Monday, July 19, 2004

Indian Small Businesses

Posted on July 19, 2004 4:10 AM EST (from Bangalore, India)

Most small businesses in India are remarkably inconsiderate about customer satisfaction and customer relationship. I had read about the importance of customer satisfaction and relationship many times before. But it took a few years of experience with American businesses and reacquaintance with Indian businesses for me to be able to compare the two, and truly appreciate the importance of customer satisfaction and relationship.

Most small businesses in India have just one objective: to get the maximum money out of the customer by all means possible. Fairness in business, Customer satisfaction, customer relationship, the possibility of repeat business and such values be damned. When I say small businesses, I refer to the stores and service shops where individuals go for such things as shopping for groceries and clothes, rent cars or vans for trips, etc.

These businesses just want to get the extra 2, 5, 10, 200 or 2000 rupees out of you. They are not bothered that they may leave you feeling disatisfied and cheated. They are not bothered that you get the best possible product or service for the money you paid. Small hitches and glitches are par for the course, and usually the customer has to pay for repair/suffer through the glitches. These stores and service shops are not bothered that you may not go back to them or that you may not refer other potential customers to them. They are not even bothered that you may spread the bad word about them. Why should they bother? With such a large population forming the customer base and competition from others in the same business world being so unorganized and often even non-existent, businesses are not worried. They will always find more bakras to squeeze the extra out of.

The apathy of the businesses towards customer satisfaction and customer relationships is particularly surprising considering the customers themselves are quite familiar with these values. Indian customers are as discerning about quality as any other customers in the world. And in a good business-customer relationship, Indian customers can be as loyal as anyone else, may be more so because of the inherent cultural attitudes. On a recent visit to Kaanchipuram, I found my uncle searching for the shop of an old lady who had sold him spices years ago. He still remembered that the spices she sold him then were good in quality and value for money, he still had good feelings for that business transaction and relationship established years ago. So, when he was back in that town now, he was looking for that same old lady. That is customer loyalty for you. And what's more, this time, my uncle had with him, at least 2-3 other potential customers for the old lady's spices. That is the value of repeat business and customer referral to a business. Alas, we did not find the old lady's shop.

Another recent experience was buying a bottle of a cool drink. The store charged me 2 bucks extra for the refrigerated drink! I could always buy the warm non-refrigerated bottle for the normal price. Most people drink soda cold, that's common knowledge. So, why does one have to pay extra to get a cold drink? The story doesn't stop there. After I paid and got the bottle, I found that it was hardly cold. Either cooler was not working or it had been in the cooler for less than an hour!

Indian small businesses are yet to realize that a large percentage of the profits of successful businesses, comes from repeat customers and customers who have been referred by other customers.

Most Indian businesses are run by individuals or by families. Kinda like the mom-and-pop setups. Most American businesses these days are run by corporations. One would expect that the stores run by individuals would have a better one-on-one relationship with customers. But when I compare American businesses and Indian businesses, I am quite surprised to see that on an average, the corporate-run businesses do a better job of establishing and maintaining good customer relationships, than the individual-run Indian businesses do! Capitalistic corporate conglomerates may have many negatives to them, but seen in this light, at least they seem to do a better job of providing the right value product/service for the customer's money.

Driving in Bangalore (and India)!

Posted on July 19, 2004 4:5 AM EST (from Bangalore, India)

Driving in Bangalore and most other places that I've been to this month during my vacation in India, is a MAJOR pain! There's just too many vehicles on the road and ALL of them driving with very little consideration for others and for the rules. As if that is not enough, the roads are in such bad condition. Bad is an adjective that doesn't even come close to describing the conditions of the roads in many parts of the city. Then, you have everybody, I mean, everybody - pedestrians of all ages, vehicles of all speeds and assorted animals - moving all over the road. And when it rains, things get several times worse.

It is a pain to ride even an easy vehicle like a Kinetic Honda, where you don't have to change gears. I don't know how people manage with manual transmission motorcyles and cars. Heck, I don't know how *I* rode an Enfield Bullet on these streets just a few years back! My friends and I, in a Maruti car, narrowly avoided a head-on collision with a truck, a few kilometers out of Bangalore on Mysore road, just last evening!

This post would amuse me cuz it sounds so much like stuff I used to read, written by Western writers about the crazy Indian roads. But things are so bad and such a pain, there is no room for humor or amusement here. These conditions are just too damn dangerous and inconvenient! It's distressing to think that, little or nothing is being done to improve these conditions, while a lot of things (like adding more vehicles to the roads daily) are happening to make them even worse!