Special treatments

Last Friday I was flying from Delhi to Bombay on an IndiGo flight. Knowing that it is a low-cost carrier, I was not expecting anything apart from getting me from point A to B.

So it did come across as a surprise when one of the stewardesses selling the eatables addressed me by name (though I was not sitting on the seat my boarding pass mentioned), and offered me one food and one drink item free of cost, because I was a corporate customer. At a maximum cost of one fifty rupees they left a good impression on me.

But then I flew IndiGo again twice earlier this week. Again for official reasons. But this time I did not get such a ‘surprise’ (which it would hardly have been, come to think of it).

Later I find out from a colleague that there is a line mentioning this perk on these low cost airline tickets for corporate customers. And that you can ask the stewardesses for your free items.

The pleasant experience lost its pleasantness during the later journeys.

Sure I could ask them for it. But I don’t see how corporate fliers would say “I should get a freebie” when stewardesses are asking them if they would like to buy something, especially when the value of the freebie is not more than two hundred rupees.

It’s not the money I save in not having to buy something to eat. It’s nothing compared to the money we spend on the travel. It’s the gesture that says that the airline cares for me and remembers me.

Does not take too much effort, is not too costly. The keyword here is, consistency. If they cared enough to check their roster of passengers in every flight and make sure they did such things every time they flew, the experience will be pleasurable every time.

Smart Web – How Smart?

While reading this Rediff.com story about Maruti Madhavrao Phad, a Maharashtra government employee who got injured during the recent terrorist attack on Bombay, I noticed something.

It is not related to the story as such. If you scroll down to the end of the story you’ll see the credits for is particular story. It reads “Image: Maruti [Get Quote] Madhavrao Phad at his home. Text: A Ganesh [Images] Nadar. Photograph: Uttam Ghosh


See the screenshot of the line. Notice the yellow areas? These are smart tags which apparently the engine parsing the code of the pages inserts to “enrich” the user’s browsing experience, by providing additional information related to the content the user is browsing through at the moment.

Note the word “related”? Now see what the yellow highlights in the image show. “Get Quote” for Maruti. Here Maruti is the first name of the hero of the story, not the name of a car-making company. Yet, the Rediff engine treats it as the company’s name, and is offering you stock quotes for it. And for Ganesh, the link is a Rediff search link with the string “Ganesh” – marked “Images”. Which means that it would return images of the Lord Ganesha, and other celebrities called “Ganesh”. Not images of the author of the article in this case, A Ganesh Nadar.

And both these tags are intrusive, they not only break the text they are placed in, they break proper names of people. Intrusive and irreverent. Considering the tone of the article, even more so.

Were they really necessary?

Vehicle versus Person

The Constitution of India gives me the right to travel, stay and seek employment anywhere within India. But apparently my vehicle cannot be taken along with me, without paying through my nose for “fines”, “bribes”, “repeat taxes”, without going through hordes of paper work, police checks, queues.

Maybe if humans also had to compulsorily display a number plate which predominantly identified them with the state they come from, I would also be not allowed to enter places like Maharashtra. The Nation’s Constitution can take a hike when it’s Maha-Rashtra (Great Nation) talking about.

You won’t sell to me?

The other day I went to a medicine shop and asked for a medicine from a prescription. The pack of 10 costs four-fifty. I open the wallet and find that the smallest paper currency I have is a fifty. The second smallest? Five hundred! And the loose change all totalled up to two rupees fifty.

I gave an apologetic sigh and offered the shopkeeper the fifty hoping that he’d give me change. With a stern look the shopkeeper took back the medicines from my hand, gave me a hand signal denoting refusal and put the medicine back in the shelf, without saying a word. I asked him why. And he says “We won’t entertain this”. That’s all.

I walk over to the next shop, which was like two blocks away, enter it. The guy looks friendly. I thought let’s take a chance. So I asked him for the medicine, and while he’s taking it out of the shelf, I casually ask “You have change for fifty, don’t you?”. He looks back at me, and politely says “No”, keeping the medicine back in the shelf.

So I ask him, “You are a shop. How come you don’t have change?” to which his response is “If you can’t produce change for 4.50, how do you expect us to keep change for 45.50?”

So is having a bigger note worthless if you’re buying a small item? I know that if you offer a pan-wallah a thousand rupee note for a five rupee cigarette it’s absurd, but this is not a difference of 995 we’re talking about or a small pan-wallah. Both shops were decent-sized medicine shops, which I’ve grown up seeing and buying from. What is the reason for their refusal? Is short change really short in the market? Is day-to-day liquidity so low that people are clinging on to any short change they have and are refusing business? Or is it just a stand they have taken that they will not entertain business which makes them do this ‘heavy work’ of counting and returning change?

What use is a bigger currency note if I cannot buy small things with it? I had over a thousand rupees with me right then, but I could not buy medicines worth less than ten rupees.

If there is a liquidity problem, then it is worrying. But if the problem is in the mindsets of the store owners, then it is ridiculous. If they are facing a real short change problem, I think they should offer other channels of payment. Accept credit/debit/charge cards, accept cheques.

Why lose business over this issue, and why dishonour a customer even when he has more money than needed for the transaction?

Why can’t I pay my bill?

I use Tata Indicom’s broadband as my home connection (plugged into a wifi router, to allow me complete freedom of movement in the apartment, but that’s a different story), and I love it. Last I checked at www.calcuttatelephones.com (their speed checking tool has been mentioned on BBC’s Click), the connection (marketed as a 512 mbps connection) competes well with T1 lines. Impressive! There have been a few outages – 2 to 3 maximum since I have subscribed, but the helpline is helpful and they get the connection up in less than half a day everytime.

What really bothers me is their online presence.

Simple task: I have been getting calls from their collection people asking me to pay the due bill. So I want to make an online payment.

The usual routine with most vendors for this is: sign in to the website, click on Pay Bill, log in, follow instructions, enter card/account information, get confirmation from account provider, and you are done.

But with Tata Indicom, it does not work that way. What I need to do is, click on Pay Your Bill Online Here, log in, they should show me my outstanding, I select payment mode, confirm, read terms, confirm, log in again, on which I am directed to the usual post-login screen (the welcome user screen), then I click Pay Bill again, on which I am asked to log in again, and then I go through either of the two routes again (see my outstanding or the welcome screen). So far I have “logged in” some twenty five times since morning, but I have not once reached the screen where I am supposed to enter my account/card information for the payment processing people.

And I’m sure I’ll keep getting those payment collection calls. When I’d tell them that the site is not working, they’d say “Yes sir, we know it can cause problems sometimes, should I send someone over to collect a cheque?”

India’s biggest business house. Internet service provider. They are in the business of technology – the internet. Their core service is fantastic. How much effort or money does it take to smoothen this part of the user experience – the one where the customer is willing to pay their bill, but is unable to do so with ease? It’s not that they can’t do it. So why the negligence, why the apathy?

I'm not a fanboy

Yes you read it right.

Though I am a big fan and user of Mozilla, I am not a fanboy. Why do I say that? Well, because I went back to Firefox 2 today.

Though I use Thunderbird in an office full of Outlook, Entourage and Outlook Express users, though I was one of the millions who pledged and downloaded Firefox 3 on download day (and I have a certificate to show for it), it didn’t work out for me. I had sort of grown fond of the improved address bar, and I simply love the improved zoom feature, but the basic reason I use Mozilla or GNU software was lacking in this release – it wasn’t stable. FF3 crashed – everyday, some 10 times a day, on unfortunate moments. I tried searching online for the reason this would happen, and potential solutions. All I could gather was that there was a conflict between some Google software, and if this software is uninstalled and installed after FF3, the problem would go away. But surprise! I never used that Google software, so what would I uninstall in order to solve this problem?

Then came the second release of FF3, and I hoped that this would solve the issue, but nothing doing. FF3 kept crashing. And I could do nothing about it. To avoid using the “inherently evil” browser, I used Safari, and liked it. But I still kept missing FF – the plugins, greasemonkey, and zotero. So out goes FF3, and back it comes – FF2.

So what do I think went wrong? Mozilla, known for its superstable software and responsiveness to consumer feedback, released a piece of software that is unstable for quite a few users as I gather. Could it be because they gave in to hype-mania – of releasing a not-yet-stable software on a particular date and setting a record? Now where have I seen this before? Hint: it’s a big company producing a software that is FF’s biggest competition. Set deadline, create hype, rush to release without testing. And then release another version which still has the problem.

If I were a fanboy, I would have gone ahead and blamed myself, my computer for the problem and been heartbroken. But since I’m not one, I simply uninstall FF3 and start using FF2. And it’s been working so far for me – I am writing this on FF2 (without the fear of it crashing midway 🙂 ).

Till the time Mozilla comes up with a super stable release, which is its hallmark, I’m sticking with FF2 – only that I miss the zoom 🙁

Choices

Which do you think makes a better connect with you, or whom would you buy from?

We are your only choice
The only company selling blah-blah with blah-blah technology.
We are the only option if you want blah-blah on your blah-blah.
(In other words, if you want blah-blah and not choose us, you’re doomed. Where will you go, eh?)

or

We appreciate your choice
We are equipped with blah-blah on our blah-blah, but we appreciate that you have a choice of going to other people but have chosen us.
We appreciate that you have chosen us amongst many others who are giving similar (not the same) offerings.
(In other words, we are better, because you chose us; The blah-blah on the offering might be just one of the reasons you did.)

Frankfinn & doing your own thing?

See here, this:

A TV spot for Frankfinn air-hostess training institute. Well-made, well-executed, but it’s a surprise everytime the ad ends, because apart from the last vignette there is nothing to indicate that it is talking about an air-hostess training institute.

Why are you talking about girls being themselves, not caring about the world, about their individuality, in an ad for an institute training girls for the stereotypical female profession?

Plus the brands that have been using the air-hostess aspiration on Indian television lately have been all the stereotypical female ones: fairness creams etc.

In my opinion, the entire spot fails to connect with the brand being advertised.

My take is that this ad will build recall, but not for the brand, but just for itself. I don’t think that is what any marketer wants for her communication, or does she?

Who?

For the last six months, I have been seeing TV spots by this one advertiser: V-Guard, who claims that this is a name you can trust.

Pretty tall claim for someone about whom I don’t know anything – not what they make, not what they sell, not where they are from, not who the chairman/CEO is, not even an idea of the broad sector or field they are in. Since their ads have been on TV, they have not talked about any of these things once. All I see is “V-Guard: the name you can trust”. Yeah, you wish.

Pretty clumsy way to be bit by the “build the brand, not sell the product” bug.