Sunday, February 26, 2012

What are your options?

I have not really dealt with many american customers directly. But they are omnipresent. Too big not to know anything about them. Besides I work for an american company so not knowing about american customers is not an option!

Option. That is what stood out for me when I was trying to adopt templates designed for american customers to asian customers. While writing a proposal in the american template you had to provide a lot of options for everything from our methodology to sample size to packages for price. When I took the same approach to my asian customers they found this overwhelming. Some of them also asked me whether I was trying to confuse them.

Why does a standard procedure in america failed in asia for us? The answer was simple. The customers were different. But I could appreciate the difference and more importantly rationalize and predict the outcome only when I developed my theory "How they Eat, How they do business".

Once I was in an intense meeting with my team and we decided to have working lunch in the conference room. Subway sandwiches emerged as the most popular and the most natural choice. But ordering it seating in board room was not as simple as we thought. Because  a subway sandwich is not just a chicken sandwich right! It is a 6 inch, parmesan oregano bread, cheese toasted, with  chicken teriyaki and all veggies except onion but extra black olives and jalapeƱos with southwest chipostle sauce, mayonese and honey mustard sauce with a bit of salt and pepper,  medium sized meal with one chocolate and one oatmeal & raisin cookie with diet coke to go! ... And yes paid by credit card.

One has to choose from 13 different options to buy a sandwich.   But as a customer I really feel I got exactly what I wanted, I had complete control over the process and therefore I feel a lot more satisfied and empowered. I am sure if someone measures customer satisfaction and choice of sandwiches, Subway would easily top the chart! The whole ordering system  is designed to empower the customer by making him choose from a lot of options!

Inherently, customers are same, whether they are buying a sandwich or a complex technical solution. If you are trying to win them in the United States of America don't forget to ask yourself "what are your options?"

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Presentation makes the content look special!


A few years ago, I lead an all Asian team to a project with European clients. We were invited to present at a large boardroom with impeccable interiors, upto date AV systems and video conferencing facilities. We had over a team of over 20 client managers to attend our presentation. We were well prepared, we had some strong recommendations for the client. But the whole set-up, noisy audience made my project manager a bit nervous. Although, the content was great the presentation was not. In clients own words "it was interesting, solid but not refined nor pleasing to the eye and mind." Our progress in that account was a big struggle, thereon.

I had forgotten all about this, till recently. My budding theory of "How they eat, How they do business" made me remember this. It did bolster my theory further. In European food context, a well made recipe is only half the job done. It is not just about the taste or smell for that matter. The food content has to be pleasing to the eye. But what truly differentiates, German or French food from all others is the emphasis on the plate in which it served.

Typically, the plate itself looks really artistic. It is so distinctive, it makes you wonder "why I don't find such dishes when I am looking for my dinner set". The portion served in the plate leaves enough space around it to express your creativity. This is complete contrast to most of the Asian dishes which are typically filled to the brim. A  European dish is served with some decoration - graffiti by chocolate sauce or a mint leaf that compliments color of the main dish takes the whole experience to the next level.

The emphasis on great presentation differentiates Europeans from all others. This is obvious and most well known in design of cars. Europeans treat the cars as the object of desire not just a machine or something that takes you from place A to B. The car that  adheres to certain "standards" or have certain "quality" is like a well cooked recipe incomplete without aesthetic presentation. So Audi, BMW,  Daimler, VW spend enormous resources on designing beautiful looking cars. Every square mm inside and outside the car is designed with atmost care, harmonized to present itself well to the customers.

It is the presentation that makes the content so special!


Friday, February 10, 2012

Indian customers and the magic of a glass of water!

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I have visited many different types of restaurants. Each one of them is unique in their own way. Still I can see some commonalities among them. When you you show up at the restaurant, you are assured to the seat, a menu card is presented, you place an order and then the transaction begins. The restaurants starts rolling out the best possible services they can provide. This is where experience with Indian restaurants stand out. 
In Indian restaurants, the waiter is supposed to serve a glass of water without you having to ask for it and even before you make up your mind what to order. In Indian restaurants service needs to start flowing in even before any order is placed. A subtle but very important difference. 

Serving water is a very simple but holy ritual in Indian hospitality and service industry.  I remember in childhood my mom used to tell me, "even if your sworn enemy asks you for water, first serve it then resume the fight". Refusing water to someone is considered a sin.

As a logical, rational adult I started thinking about this. I realized the importance of water. A human body can survive for 3 weeks without food but it can not survive for 3 days without water. India is a hot and humid country so in olden days when people would walk across the countryside, serving water signified empathy. 

What does this mean for business?

Well, you need to get in the mode of serving the customer even before the formal order is placed. You need to show a personal connection and empathy to get yourself going. Some freebees, perhaps insignificant in value terms should start flowing in even before the customer makes up his mind. Better service you provide in this phase, sooner and larger would be the order. 

Customer may walk out after drinking that glass of water but if you don't serve it customer would be lost for life. Cut and dry dealing may leave you high and

A glass of water can create magic in your pursuit to win Indian customer.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Want to win a Korean client? Where is your expert?

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We face an altogether a different problem with Korean customers. The moment they had a requirement about any topic, they would ask us - "who is your expert on this topic?" Well, in many cases, the expert would be busy or in a different timezone or simply we may not have expertise in that area. I was quite puzzled with this requirement. I was not quite sure whether to follow this request or challenge it. "What happens if we fail to showcase our expert?" I asked my Korean colleague. "They may not engage us?" was his sudden reply.

We wont have expertise, if we don't get the project and we wont get the project because we are not experts. This was a bit of a chicken and egg situation. Deep in my thoughts, we had reached a Korean restaurant and I ordered my favorite chicken dish. "They don't serve chicken here. They specialize in pork and some dishes of fish", informed my korean colleague. So far I had not bothered to look at all Korean menu card, which appeared quite slim. I realized that in many restaurants the entire menu was written on a single board and the dishes were quite few. This was quite intriguing. A similar sized restaurant in India would serve south indian, north indian, chaat, indian-chinese, variety of ice creams.. And whatever else you could think of. Then why is this korean restaurant was serving so few dishes?

We went ahead with the order. I find korean food really hot. So I requested my colleague to ask them to prepare a slight milder version of the same dish. I have tried such request in Indian and Thai restaurants and they readily oblidged but in this case my colleague ignored me and continued to order. Once the waiter vanished from the scene, he turned to me in astonishment and said, "Vivek, you can't ask them to modify their dish. It is their recipe, their restaurant we can't come here and change it. They are experts in this dish. They will get upset".

Things were a lot clearer to me now. Each restaurant was an expert in their own type of meat and a few dishes they were known for. Customers came there because of their expertise.

I promptly started to work on showcasing an expert for our next order. Now we find out availability of expert before we go to the customer to solicit the business.

(Photos: Courtesy Youngmin Kim. Thanks Youngmin!)