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How the Internet defines new boundaries for customer service

I am a sucker for high quality customer service. And I am an Internet guy…! This combination makes me realize (not necessarily before anyone else) that in the world of Internet, customer service acquires a whole new meaning.

Recall the days when companies had a customer service number (not even toll-free) that was rarely attended to, or even if it was, would sound as if it was a favor? Remember how in those days one didn’t really have any outlet to crib about companies that were indifferent to their customers? Recall the times when you were put on an “your call is important to us. Please wait for the next 39 minutes because..really..do you have a choice?” hold!

Not anymore. The Internet has allowed people to come together, share their crib…and make companies respond to their customers in a never before manner. Yah…forget the fact that some companies still dont…and I honestly dont know what they are upto. But most discerning companies today are responding to customer grievances, which mostly get solved by a simple apology and the display of an effort not to repeat the situation again, with any other customer.

Which scares me…because I am now handling both sides of the coin. At one hand I continue to be a customer…and I cant even begin to recount how often I have written to the CEOs of corporates (and big ones huh…Jet, Maruti, Toshiba, Jumeirah, Starwood at last count!) and actually got them to move their ass…and on the other side…I am today a service provider too. Through Accentium, we are serving a large section of the Indian Internet population and there are bound to be mistakes we make. And there are bound to be grievances that customers raise.

I shudder to think of times when our customers get together and complain about our products. I hate to think of such a possibility…but I am guessing it happens. Which always keeps us on our toes. We, on a normal day, recieve anywhere between 5-10 customer emails about our services. Some are happy news (we received 2 success stories for SecondShaadi yesterday!!)…some are general emails (I need to change my listing. How do I do that)…and some are feedback mails…good rarely..bad mostly…(why is this not working…why are you sending me random profiles when I asked for only this this this)

All of this gives us immense insight into how our customers operate. And we make it a point to respond to all…without fail…such emails. Because we want them to know that we care…and while we have done what we thought was best for you all…but to really make us the best…we need your feedback. We need to know what are we doing wrong..more than the right.

I personally treasure these emails. Because I know that most customers are not even bothered about sending in an email. They will simply move on…most probably…to our competitor…and its scary to think how many would have. So such emails are a fantastic find..because they take the pains to give me feedback. And we try to hold on to them as much as we can.

And angry customers are really really bad people…! go to this site Consumer Complaints. It is nothing but thousands of customer complaining…! Nothing else..! There are no resolutions to these complaints in an official manner (the only way is if the companies are actually tracking the posts there…but are they)…! But look at its power. You search for “HDFC netbanking” and complaints from the site are there on Page1. Search for “Airtel Prepaid” and same result…search for “online sbi” and same result.

Thats the power of the site. Some..atleast some…potential customers when searching for these queries will catch the complaints too. Imagine…the corporate website is the first result and the complaints is right there on the same page! The company has friggin spent their life building that brand and a single customer’s complaint has now come at the same level. Thats the power of the Internet!

I love the openness of the Internet. I love the fact that it dissolves boundaries and it creates communities…where people can share! Ironically…these are the same things that makes me scared now.

Addition

Matt Cutts recently blogged about his bad experience with US Airways. Imagine how powerful that is. He could have simply written to the CEO of US Airways…am sure he can figure that much out. But he close to blog instead! Turning the entire world into a community…of people complaining about similar experience. You have to read the comments on the post…! Whats worse is that not even a single comment seems to be from someone at US Airways, trying to offer an apology…or atleast an explanation! Sad!

the social responsibility of business…is to make ‘profits’

I COULDN’T AGREE MORE!

Last month I was invited for a guest lecture at MDI, Gurgaon. The audience was someone I had never dealt with…infact an audience that at some level scares me till date. I was to face a bunch of 40-odd NGO heads! Individuals running highly successful social enterprises who thought that i could be someone who could tell them how to use the Internet to their advantage.

I decided to begin the discussion with a digression…and the first thing I wrote on the board…which set the tone of the next hour…was the title of this post “the social responsibility of business is to make profits” (famously first discussed by Friedman in his pathbreaking 1970 article)

I was amazed at the fact that this concept struck a perfect chord with everyone (well, almost) present in the audience! maybe that why they were all successful NGOs. Because honestly, I find this NGO bit a little stupid. It always has that socialist, Nehru-era hangover which I totally abhor! what good is running an NGO when you are friggin bleeding money day-in and day-out…you cant get a competent team to work for you for a salary…and you rely on funds and grants but never really have a sustainable ‘business model’

i know…maybe THATS what an NGO is not supposed to be, but I definitely dont agree. Humans fundamentally are driven by their own needs…we are selfish beings! so dont expect someone to follow your path if he/she doesnt see convenience and comfort in doing so. So stop making all these NGOs that are urging people to go non-plastic and are urging people to adopt stray dogs! Its not going to work…and why would you want to force someone to do so anyways. why does it take an Einstein to realize that friggin removing plastic bags is not the solution, because the minute you do that, inconvenience creeps in…and no one will want to live with that.

Seth Godin fantastically summarizes my thoughts in a single line…and I love him for that

If your non-profit isn’t acting with as much energy and guts as it takes to get funded in Silicon Valley or featured on Digg, then you’re failing in your duty to make change

You have to read his entire post. Absolute Gem!

District 9: The Movie Review

District 9 is an absolute gem…and the funny part is…i dont know why!

District 9 Poster

The film has a documentary feel to it…the kind that reminds one of The Blair Witch Project. It starts off with a series of documentary-like interviews, which lay the story for the viewer. An Alien spaceship arrives above Johhannesberg, some 20 years back…and just stays put. Humans finally decide to do something about it..after they have waited for 3 months…and they enter the ship. Only to find the aliens in a terrible state…as if some epidemic had taken over. So as a gracious welcome, the aliens are moved to the city.

The place where the aliens stay is District 9.

Its been 20 years and people are fed up of District 9. Its a slum (yup…even aliens have one) and the Prawns (which the aliens are called, since they resemble them!) are not welcome in society. So you see all these roadsigns segregating them from humans (which would have been easier for South Africa, considering their past!)

A private company, MNU is entrusted with the task of moving these aliens to a new place of refuge, District 10. Spearheading the task is an MNU employee, Wikus. Its later realized that the very reason why the aliens have been tolerated this far is because of their (guess guess) weapon technology. Unfortunately, there hasnt been any luck on that so far, since humans are incapable of operating those awesome guns!

Wikus sets out on the eviction plan and during once such visits enters into a slum house that has some crazy shit going on. Computers and wires and some equipments etc. He starts to search through the place and in the process spills some dark liquid onto his face, which came from a silver can. he confiscates the can

Wikus’ health starts deteriorating and he is admitted to the hospital. Its there that the doctors realize that his left hand has transformed (or mutated) into an alien hand! MNU immediately takes over him and needless to say, trie to see if he is capable of operating the weapons. And yup…he is! The doctors figure out that by some mechanism the alien DNA has entered Wikus’s body and found a perfect balance with the human DNA. He is still a human, but transforming slowly into an alien.

What happens thereafter is an awesome ride during which Wikus struggles to find his own identify and the secret of what happened to him. It is during this, that he meets Christopher, the alien who had collected that dark fluid over the past 20 years!

District 9 is unlike any other alien movie I have seen before. Yes, it does have fight sequences and ugly aliens, but the underlying tone is very different. Its not, for a change, about aliens trying to kill humans or taking over Earth. Or aliens becoming friends with humans and helping them in their daily chores! Its a thriller…and a good one at that…and its a common man’s story about his fight! I could identify with Wikus’s character because at no time was he a superhero…nor was he the savior of the human race. He was a simple guy who wanted to become a human again and go back home…and think it was all a bad dream!

Brilliantly done…! And yet..its such a simple movie at the end of it!

District 9 is a must watch

Rating: 5/5

Movie Site: http://www.d-9.com/

IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1136608/

we have to do it…

back when I used to fly to Dubai for work…Emirates Airlines was like second home. Its not funny the number the movies I have watched…and the amount of fun me and my team mates have had on those flights.

I was remembering one such instance this morning…and realized that I had blogged about it previously. Am reposting the same…makes for some fun read!

___________

so this is a real life incident. happened to me last Thursday on my flight back to India…

every Indian on this planet..and every traveler to India as well…can relate to one sight. queues. friggin queues. everywhere..! we Indians are so used to just placing ourselves comfortably in a line…and just live the rest of our lives trying to reach the ‘counter’.

so it was one of those queues again…that got me introduced to her. i was boarding the flight…with my boarding pass in hand…(and mind u…even if u have bloody boarded a plane more times than u have pissed in your life…the hostess will definitely ask u for your boarding pass and direct you to your seat…as if you are the biggest moron who couldn’t have figured by himself..! anyways…)

so there is this huge line leading to the miserly economy class…(reminds me of a seinfeld joke…he was talking abt the way the hostesses draw the curtain between the economy and business class…saying with their eyes…”if only you had worked harder”)…and its dragging along…till the time i reach right at the entrance. and its been some 2 minutes at the same….the line is jst not moving.

“oohh…discovery channel..thats my fav”..!

a rather stunning airhostess…(who btw i had conveniently avoided mentioning so far…)…standing at the right side…! her repsonse is to the discovery logo on my tee…which R had given sometime back (quite cool stuff these discovery guys make..!).

“aaaah…thts nice..! infact..‘we at discovery’ have a hidden vision. that everyone in this world feel exacly what you feel”

there was some artificial hehe-huhu…before the line finally moved on..!!

now..if u hvnt figured by now…i said “we at dicovery”..which in the english language means that i lied. about the fact that i work at discovery. now dont get me wrong here…i am quite proud to be a consultant…i think they r the best invention by mankind..after the safety pin ofcourse…! but something within me…made me lie..

so i seat myself…and put the “do not disturb…even if the friggin plane is going down and i dont have my for gods sake seat belt on” tag on my seat…and as i am about to close my eyes…she comes in again…

“hot towels please”

sleep’s gone..! am with discovery again…

“so what do you do for discovery”…she asks…while holding the towel for the passenger to me left (i was aisle)…and given who was sitting on that seat…i am sure he felt it was some sort of hypnotic towel..meant to soothen the body during the flight…cause he just didnt move his eyes off it.

“ummm…i work as a photographer for them” (WTFF…cold blooded lie..aspirational though..mind you!)

“wow…thats awesome…! here in dubai?”

“nope..in their delhi office. had come to dubai to cover the desert safari for a brochure we are working on..” (I could have very well said I was here to cover the Burj Al Arab…but no..stupid moron…if only my thought process was as fast when needed)

“thats quite interesting. please let me know if you need anything. i promise not to disturb you though…even if the friggin plane is going down and i dont have my for gods sake seat belt on”

yes yes yes…she reads my mind…i can so totally see it…!! wuuuhuuuuuuu

so…rest of the flight was quite good…slept a decent bit..and each time i woke up..i saw her fanning me with a magazine…smiling sweetly at me as if so totally admiring me..! ok…i am lying

…i didnt see her at all till the flight landed…

at the entrance…she was there…with her…”thnks…bye bye now”…and i went…wtf man…let it go…

“ummm…btw i was lying…! i dont work for discovery. my fiance does. she gave me this tee”

“hahaha..!! u serious…??? well…btw…discovery is not my fav channel either…”

WTF…!!!

“…u see…its our job…we have to do it…”

Top 10 things to do in Bali

We were on a 7-day trip to Bali 2 weeks back…and loved our time there. I honestly didnt realize that there was so much to do at Bali. I went in with an asumption that its a small island…pretty much like Koh Samui…and beyond 3-4 days it will simply be another wait for the vacation to get over..!

Bali is fantastic…! Great Beaches, so much to see…and more importantly so much to do…

Here is a short video of my version of “The Top 10 Things To Do While At Bali”. The text basically supports the video (or vice versa…suit yourself)

1. Stay at Nusa Dua

Ok…this might come across as “oh…friggin luxury traveller”…but seriously…if you can…stay at Nusa Dua. Its about 20 minutes drive from Kuta and has the most lovely beaches and ofcourse the choicest of 5-star hotels.

Westin Nusa Dua Bali Beach

You dont really have to send a bomb. We stayed at the Novotel Nusa Dua, which is a brand new hotel and has the most amazing rooms at rocking prices. We stayed in a lovely room…at only USD 65 per night! Check out the pic below.

Novotel Nusa Dua Bali - Room View

Ofcourse, one can go beyond and opt for the likes of Grand Hyatt Nusa Dua, Westin Nusa Dua, St. Regis Nusa Dua…but you get what you pay for.

As an advice, dont opt for cabs in Bali. They are expensive and dont serve much purpose since Bali is quite a safe destination for tourists. Instead, rent out an electronic scooter (rates start at USD 4/day) and drive around..! Highly recommended, even if you are staying at a plush Nusa Dua Hotel

2. Shop your heart out at Kuta and Legian

Discovery Mall Nusa Dua Bali

Kuta and Legian are a shopper’s dream come true. They house everything within themselves…right from the top brands of Roxy, Polo, Crocs etc to traditional Balinese stuff…to even pirated watches and DVDs…! One could easily spend an entire day just window shopping and picking up a whole lot of stuff!

The Discovery Mall is the biggest in Bali and its in Kuta. Pretty Standard mall…but you can grab some good stuff there too. However, most of the traffic heads to Matahari, also in Kuta. Crazy crowd…and the entire ground level is dedicated to touristy stuff..! Bali tees…Bali Sarongs…Bali keychains etc etc…you get the drift..

Definitely recommended for ladies is Uluwatu where one can shop (though at some crazy prices!) for Handmade Balinese Lace. And not to mention the fact that Polo are so damn cheap there. You can grab a Polo Collar Tee for under USD 20!

3. Grab an Indian Meal at Queen’s of India, Nusa Dua

Queen's Tandoor, Kuta, Bali

Alright alright..before you people jump at me and accuse me of pseudo-patriotism…I recommend the Queen’s of India (Queen’s Tandoor) in all good faith. its really one of the best Indian food I have had outside of India…and maybe the photos of all celebrities that have visited this place will convince you as well.

Its also won several awards…going all the way upto Best Indonesian Restaurant (or so they claim!). I can guess why…

Its right on the Kuta Road…so you can combine this with your shopping extravagance in Kuta!

At any given time you will find more non-Indians here…than Indians. No need for reservations…and do go for outdoor dining. The weather is always good in the evenings, when at Bali.

4. Desert at BreadTalk

BreadTalk

You CANNOT miss this for anything. Breadtalk is one of my favs…and it was awesome to find one at Bali. I realize that this sounds more like…oh…have a burger at McDonalds…because yah..there isnt anything here that you cant find anywhere else.

But you still cant miss it for anything! Its there in the Discovery Mall, Kuta

5. Hard Rock Cafe Hotel

Hard Rock Hotel CenterStage, Bali

Go to the hard Rock Hotel..not the cafe! It has the CenterStage which hosts a live band every evening. Brilliant fun…though surprisingly when we went…the crowd was kind of dull. You know the kinds that you see at the British Open even when Roger is whopping Nadal’s ass (or vice versa!).

We even had a Roxy Fashion Show, right on the main serving table! Now THAT is something you have to go for..!

Roxy Fashion Show

6. Go Culture Shopping at Ubud

Ubud, Bali

Ubud is about an hour’s drive from Nusa Dua…about 35 minutes from Kuta. Its basically a village…a cultural village at that. So you have some shops…but mostly houses where people are creating stuff and selling them. So one can shop for Balinese clothes, decorative items, memorabilia etc. Devote a day for this…but plan to leave only around early afternoon.

On your way back you can catch the Black (Volcano) Sand beach of Bali.

Bali Black (Volcano) Sand Beach

7. Spend the day lazing at Kuta Beach

Kuta Beach, Bali

I say this distinctly from the shopping suggestion…because they are just that. Distinct! Both can take a day…and should take a day too.

Kuta Beach is Bali’s heart…and this is where the action is. You will see everything…and if you are lucky..I mean…everythingg…! Arrive here around early afternoon and stay on till early evening, before you head to some nice dining place.

Surf…play…tan…buy random stuff…check out naked bodies..! Take your pick…

Kuta Beach, Bali

Its crowded…but I guess whats what the charm is…!

8. Scuba Diving at Tulamben

Tulamben | Liberty Shipwreck, Bali

Am not a swimmer…! ok…that might have given you an impression that i dont like swimming…so rephrase…I dont know how to swim! But I went scuba diving…and so can you…!!

Bali is apparently a diver’s paradise! I can guess why..! But even for beginners, it offers some great experiences. There are 2 spots for beginners, one at Nusa Dua (dont go for it..unless you just want to do it as a check point)…and the other at Tulamben! The drive to Tulamben is 3 hrs from Nusa Dua…its up north of Bali. Here lies the ship wreck of Liberty.

Tulamben Diving, Bali

As a piece of advice, go for PADI instructors. They are the safest…and this trip wont cost you a bomb either. Prices are between USD 60-80 per person for 2 dives, depending on the season! (Caveat: Am not a diver…and hence not a professional. There might be other better alternates to PADI, so when I say safest I am simply comparing them to the multiple divers that claim they are safe, without any certification)

9. Sunset at Kuta Beach

Kuta Sunset, Bali

By now, you would have realized my obsession with Kuta. But honestly, it doesnt matter…just catch the sunset anywhere…but do catch it. Bali sky has some fascinating colors that only amplify during the sunset. I preferred Kuta because I like clicking silhouettes, which is easy in a crowded beach as that!

Kuta Beach Sunset

10. Mountain Trekking to the Kintamani (Mount Batur) Volcano

Kintamani, Mount Batur, Bali

This was the highlight of the trip. Kintamani  (Mount Batur) is an active volcano that last went burst in 1996. One basically starts the trek at 2am…and the trek is for 2.5-3.0 hrs…!

Its all done to catch the sunrise! Which is breath-taking, to say the least. Some 100 odd people climb the mountain everyday in peak season!

Mount Batur, Kintamani Sunrise

The mountain is surrounded by Lake Batur, which gives the entire top view a surreal feel…! It is the largest crater lake on the island of Bali.

Lake Batur, Bali

This ends my list of Top 10 things to do at Bali. Am sure we have missed out on a lot of things…and I do know of a few of them…! But then…this was our kind of vacation.

There are enough other guides that one can use to plan their Bali trip well. Am listing a few of them…which I found useful.

http://www.tripadvisor.in/Attractions-g294226-Activities-Bali.html

http://www.dosomethingdifferent.com/destinations/bali

http://www.baliblog.com/what-to-do/6-crazy-things-to-do-in-bali.html

http://www.igougo.com/attractions-l650-things_to_do_in_Bali.html

the latest BMW model is a stunner…

1. 2-seater, open from almost all sides

2. Most efficient model ever produced, in terms of fuel economy

3. All-terrain vehicle

How do these guys keep producing such gems…one after the other…! In Awe of BMW

Latest BMW Model

Courtesy: Failblog

ukraine’s DEFINITELY got talent!

This is simply FANTASTIC…! 8 minutes of sheer absolute pleasure…

Kseniya Simonova – Sand Animation (Ukraine’s Got Talent)

I repeat…I LOVE these talent shows!

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