Category Archives: Entrepreneurship

Quality in customer relations and services

The Indian media today is inundated by claims of marketers who promise exceptional customer service experiences, luring the unwary consumer to buy their product. They bolster their campaign with assurances that if anything goes wrong, there is always a human voice at a phone’s reach to fix the problem.

Yet, Indian businesses lose up to Rs.11,640 crore in revenue every year simply because customers end relationships when the company’s post-sales services fail to meet their expectations. About two in five Indians have threatened to switch to a competitor, while a third of them have hung up the phone on customer care executives. Sadly, ninety percent of Indian customers have experienced poor post-sale services across most sectors especially utilities, retail and telecom in the last six months alone. With companies allotting minimum priority for dealing with customer enquiries and complaints, it is not surprising that consumers are unhappy. 56 percent of Indian consumers admit to have ended their relationship with the company because their expectation of customer service was not met. These range from products – small home appliances, water purifiers, electric appliances etc., to services – transport, hospitality, telecommunications to name a few.

The consumers approach an organisation’s helpdesk hoping to resolve their complaints and queries. The automated response system developed to help customers actually makes the situation worse. The customer who is already unhappy over the product’s poor quality expects a service that assures direct personal contact, putting his needs first and making sure no question goes unanswered. What actually happens is quite different. The consumer gets a mechanical response from the voice at the other end of the phone that could easily be mistaken for a robot. Why is this? It is because the focus shifts from the very purpose of the call-centre – customer service – to a ‘process’ similar to “If question ‘x’ is asked, reply with answer ‘a’”. The employees read out the answers or rattle it off by rote in a rapid-fire manner, having no concern for the consumer’s problem. This over-dependence on automated processes developed in the BPO business is proving to be detrimental to personal contact with customers. This has been fuelled by the desire to achieve quantity (number of customer queries replied to) rather than quality (solving the customer’s issue). The scene is not very different in large retail outlets. Here again, the employees at the floor level have a minimal knowledge of the products they sell, and very often resort to a ‘take-it-or-leave-it’ attitude to make their work easier. They have no commitment to sell the product, and very often, the customer goes away in disgust.

The common factor in both these cases is a lack of quality-awareness in a customer relationship and need for immediacy in addressing their requirements or problems. The root cause of this is the lack of a sense of ownership of work. Superficiality has crept into every sphere – be it daily life, education, or work ethic. Most people go through the motions of performing daily tasks, studying, or working. They do not care to do any job perfectly. They do not feel pride and ownership in every action, however small or insignificant. This attitude spills over into the all-important sector of customer relations, leading ultimately to loss of business.

The service providers need to train their employees to take ownership of their role and pride in their service. Their intent should be to satisfy and delight every customer. Once this is taken care of, the rest of the training complements and augments their capabilities.

Radel, a small manufacturer of niche products in the consumer electronics sector, has received many accolades from its loyal customers spread across the globe. One such letter puts customer relations into a nutshell: with people like you so devoted to the mission of pleasing “one customer” at a time, I think your Radel will continue to be at the top of the musical world as it is already.

That is the key – pleasing one customer at a time!

Quality-Awareness in daily life

The average Indian has absolutely no drive to be professional. An unhealthy work ethic has seeped into all sections of society. A quality as simple as reaching a place on time, is missing in the Indian mindset. Indians are notorious for their habit of littering in public spaces. Both these traits have their origins in the lack of quality-awareness at a personal level.

A shift in attitude must begin at homes and schools. Awareness of quality in everyday activities has to be indoctrinated right from the primary school stage, strengthened by a 360 degree quality-awareness. A child must grow up witnessing the need for quality consciousness in every aspect of life – even in the way one behaves and responds to situations and in the manner of presenting oneself. There must be a sense of pride in every activity that the child performs. Whether the grows up to be an artist or an engineer, a doctor or a teacher, quality consciousness must be incorporated in daily activities – and thus spread in the larger Indian work ethic.

Where do we start? Let us look around to see the situation on the ground.

A boy accompanies his mother to the market. His mother carries a garbage bag to throw in the public bin. She throws the plastic on a heap of garbage right next to the empty bin. She does not perceive that this action contributes to a lack of quality in her surroundings. Below a board that says ‘Do not urinate’, the young boy sees a man urinating, without a thought for the impact on cleanliness and hygiene, and therefore, on quality of life. At the market, he sees his mother compromise on quality of essential goods for cheaper prices. He watches them use foul language to arrive at a bargained price – showing a lack of quality in speech. He sees her jump queues to pay her bills and violate traffic rules to get home faster, and effectively casting ‘quality of civilised society’ by the roadside. Most children, urban or rural, grow up witnessing such situations every day. Children imbibe this careless attitude which negates the concept of quality in everyday life, and believe that it is acceptable to live in such a manner. They grow up having the same attitude both at home and workplace – an attitude that his parents, neighbours and society have taught him as being good enough to survive.

This is how the child learns to compromise on the quality of a small everyday activity. He detaches himself from the implications of his actions on the society. He does not take responsibility for the disruption he brings to the society and therefore to the quality of his own, personal life.

When the individual, as a citizen and a part of the workforce, is unaware of the importance of quality in every action in daily life, and cannot see that dirty surroundings, badly maintained buildings, lack of civic sense or road discipline etc. reflect a lack of quality, he / she cannot perceive the difference between good and bad quality in a product.

A poor quality item should ideally make the customer protest and demand good quality. But in India, the customer does not see the need for quality as there is no awareness of good and bad quality. The manufacturer too sees no necessity for producing a good product or maintenance and service of the product. Since the problem has a social origin, the change in attitude must be societal.

Quality awareness, therefore, needs to be inculcated across all sections of society, from children in primary school to the entire adult population. Whether it is the home-maker maintaining every nook and corner of the home spic and span; the office worker being meticulous in work and keeping his desk and surroundings neat; every plumber, electrician, carpenter and mason being particular that his work is perfect – this awareness of quality should be cultivated and propagated on a war-footing. Only then can India not only be equal to, but overtake other countries and be admired for the Made in India quality.

Digital veena inventor who beefed up IAF’s firepower

An entrepreneur who has won a patent for a digital veena, and also designed a mechanism that fires rockets at a command from a computer aboard the Indian Air Force’s Jaguar aircraft? Incongruous but true. The entrepreneurial career of G Raj Narayan, 66, founder and managing director of Bengaluru’s Radel Group, has been guided by his twin passions – aerospace and music.

He spent 10 years as a design engineer at the state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) before disillusionment turned the thoughts of this post-graduate from IIT Madras towards entrepreneurship. He finally left HAL in mid-1979.

Within three months he was sub-contracting for Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd, supplying electrical coils after investing his savings of Rs 10,000 in a coil winding machine. Together, the group’s two companies – Radel Electronics Pvt. Ltd. (which makes security systems and musical instruments and accounts for 90 per cent of group revenues) and Radel Advanced Technology Pvt. Ltd. (the aerospace business) – employ 80 people and have sales revenues of Rs 10 crore.

Aero India 2015

Radel is still a small enterprise. But Raj Narayan is working with the aviation wing of the Indian Navy, and hopes to get business from the Army too, since Radel is one of the few Indian players to be certified by the Centre for Military Airworthiness Certification – a Defence Research and Development Organisation lab. “I am looking at 100 per cent growth in the next two years, possibly even 150 per cent, if ‘Make in India’ takes off.” Raj Narayan concedes that for nearly 10 years after he started in business, he continued with his “garage mindset”, and it was only when he won an award for electronics in 1987 that he thought, “I must shift to an industrial estate in order to become a bigger player.”

He has taken care to ensure that R&D is Radel’s core strength. “The R&D team gradually grew, but took a quantum jump when the company set up its facility in Electronics City in 1995. The team now has about 16 engineers who design the electronic circuits, the software, the printed circuit boards, the mechanical housings and structures, the plastic cabinets and everything else that contributes to complete product design,” he says.

The disadvantages of being small are repeatedly felt. Though his aerospace company alone has orders in hand worth Rs 1 crore, working capital is hard to get from public sector banks. However, Raj Narayan turned one such disadvantage into a business opportunity. He found it hard to recruit engineering talent. Moreover, new recruits, once trained, would soon depart for greener pastures. So he set up the Drona Centre for Excellence as a division of Radel, “primarily to produce trained and productive engineers out of fresh graduates”.

Since Radel also possesses core aerospace domain expertise, “Drona also offers training courses in avionics systems, besides electronic product design. This allows the trainees and engineers a hands-on exposure to live projects that they can also see physically implemented for a real client,” says Raj Narayan.

This finishing school is the group’s third revenue stream, and so far it has taken in two batches of 30 students each and trained them, after which they were free to leave and join other companies. The centre also holds short-term courses for engineering students during their holidays.
Though in his mid-sixties, Raj Narayan intends to continue at the helm of Radel for six or seven years more. “I am in the process of grooming a second line of leadership, who can take over when I retire,” he explains.

The original article appeared on Business-Standard