Wednesday, 14 November 2012

5 techniques to help YOU deal with “problem” Customers

No matter how hard you try,sometimes it is very difficult to please a particularly difficult client. 

The following are five simple, time-proven techniques to help YOU deal with your "problem" customers. For some it may be just a reminder. For others though, it may mean changing your thought process a bit for dealing with these types of customers.

  • Set up lines of communication with your client : Make sure they know exactly who to contact when a question or problem arises. It’s bad enough when a client experiences a problem. It is a disaster when the problem occurs and he or she has no one to talk to about it. Report frequently to the customer what you have done or are doing to help with the problem. They want to know how their money is being spent, and they want to assess the value you are providing. Frequent communication is equated with great service.

  • "Did I understand you correctly?" :  Ask them . This will prompt the customer to confirm what he or she just said. This will ensure that you understood the client’s wishes and make a later denial less likely. 

  • "What do you feel is the best solution?" :  You’ve already sold the product or provided the service and now the customer claims it is not what they thought it would be: Psychologically speaking, when we ask for customer’s ideas about the best course of action, we usually cause them to become more lenient and forgiving. We cause them to soften from the often firm positions they feel forced to defend. It makes it all right for them to compromise and they become more flexible and easy to work with.

  • Know your aim : Focusing on the finish line--- the work you wish to accomplish, the experience you want to acquire, etc.--- will help to decrease the extent to which your client’s behavior will aggravate you. Keep in mind that although being upset with other people’s behavior is understandable, every reaction you have is your choice.  Simple common courtesy usually works to smooth over turbulent times. The structure of well-mannered conversation will help keep both you and your customer from straying into unpleasant territory.

  • Finally, laugh when you can. Have a sense of humor about your work, and look for ways to share it with people who test your patience. We all take our business serious, as we should. However, if we can take a moment to look at the overall picture and observe that the battle between us and the dissatisfied client will not even matter in five years, and in some cases before the day is over, we can relax.

Have a cup of fresh Darjeeling  tea,  relax and  focus on your next big deal !

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Dr. V and McSurgery

 Many of us in the northern part of the country may not have heard of  “Dr. V” or the eye hospital he has built. Dr. Govindappa Venkataswamy or Dr. V as he was affectionately called brought about a revolution in eye care in the southern state of Tamil Nadu in India.

After his retirement as an eye surgeon in a government hospital, he started a small charitable  hospital called the Aravind Eye Hospital in 1976 for cataract patients in Madurai with just 10 beds. Although the charitable nature of the hospital has been retained, the venture has earned enough in two decades to have started facilities in three locations with a total of more than 3000 beds where over 200,000 cataract operations are conducted each year. Aravind also boasts of a world class manufacturing unit for intraocular lenses. His achievements are spectacular enough for Harvard University to have done a case study on him for its graduate students.

Process has a major role in this amazing story. Dr. V revolutionized the delivery model for cataract operations in third world countries. Some facts and figures:

 1. Aravind Eye Hospital has given sight back to more than 1.5 million people.
2.  On an average a Doctor performs _about 20 – 25 operations everyday
3.  The hospital has a gross margin (profit) of more than 40%.
4.  A cataract surgery in the U.S. costs $1650. In Aravind it costs just $10.

5.  Aravind treats more than 60% 0f its patients free of cost and it still manages to make profits.

Dr. V saw the golden arch of McDonalds and thought  “ If McDonalds can sell millions of burgers and cans of coke why can’t I sell millions of eye restoring operations?” He had the vision “to provide sight to as many people as possible and to mass market cataract surgery.”

Process and innovation:

According to the renowned management guru C.K. Prahlad, affordability is critical for both the business model and the underlying vision of service. The organization needs to be profitable for sustenance and growth. To keep the price low, Aravind resorted to innovation and processes. To lower cost, an organization has to play with volumes. Each doctor performs about 3600 surgeries in a year. Every step a patient takes is part of a very well researched and technology driven workflow. Each operation room contains 4 operation theatres manned by a two doctor team. The staff nurse takes over the pre-operation procedure and also prepares the patient for surgery. By the time the doctors are finished with the two patients in hand, on the adjacent beds lay two new patients ready with microscopes focused on their eyes. The first two patients are removed by a nurse to post-op care ward and the cycle moves on. The doctors are expected to work without a break and only concentrate on their core job! The waiting time between patients is ZERO!! Hence the eye operation cycle becomes a virtual assembly line where each member of the team knows exactly what they need to do. The operation room nurses, surgeons and anesthetists are constantly learning and using their reservoir of expertise to make appropriate adjustments to reflect the needs of the customers in a specific context. They improvise continuously like players in a jazz band.

Pricing and Training

Due to the mature and well running processes and innovations, effort and costs decrease. With innovations like use of bamboo sticks in stretchers instead of steel rods and alliances with financial institutions, Aravind subsidizes 70% of the patients and the remaining 30% pay market rates for its world class service quality and reputation. For the people who can not afford the cost the hospital provides free eye care and surgery. Aravind Eye Hospital markets itself by organizing free eye camps in rural areas to help treat people who are unable to afford a visit to the hospital. Training and skill building form an integral part of the model.  The combination of specialization and volume makes the doctors and nurses experts in a relatively short span of time. To keep the costs low, the nurses and doctors are continuously trained so that they can specialize in their own field and in turn train the juniors.

Organizational values:

For  running an organization as effectively as Aravind Eye Hospital, values and goals must be clear, motivating and easy to share. The overall culture is of service, humility, equality and kindness. All the doctors speak softly to patients. If a doctor behaves in an unacceptable manner, he is in for trouble. Mutual respect is a core value. All the employees at Aravind have the same purpose engrained in them - to provide for all people - rich and poor with world class quality and care.Due to the alignment in goals, teams of people organize themselves to work together without the need for expensive supervision.

Aravind Eye hospital is now more than a mere eye care centre. It also manufactures lenses, organizes medical training, runs an eye bank and a post graduate institute. Innovations have been put in place and the cost of a lens manufactured here is less than 1/8th of the international prices.

There is a lesson for all of us in the life and vision of Dr.V who invented “McSurgery”

Born to a rural family, he suffered from severe sporiatic arthritis which left his hand deformed and to think that this was the man responsible for saving 2.4 million eyes many of which were operated by Dr.V himself.  The world lost this great visionary on 7th July 2006. 

Hats off to this great leader ! 

If all of us can think even 1% like him, the world will be a much better place ….!

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

What is more important - process or people ?

Once upon a time, in the faraway land of India, there lived two brothers named Haldi and Ram. They played studied and grew up together to be fine young men. Though they were great friends and laughed and played together, they had a fundamental difference in their attitude towards work.

Says Haldi Brother Ram, let us  build a food joint where we will have an excellent process for preparing and serving food. Our process will be our USP”.

Says Ram: “ Process will not help us in growth. We will need skilled and dedicated people who will innovate and create delicacies leading to customer delight “

They hemmed and they hawed.
They argued and they fought.
They cribbed and they screamed.

When the wise old man, their father,  saw them sitting and sulking, he said  Sons!  during my hey days, I toiled hard and  saved from my meager income. Here is Rs 1000 for each of you.  Go out in the world and create wealth based on your ideas . But …. , one condition … ,  at the end of  a year, the one who is unsuccessful in making profit will have to do whatever I tell him to do

Haldi and Ram’s eyes shone with excitement ! Both of them touched their father’s feet and set out with dreams in their eyes and hope in their hearts.

The process oriented Haldi first chalked out a plan , budgeted the investments and in a month’s time , a cute little joint named “Haldis” was built.  Ram went to an expensive designer and he too erected a sweet little joint and called it “Rams”.

Ram hired the best chefs who were specialists in preparing delicious food. They were constantly doing research and tried and tested different concoctions, herbs and ingredients.  The chefs would challenge each other and try to prove they were the best amongst equals. The chefs wanted Ram to get them the best spices, the best material and the best cooking platforms. They would be extremely upset if these things were unavailable and would threaten to leave Rams. But the chefs were animated and excited about always working on new things and ideas.  Ram was happy to see the progress. He was confident that his vision would help him achieve his goals.

Haldi , in the meantime,  was busy chalking out the best processes. He hired some chefs who he knew and negotiated with them on their salary. He asked the senior chef to write the recipes which would be served at Haldi so that there would be standardization.  He meticulously planned the process flow. The customers would come in a queue and  place the order and pay for it. Once the payment is received,  the customer would take the copy of the receipt to the counter. The receipts would have different color coding  to differentiate between different food groups. The counters would have labeling mentioned clearly on them to avoid confusion. The counters would be divided such that as soon as the receipt is handed to the chef, they would immediately prepare the food without wasting time.  This done, he was all set to win his customer’s hearts.

One fine morning, Haldi called out “ Ahoy ! Come one , come all to Haldis ! Eat and enjoy to your hearts content! You will get the best food here in reasonable prices !”

Ram called out “Friends, Indians and Countrymen! Come and taste India’s finest delicacies at Rams ! You will not be able to forget the exotic taste and flavor! “

And people came to Haldis
And people came to Rams.

Days weeks and some months passed  by …..

Rams customers were delighted with range of offerings. But they were unhappy with the high prices and the turnaround time of the orders placed. They were irritated and sometimes stunned about the inconsistency and unpredictability of the food served to them. The dishes were exotic and they loved the taste, but when they came back for the second or third time and ordered for it, a very different preparation would be served. When the customers complained, the chef was called and he explained in detail about the intricate procedure why the serving had not turned out to be as per the customer’s expectation! The dedicated and talented chefs would argue with Ram for not providing enough information!

Haldis customers were ecstatic about the service. and they were very happy with the price. Everything seemed to be like clockwork. They did not waste time in placing orders and neither did they have to wait long for the food to be served. But alas! The food was bland and tasteless. The toppings and accessories were neither innovative nor interesting!

And days, weeks and eleven months passed by…..

Both Haldi and Ram were crest fallen! They had incurred huge losses!

Both of them went to the wise old man, their father, and stood before him with shame and despair on their faces.  Their father listened and then placed Haldi and Rams hands on each other and said Sons! Go and establish Haldirams! Take the last Rs 2000 which I had kept aside for this day, and I know that this time you will succeed !

Tears rolled down the brothers cheeks. They embraced each other and with renewed vigor they set out with dreams in their eyes and hope in their hearts.

Rams’ expert chefs documented their exotic, intricate and unique recipes and trained Haldis chefs. Haldis‘ workers ensured that Rams’ personnel followed the process of food preparation so that there is predictability. Some of the expert chefs were designated to do constant research so that the menu may be revised periodically to make it innovative, in tune with the changing needs of the customer and at the same time is profitable to Haldirams.  

And lo and behold !

Customers started pouring in. they praised the taste of the food and were extremely satisfied about the value for money. They were excited about the different choices which were offered by Haldirams and they wanted to come back again and again! The chefs and the staff were happy and within a year the brothers inaugurated several other outlets of  Haldirams.  

And the wise old man smiled!   And Haldi and Ram lived happily ever after….

Did they? Yes, they did but they were constantly improving the quality of food and service. Even to this day, their great-great-great-great –great- grandsons are on the path of continuous improvement. They constantly seek feedback from their customers and act on it.

The last time I visited Haldirams I noticed that the receipt had been perforated so that the customer is not inconvenienced in having to tear them unevenly to be presented to different counters. And the wooded counter dividers had been replaced with glass so that there is complete transparency and the customers can verify the hygiene.

Author's comments: Though the story is fictitious, Haldirams does exist. It is a very popular and profitable food joint . with several outlets in India. And all the processes mentioned above including hygiene are an integral part of Haldirams.   I am sure all of us can draw the simile between Haldirams and software development ? No? Then please contact me  :-)  .......

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

10 Commandments for managing Knowledge Workers

  • Effective Communication :  Over communication is always better than less communication. Hold as many one-to-one touch-base meetings as possible. This helps in better understanding , empathy building and rapport.
  • Proximity Effect :  Co-locate the team as far as possible. Create War rooms. Just pack them in and see the teamwork improve.
  • Data-driven decision Making : Let the data talk. Strive to draw the conclusions using data and derive your decisions from it as objectively as possible. 
  • Use Technology for co-ordination : Keep the people talking by using technology like instant chat , web cams and video conferencing.  These are very effective for distributed virtual teams and acts as grease for team co-ordination.
  • Help them succeed : Make it easy and not hard, for them to perform and succeed.
  • Eat your own dog-food - Make sure to use your own company products. This helps in enhancing the pride for the organization.
  • Encourage Creativity :  Let them come up with creative ideas.  Listen to their ideas - even if they are bizarre and absurd ! Encourage them and implement the ideas if it helps the project. Being democratic works wonders !
  • Consensus wins :  Decision making by consensus works very well with the knowledge workers. Try to make about 75% of the decisions by consensus. 
  • Respect and Integrity : Treat them with respect and integrity. 
  • Hire by committee : Make sure that the new recruits talk to their future colleagues. This helps a lot in  building teamwork.

Can you add anything more to the list  ?

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Can you always be happy ?

I read this story a few years back and I tell this during my Motivational Presentations.

This is the story of a balding woman ailing with cancer, who looked at the mirror one day and saw that she was left with only three hairs  !

So , that day she told herself  "Today I will make a braid"  She braided her three hairs and had  a fun-filled and happy day.

The day after, she saw that she had only two hairs . "Well , I will part my hair down the middle today ! " She did that, smiled  and had a grand day !

The next day she woke up and looked at the mirror. She had only one hair left. "Hmm " She said "Today is the ponytail day !"  She made a ponytail, laughed loudly and had a blast .

The next day she woke up and looked at the mirror. She did not have any hair left!
"Yay ! " She exclaimed ! "I don't have to do my hair today !"

Life is a song, sing it ! 

“You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.” 

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Effective Meetings

There have been several occasions when I have sat through meetings which went on and on and finally when it ended, no one had a clue about what happened or what were the next course of action ! 

Meetings are an integral part of  business. Conducting an effective meeting is an art. The facilitator or the organizer should have the necessary skills to conduct meetings which will bring about some decisions or results. The following are some tips from my experiences : 

  • Have a well defined Agenda :  This is the cornerstone of an effective meeting. The agenda should be crisp, precise and to the point.  When the meeting invite is being sent , the Agenda should be mentioned in it and if possible, each agenda point should have a planned duration mentioned against it. 

  • Time, time. time :  Always start and end the meeting on time.  Starting late is not an excuse for ending late.  For cross functional meetings which included a large number of participants , if needed , a gentle reminder can be sent on the previous day. It is a good practice to put a reminder( 15 min)  in the meeting invite. And what sometimes worked for me is that when I had to  wait for some people, I used to count the number of people waiting for them and wrote how many person hours were wasted waiting for the late-comers. I wrote it on the white board ! And it sure worked. The latecomers were always on time after that. 

  • Assign Ownership :  All meetings should have some action items or deliverables.  The action items should have owners assigned to them with a planned target date. If the meeting is a recurring one , then these action items should be tracked in the meeting and the owners should be answerable for these. Do remember that multiple ownership does not work. Have a single owner.

  • Decision Maker :  Discussions and different point of views  should be encouraged in meetings,  but sometimes the situation becomes chaotic.  In such circumstances, have a clear decision maker. But do make sure that the meeting members understand that whatever decision is being taken in the meeting , should be endorsed by everybody when they leave the meeting. Any disagreements should be tackled in follow-up meetings. 
  • "KISS" :  Keep It Short and Simple ! As far as possible , try to keep the meeting short , have fewer people and agenda items. I have seen people lose interest and stop contributing after 30 minutes. It is also important to select the meeting participants appropriately. People should understand "what is it in for me ?" 

  • Summarize : The best option is to create Minutes of the meeting (MOM). The next best thing is to summarize the discussion points, action items and deliverables in  an email/memo and send it to all the participants right after the meeting. 

  • Have fun :  Last but not at the least, infuse humor wherever appropriate. Make the meeting interesting by good presentations, graphs, emoticons and smiles. 

Happy meetings ! 

Cheers !

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Amazing teams !

A few weeks back,  I met some of my team members from one of my previous organizations.  They were reminiscing about the “Good old times, the high energy environment and the real work”  they did.   “It is not the same anymore … “  they lamented.

It made me ponder. I always thought that I was a very lucky one to get such hardworking, talented, energetic, enthusiastic people working for me who took so much of initiative.  What was different, I thought …

  •  Delegate Power  : It is important not only to delegate work but also delegate power !  Only then your team will take the full ownership and initiative.  The team will know the importance and repercussion of the work delegated to them and believe me , will go all for it!

  •  Make them feel proud :  When your team does big work and takes big decisions, they feel amazing !  The more you trust them , they respect you more and work harder.  A sincere pat on the back, a few words of appreciation and giving them the credit for their accomplishments works wonders.  When they feel good and proud about their work, they will move mountains. I have seen my team working day and night without any complaint when they had to deliver a piece of script which they owned.  Making them feel amazing makes them super humans. The business booms. Delivery happens on time . Customers are delighted.  All this - without micromanagement !

  •  Foster positivity  : Negative criticism and unproductive arguments create a vicious environment. Eliminate it.  Encourage people to come up with solutions to their problems when they complain.  Do not let the negativity sap away the trust and energy of the team.  Remember, one rotten apple spoils the full basket.  So remove the bullies and foster positivity and harmony in the team. 

  • Communicate Effectively :  The communication from the leader should be clear, crisp , precise and concise. The team should understand the plan, have clarity about the decisions being taken and the direction in which they have to proceed.  They should be aligned with the overall goals and objectives of their project and it should be clearly communicated to them how they are contributing to the end result.  Clarify any question that come from them as early as possible. There should not be any ambiguity about the project priorities.  
When you do these, your team thrives.  They are energized.  They move mountains for you.

And whenever your paths cross ,they will always remember how they felt like superheroes when they worked for you !

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Never say never

Have you heard yourself say "I can't do this", "This is impossible", I do not have time for exercise", "I don't think I will be able to do my Masters" etc. etc.  All of us have been victim of excuses sometime or the other. But last week I had a life turning experience which will prevent me from giving excuses. Ever. 

In Calcutta, there is an Institute for Cerebral Palsy and I was invited to visit them a few days back. It is an institute which helps the Cerebral Palsy kids and coaches their parents. The visit was therapeutic and an inside-out kind of an experience and I will talk about it  later in my future blogs. I met a lady - she must be in her mid thirties. She cannot move one hand, walks with a limp, is almost blind and has great difficulty in speaking. The social worker who took us around introduced her to us. She is heading the legal department of the institute and works as a consultant lawyer for  the disabled people . She is a double gold medalist from Presidency college and a Leeds Scholar !  Her parents had left her with the institute when she was about 5. From her childhood, she was an avid learner and  operated the computer with her feet ! She never said never and now has become a role model for the institute.

Sometimes, the environment around us imposes the condition for excuses. So, stop listening to the voices who say "You can't do it".  There was a competition between a team of frogs and a team of  goats as to who can reach the mountain top the fastest.  The leader of the goat said to the leader of the frog " Why are you all even trying ?" Everybody knows that we will win ! We have nimble feet, can run fast, whereas you can only jump , you have heavy body, you cannot see ..... " This went on and on . The frogs  were convinced that they cannot do it and started to retreat , when suddenly they saw that one frog had already reached the mountain top ! 

"Hey !" Everybody said "What is the secret of your success ?

The leader of  the frogs said "He is deaf ! He could not hear what we were discussing. He never thought that he cannot reach the top " ! 

Successful people do not make excuses . Leaders do not fear failure.

They create results . 

Without making excuses.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

The Three Best Practices

 Here are the three best things which I have learnt from the best organizations that I have worked with.

Best Practice : Include the family : I was in my formative years of working as well as a mother of a four year old. My days passed in a haze. Deadlines, technical problems, teleconferencing along with tantrums of  my daughter. The organization dedicated a day for the families where the employees did cultural activities with their families. I enrolled my daughter. The organization took the pains of picking her up from home, included her in a group dance and she proudly performed on stage ! A  story book was given to her by the CEO of the organization as per the policy of rewarding the kids of the employees who stood first in class. And my daughter just loved the "300 Bedtime Stories" she received. She still cherishes the moment and the book.  A small act , but it had a lasting impression.

Best practice : Being on Time :  The mantra was "Be on Time every time".  Posters were all around the organizations. Everybody came on time for meetings. If someone was late, everybody stared at her ! The leaders were always 2 minutes before time. Such was the culture of the organization, that it was ingrained in everybody. And for me, I have carried this to all my organizations as well as in my personal life. Being punctual is a commitment for respecting yours as well as others time.

Best Practice :  Let them see it :  This organization had whiteboards on every possible place. The walls, the pillars, the partitions !  Every project had whiteboards assigned to them where the daily activities of the team were written. There was a morning ritual for the project to have daily stand up meetings. Everyone knew how the project was doing, what were the issues and risks , what were the to-dos for the day, who needed help and what were their commitments.  It was an open office with no partitions and the white boards were visible to the full team . Always.  And the visibility had a profound effect on the project and team dynamism. 

Want to try these  in your organization ? 

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

The Choice

Once upon a time, a donkey fell inside a dry well. He brayed and brayed and started crying. The farmer  who owned the donkey tried to pull him out but failed to do so. After doing his assessment, the farmer decided that neither the donkey nor the well were worth saving. So , he arranged for mud and dirt to haul it inside the well so that the donkey could be buried and his braying and crying would end for ever. When the donkey understood the plan, for some time he did not know what to do. He was hysterical. But when the first haul of mud fell on his back, he suddenly understood what he would do. Just SHAKE IT OFF AND STEP UP ! So, blow after blow, however painful and distressing the situation was, he kept himself motivated by telling himself  "Shake it off.. Step up... Shake it off...Step up ...."   This went on the whole night and in the morning, the donkey was out of the well into the cheerful morning sunlight !

At work and in our personal lives, mud will be hauled at us. It depends on our attitude and perseverance how we take the dirt and make it a stepping stone for further growth. Either we sink or we just "Shake it off and step up". Either we give in to panic, self-pity, bitterness and cynicism or we take each blow as a learning opportunity and convert the adversity into opportunity. Make your own choice.  Either make it a stepping stone or a stumbling block.

The choice is yours.