Know Your Customer


While ‘Know your customer ‘has been the buzz word in the banking industry a very few service providers really know their customer. This is true especially in the real estate industry which is troubled by high inventory, over pricing, legal hassles etc that knowing the customer is last of their priority. A Friend had been on a house hunting spree since sometime. She visited several apartments and villas trying to finalize a property for her family. Infact her every weekend was spent visiting some such property. She went through hundreds of pages of property advertisements both offline and online, did a lot of research, visited numerous property shows, exhibition to shortlist one, but she could never find an ideal house which she could make her home. Was her expectation high? To some extent yes. She felt that none of the builders actually understood the customer requirement. After all buying a house to most of us is a once in a life time investment.  yet she continued to hope

Then finally one day she called me for her house warming ceremony. On hearing I exclaimed almost spontaneously ‘wow! Finally!!’ She explained me about the house the family purchased, the journey and how this place made it to the list. She said with this property, things just fell into places just like in a jigsaw puzzle, a feeling which she never had before.

She said while she really liked the place, there were a lot of other factors which helped her in her decision. There was a bank representative placed at the property site .This made it really easy for her to get the loan approved and the necessary documentation done. There was also an interior designer stationed there who helped her put her dream house in place literally brick by brick. The designer understood her needs and combined it with the available property to give the look and feel which she always wished for. Now the banker and the interior designer really knew their customer and the place to find them. They were at the right place at the right time. Imagine if she had to run from pillar to post to find them, share her specific needs and identify a solution. All this was avoided thanks to the support provided by the builder.

She said the builder helped her with every possible requirement right from helping with a lawyer, a auditor, a banker (inspite of being a pre approved project) etc. it supported her with all the required documents as and when required so as to ensure the entire process was smoothened. While this is a necessity most of the builders do not support in the entire process as it was very time consuming and they have a tendency to do the basic support based on their convenience and not as per the customer’s convenience. Considering that the entire residential project had more than 3000 apartments and villas of which more than 90% of them were sold the effort taken by the builder was truly note worthy.

Apart from the other services provided she said the amenities provided by the builder was  note worthy. While most of the builders provide only the basic facilities like swimming pool, club house gymnasium and few sports facilities, this property actually had a full fledged  clinic, an ATM, super markets, spa, a library and lot of other such facility which no other builder provided. She said this property will ensure that her kids have a very fulfilling childhood with the nature and with lots of sporting activities close to schools etc. she said she was very happy with the decision she made.

Now here is someone who really knew the customer!!!!




Lot can happen over coffee


During my visits to coffee shop to catch up with friends would always find the coffee shop crowded. Infact there are four coffee shops within close vicinity and each of them is always crowded . Would wonder do people actually come to drink coffee. Are they willing to pay such an exorbitant price for a simple coffee? Infact in most cases felt the people across the table were total strangers to each other. There was no feeling of warmth between them. Yet spend a lot of time in the coffee shop talking to each other. Isn’t surprising??

Upon a few enquiries and eavesdropping (considering that the table are so close to each other) the revelation was most of them were there to negotiate a deal or close a deal. They were on a mission, on a business deal..

Lot of business men/women visit the cafe to meet a prospective client and discuss the offering, pricing and the other business dealings, Entrepreneurs to meet prospective investor and share their business ideas and receive funding, consultants to offer their services. Infact real estate deals running in millions would be closed at coffee shops. The traditional business spots like a high end restaurant are increasingly getting overshadowed by posh and air-conditioned cafes. Cafes are relatively safe, trendy, and chilled out place.

In the current scenario where everyone is constrained by time and traffic is an issue such cafes provide an ideal place in terms of convenience and safety. Here we have customers lounging in comfortable couches for hours on end, having a cup of coffee, accessing WI-FI and closing a business deal. Cafe culture has re-defined the very concept of business negotiations in the country .I guess the day wouldn’t be far where lot of startups would conduct their meeting at such places as the cost of the same would be fraction of their regular cost.

In the words of an entrepreneur Valerie Wagoner (Co-founder of ZipDial which was finally sold to twitter) ‘Tip for investor in India: Hang out at Costa Coffee in Koramangala in Bangalore. At least 8 companies being started’.

The coffee shops are perfect examples of a business which is positioned or built on its non core offerings. The customers were buying the noncore offering of the coffee shop. The coffee shop became a place for networking.

With the focus on entrepreneurship and startup being the buzz word, truly lot can happen over coffee!!




There are no traffic jams along the extra mile

Few days back a friend had to get a minor surgery done for her infant baby. The surgery had been planned for many months as multiple opinions had to be taken, ensured that the baby does not catch flu etc, the concerned doctor appointment to be fixed for the surgery and  the  pediatrician had to give a clearance. She said previously the pediatrician had refused to give clearance certificate for the surgery as the baby had mild cold. Hence the eating habits and the other activities were monitored. After all this the day of surgery was fixed with the concerned doctor and hospital and clearance from the pediatrician taken. After all the planning and follow ups for several days with the hospital which is one of the best in the city, imagine her nightmare when she arrives to the hospital in the morning with the baby for the surgery and she finds that there is no room booked for her baby, no surgery planned etc. In short none of the hospital staff had any clue about the planned surgery. Unfortunately all the staff the lady had interacted with were either in the second shift or on their day off.

After a lot of discussion and blaming each other the problem was identified that the doctor had informed the same to the Operation Theatre (OT) in charge and he in turn did not inform the other administrative staff. Hence the doctor was not reminded the previous day. Isn’t this strange, the place where service matters the most and price a distant consideration, misses out on the basic service. Can it get worse? Just to state that the hospital has been doing a lot of marketing activities, adopting and maintaining various parks in the city, has its own magazine, runs various contest for the babies and the moms to be (as it’s a maternity and child care hospital)  and of course has the among the best doctors in the city. But without the basic service does others really matter (except the of course talented doctors) Common sense is of paramount importance in business and customer service

That’s the mistake most of the service providers do. While the rest is all well, the service is goofed up.  Customers don’t expect anyone to be perfect. They DO expect the service provider to fix things when they go wrong. The service providers need to train their staff accordingly which was missing in the above incident as the staff had no clue how to go about it with finally the patient deciding to call off the surgery on that particular day.

Have personally witnessed a few of such pathetic service provider, this is really visible when the staff is sales driven and they have a target to achieve. Unless the customer buys the required product the concerned will not even provide the basic service. Remember a friend stating that one of the biggest banks failed to provide her even basic service (Infact they would not say no but the work would never be done) as she refused to buy an insurance policy from them. Several follow up even till the top management did not help her. For the entire team emphasized with the staff and knew the importance of achieving the sales target. Hence they found the customer the villain for not buying the product and they thereby not reaching the target and getting that coveted promotion and incentives She was made to run around for even the basic banking transaction to be done once.. Finally after giving up she has slowly started shifting her transactions to other bank as the entire shift would be difficult at once. After all she was transacting with the bank for more than 10 years.

Now imagine a person in her 30’s transacting with the bank for more than 10 years and is the introducer for 4 more accounts  from her family and each of them transact in alteast  7 digits number every year, is not provided basic service because she refused to buy a insurance policy. I am sure just by providing good service the bank would have made many times more the profit  then they would by her buying a mere insurance policy.

While all the service providers wants to increase the sales, margins, profits etc and plan million of dollars budget on advertising, promotion etc to achieve the same they forget  the very basic what a customer expects. She just wants a good service rest are all cherries on the cake. Being on par in terms of price and quality only gets one into the game. Service wins the game

Learning Retail The Religious Way


During visits to different religious places one thing which always amazes me is the food which is provided to the devotees visiting. As the food provided at such places is considered auspicious their dining hall is always crowded. The challenge such religious places face  is providing free food to a huge number of people with  high quality, maintaining the hygiene, the logistics involved, the cost factor , planning the menu( considering lot of people provide different food items e.g. rice, vegetables, pulses etc)  is truly a great learning for a passionate retailer. While such places might always have an advantage of free manpower (devotees who come to cooks, clean, serve) other challenges always remain which are similar in nature often faced by a retailer.

While the religious places have always come out victorious in their endeavor, the biggest of the retailers continue to struggle. In retail, logistics has been the biggest challenge especially in food business. Higher the control the retailer has on its logistics higher is the chances of it dominating the retail business. The retailers find it difficult to handle different products especially in the food while the religious products have handled all of them with ease

  • Perishables products- which have low shelf life- e.g. milk,
  • Fresh products- products which needs to look fresh and hence need frequent supply e.g. leafy vegetables
  • Temperature sensitive products- products which needs to maintained in specific temperature e.g. butter,
  • Seasonal products- products which are available only in particular season or have high demand during specific season e.g. mangoes
  • Regional /community products- products which are available in specific region or consumed by specific community e.g. different types of rice- black rice , sona masoori, gobind bhog, ponny rice, matta rice, kolam rice.

The food served to the devotees is cooked considering the easily available seasonal product which is mostly given by the devotees. The quantity is cooked considering the approximate devotees expected during the specific day. Considering the shortage of food in the country lot of importance is given to ensure zero wastage. Incase of shortage, a dish which can be easily prepared in short span of time is always made during such situations. A Plan B is always ready.

Certain religious places have millions of devotes who visit daily. The logistics of such places is definitely a herculean task. This would be a nightmare for any retailer. The number of utensils which are refilled and used for serving devotees (same concept as of the carton being opened and distributed to multiple stores), the manpower planned to serve different dishes, different queues (same as appropriate number of people designated for receiving stocks, stock allocation, stock dispatch) the quality & hygiene of food served (the quality of repacking and transporting to stores to avoid breakage, leakages), minimum wastage (no shrinkage or damages)

Infact one of such places had invested millions of rupees in procuring the utensils which could identify and remove even the smallest of the dirt, sand etc in the rice. The technology used by the religious place is far superior to those used by any commercial entity involved in food. This is the level of commitment.

The motto of every religious place is to ensure the utmost satisfaction of the devotees during their visit; the same should be the motto of every retailer. Can this code be cracked???





The Indian Entrepreneur Rising

In the past few months have witnessed a lot of corporate employees quit their 9-5 jobs (if such a time actually exists) to start their own ventures. Few years ago one would rarely hear about employees turning entrepreneurs but these days it’s the buzz word.

Few of these who quit were in the top management who ran the rat race and suddenly gave up all that to enter into areas which are entirely different from what they did professionally. Some of them got into business areas which required high investment, some have to do a lot of travelling, few worked out of their home and some needed highly skilled people to run the ventures.

One of the lot started a gymnasium. A general manager who worked with an MNC handling business worth millions transforms himself from suits and ties to sweat shirts and track pants. While fitness had always been his area of interest his sales experience added value to his new assignment. He took the risk of investing in millions to start one While some of it might be his aving, most of the investment should be funded.Similarly a couple who were into marketing got into baking full time, while the lady herself bakes her husband markets the brand.

Apart from food, service is another sector which is gaining a lot of limelight. One of these corporate employees started services firm. He is the one point contact for doing one’s carpentry work, plumbing, painting, hiring drivers, shifting house and lots more. He states earning orders is not a major concern as there are plenty. The major issue he faces is shortage of relevant skilled people to complete the order. Hence he is not able to scale up..

Another friend decided to be a full time consultant after quitting the corporate world. She is Infact providing her skills to small entrepreneurs to market themselves and scale up.

Another important change witnessed is that many men quit their full time to join their spouse’s venture. One employee quit his high paying finance job to join his wife’s chocolate business yet another joined his wife’s play school and another joined her design firm and the list can go on.

Each of these individual have had their own reason to turn entrepreneur from being one’s own boss to doing something they are really passionate about. The reason varies but the circumstances remain the same. There is a new found confidence in the people. They are willing to take up the challenge. This is driving the need for a supportive eco system. The growth of an economy will be highly dependent on the entrepreneurial activity. Hence this spirit of entrepreneurship needs to be encouraged.

During a visit to friend’s home gave the feeling that the entrepreneur has risen. The couple who were corporate employees and who themselves are children of government employees want their child (who is a gifted painter) to have the entrepreneurial skills. They are going all out to build in the entrepreneurial spirit and encouraging her to do a lot of paintings, exhibit it ,sell it, book orders etc just to learn the art of selling

While there is new found confidence ,a supportive environment is a necessity with reduced red tapism and favoritism, better tax and legal structures, The initiatives of the government have provided the much needed support in building this new found confidence among the corporate employees. ‘Start up India’ provides the much needed funding for the entrepreneurs. Another being ‘Skill India’ whose main objective is to create multi-disciplinary opportunities for the Indian youth.

While the entrepreneur has risen it needs to seen as to how the environment continues to encourage and sustain such a spirit.

Let’s hope and pray that for their tribe to increase.

Retail banking for the unbanked

On a ride on a Ola cab had a casual discussion with the driver. The discussion that day led me to realize how one company can bring about a huge change- a change which can help a vast majority of people who still do not have a bank account. While the Prime Minister Pradhan Mantri Jan Dhan Yojana is a great initiative in this direction, there is a lot of effort being done by various corporate who have done their bit

The Ola driver explained the business model. He explained about his journey with Ola and how the payment term and profitability has changed over the period. He said he needs to open a bank account which is linked with Ola and then based on rides done the amount is either debited from his account if most of the passengers pay by cash or credited if payments are done through Ola money. I asked him if he had a bank account before joining Ola for which he replied no. Now that is the cascading effect in a entrepreneurship model!!! Each entrepreneur has multiple effects on the economy at large

Joining Ola allowed him to join the mainstream banking services. His access to the banking services would help him in streamlining his savings and free him from the clutches of the money lenders.

Now just imagine the number of the cabs & auto linked with Ola or Uber across the country. While some might already have a bank account most of them would not have one. The other benefit of this would be that the income of these drivers would be tracked (while most of them would not like their income be tracked and taxed, it’s a fact that ambitious driver monthly income would be in 6 digits-yet all tax free). So the whole economy is benefitted.

The most important benefit in this would be for individuals who pay atrocious interest on the borrowed money.. Individuals who do not have access to the banking system borrow money from money lenders on an interest rates which is unimaginable..E.g. a vegetable vendor borrows Rs 1000 in the morning to buys the vegetables for business and repays Rs 1100 in the evening post the sales. Which is a whopping 365% interest pa.!!!.Can any bank (private or nationalized) dare to collect such an interest rate??. As the payment is cleared everyday paying a small sum will not actually affect the vendor hence he is not conscious of the interest rate. This was the thought behind the famous pigmy collection scheme started by Syndicate Bank.

In the pigmy deposit scheme a bank personnel would collect as low as even Rs 5 a day from the shopkeepers’ vendors etc from his place without he having to come to the bank every day. while a vendor could pool in Rs 5 every day. He could not pool Rs 1825 at once in a year. This daily saving deposit scheme helped the daily wage earners, small time vendors etc to save for the rainy day or for bigger capital requirements. These pigmy deposit holders could even borrow a loan with the pigmy deposit as a security and then pay it on a daily basis. This was a very large untapped community with the bankers and who had fallen prey to the money lenders for borrowings and chit funds for deposits. The pigmy scheme tapped it

While this scheme did help a lot of people enter the banking sector today’s entrepreneurs such as Ola/ Uber (taxi services) urbanclap, housejoy, bro4u (hyper local services) are making their contribution in this direction.

In the retail banking revolution this time it is the effort from a different industry which is contributing to the retail banking sector.





Make In India-The Retail Way

Owner of one of the biggest bakery chains was ruing about the lack of innovation in the bakery industry. While every child swears by the black forest cake which is of European origin no attempt is made to develop a world class recipe of the fruits grown in one’s own backyard. He was giving an example of jack fruit, a nutritious fruit with unique flavor indigenous to India. He said hundreds of varieties of this fruit existed but with each passing generation due to lack of knowledge and commercial viability lots of varieties have become extinct. Some products like jackfruit chips, papads and curries are made by the unorganized sector but there is no organized player in this category. This has led to lack of innovation, scalability and branding for jack fruit. While a ice cream maker has attempted to make jack fruit ice cream and is successful at it there is still a lot which can be done with this tasty yet versatile fruit he said.

The speaker on his part has attempted to make a start. The brand now sells jack fruit sandwiches, pizzas, and breads and plans to start with jackfruits puffs. This truly is the Make in India. What the speaker was referring that day is an issue wherein lots of products indigenous to India have lost in competition with their global counterparts due to lack of big players in the category. Harish Bhat of the Tata Group in his column in a a business daily was referring to two such products.

In his first column he referred to tender coconut. He refers to his experience world over with this fruit, a native of India He says he tasted the fruit in various form as a drink, a tasty jelly etc. The consumption of this drink has increased world over due to its health benefits. Even I had tasted this product in two innovative ways. One as a drink with lime juice. A person in small lane does it in limited quantity and is sold out by 11 a.m. in the morning. (The store opens only at 10.00). When we went there only one glass was available and 7 of us had to share it!! Yet another form was as an ice cream. Of course by the same brand which made the jackfruit ice cream. Infact through the tender coconut ice cream the brand gained fame and success. Even today it remains his most popular product. Before the brand opened various branches people would carry the ice cream in special thermo packing inside a flight. While the ice cream costs Rs 150 the packaging costs them Rs 250. Yet the tender coconut ice cream was worth it. Can this sort of a brand loyalty be beaten??

In another article he refers to God’s own chips-the banana chips. He states though this product is tasty and cannot be easily crushed as in potato chips yet the humble banana chips has never tasted the success enjoyed by the potato chips with Pringles. Even a non native chips the tortilla chips made of corn has achieved higher success with brands like cornitos available in India. The major issue for this is the absence of an organized player in this category.

The above three are just examples of the potential & possibility which the indigenous fruits and vegetable can provide. The best brands which can take up the challenge are the retail stalwarts. Both the offline and online retailers with their business turnover provide an easy platform for such products. They bring about the necessary visibility and the scale to take the products forward thereby giving them a first mover advantage in an untapped category. This one bold step by any retailer will do to the supply chain of the fruits and vegetable what no FDI can achieve. This one step by the retailer will add to the Make in India in the true form.

Any takers? Any other products which has lost in competition due to such issues??