I am a frequent flyer. Every month, i am flying half way around the globe, if it from Chennai to the US one month, then it flying back again the next month. My work requires me to operate in India and the US, splitting my time to about 3-6 weeks (usually 30 days) in each place. Anytime i arrive at a location, the usual questions are “Hey! When did you arrive?”, quickly to be followed by “When are you going back?”. My family also calls me a frequent flyer; in a different context, i.e. flying away or running away from stuff. I cant blame them. But i am eternally thankful to them, as they spare me from constant nagging, which would have had a serious effect on my work.
As i fly so often, i tried many different options, and finally settled on Lufthansa as my flagship carrier. A few good reasons for this. First, it is a Star Alliance partner, and since i am a United Airlines mileage member, this helps me accumulate miles for every flight i take on Lufthansa. Now this is also a question, i am often asked “So you must be having millions miles?”, and my response is “Yes! I do. But i don’t get to use them.” Second reason for Lufthansa is the convenience factor, 7 days a week, one stop over, two flights of about equal time to get me from Chennai to Washington DC. And the third the incredible German efficiency – almost always on time, in almost 14 years of flying Lufthansa, they are yet to screw up with my baggage.
On my recent flight from Chennai to the US, as i was being served my meal, i observed a small fact. The cotton cloth napkin i was given along with my silverware, had a small tab, showing the details of the place of manufacture. Knowing the manufacturing world, i straightened the tab to read the text, convinced that it will have the magic words “Made in China”. Well, i was astounded instead by the words “Made in Germany”.
Why would a cheap cloth napkin be made in Germany? Let me first explain, it was not a cheap piece of cloth. It was fine well made cloth napkin. But still this is a low value item, and offers no economic bonanza for Germany to manufacture it, when it could have easily imported this from China. I have noticed in the US, it is difficult to find items that are ‘Made in USA’. Today if you enter a store in the US, other than local food produce, most items are manufactured from China. To the extent that in stores in and around the DC metro area, where they sell paraphernalia like the American flag, miniatures of the Washington Monument, Capitol, and the White House etc., are all ‘Made in China’. And hence my surprise in seeing this on a simple cloth napkin on this German airline.
It is also evident when you are in Germany, to notice the class of engineering in everything you see and touch. Be it a simple faucet, a door knob, a hinge or a draw handle. They seem perfect. They work, and very seamlessly. The fit, the joint, and the physics of it all, simply seems and feels superior. I am of course comparing to what i have seen mostly in the US, India, Canada, a bit of England and isolated part of SE Asia. It appears that the German engineering machine is made of a different breed.
And so it must be, that the Lufthansa thought they must use German products on their planes. The pride of this national carrier in everything German, is so evident. It is not cheap to make these products here. And so i wonder, how and why they choose, and manage their finance and profit. But like their love for their mother tongue, there must be a love for their own. I am sure Germany import goods, and considering a country like China, they must be importing quite a lot from there too. But i wonder if they would import their national flag, that is made by the Chinese.
|Name||Sporting Event||Time||Overall Position|
|Lalita Babar||3000 Mtr Steeple Chase||9:22.74||10th|
|Manish Singh||20 KM Walk||1:21:21||13th|
|Sandeep Kumar||50 KM Walk||4:07:55||35th|
|Khushbir Kaur||20 KM Walk||1:40:33||54th|
|Dattu Baban Bhokanal||Mens Single Sculls (Rowing)||13th|
|Abhinav Bindra||10 Mtr Air Rifle||4th|
|Jitu Rai||10 Mtr Air Rifle||8th|
|Satish Sivalingam||Men’s 77 Kg||11th|
I studied commerce, accounting and economics as majors for my college graduate degree. Two of these designated customer as king, in most, if not all economic transaction. Across the globe too, many different economic model of society and government have given way, allowing capitalism to ascertain its supremacy. The very basis of this economic model, profit for the individual, is based on the availability of choices; in the constant battle to find equilibrium between demand and supply. While there are always exception to the concept of demand driving supply, it is just that, an exception. The rule applied to virtually almost all transaction.
The availability of choices to the customer, is therefore a major principle of this economic theory. This allowed new suppliers to enter the market place and fulfill demands of the buyer. The customer (buyer) stopped buying from a particular supplier, if the goods are defective, service bad, and or if the price higher, among a multitude of other conditions. The pressure on the supplier to please the customer is there paramount in this situation. New suppliers are constantly presented the opportunity to enter the market place, and existing supplier is continuously under pressure to deliver and retain its customer base. A simple survey around the neighbourhood, will provide clear evidence of this duel.
I as a customer, am entitled to superior service as a paying customer. The concept of expecting and delivering superior customer service has been an important basis throughout my professional career. It equally applies in personal transaction, but personal transactions are clearly outside the laws of commerce and economics, and are governed by more ethereal laws. My very first job, at NIIT, required me to be constantly searching for delivering quality service to my customers, my students, both current and prospective. It required among other things, for me to sit at the front office, and help with prospects. My first manager, AT as he was known then, talked to us about how even the supposedly “lame” telephone operator was an important role in the organization; essentially stating that their voice and demeanor on the phone played a big role in coloring the organization.
Today, i trot the globe, traveling constantly between two major continents, with a life in two large economies; India and US. I run an organization in India, which is part of a larger entity based in the US. I expect my team members of the organization i run, to now constantly deliver service over and beyond their ability. This then creates a stress, akin to the balance between demand and supply. The problem tho’ is one of two things; either my expectations are unrealistic, or customer service as a principle is archaic. Before you read too much into this particular scenario, allow me state here that my team does one hell of a job persevering to attain the objectives we have set for ourselves. It still requires me to introspect this in the larger economic system, because service to customer appears to be on the wane everywhere. However, in my worldly experiences and search for answers, am thinking will allow me to be at peace in the world, but also hoping i can use some of the learning to help me and my team.
I had sometime back recounted the concept of good and bad customer service in my blogs, specifically one about experiences at my neighbourhood store – Trader Joe’s. I happened to meet up with a team leader or manager, at coffee place next to the grocery store. I struck up a conversation to find how they used their magic to have happy employees, who were able to keep their customers happy. It appears just that; happy employees means happy customers. Ensuring your team is happy, solves a major part of the riddle it seems. The team at Trader Joe’s are provided a lot of freedom in day to day transactions and encouraged to do their best to solve customer problems. Teams are created to tackle different administrative tasks, and setting goals allow them to freedom to execute and function smoothly, without too much of managerial pressure. Allowing your team members to find answers to problems in customer transactions (reasoning), encouraging them to try new things (innovate) and determining the outcomes and correction (analysis) all go a long way in delivering superior service.
The onus then becomes to find a balance between innovation and execution. Innovation in itself cannot provide superior service, because many ideas will fail, and only a few succeed. Rote execution creates boredom, and is soon fraught with errors, and therefore failure to deliver the required service. Solutions and answers begin with understanding the problems. The bane of dreadful service is usually the inability to understand the problem we are solving. Many times what is required is the mindset to understand the pain and suffering of the customer, providing a sympathetic hearing of the problem or even a simple acceptance of the situation or issue (even if unwarranted). Unfortunately in the pressure cooker that we all live in, it is difficult to appreciate your problems, when i am drowning in my own. The corporation’s requirement to find profit, at all costs, is also another reason why even willing team members are unable to offer service or deliver.
The freedom to innovate, reason, and conduct critical analysis, in my mind stand out as key factors that influence the ability to deliver superior service. Like all things, how much is too much, and how little is too little then becomes the main function of a manager. It is not so much the need for an equilibrium between these, but rather the ability to execute and function even while thinking. That is the key attribute that needs to be honed and encouraged amongst the team, including oneself.
Easier blogged, than done!