understand what the matter - you anyways don't even now. At least your dicussion with Christene, Maria, John, Sharon, Angelina, Brad, Chris, et al would be more inetresting than Sangeeta, Aslam, Tabassum, Meghna, Sundar, Shruti and the likes.

All it takes is Manmohan or Krishna to make a call and say

Hello Obama - May We Help You?

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Unlocking Creativity - by Mark Simmons (Interesting read)

Creativity is vital for successful business, yet most businesses just aren't designed for creativity. Branding expert Mark Simmons discusses how to inspire creative thinking and how to apply it to business to stay a few steps ahead of the competition.

What's the secret weapon that will give a business an unfair advantage over its competitors? No, I'm not talking industrial espionage or insider trading. I'm referring to creativity. More specifically, the ability to come up with ideas and successfully bring them to life in the marketplace. Actually, that's not really a secret at all. Time after time, in survey after survey, executives say creativity is what will drive their businesses in the future.

Creativity is vital for successful business, yet all too often it's not part of the culture. Most businesses just aren't designed for creativity. Instead they tend to be efficient machines with established processes, systems and rules that allow little flexibility for the more unstructured thought necessary for ideas to form and flourish.

Creativity is about exploring the unknown and so feels very risky. It's tempting to cordon it off into certain departments, assign it to off-site meetings or outsource it to outside agencies and consultants. That's a shame because we all have the ability to be creative. We were all born with great creative skills, it's just that sometimes these skills get sidelined or smothered through the rigidity imposed by schools and in businesses.

There's plenty of evidence that the parts of our brains responsible for the logical thought-processes inhibit the ones where the creativity occurs and that without the freedom to play it is not allowed to flourish.

"Time after time, in survey after survey, executives say creativity is what will drive their businesses in the future."

Stuart Brown, an author who has studied the 'play histories' of 6,000 adults, says "play-deprived adults are often rigid, humourless, inflexible and closed to trying out new options. Playfulness enhances the capacity to innovate, adapt and master changing circumstances. It is not just an escape. It can help us integrate and reconcile difficult or contradictory circumstances. And, often, it can show us a way out of our problems." Play doesn't just give the brain a rest. “Play is an active process that reshapes our rigid views of the world," he says. Playfulness is a vital ingredient of creativity and one that is often at odds with the serious environment of the business world.

There are techniques that help retrain us to think creatively once more, techniques based on an understanding of how the brain works.

The Business Playground: Where Creativity and Commerce Collide (Pearson 2010), which I co-authored with rock musician and creative genius Dave Stewart, is a user manual to creative thinking and how to apply it to business to stay a few steps ahead of the competition. Here are just six of the tips contained within the book for how to make your business more creative.
  1. Celebrate mistakes. It's okay to fail. In fact, it's a valuable part of the creative process and those who have many successes tend to have had more failures along the way. The point is to reduce the downside of failing so it won't kill you. Find ways to reward small risks, perhaps with a prize for the bravest ideas.
  2. Slip into something less comfortable. We all have things we feel comfortable doing and tend to avoid the other stuff. But it's the other stuff that often allows us to think in new ways, so break your routine, talk to people you don't normally talk to, and make it a goal to try something that scares you at least once every few days.
  3. Learn how to play. It's usually business or pleasure, but to be creative you need to have both because the more you can let go, the more fun you'll have and the more likely it is you'll come up with unexpected ideas. Use music, humour and games to shake things up and help you and others think in new ways.
  4. Idea spaghetti. Quantity of ideas is the single biggest predictor of creativity, so don't wait for the Big One: keep generating as many ideas as you can, by questioning what you see around you and thinking of ways to improve them. Set yourself a daily goal for the number of ideas you want to come up and write them up in a notebook
  5. Flood your brain. Creativity is about making connections, often between two completely unrelated things. So it stands to reason that if you can feed your brain with a lot of different stimuli you'll have a greater chance of making connections. Make sure you read, watch, listen and do to a wide variety of things as often as you can.
  6. Collaborate. 'Plays well with others' applies now even more it did on the school report. It's almost impossible to bring good ideas to life without partnering with outsiders, so we should be less paranoid about signing NDAs and more willing to collaborate with people who share a common vision and can add expertise we don't have.
"The more you can let go, the more fun you'll have and the more likely it is you'll come up with unexpected ideas."

Creativity is not something that can be managed in the traditional sense, and that can make many business people, used to having control, feel a little uncomfortable.

The best we can hope for is to manage for it. Robert Sutton, professor of science and engineering at Stanford University, says: "Managing for creativity, I've discovered, means taking most of what we know about management and standing it on its head. It means placing bets on ideas without much heed to the projected ROI. It means ignoring what has worked before. It means taking perfectly happy people and goading them into fights among themselves. Good creativity management means hiring the candidate you have a gut feeling against. And as for those people who stick their fingers in their ears and chant 'I'm not listening, I'm not listening' when customers are making suggestions? It means praising and promoting them."

While it's not always easy being making creativity a part of everyday business, in a world in which it is difficult to maintain differentiation without innovation it's a necessary part of business life. As Richard Branson, who wrote the foreword to the book, says it's about having a spirit of adventure. "Catch the cow, Ricky," his mum used to tell him, “If you want some milk you can't just sit in the middle of a field waiting for a cow to come to you, you've got to go and catch it and milk it yourself."

Mark Simmons is a branding expert, innovator and co-author of The Business Playground: Where Creativity and Commerce Collide (Pearson, 2010). Over the past 20 years he has been a senior global marketer at Coca-Cola, run advertising agencies in the UK and US, and been an advisor to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Al Gore’s Alliance for Climate Protection. Simmons frequently speaks at conferences about creativity, marketing and branding.

Common Wealth v/s Common Man - Are you really proud to be an Indian?

"Money can't buy friends, but you can get a better class of enemy" - surely something that Mr. Kalmadi & Co. were not aware of and would not be too, had not the 'Peeplis' got behind 'em. The expose by one of the Peeplis and the continuous badgering thereafter has or must have almost convinced K & Co.into believing that they were indeed responsible for this blitzkrieg of corruption & chaos, even if there were remote chances that they were not.

But then, thats besides the point. What is in it for the 'Mango Men' or 'Aam Aadmi'? K & Co. have squeezed the lime to its maximum with Government as share-holders, Peeplis have got the eyeballs that they longed for, but what about the Mangos...thenga. The hula and the hype over the Commonwealth Games over the past year and a half; thanks goodness the preparations didn't start earlier or else by now the Indian Government would have called for World Aid for hosting the games; has left the common man completely disillusioned, disheartened and helpless. What was in store for him though - better infrastructure, better roads & better transport - all of which are at the expense of more taxes on incomes, better houses at INR 2½ Crs+, better hotels to wine, dine & stay in and abracadabra...believe ot or not...better, if not the best, games. What else does the common man need? Phir Bhi Yeh Dil Maange More...

But then the irony of this entire episode is the Mango Man himself - ask him and he shall tell ya - I am proud to be an Indian, this is the moment of India's pride. we are the host - Atithi Devo Bhava...kinda become a cliché. Over the past 50-60 days, many learned Mangos, who appeared on Peeplis, even went to the extent to say that K & Co. are indeed best suited to run the games and see it to the finish - whatever they have or may have done is something that we could look into after the games are over. i know why my mom used to say - there is no use crying over spilled milk. By the time the games are over, the milk would have been spilled further and licked away dry by many more Co's. And whats the justification - Its a matter of national pride and if the organization is hindered now. the national pride is at stake. WHERE IS THE NATIONAL PRIDE MANGOS? - it has been made a mockery of globally and we have become nothing short of a laughing stock.

In end-July, the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) released a report detailing gross irregularities in several CWG projects including - contracts being awarded at higher prices, dismal quality assurance and works being awarded to ineligible agencies, et al. Who pays - Mango Men, of course.
Well, while the learned Mangos call this selfless pride - on the other hand, a chosen few who may exist far and wide in this country, term it as an act of utter foolishness, ignorance and cowardice. We just can't stand up to such gruesome acts of fraud, forgery and cheating - cos' we are all selfishly indulgent and embroiled in our daily lives and our only response - who cares; what will happen - nothing; why waste our time...but call us on National Peeplis and we are out there passing judgments on how to be better citizens and how should we acting on and taking a stand against such criminal acts - c'mon,

I ask - Why host the Commonwealth Games at all? is it really required at such times - when terrorists & naxals are aiming at destroying peace & property, poverty levels are peaking, economy is slipping...I don't know the answer cos' its a YES and a NO both.

Globally games or events like these, when held are aimed at bettering the overall identity of a city and the nation, on the whole. They are aimed at creating a 'destination' with better visibility and personality. A few years back, when I was personally involved in a branding exercise and was in discussions with an agency of global repute - I was told how a city hosting a major games event managed to create an unending and unbelievable lasting impact, how a brief aimed at creating a logo for the games culminated in a much larger branding exercise for the entire city, even extending in parts to the entire country and how it resulted in that same location being now looked at as an international destination of repute. Such events help in upliftment of not just economic activities, but also largely impact the social and cultural strata. For e.g. Chinese taxi drivers being asked to learn English prior to the Beijing Olympics or the large number of theme colonies in South Africa prior to WC 2010 to cater to foreign visitors from across and around the globe. In fact, there is so much happening globally, that several creative agencies offer something called 'Destination Branding' as one of their services and whats more surprising is that they are much sought after.

So its a complete YES to the Commonwealth Games being held at home - provided this is what we envision to happen.

Why NO? This is not what we envision to happen - not locally, not at a city level and not nationally, of course. Our outlook towards the games is limited to those 50-odd days when athletes, who by the way shall be participating in these games, shall be running, jumping, swimming, cycling, et al for their respective nations. Okay they would have some spare time, we hope, when they would tour & visit places, shop and do some sight-seeing - and our economy would get a huge boost in 20-25 days what we have struggled to achieve in the past 63 years.

So where are we going with this; you may ask - Whats in it for the Mango Men? NOTHING, absolutely NOTHING and thats the not-at-all hidden truth to which we the Mango Men have complete indifference and chalta-hai attitude, probably at times also even wondering that we the Mango Men would be in the same shoes as K & Co.

Noted author and cartoonist R. K. Laxman has, for over 5 decades, rightly represented the hopes, aspirations, troubles and perhaps even foibles of the average Indian...the Common Man and to this day, the Common Man acts as a silent witness to all the action in the comic. Not very different, right?

So, the next time you say, you are proud to be an Indian - think...there is still a lot that we, each one of us, need to do for this beautiful nation of ours, the mesmerizing cultural diaspora and the hordes of people mingled within for a better future of our children so that they can say without a blink in their eye - I am proud to be an Indian.

As I said in my introductory blog, this is the beginning. There's more to come...

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A new beginning...

Well...its just a beginning. Starting now and this moment on, I should be penning, or should I be saying typing, my thoughts onto this new blog-site that I call - spEAk yOUr mInd.

Now, many of you out there, may surely have a few questions in mind, such as
- So whats new with you (i.e. me) blogging? Everybody blogs, so whats NEW?
- And, whats with the title and why those vowels in caps?
- And, most importantly, "...dude...don't you have anything better to do?"

I said, a 'few' questions - cos' with these social websites coming up like FB, Orkut, PeerPower...blah blah blah...everybody feels that they have the 'Right to Intrude' into other ppls lives and pass comments. Anyways, thats not what I am talking about, at least not for starters. Let me attempt answering the questions.

The answer is plain and simple - I don't know - WHY. There is and would be nothing NEW and most of all - It is not that I have anything BETTER...I don't have NOTHING to do at all. As for the vowels in CAPS - don't they look good this way.

Now if that should satisfy you - OK, else...u na wat????

So, as I was saying, its just a I shall keep it brief and simple. spEAk yOUr mInd is all about speaking your mind, yeah, something that all of us do and should be doing (if not already!) on something, anything and/or everything in our daily lives including the past, present and the future. Its about all the issues, concerns, troubles and good things that happen or occur in our lives, issues that hurt us or make us happy, things that make us feel good, make us hope for better lives, better future...things that we need to stand up for, to exercise our right, to not just say, but do CARE about...and much more. Many a time in our lives, we (including me, of course) say and do things, that we do not understand why? Yet we go ahead and say and do it. Why?

spEAk yOUr mInd - is aimed at kindling those feelings - deep within, inert, heartfelt...that makes us say and do things - sometimes silently and sometimes...violently. Simply put, its just another platform or should I say express ourselves better. Somebody else - a pen is mightier than the sword...for me...its time to test that through a keyboard.

I hope all of you...who are going to...either accidentally or forcefully...visit my blog...enjoy the content and comment on it. Would try to make it as light as possible, but be open to some serious, contentious and controversial deliberations and discussions on topics, issues and things that MATTER to all of us and to people around us.

As I said...its just another BEGINNING.